Connect with us


10 treasures from the New York Public Library’s 125-year-old Jewish collection



(New York Jewish Week) – In the heart of Manhattan, you can page through the Passover story in an Italian haggadah from half a century ago, check out the posters for the most popular Yiddish plays of the 1920s and examine dried flower arrangements from the Holy Land made at the end of the 19th century.

Opened just two years after the New York Public Library itself, the Dorot Jewish Division of the New York Public Library is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.

Today the collection, housed in the library’s main building on Fifth Ave., boasts over 250,000 materials from all over the world, with the earliest ones dating back to the 13th century.

“People don’t realize the amount of depth we have in this collection chronologically and geographically and it is still growing,” said Lyudmila Sholokhova, the curator of the collection. “I think we have been too modest about what we have here — this library is for everybody and the community needs to know that.”

To celebrate its 125th birthday and spread the word, the Dorot Jewish Division is putting some of its favorite materials on display for an event with librarians, scholars and writers from around the country to discuss the history of Dorot, and its future, on Wednesday, Dec. 14. The event is in person and online.

That history dates to November 1897, when banker and philanthropist Jacob Schiff donated $10,000 to the New York Public Library for the purchase of “Semitic literature” and the hiring of a curator of a Jewish division in the library. Schiff ended up donating $115,000 (nearly $4 million today) over the course of his lifetime.

The head librarian position went to bibliographer and historian Abraham Solomon Freidus, who immigrated to New York from Latvia in 1889. Under his watch, the newly established Jewish Division became a prominent research and reference center for Jewish scholars all over the world. A reading room dedicated to the Jewish Division, where scholars have researched everything from a study of Jews and chocolate to a history of Jewish women in theater, has remained in active use at the library since 1911.

Sholokhova came to the NYPL in 2020 after nearly 20 years working as a librarian at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Part of her mission is to showcase the collection to the public and help bring awareness to the library’s extensive resources.

Through most of its history, the Dorot Jewish Division was used as a reference site while scholars worked on encyclopedias and research. Today, the reading room is still open to the public — and there’s alos an extensive digital catalog available on the library’s website. All New Yorkers need to do is request the items they want to see a few days in advance.

Though the division inherited a few small collections and private libraries, many of its items have been purchased or donated over time.

The New York Jewish Week recently stopped by to see what would be on view during the anniversary celebrations. Here are 10 highlights:

1. Historic haggadahs from Venice and Amsterdam

Traditional illustrated haggadahs from Venice (left) and Amsterdam (right). Printed in the 17th century. (Julia Gergely, design by Grace Yagel)

The Dorot Jewish Division boasts an impressive collection of haggadahs, the guides used at Passover seders. The collection includes the Venice Haggadah with Judeo-Italian translation, printed in 1609, and the Amsterdam Haggadah printed in 1695. Both of these volumes are first editions of what became a standard structure for a haggadah — the Venice Haggadah influenced Mediterranean tradition and the Amsterdam Haggadah influenced Central European tradition.

2. The very first Sunday edition of the Forverts

Vol. 1, No. 1. Sunday edition of the Forverts from May 2, 1897. (Julia Gergely, design by Grace Yagel)

Forverts (or “Forward” in English), the Yiddish daily that circulated in New York throughout the 20th century, is not just one of the most significant publications in American Jewish history — at its height it was the highest-circulation daily in New York. The paper began publishing in April 1897 and paper copies from its first few months in circulation are incredibly scarce. Sholokhova believes Dorot’s original copy of its first Sunday Supplement, published May 2, 1897, may be the earliest known copy of the Forverts in existence.

3. The earliest image of the North American continent in a Hebrew book

An image of the globe in Ma’aseh Toviyah, an encyclopedia of science and medicine. (Julia Gergely)

Published in Venice in 1707, “Ma’aseh Toviyah” (Work of Tobias) is an encyclopedia of science and medicine written in Hebrew, with sections on theology, astronomy, medicine and geography. Written by Toviyah Katz (also known as Tobias Cohn), the book contains the earliest known image of the American continent in a Hebrew book.

