Stanford University

News Service


NEWS RELEASE

2/10/03

Zachary Baker, curator of Judaica and Hebraica Collections, Stanford University Libraries: (650) 725-1054, zachary.baker@stanford.edu

EDITORS: High-resolution downloadable images from the collection are available at http://newsphotos.stanford.edu (file name: “Jewish”).<

Stanford acquires the historic Hebrew Library of Copenhagen's Jewish community

Stanford University announced Wednesday it will be the new home of a unique collection of Hebraica that will make it a focus of scholars researching the religious life and history of European Jewry. Stanford University Libraries acquired the collection with the help of Bay Area philanthropic organizations and individuals, including a lead grant from the Koret Foundation.

The collection itself has a dramatic history, having been assembled over centuries by the Jewish community in Copenhagen, Denmark, and concealed by Danes during the Nazi occupation to save it from destruction -- only to be returned to the Jewish community after Denmark's liberation. Decades later, the collection was acquired by Herman R. Samson. The collection is now known as the Samson/Copenhagen Judaica Collection.

"The books in the Samson/Copenhagen Collection are a part of the precious legacy of an Old World that now will be read and studied in what is, arguably, among the most creative, fertile places in the New World," observed Steven J. Zipperstein, the Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History, and co-director of Stanford's Taube Center for Jewish Studies. "Stanford has now, after having collected seriously in Jewish studies for little more than a decade and a half, among the very finest university research libraries in the field outside Israel."

Samson, a resident of Tel Aviv, noted that four generations of his family have been deeply involved in the Copenhagen community. "It has been my privilege for the past 20 years to look after and nurture this collection and thereby make a modest contribution to its survival as a unit. I feel reassured and gratified that the collection has found a new home in the distinguished library of Stanford University, where for all time it will be available to students, scholars and all who cherish the printed Hebrew book." Samson made special mention of the "heroic efforts of the people of Denmark who safeguarded the books from destructive forces some sixty years ago."

Stanford University Librarian Michael A. Keller said the acquisition "will greatly enhance the ability of the Stanford University Libraries to serve its primary research clientele on campus and elsewhere in the Bay Area. Given the incredible provenance and history of the collection, I am truly delighted that Stanford is assuming responsibility for the legacy of heroic stewardship."

The Libraries will retain the Samson Collection in its entirety within the Department of Special Collections. "This collection dramatically expands and complements the Stanford University Libraries' collection of rare Hebraica and will make Stanford a destination library for scholars elsewhere in this country and abroad who are studying the religious life and history of European Jewry," said Zachary Baker, the Reinhard Family Curator of Judaica and Hebraica Collections at Stanford.

The collection includes close to 2,000 works printed in over 115 locations from 1517 to 1939. These books cover a wide range of topics, including Bible and Talmud texts and commentaries, Jewish law and ritual, Jewish liturgy, rabbinical responsa, treatises on Jewish law (halakhah), scientific works in Hebrew, kabbalah, apologetics, bibliography, the sciences, ephemeral publications relating to the Jewish communities of Denmark and other Northern European countries, and even poetry. About half of the books were printed before 1800 in places as far flung as Amsterdam and Calcutta. Enhancing their value for research, many of the volumes contain handwritten, marginal notations by rabbis and other scholars. The collection also contains a small number of manuscripts documenting religious life in Denmark's small but influential Jewish community.

The impetus for a campaign for financial support to acquire the collection came at a March 2002 meeting between Samson and Tad Taube, chairman of Stanford's Taube Center for Jewish Studies. Taube assured Samson that Stanford, with the help of the Jewish community, would raise the amount needed to purchase the collection. Support for the acquisition of the collection grew from a vigorous, if informal, campaign led by Taube and energized by a major lead grant from the Koret Foundation of San Francisco.

Tad Taube, together with Taube family members, and with funding assistance from the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, gifted to Stanford the Taube/Baron Collection in 1985. This gift has since served as the foundation for Stanford Libraries' Judaica Collections. "It was inconceivable that we could allow these magnificent crown jewels of Jewish books to end up anywhere other than Stanford University Libraries," said Taube, who also serves as president of the Koret Foundation. "Once we were able to deliver that message to our prospective donors, their response was enthusiastic and heartwarming."

