JBuzz News September 25, 2012: Devin Naar: Scholar with New Jersey roots creates digital Ladino library

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Scholar with NJ roots creates digital Ladino library

Source: New Jersey Jewish News, 9-25-12

Devin Naar, assistant professor of history and Jewish studies at the University of Washington in Seattle, surrounded by boxes of source materials for his Sephardic Treasures Project….READ MORE

JBuzz News April 2, 2012: Magnes Collection for Jewish Art and Life Merger with UC Berkeley Has Its Costs

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Magnes Merger Has Its Costs

Source: NY Jewish Week, 4-2-12

The Magnes Collection, founded 50 years ago, has the largest 
collection of archives of Jews in the American West.

The Magnes Collection, founded 50 years ago, has the largest collection of archives of Jews in the American West.

Partnership with UC-Berkeley seen mostly as a boon but questions linger about prized collection’s independence.

The new home of the Magnes Collection for Jewish Art and Life, a Bay Area institution renowned for its archives of material relating to Jews in the American West, displays all the museum’s ambition.

Prominently situated just off the main campus of UC-Berkeley, with which it merged in 2010, it has all the hallmarks of a cutting-edge building: sleek wooden displays made from local re-salvaged elm; floor-to-ceiling glass walls allowing glimpses into the museum’s vast collection of Judaica, the third largest in North America; and a spacious hall for lectures and functions, as well dance, theater and art.

“In the museum model, this accessibility was much harder to achieve,” said Alla Efimova, the Magnes’ director, referring to the collection’s past focus on being more of an art museum than a research and educational facility, as it now primarily sees itself. “The new design was about making the collection accessible and encouraging work with the collection,” she said.

Few doubt that the Magnes’ merger and new home will vastly increase its use, but museum watchers agree that the move comes with some significant costs. Already, Berkeley classes for Jewish studies courses are held weekly in its building. Scholars like Jeffrey Shandler, a professor at Rutgers, are planning not only to use the Magnes’ enormous archives for research, but also to create innovate exhibits based on them.

Not long ago, Shandler began talking with the Magnes’ chief curator, Francesco Spagnolo, about using the archives for a project — likely a book or article — on the Jewish fascination with list making. “He said, ‘This would make a great exhibit,’” Shandler recounted. Now, with the Magnes’ new home having a centrally located gallery, that exhibit is underway, set to open some time later this year.

The new building has been a boon for artists like Emmanuel Witzhum, an Israeli artist-in-residence at Berkeley. He had no plans for an exhibit at the Magnes when he applied to Berkeley, but the museum approached him about exhibiting work. “It was perfect,” he said, “They immediately got the idea.”

Founded 50 years ago by the Bronx-born Jewish educator, Seymour Fromer, the Magnes’ ambitions always exceeded the realities of being a small Jewish museum. Over the years, Fromer and his wife, Rebecca Camhi Fromer, amassed not only the largest archive of Jewish American Western history, but also a treasure trove of exotic Judaica.

Some of the highlights are on view at the Magnes’ inaugural exhibit, titled “The Magnes Effect: Five Decades of Collection.” There is a 19th-century purple velvet wedding dress from Rhodes; a sword given by the Ottoman rulers of Palestine to the Jewish developer, who, in 1892, financed the road connecting Jaffa to Jerusalem; even a century-old ketubah from the Jewish community in Kochi, India.

All these holdings were hard to display in its former home, a cramped residential house in Berkeley, where the museum had been since 1966. “Even Google maps had a hard time giving directions on how to get there,” said Spagnolo, the Magnes’ chief curator.

The Magnes’ new building, along with its merger with Berkeley, has been widely praised by scholars, fundraisers and museum directors alike. As an independent institution until its merger in 2010, the Magnes had limited staff and hours, and found it difficult to preserve and organize its archives. Now that the heart of its collection — the documents of the Jewish American West — sit in the Bancroft Library on campus, accessing them will be considerably easier for scholars.

Moreover, the renovated new building — at 25,000 square feet, roughly three times the size of the collection’s former home — enables it to house 80 percent of its exotic collection of Judaica in-house, not, as it had in the past, in an off-site storage facility. By taking over administrative costs, Berkeley has also cut the Magnes’ annual operating budget in half. Instead of roughly $2 million a year to operate, it will now cost just under $1 million.

But the changes come at a price. Merging the Magnes with a much larger, and secular, institution like Berkeley was never part of Fromer’s vision. He died in 2009, before the decision was made. And the merger only highlights the mishaps and difficult choices the Magnes has had to make simply in order to survive.