4. First Hebrew alphabet printed in the United States

The first Hebrew grammar book, printed for a Hebrew course at Harvard College. (Julia Gergely)

Printed around 1735, “A Grammar of the Hebrew Tongue” or “Dikduk leshon l’ivrit” is the first known book in the American colonies to contain the entire Hebrew alphabet and a lesson on Hebrew grammar. Compiled by Judah Monis, a Hebrew teacher at Harvard College, the book was intended for Harvard students who desired to study the Old Testament in its original language. Monis was born Jewish but converted to Christianity.

5. A palmistry guide according to Kabbalah

A kabbalah palmistry book, dated around 1800. (Julia Gergely)

This book details the art of palmistry, or hand-reading, according to the Jewish mystical tradition of kabbalah. “Sefer Hochmat HaYad,” or “Book of the Wisdom of the Hand,” was compiled by Eliyahu Mosheh Galino, who lived in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) in the early 16th century. The library dates the printing of this copy, notable for illustrations that feature white lines etched into black hands, to sometime around 1800.

6. Farewell banquet invitation for Eliezer Ben-Yehudah, lexicographer of the first Hebrew dictionary

Invitation for a farewell banquet for Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who compiled the first Hebrew dictionary at the New York Public Library. (Julia Gergely, design by Grace Yagel)

One of the Dorot Jewish Division’s most famous researchers, Eliezer Ben-Yehudah, was an early Zionist who became known as the father of Modern Hebrew. During World War I, Ben-Yehudah came to the New York York Public Library to work on the first modern Hebrew dictionary, which he eventually brought back to Palestine. The archive has kept an invitation for Ben-Yehudah’s farewell dinner on Feb. 26, 1919, which includes all the names of the members of the dinner committee as well as the menu in Hebrew and English.

7. A community ledger from Mariupol, Ukraine

The title page ledger with minutes from a mishnah study class in Mariupol, Ukraine. (Julia Gergely)

A pinkas is a census-like ledger kept by Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, recording births, deaths, financial transactions, events and even criminal cases. This illustrated pinkas comes from a mid-19th century Hasidic community in what is now Mariupol, Ukraine, and details the minutes of a Mishnah study class held over the course of a decade. The first entry is dated 1837 and the last is 1848. The pinkas is dedicated to the Trisk Rabbi, Avrohom ben Mordechai Twersky.

8. An 18th-century Megillat Esther

An illuminated manuscript of Megillat Esther, read on Purim. The illustrations, in folk style, were drawn in the late 18th century. (Julia Gergely)

An illustrated scroll of Megillat Esther, the scroll read on Purim, is believed to be from Eastern Europe from the late 18th century. The scroll is significant because it is an illuminated manuscript, with hand-drawn images from scenes in the Book of Esther surrounding the text.

9. Pressed flowers and photographs from 1890s Palestine

Left: An 1899 photo of Jerusalem by Bruno Kentschel. Right: Flowers from Israel, dried and pressed in the 1890s. (Julia Gergely, design by Grace Yagel)

In the 1890s, as the political Zionist movement was beginning to take shape, small books of pressed flowers that were gathered in the Holy Land appeared in the United States. Dorot’s holding features native flowers pressed into the shape of Jewish symbols, and will be shown next to photographs of the landscape of Jerusalem from the same period, taken by Bruno Kentschel, a German photographer who worked from a small studio in Jerusalem.

10. Advertisements from Jewish businesses in the United States

Advertisements , postcards and trading cards for American Jewish businesses. (Julia Gergely, design by Grace Yagel)

The Dorot Jewish Division also has a vast collection of matchboxes, postcard advertisements and trading cards from Jewish businesses across America. The colorful, illustrated advertisements from the 19th and 20th centuries are very often the only traces of Jewish businesses that still exist, Sholokhova explained.

The post 10 treasures from the New York Public Library’s 125-year-old Jewish collection appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *





Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

Continue Reading

Local News

Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

Continue Reading


Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading

Copyright © 2017 - 2023 Jewish Post & News