Jewish Museum Presents Sacred Trash: Lost & Found World of the Cairo Geniza

By: Sep. 20, 2011

The Jewish Museum will present Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza on Monday, October 31 at 11:30 am. In this program, authors Peter Cole and Adina Hoffman offer a vibrant view of medieval Mediterranean Jewish life as they discuss the retrieval of a vital cache of Jewish manuscripts from a geniza - a repository for worn-out books and papers - in Cairo.

Cole and Hoffman weave together portraits of such figures as Solomon Schechter, the 19th century scholar first to realize the importance of the geniza, with explorations of the medieval documents themselves - letters and poems, wills and marriage contracts, Bibles, money orders, fiery dissenting tracts, fashion-conscious trousseau lists, prescriptions, petitions, and magical charms. Presenting a panoramic view of nine hundred years, Hoffman and Cole bring the audience into the heart of this little-known trove, whose contents have been dubbed "the Living Sea Scrolls."

This presentation is based on Cole and Hoffman's book, Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza (Nextbook/Schocken, 2011, $26.95). A book signing will follow the program.
Tickets for this program are $15 for the general public; $12 for students and seniors; and $10 for Jewish Museum members. For further information regarding programs at The Jewish Museum, the public may call 212.423.3337. Tickets for lectures, film screenings and concerts at The Jewish Museum can now be purchased online at the Museum's Web site,

In 1896, at a dining-room table in Cambridge, England, a meeting took place between Solomon Schechter, a Romanian-born Jewish intellectual teaching at Cambridge University, and Agnes S. Lewis and Margaret D. Gibson, twin Presbyterian Scotswomen who returned from a trip to Cairo with several pieces of rag paper and parchment. It was the unlikely start to what would prove a remarkable, continent-hopping, century-crossing saga brought to life in Sacred Trash, and one that in many ways has revolutionized the sense of what it means to lead a Jewish life. The Wall Street Journal called Sacred Trash, "a wonderfully passionate and lively account of a civilization we could not have imagined existed and of the men and women whose enthusiasm and dedication brought it to light." The New York Times Book Review acclaimed Sacred Trash as "both lively and elevating," and noted scholar Harold Bloom called it "a small masterpiece... extraordinary in characterization, thought, and prose style."

Adina Hoffman is the author of House of Windows: Portraits from a Jerusalem Neighborhood and My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet's Life in the Palestinian Century, which was named one of the best twenty books of 2009 by the Barnes & Noble Review and one of the top ten biographies of the year by Booklist. Hoffman's essays and criticism have appeared in The Nation, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement and The Boston Globe. The recipient of a 2011 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, Ms. Hoffman is formerly a film critic for The American Prospect and The Jerusalem Post. Peter Cole's most recent book of poetry is Things on Which I've Stumbled, whose title poem revolves around the Cairo Geniza. Cole's translations from Hebrew and Arabic include War & Love, Love & War: New and Selected Poems by Aharon Shabtai; So What: New & Selected Poems by Taha Muhammad Ali; and The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492, which received the National Jewish Book Award in Poetry. Cole has received numerous other honors for his work, including an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature; the PEN Translation Prize for Poetry; and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 2007 he was named a MacArthur Fellow. Hoffman and Cole are the founders and editors of Ibis Editions, and live together in Jerusalem and New Haven.

An infrared assistive listening system for the hearing impaired is available for programs in the Museum's S. H. and Helen R. Scheuer Auditorium.

Public Programs at The Jewish Museum are supported, in part, by public funds from by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Major annual support is provided from public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency. The stage lighting has been funded by the Office of Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer. The audio-visual system has been funded by New York State Assembly Member Jonathan Bing.

About The Jewish Museum
Widely admired for its exhibitions and collections that inspire people of all backgrounds, The Jewish Museum is one of the world's preeminent institutions devoted to exploring the intersection of art and Jewish culture from ancient to modern times. The Jewish Museum was established in 1904, when Judge Mayer Sulzberger donated 26 ceremonial art objects to The Jewish Theological Seminary of America as the core of a museum collection. Today, the Museum maintains a collection of 26,000 objects - paintings, sculpture, works on paper, photographs, archaeological artifacts, ceremonial objects, and broadcast media. The collection is among the three largest of its kind in the world and is distinguished by its breadth and quality. It is showcased in the vibrant, two-floor permanent exhibition, Culture and Continuity: The Jewish Journey, examining the Jewish experience as it has evolved from antiquity to the present. The Jewish Museum organizes a diverse schedule of internationally acclaimed and award-winning temporary exhibitions as well as broad-based programs for families, adults, and school groups.

General Information
Museum hours are Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, 11am to 5:45pm; Thursday, 11am to 8pm; and Friday, 11am to 4pm. Museum admission is $12.00 for adults, $10.00 for senior citizens, $7.50 for students, free for children under 12 and Jewish Museum members. Admission is free on Saturdays. For general information on The Jewish Museum, the public may visit the Museum's website at or call 212.423.3200. The Jewish Museum is located at 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street, Manhattan.


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