The Jewish Community Endowment Fund of San Francisco, under the direction of its executive director, Phyllis Cook, orchestrated and coordinated significant support for acquisition of the collection from Gerson and Barbara Bakar, the Eugene Friend Family, John Goldman, the Francis S. Goldsmith Fund, the Kanbar Charitable Trust, Bernard Osher Foundation, Richard and Barbara Rosenberg, Mervin Morris Family, Jim and Cathy Koshland Fund and Donald Seiler. "We were pleased to be able once again to help Stanford University Libraries acquire a collection of such value to scholars and students," Cook said. Anita and Ron Wornick, among other individuals, also contributed to this effort.

The collection will be cataloged and processed by Stanford staff. Once that work and any critical conservation measures are completed, individual works from the collection will be available for study in the Special Collections Reading Room in the Green Library on the Stanford campus. In addition to scholarly examination, it is expected that the collection will be the subject of exhibits, published catalogs, public lectures or other events in future years.

 

Background on the Copenhagen Jewish Community Library

"Considered by many a distant northern outpost somewhat removed from more familiar centers of Jewish life, the Jews of Denmark, though few in number, proved remarkably resourceful for centuries in maintaining a rich and distinctive heritage," Samson said. "This is particularly evident by the surprising variety and scope of this outstanding collection of books, representing a broad spectrum of Hebrew printing through the ages. Together the books bring to life 300 years of Northern European Ashkenaz tradition."

The library of the Copenhagen Jewish Community (Mosaiske Troessamfund, in Danish) was officially established in the mid-19th century and occupied a prominent place at the community's headquarters, a building that was known as the "Klaus." The collection consisted of books that were bequeathed to it by individuals and synagogues, or that its librarians (who were Jewish community employees) purchased from abroad.

The most dramatic episode in the history of the Danish Jews occurred in October 1943, when 7,000 of them -- almost the entire population -- were rescued from deportation to Auschwitz and evacuated by their fellow Danes to safety in Sweden. Meanwhile, the Jewish community library was hidden in church crypts, thereby eluding the sad fate of so many other European Judaica libraries, which were confiscated and dismantled by the Nazis. After World War II, the library was restored to the Jews of Copenhagen.

The postwar decades were not kind to the Copenhagen library, however. The Jewish community was no longer able to support a librarian's salary, the "Klaus" was sold and the library was placed in storage. In 1983, Herman Samson, then residing in London, was apprised of the Copenhagen Jewish community's plans to deaccession its library. With the Danish Chief Rabbi's authorization, he purchased its Hebrew books, thereby maintaining the core of the collection as a coherent unit.

 

Background on the Koret Foundation and the

Jewish Community Endowment Fund

Since 1978, the Koret Foundation has directed close to $25 million to Jewish studies programs and libraries in California and in Israel. The foundation supports organizations and initiatives in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Israel, focusing on the areas of education, community and economic development, and Jewish life and culture. With assets of $300 million, the Koret Foundation is one of the largest Jewish-sponsored charitable trusts in the country. The goal of its funding is to be a catalyst for positive change supporting vibrant communities, promoting personal initiative and encouraging creative thinking.

The Jewish Community Endowment Fund comprises unrestricted, restricted and designated funds, more than 700 donor-advised funds and over 50 supporting foundations. It manages assets of $790 million. It is part of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties. While the federation's annual campaign seeks to meet the current needs of more than 60 agencies at home and overseas, the Jewish Community Endowment Fund stands as the community's reserve fund to respond to emergencies and provide seed money for new programs to ensure the future.

 

Further information

Stanford Libraries Hebraica and Judaica Collections http://library.stanford.edu/depts/hasrg/jewish/jewish.html

Taube Center http://www.stanford.edu/dept/jewishstudies/

Koret Foundation http://www.koretfoundation.org/

Jewish Community Endowment Fund/Jewish Community Federation http://www.sfjcf.org/

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