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Valuable Jewish Museum Will Be Brought to America

March 7, 1926
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The whole panorama of Jewish life is represented in the collection of Judaica acquired by the Hebrew Union College of Cincinnati, it was announced by Adolph S. Oko, librarian of the college, upon his return from Europe where he negotiated the purchase of the Kirschstein Museum in Berlin.

The collection contains all the objects used by Jews in religious worship, from the ark of the Torah to the Passover plates, the achievements of the jew as an artist and craftsman, as painter, etcher, architect, sculptor, musician, writer, and philosopher.

Packed in thirty-four cases are 6,174 items of artistic and historic importance. They were purchased by Mr. Oko with a fund raised from leaders of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, which maintains the Hebrew Union College and its library. Among the contributors to the special fund were Ben Selling of Portland, Oregon, and Julius Rosenwald of Chicago, who contributed $25,000 each; others who gave to the fund were Isaac W. Frank, A. J. Sunstein, Maurice Falk, Bennie Neiman, Nathaniel Spear, all of Pittsburgh; Adolph S. Ochs, Ludwig Vogelstein and Ben Altheimer of New York, and Simon Lazarus of Columbus, Ohio.

The museum which today is known as the Kirschstein collection, was started originally by two men, neither of whom knew of the other’s work. One was Frauberger, director of the museum of Dusseldorf, a non-Jew, who began to collect Jewish antiquities and ceremonial objects. Kirschstein, in Berlin, also began to collect specimens of the arts and crafts of his people. Several years ago Kirschstein bought out the beautiful Frauberger collection and added it to his own, setting aside a separate museum and rooms in his own dwelling to house the collection.

Outstanding among the thousands of objects is a cross of the Spanish Inquisition. This is the only Inquisition cross of whose existence collectors are aware, and it testifies to a tragic history. This cross, centuries ago, was pressed into the hands of Jewish martyrs as they walked to the stake, and forced the men who preferred to die rather than renounce their faith to hold it aloft in their death agony. The cross bears a Spanish inscription which, translated in part, says: “Who holds you, does not have the cross; who holds you not has the cross.” It is estimated that the value of the cross is ten thousand dollars.

More than one hundred scrolls of parchment, known as Megillot, bearing the story of the deliverance of the Jews of Persia from their enemies by the intervention of Queen Esther, is included in the collection. These Megillot date from the Nenaissance to the present day. More than two-thirds of the Megillot are beautifully hand illuminated and illustrated. The story of Esther is told, by means of exquisite workmanship in silver filigree, in one of the Megillot. A “special Megillah” is a Megillah of the Jews of Padua, dated 1684, recounting the tale of the deliverance of the Jews during a Turkish invasion of Vienna. There is included in the collection a sixteenth century Ark of the Law of the synagogue of Padua.

The collection of ceremonial objects is notable as much for its artistic beauty as for its historic value. There are Menorahs of many shapes, periods, and materials, silver, copper, and bronze: coverings for the Ark of the Torah, that are richly embroidered in gold and silver; utensils for the baking of matzohs; many Shofars, the ram’s horn blown on the Jewish New Year; dishes and glassware used in the home and synagogue for festival observance. An interesting European custom is traced in the presence of six hundred Torah bands called “wimpeln”, used to bind the Torah and hold its scrolls together. It was customary for mothers to embroider these bands on the birth of a child and present them to the synagogue, inscribed with all their fond hopes for their children. Nearly one hundred beautifully illustrated marriage contracts are included.

Sharing interest with the ceremonial collection are the manuscripts. Included in these are decrees of emperors and princes, from such potentates as Frederick the Great and others. There are autographed letters of Heine, Zunz, Richard Wagner, and Meyerbeer. Two hitherto unpublished letters of Richard Wagner to Meyerbeer, dated from Paris in May and June of 1840, come to light in this collection, and illuminate the character of the famous composer. In these letters Wagner hails Meyerbeer as “master”, and addresses him in tones of servility. He sketches in one the motif of the Flying Dutchman. Some years later, Wagner wrote a book “Judaism in Music” and bitterly attacked Jewish musicians, particularly Meyerbeer.

The collections of Jewish art include portraits, miniatures, etchings, engravings. There are thirty-eight pictures of Moses Mendelsohn the philosopher. The famous Oppeaheim portrait of Ludwig Boerne is here, and portrats by Marr, Mengs, and etchings done by Chodowiecki in the 18th century, as well as caricatures by Emil Grimm. There is, too, a collection of pictures of synagogues of all ages and countries.

“The Kirschstein collection makes vivid the development of Jewish culture from the sixteenth century to the present day,” Mr. Oko said, in making his announcement. “Although there are many objects dating further, the record is complete from this date. The coming of this collection to America will no doubt stimulate Jewish study here. The courses of study in Jewish history in our schools will be vitalized. The past of the Jews becomes tangible. Students can see and touch that which has only been “legend” before. There is strong probability that the collection of synagogue building pictures alone will have a far reaching influence on synagogue architecture in this country.

“This collection of Jewish museum objects supplements all other museums in this country. Hitherto every people has had its museum, with the exception of the Jews. This new acquisition enables us to weave together the cultural contributions of the Jews to the nations among whom they have sojourned, as well as what they themselves have absorbed.”

The collection will not become available to the public for some time, for the present facilities of the Hebrew Union College Library are inadequate to house it, and it will be necessary for a new edifice to be built for this purpose. Plans for this building are included in the $5,000,000 national endowment fund campaign which is shortly to be launched by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, under the leadership of Mr. Adolph S. Ochs of New York.

The Hebrew Union College Library has been in the limelight of public interest for two years, since Mr. Oko announced the acquisition of Hebrew manuscript of an extinct Jewish colony at Kai-Fung-Foo in China, during the Ming dynasty.

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