As one of the world’s foremost research institutions in Jewish history, the Center for Jewish History in New York is home to the largest collection of Jewish history and culture in the world outside of Israel. The Center opened in 2000 with a goal of creating synergy among the five member organizations – American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research – each offering a different approach to Jewish history, scholarship and art.
Today, it’s the collaborative home of the five in-house partners whose collections span 5,000 years, with more than five miles of archival documents (in dozens of languages and alphabet systems), more than 500,000 volumes of books, as well as thousands of artworks, textiles, ritual objects, recordings, films, and photographs. This collection is available to the public via exhibitions, events, fellowship and a host of archive and library services.
The Center and its partners also provide access to large collections of photographs, documents, and posters capturing the devastation and recovery of European Jewry in the years following World War II; extremely rare holdings in the YIVO Library of works hidden from Nazi pillage in the Vilna ghetto; first editions of seminal works of authors such as Franz Kafka, Theodor Herzl and Else Lasker-Schuler, and personal archives from Albert Einstein held at the Leo Baeck Institue; and, in the American Jewish Historical Society archives, the largest collection of the Soviet Jewry Movement outside Israel, selections of which have been digitized with the support of the Blavatnik Family Foundation.
As with other literary and cultural institutions, the pandemic forced the Center to close its public events earlier this year. But a new grant from the Blavatnik Family Foundation is turning a time of great challenge into a time of renewal, supporting key projects and mission-critical activities at the Center in 2021 and 2022.
“We are deeply grateful for the partnership of the Blavatnik Family Foundation,” said Bernie Michael, the Center’s president and CEO. “This grant ensures continuity in some of our most respected programs like cutting-edge audiovisual digitization and support for outstanding scholars.”
This grant will match a prestigious Museums for America pilot grant to permit the digitization of at-risk motion picture film reels before their content is lost; upgrade technology infrastructure that provides the backbone for all work at the Center and its five partners; and support the Center’s world-class team of archivists, librarians, photographers, exhibition staff and conservators as they preserve collections and make them available onsite and online.
The grant also will support the Center’s fellowship program, which has hosted almost 140 scholars, including some of today’s most acclaimed scholars in Jewish studies and related fields. Their residencies at the Center have resulted in significant scholarly contributions.
“We are turning the challenges of this year into the opportunities of the coming years,” said Peter Baldwin, the Center’s board chairman. “Thanks to the Blavatnik Family Foundation and our other long-time sustainers, we are now looking ahead to emerging from the pandemic as a stronger organization ready to carry on our vital mission, ensuring that the history and stories of the Jewish people will continue to be told for generations to come.”