“In an ideal situation, it could have remained independent,” said Fred Rosenbaum, another leading scholar of the Jewish American and the West. While acknowledging the ultimate benefits of the merger, he couldn’t help but lament the decision.

“Just a minor caveat,” he said: “There was something wonderful about the old Magnes. There was a kind of feeling in the air of being a part of something special. Now it will be highly efficient, but it won’t have the warmth, the intangible, of being a highly creative independent Jewish institution.”

Perhaps the most important sacrifice Magnes made was the relinquishment of the central item that made it famous in the first place: its collection of Jewish archives of the West. The include the papers of the Haas family, an original owner of Levi Strauss and Company, and many founders of the Bay Area’s Jewish community. All of those documents have been moved to the Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, itself a renowned institution with one of the largest collections of materials relating to the American West.

Many scholars of Jewish history think this is good for Jewish scholarship.

“I think it’s great — it’s better than good,” said Marc Dollinger, chair of the Jewish studies department at San Francisco State University and a leading scholar of Jews in the American West. “It’s better to house [the Jewish West documents] at a research library; it’s more accessible to a wider audience.”

But few deny that the merger was one made out of dire need. A series of inopportune choices, including a hasty merger with the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco in 2002 (that ended a year later), and the purchase of two new buildings — one just before the dot-com crash in 2000, another before the 2008 recession — left the Magnes badly damaged….READ MORE

Lior Wolf and Nachum Dershowitz: Hi-tech rescues Jewish texts

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Lior Wolf and Nachum Dershowitz: Hi-tech rescues Jewish texts

THOUSANDS of fragments of centuries-old Jewish texts, from shopping lists to historical documents, are being joined together using new software.

The scraps of the Cairo Genizah being catalogued include a letter from a wife complaining about her husband and a rabbinical judge’s authorisation of the kosher status of cheese sold by a grocer.

The software, developed by Tel Aviv University professors Lior Wolf and Nachum Dershowitz, is analysing texts that span about 1000 years of Middle East history. The algorithm program adapts facial recognition technology to identify similar handwriting on documents which are then sorted into digital loose-leaf binders.

”The computer found thousands of items running for a week,” Professor Dershowitz said. ”Then it took months for the scholars to look at it and decide if the computer was correct.”…READ MORE

Jonathan Sarna: JTA Launches Jewish News Archive

JTA launches online archive with a quarter-million articles

Source: JTA, 5-5-11

The JTA Jewish News Archive features articles from the past nine
decades.
1 out of 1Other Media
The JTA Jewish News Archive features articles from the past nine decades.

NEW YORK (JTA) — JTA has launched a digital archive containing 250,000 articles dating from 1923.

The JTA Jewish News Archive, which is searchable and free for the public to use, was launched officially Tuesday evening with a celebration at the Center for Jewish History in New York.

Highlights of the archive include extensive reporting from Europe in the 1930s and 1940s — including perhaps the first article on what has become known as the Babi Yar massacre — JTA’s reportage on the founding of the State of Israel, close and sustained coverage of the Soviet Jewry movement, and decades of articles chronicling the changing roles and responsibilities of Jewish women.

“The JTA Jewish News Archive has the potential to spark an interest in the past that will transform the future,” said Jonathan Sarna, the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University.

Sarna, a member of JTA’s board of directors, spearheaded the effort to digitally preserve the news agency’s reporting.

JTA’s coverage of the Holocaust may be of particular interest to historians.

“There was and still is a lot of conventional wisdom that Americans didn’t know about the Holocaust while it was happening, and couldn’t have known about the Holocaust while it was happening,” said Northeastern University journalism professor Laurel Leff. “One of the values of this archive is that people can actually look at the bulletins that JTA sent out during this period and see what information was, in fact, available.”

The archive was created with the help of Digital Divide Data, a nonprofit organization that provides jobs to disadvantaged youth in Southeast Asia. Young Cambodians digitized JTA’s files, thereby completing a circle — a vital journalistic record of the Holocaust is being preserved by the next generation in a country racked by its own genocide.

Major philanthropic support for the JTA archive was provided by The Gottesman Fund; The Righteous Persons Foundation; The Charles H. Revson Foundation; Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen; George S. Blumenthal; and the Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund.

A video about the JTA Jewish News Archive can be found here.

Online archives chronicle Jewish history, redress injustice

Source: Jerusalem Post, 5-5-11

JTA, JDC and Project HEART launch free services.

