Summer projects, Part I (Yoav Varadi)

It’s been a busy summer in the Judaica collections at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library!  Many collections were processed and are now available for use, thanks to the efforts of some fantastic students. This post, by Yoav Varadi, is the first of a series describing some of the work on our collections this summer.

I began working as a research assistant for the Norman E. Alexander Jewish Studies Library in the middle of July. I had just come from an internship at YIVO Institute, and thus I was ready to further develop my interest in Jewish research. On my first day of the job, I was introduced to the many functions of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.  Michelle Chesner promised that I would work on a variety of projects throughout my time with the library.

14th century Yemenite Bible with vowels over the letters

For my first project, I created a Finding Aid for a collection entitled “Agudath Israel Records 1933-2008.”  As I begin to sift through the various letters, postcards, telegrams, convention programs, and newspaper clippings in the collection, I found that most of the materials concerned the role of Orthodox Jewry in the wake of the Holocaust. Most of the materials, dated mostly in the 1940s, were in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish. I found working on this collection to be especially fascinating given that my grandparents are Holocaust survivors.  Throughout my studies at JTS and Columbia, I have studied responses to the Holocaust,  from a theological, ethical, and philanthropic perspectives.  Thus, working on this collection greatly contributed to my knowledge of the subject.

List of Jewish families on the Lower East Side

I also learned about the process of cataloguing.  Throughout my summer, I catalogued a diverse array of materials ranging from a biblical Hebrew manuscript from 14th century Spain to a record of Jewish families residing in the Lower East Side and Brooklyn in the late 19th century. Interacting with these materials was a very special experience in that they have not been made accessible to the public until now.  As a student of Jewish Studies, I am very interested in the make-up of Jewish communities throughout the globe. [Note: These manuscripts are not yet in the catalog, but they will be added, thanks to Yoav’s work, in the coming months]

Lastly, I worked on cataloging the correspondence files of Dr. Adolph S. Oko (1883-1944). Oko was a librarian and expert on Spinoza whose research resulted in The Spinoza Bibliography (1964).  I found that a large group of the correspondence was from Dr. Carl Gebhardt (1881-1934) and another related to a campaign to raise money for the Domus Spinozana.  As I have studied the writings of Spinoza, it was quite interesting to learn about a scholar who committed his life to keeping Spinoza’s work alive.

I am very grateful for my experience at the library this past summer!  I now have a greater appreciation for the way in which archives and library materials are made accessible to the public.  It was fascinating to delve deeper into various aspects of Jewish history.  Thank you to Michelle Chesner and all those at the Norman E. Alexander Jewish Studies Library who made my experience possible.

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