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Flatiron Hot! News | July 21, 2017

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An Evening at the Center for Jewish History: The Jews and Classical Islam; Venice Ghetto Artifacts; Yiddish Cartoons

An Evening at the Center for Jewish History: The Jews and Classical Islam; Venice Ghetto Artifacts; Yiddish Cartoons
Tod Shapiro

Reported by Tod Shapiro for the Flatiron Hot! News

I had a chance to spend this past Tuesday evening at the ever-fascinating Center for Jewish History on 16th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, a short stroll from NYC Seminar Center’s offices, and again, it was well worth the time!  Cornell University and CJH kicked off a brand new collaboration, with the Ivy League school’s Jewish Studies Department inaugurating what will be a series of Jewish history-themed lectures.

The lecture was a broad overview of the history of the Jewish people during the Middle Ages residing in the Islamic civilization that bordered Europe, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean, namely Iberia (Spain), Morocco, Egypt, Palestine, Turkey, the Maghreb, Iraq, Syria, etc. Professor Ross Brann of Cornell’s Jewish Studies Department offered insight into the profound impact that the Jews’ presence in the Islamic polity had on their development as a separate people and culture – their protected “dhimmi” status allowed them a degree of security and permanence that enabled them to benefit from the tremendous advances that the Islamic culture at that time enjoyed in the areas of commerce, math, science, poetry, and literature.  Professor Brann made note of the impact of the adoption of Arabic by Jews as one of their languages of day-to-day life and commerce and scholarship,  as many of the important Jewish texts were translated into Arabic at that time.

Afterwards, I had a chance to peruse several enlightening and entertaining exhibits.  In the Center’s David Berg Rare Book Room, “The Venice Ghetto & Beyond ” explores the first Jewish ghetto, established in the Republic of Venice, as represented by a wonderful collection of documents and other artifacts from synagogues and other centers of Jewish life.  Then there was a striking sculpture by Rachel Libeksind called “Holy Trash: My Genizah,” displaying the fate of “worn-out” holy books and scrolls (items that were literally worn out after use in Jewish rituals and shuls); and then finally, a whimsical and humorous display by YIVO called “Classic Yiddish Writers in Caricature,” featuring titans of Yiddish literature such as Sholem Aleichem and Y. L. Peretz, as represented in caricature, ably explained by reference to the authors’ literary works.  Well worth a look.  If you can’t make it there yourself, check out our Flaitron Hot! News quick video clip below!