Three online archives have recently opened, providing widely accessible windows into Jewish history and primary and secondary sources.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency celebrated its new Jewish News Archive (www.archive.jta.org) on Tuesday night at New York’s Center for Jewish History. The Jewish News Archive will provide online access to over a quarter million articles from the JTA dating back to the 1920s; use is free.

“With free access to nearly a century of reporting about global events affecting world Jewry, the archive will not only serve as a rich resource for both the casually curious as well as students and scholars of modern Jewish history, it will also transform the way the next generation of Jewish leaders and activists learn about their heritage,” the site reads, deeming itself “a comprehensive chronicle of modern Jewish history, as seen through the eyes of journalists.”

“The JTA Jewish News Archive has the potential to spark an interest in the past that will transform the future,” says Brandeis University professor Jonathan Sarna. Sarna, a member of JTA’s Board of Directors, chaired the project.

Originally named the Jewish Correspondence Bureau, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency was the first news agency that not only gathered but also disseminated news in every part of the world.

Also this month, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee will make a collection of its historic records and photographs from the Holocaust period available online. The website – http://www.jdc.org/sharedlegacy – will allow the public to search through a database of more than half a million names.

The system will also allow people to view and identify photos from 14 countries where JDC operated during and after World War II. JDC client lists from operations in Barcelona, Shanghai, Kobe and Vilna, the JDC Emigration Service in Vienna and Munich, as well as Australia and South America, will be available.

“I cannot express the profoundly deep connection I felt to my past and now to JDC when out of nowhere my young face popped up on the screen,” Claus Hirsch, a German- born Shanghai Ghetto survivor, told the JDC. Hirsch found a photo of himself in Shanghai on the website.

Hirsch’s family was helped by JDC in China during the war, and he found two lists on which his family members’ names appear. He now lives in Manhattan.

“For six decades, the vast majority of this data has been available only to professional researchers,” JDC CEO Steven Schwager said in a statement.

“Now, thanks to technology, survivors and their descendants can directly engage with our shared history.”

JDC is inviting the public to tag people they know in more than 1,500 photos from Austria, Belgium, China, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, the Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Morocco, Lithuania, Portugal and Spain.

“Whether you were a little Jewish child we aided in Barcelona or one of the Jews we supported in Displaced Persons camps after the war, by putting faces, names and stories together, you will benefit generations to come,” Schwager said.

JDC plans to launch its Global Archives website this spring, making available huge collections of newly digitized documents and its significant photo collection from the organization’s founding in 1914.

And third, Project HEART (the Holocaust Era Asset Restitution Taskforce) launched a large, publicly available and searchable database (www.heartwebsite.org) of more than 650,000 Holocaust era property records on Wednesday.

The records were compiled and made on the initiative of the Jewish Agency, with support from the Israeli government, to help Jewish families identify personal property confiscated by the Nazis and to help victims seek restitution.

MK Leah Nass, deputy minister for pensioner affairs, said on Wednesday, “We sincerely hope that restituting Holocaust assets will assist survivors that were unable to receive proper redress until today, and allow them to live out their lives with greater peace of mind despite the unspeakable losses they were forced to endure.”

The Project HEART database will be composed of of property addresses, insurance policies, lists of homeowners, professions, lists of known confiscated properties, business directories, and other archival information that can help potential applicants in their research.

HEART’s database will be the international community’s largest single-source database of lost Jewish property assets from the Holocaust era.

“Israel’s very strength and national determination is derived from those who were forced to experience the very worst of humanity,” Project HEART’s Executive Director Bobby Brown said. “It is therefore incumbent upon the Jewish nation to do our utmost to give them some measure of justice which they have been denied for so long.”

“The Holocaust was not only genocide of the Jewish people, but the greatest robbery in history,” Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, said.

“These new technological tools together with the official involvement of the State of Israel in this process give us the hope that this time things will be different. As a former Prisoner of Zion, I remember the difficulty that existed in transferring information in the Soviet Union. In the age of the Internet, Google and Facebook allow us to create magnificent revolutions.

Project HEART’s website has received more than 700,000 hits during its first few weeks.”

Project HEART unveiled a set of archival records on Wednesday in an event attended by leaders of the American Jewish community, including former secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger and Jewish community leader James Tisch.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahuaddressed attendees by video and said, “This is an initiative of great importance and offers us the promise that we can finally achieve the justice so long denied to the victims of the Holocaust and their heirs.”