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Rare book room designed by Beyer Blinder Belle opens at Center for Jewish History
Phaedon, Moses Mendelssohn, Berlin, 1767. Image courtesy: Leo Baeck Institute at the Center for Jewish History.

NEW YORK, NY.- The David Berg Rare Book Room opened on October 6, 2013, at the Center for Jewish History, one of the world’s foremost centers for the intellectual and cultural exploration of the modern Jewish experience. Designed by Beyer Blinder Belle, the new state-of-the-art space presents exhibitions and collections of rare books, first editions, illuminated manuscripts, and letters dating back hundreds of years.

Among the treasures that will be showcased in upcoming exhibitions at The David Berg Rare Book Room are works from Albert Einstein; Franz Kafka; Moses Mendelssohn, the philosopher and Jewish enlightenment thinker; Theodor Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism; Nelly Sachs, the playwright and poet; and Emma Lazarus, the writer whose verse appears on the pedestal of the State of Liberty.

Located in New York City, the Center is home to five partner institutions – American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum, and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Spanning more than 700 years of history, the partners’ collections comprise the largest repository of modern Judaica in the world. They include books, documents, photographs, ritual objects, artwork, film, recordings, and textiles. The David Berg Rare Book Room provides for the first time a shared exhibition space for the five partners’ rare material.

“We are enormously excited about the opening of The David Berg Rare Book Room here at the Center,” said Michael S. Glickman, Chief Operating Officer, Center for Jewish History. “It represents the Center’s continued commitment to reinventing public spaces and using technology to create ways for visitors and researchers to engage with historical material. The Rare Book Room presents a crucial opportunity to make available some of the most important books and printed materials in the Jewish world and to introduce these materials to diverse audiences.”

Among the treasures that will be exhibited at the David Berg Rare Book Room are:

• A handwritten copy of The New Colossus, Emma Lazarus, New York, 1883, now inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty, with the immortal words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

• The Trial of The Jews of Trent, Trent, Germany, 1478-79. Volume of “confessions” (extracted after 15 consecutive days of torture) of 17 Jews accused of murdering a Christian infant during the spring of 1475.

• A first edition of The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka, Leipzig, 1916

• Letters of Obscure Men, Ortuinus Gratius, Crotus Rubianus, Ulrich von Hutten , Germany , c. 1515. A celebrated collection of satirical Latin letters that appeared in 16th-century Germany .

• Phaedon, Moses Mendelssohn, Berlin, 1767. Mendelssohn’s translation and commentary on Plato’s Phaedo regarding the immortality of the soul.

Designed as a contemporary jewel box for the historic materials contained within, the 1,000-square-foot David Berg Rare Book Room will be located on the main floor of the Center.

Visitors are able to virtually turn the pages of digitized volumes using touch technology. An ambitious program to digitize a large selection of the rare books housed in the partners’ collections is currently underway at the Center and will provide a constant flow of new materials. The room has been lined with custom museum millwork bookshelves with glass doors. It combines archival vitrines for exhibition displays with a glass viewing wall, enabling visitors to see inside the room from all sides.

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