It seems like it might have been premature to celebrate the completion of a Jewish literature reading hall in a major library here.
The physical structure is complete, but the hall at the Russian State Library still lacks computers, furniture and even books before it opens to the public, possibly by the end of the year.
But the cash-strapped library had good reason to celebrate when 300 people gathered March 21 in a large marbled conference hall in the library, formerly known as the Lenin Library.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has agreed to provide the library with works of modern Jewish literature that the library couldn’t afford to buy in recent years.
The Russian Jewish Congress has agreed to finance the much-needed restoration of the Baron Gunzburg collection of medieval Jewish books and manuscripts. That includes 7,000 books in Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish and some European languages, as well as 1,000 books in Arabic and about 2,000 manuscripts.
The books were gathered in czarist times by the Gunzburg family, which left Russia when the 1917 revolution broke out.
“We have a large fund” of books, “but little money,” library head Viktor Fyodorov said. “The RJC and Joint will help us complete this fund.”
The hall also will serve as an exhibition hall and cultural center. But much work needs to be done before the hall is fully operational.
“If you go into the library and ask for a commentary on the Bible, you’re likely to get a book from 1700,” JDC’s Moscow director, Joel Golovensky, said. “They’re falling apart.”
According to the library, the Gunzburg collection contains the third largest number of early Hebrew printed texts in the world.
Books such as “Commentaries to Job,” compiled by Rabbi Levi ben Gerson in Ferrara in 1477, and “Yosippon,” ascribed to Josephus Flavius of Mantua in 1475, are unlikely to be found in any other library in the world, the library says.
“This is not just an achievement for Russian Jews, but for all Jews,” RJC President Yevgeny Satanovsky said, speaking on the project to restore the books.
The RJC began collaborating on the project with the library in late 2001.
The reading hall constitutes part of the Center of Oriental Literature, which was created by the Russian government in 1995 and is located in a building directly across from the massive brick walls of the Kremlin.
The building formerly housed the Kalinin Museum, named in honor of former Soviet head of state Mikhail Kalinin, and has been renovated with both public and private money.
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