Life of the Synagogue Exhibit

Screenshot of the Life of the Synagogue homepage. Items from the William A. Rosenthall Judaica Collection

Screenshot of the Life of the Synagogue homepage. Items from the William A. Rosenthall Judaica Collection

About the exhibit: Contains 76 items selected from the William A. Rosenthall Judaica Collection at the College of Charleston, one of the largest accessible collections of imagery related to synagogues and other aspects of Jewish life and culture around the world. Click on the image to visit the online collection!


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.

Dead Sea Scrolls in Boston

The library’s recent trip to view the Dead Sea Scrolls at Boston’s Museum of Science was a great success! We had more than 40 community members come together to explore our heritage and history, looking at artifacts ranging from 408 BCE to 318 CE. The low humidity and low light in caves in Qumran, near the Dead Sea, helped preserve these works of psalms, manuscripts, and biblical text for us to view thousands of years later.

The exhibit provided the original documents, with a blown-up copy to view more closely, along with a translation and contextual explanation. I highly recommend visiting– some of the items have never before come to North America!

Congregation members viewing artifacts

Congregation members viewing artifacts

To continue our Jewish heritage exploration, we then stopped over in Brookline to eat and shop at Jewish establishments along Harvard Street. Many of us visited Zaftigs Delicatessen, the Israel Book Shop, and Kolbo Fine Judaica Gallery, where we browsed for treasures and looked for inspiration. It was amazing to walk down a street with my son, seeing Hebrew on each awning, Stars of David in each window, and religious men straightening up after kids on the school playground.


The Dovekeepers

At my synagogue’s most recent sisterhood brunch, I ran into Renee, an old family friend whom I had not seen in more than 15 years. I greeted her with a smile and a hug, and we wandered together to the temple library, where she shared with me her insight into its significance and history. Suddenly donning a serious expression and looking into my eyes, Renee handed me a book she was bringing in for the library book sale, insisting I read it.

I hesitated to pick up The Dovekeepers, reading in the jacket that it was about women at Masada, a place where I had cried as a sixteen-year-old, overwhelmed by the loss of so many. Trying hard lately to surround myself with positivity, I did not want to become involved with what was sure to be a tragic story. Trusting in my old friend, however, I picked it up and began.

The Dovekeepers Cover Art

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

A few pages in, I had already become Yael, the girl narrating the first part of the book. I was sucked right into her world, Jerusalem at the destruction of the second Temple, and had to continue on in her shoes. The book is split into four parts, each one narrated by a different woman telling of her journey to the mountain Masada. Author Alice Hoffman uses the voice of each woman to weave together their relationships and experiences, seamlessly telling the story. I found myself excitedly wondering which woman would be telling the next yarn, forcibly keeping myself from turning the pages to look ahead.

Hoffman’s storytelling painted such a realistic picture that I was sure in her research that she went into the desert and lived off the land herself. How else could she know and portray such a believable existence to me? This book opened up the world to me in a whole new light– I gained an amazing new perspective on some of the experiences of the Jewish People, including magic, mysticism, love, cruelty, and faith, and have a renewed thirst to learn more about those whose courage allowed me to become the woman I am.

The author was inspired by real life artifacts found at Masada, weaving many of them into her story, along with the historical accounts of Josephus and those of the Essenes. I highly recommend this book to all women– I’ll be passing Renee’s copy on to a friend, looking into her eyes and insisting she read it.

Available at the Nancy Mae Shaines Memorial Library at Temple Israel Portsmouth.