Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage

When an unexploded U.S. bomb in Baghdad caused a flood in the intelligence headquarters of Saddam Hussein, army troops discovered a treasure trove of tens of thousands of ancient objects and manuscripts, historic photos, books, and documents telling the story of Iraq’s once thriving Jewish community. I originally heard about this story in this piece from WBUR’s Here and Now, in December 2013, which includes an interview of two childhood friends who were among the last Iraqi Jews finally allowed to flee Iraq in the 1970s.

Books Drying From the Flood

Books Drying From the Flood

More good news is that we now have access to this collection that is still undergoing preservation efforts this year. The Iraqi Jewish Archive currently provides visual access to many of these items, stating that the entire collection will be available to access in June 2014.

To search the collection, first enter your general search terms, in this case “torah.” On the subsequent page, you may filter results along the left side by Record Type, Language, Dates, and Subject Matter. Keep in mind a search for “torah” brings back results about synagogue leases, Arabic prayerbooks, and other types of material that mention “torah.”

'Torah' Search Screenshot

‘Torah’ Search Results and Filter Options

 

Enjoy looking through this material as I have been… the items, stolen and confiscated from Iraqi Jews, are slated to be returned to the Iraqi government after the loan period is up. Jewish and other organizations around the world, however, have been fighting to have the artifacts protected within the United States or returned to their previous owners. There is currently a push in Congress to format a new plan for the fate of these Jewish treasures.

Krembo

Limmud Boston

Along with my fellow staff members at the Temple Israel Hebrew school (with the initiative of Joan Nagler), I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend Limmud Boston yesterday, a conference with seminars celebrating Jewish identity and learning.  I chose to check out the following bunch of seminars, mostly library and education related, but some for fun. Even though I enjoyed these, I did leave the conference with an uneasy feeling.

In Open Source Judaism 2.0 we explored the openness of Jewish resources, as well as references to such openness in Jewish texts. Marc Stober, the presenter here, pointed out that the Torah was given out for free in a public place, one important aspect of our culture that we should remember when considering sharing our work with others.

Marc Stober teaching seminar

Marc Stober’s Open Source Judaism Presentation

In addition, the talmud explains that a candle for one is a candle for one hundred– we may share information with our community without depriving ourselves of that information. At the same time, however, we learn in Leviticus that we shalt not steal… In this information age, there is sometimes a fine line between sharing and stealing, so we must be cognizant of others’ intellectual property rights while consciously contributing information for use by our brothers and sisters.

Rabbi Charlie Schwartz

Rabbi Charlie Schwartz

In Masculinity and Marshmallows: the Role of Krembo in Israeli Cinema, we met Rabbi Charlie Schwartz, who runs some of the Brandeis High School programs. After studying cinema in college, I was tickled that this seminar was offered.  I had no idea, however, that Krembo was a tasty marshmallow treat with a chocolate shell and a cookie bottom:

Krembo

Krembo

We looked at three films in which Krembo appears, analyzing those scenes to determine how the treat diminishes characters’ masculinity, making them seem more juvenile. Information on these films can be found by following these links:

Mivtza Zavta (Operation Grandma)     |       Beaufort      |      Close to Home

I also attended my colleague’s presentation on Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences in the Jewish classroom, where Cheryl Berman shared some useful tools for addressing various learning preferences in the religious school classroom.

Cheryl Berman

Cheryl Berman, Temple Israel Portsmouth

Although my purpose in posting this was to share these wonderful experiences, I feel compelled to also share my disappointment in many members of the greater Boston Jewish community. One important reason for attending such an event as Limmud is to find camaraderie from within your Jewish community– to be as one for a day, sharing common interests in our common heritage. As a first-time attendee I felt as if this was not an important factor to those around me, that everyone was in it for himself and not the greater good.

The behavior of those attending the seminar on the two-state solution in Israel was abhorrent, including hateful language and disrespect to other Jews in the room. These thirty people share more than just a religion, and should be ashamed at their blatant disregard of the peace process and their negative effect on human kindness. We should all be working toward a peaceful world. Let’s remember that this begins with how we treat each other.

Digital Public Library is Live!

A wondrous thing happened this past week in the Digital Public Library of America going live. This portal provides the public with free, open access to endless cultural and historical materials that have been digitized at countless institutions.

A valuable support to all modern and traditional libraries, the DPLA brings “different viewpoints, experiences, and collections together in a single platform and portal, providing open and coherent access to our society’s digitized cultural heritage.” (Quoting the DPLA history page)

One may use the search bar (pictured below) to find this Yiddish sheet music in its entirety, historic photos of synagogues around the world, or even this sound recording of broadcaster Claude Sullivan’s 1958 journey to the new State of Israel.

DPLA Search bar and Browse Features

DPLA Screenshot: Search Bar and Browse Features

Although you may browse and access these items for free, please be aware that many of them are copyrighted by their creators or by the institution that houses them. Some you may use without asking permission– please check the “rights” section on the finding aid, as pictured below. This is the page that comes up when you click on the item’s title in the list of search results.

Screenshot Illustrating Reproduction Rights

Screenshot Illustrating Reproduction Rights

I hope you enjoy this precious resource as much as I do! It represents the new age of open information in libraries that can help us learn more about our cultural heritage and that of those with whom we share this earth. See you there!