NEH Scholar-in-Residence To Explore 'Lost' Jewish Museums

These include institutions shut down because of political upheavals—most notoriously, the dismantling of museums in European cities under Nazi control.

By: Sep. 01, 2021
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NEH Scholar-in-Residence To Explore 'Lost' Jewish Museums

The Center for Jewish History has announced its NEH Scholar-in-Residence for the 2021-2022 academic year. Dr. Jeffrey Shandler, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University, will spend a year at the Center for Jewish History (the Center) as its most esteemed scholar in residence, drawing on the collections available only in the Center's reading room for his research.

Generously funded through a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant for Fellowship Programs at Independent Research Institutions, the Center hosts one acclaimed scholar annually who conducts intensive research at the Center and contributes to its vibrant intellectual community. Shandler is the Center's tenth NEH Scholar.

Shandler's project, Jewish Museums Lost and Found, explores the history of "lost" Jewish museums. These include institutions shut down because of political upheavals-most notoriously, the dismantling of museums in European cities under Nazi control-as well as the relocation, dispersal, or reconstitution of Judaica collections, plus the planning of Jewish museums that were never realized.

This promises to be a timely research topic in the wake of COVID-19. Beginning in spring 2020, museums around the world closed their doors to the public due to the pandemic. As closures wore on, questions arose about the future of many institutions.

"In an unexpected way, the closing of museums during the pandemic foregrounds questions central to my research," Shandler explains, "What role do museums play in Jewish life today? What practices have museums instituted that have become part of contemporary Jewish culture?"

"The Center is the perfect place for this research," says Rachel Miller, Chief of Archive and Library Services, "In our reading room, scholars can access such a wide range of relevant materials, from rare books once part of libraries that were dissolved to archives that amazingly survived destruction in Europe in World War II thanks to people who risked their lives to save and hide them. Considering the collecting organization itself is a new focus for our NEH Scholar. We are thrilled to have Jeffrey here doing this work, and we cannot wait to hear what insights he can offer."

"Like so many cultural organizations, the Center has gone through a lot over the past 18 months," says Bernie Michael, President and CEO of the Center, "Jeffrey's research comes at a perfect time as we emerge from such a challenging moment and reopen the Center's doors to the public with renewed energy."

The Center for Jewish History illuminates Jewish history through archival preservation, public engagement, and digital access to the largest archive for the Jewish experience in the world outside Israel. The collections of the Center's five in-house Partner organizations - the American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum, and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research - comprise over five miles of archival documents in dozens of languages and alphabet systems, over 500,000 volumes of books, 7.2 million digital items, and thousands of artworks, ritual objects, textiles, and recordings, all spanning 5,000 years. The Center opens these collections to the public and activates the stories they hold.a??

Photo credit: Etty Lassman