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ImagIng the past
museum displays have traditionally led the way in shaping the collective image of ethnic identity. Jewish collections created the vision of a shared european past for american Jews. since its inception in 1962, the magnes became the prime repository fulfilling this role on the West Coast.
Hanging lamp and chandelier for Sabbath and Festivals with eight oil wells, seven branches, drip pan and crownshaped top
eastern europe, 18th century Brass Judah L. magnes museum purchase with funds provided by elie J. tennenbaum, 76.118
anonymous Portraits of Eduard (or Edmond) Mayer and Amalie Ettinger Mayer, 1833
Oil on canvas 73.9 a-b
mayer Kirshenblatt (1916–2009: galicia and Canada) Shaving the Corpse, 1998–2007
hand-colored lithograph on paper Judah L. magnes museum purchase, 2007.4.1
paul Christian Kirchner (17th–18th cent.) and sebastian Jugendres (1685–1765) Iüdisches Ceremoniel . . . (Jewish Ceremonial Rites . . .)
german nuremberg, peter Conrad monath, 1724 gift of Rabbi Irving Frederick Reichert, rb.21
Four of the six children of eduard (or edmond) mayer (1801–1847) and amalie ettinger mayer (1806–1878) of Karlsruhe (Baden-Württemberg, germany) moved to the United states in the 19th century. the Western Jewish americana archives of the magnes Collection include extensive documentation about this family across two continents, and a letter that their daughter, Johanna mayer hirschfelder (1831–1869), wrote home, detailing her journey by ship and train to California via the Isthmus of panama in 1856.
scholar Barbara Kirshenblatt-gimblett interviewed her father, toronto-based artist mayer Kirshenblatt, over several decades about his life in a polish town before the holocaust, which he reconstructed from memory in hundreds of drawings and paintings. the scene in Shaving the Corpse tells the story of a man who had abandoned religion and shaved his beard. then, the beard grew back during a long illness. By rabbinic injunction, he was allowed to be buried only after his beard was shaved off: “this man had to appear in front of the Lord looking just the way he did when he was alive.”
First published in 1717, the detailed description of Jewish ceremonial customs by paul Christian Kirchner, a Jewish convert to Christianity, was edited by the Christian hebraist, sebastian Jugendres, in 1724. the new edition included twenty-eight copperplate engravings (nine signed by Johann georg puschner) depicting a variety of Jewish rituals, including events marking the life cycle and synagogue and communal life.
VOICIng the LOCaL
magnes capitalized on the synergy between the rootedness of the Bay area Jewish community and the cosmopolitanism of Berkeley. the Western Jewish history Center, established in 1967, pioneered the study of Jewish regionalism, expanding the parameters of american Jewish identity beyond the “new York City paradigm.”
sarah samuels stein (1870–1953: United states and France) Portrait of Theresa Ehrman, aka Thérèse Jelenko (1884–1967), 1906
Oil on canvas WJhC 1977.016
Clarkson Dye (1869–1955: United states) Temple Emanu-El, San Francisco, 1907–1926
Oil on canvas 2008.14
Ira nowinski (United states) Gravestone of Moses Reeb (1835–1891), Sonora Pioneer Jewish Cemetery, 1984
silver gelatin print Ira Nowinski photographs of Northern California Jewish life, 1983– 1984, BanC pIC 2012.031
Jewish Film Festival. Independent Filmmakers: Looking at Ourselves
san Francisco, sequoyah graphics, 1982 poster Courtesy of Deborah Kaufman, Berkeley
Vessel inscribed in memory of Aaron Shenson
san Francisco, California, 1920 Copper 2011.0.11
art collector sarah samuels stein, of san Francisco, married michael stein, Leo and gertrude stein’s older brother, in 1894, and lived in paris with her family from 1903 until 1935. she collected the works and promoted the career of henri matisse, with whom she also studied. theresa ehrman (later thérèse Jelenko), also of san Francisco, taught piano to sarah’s son, allan, and lived with the stein family in paris. the Western Jewish americana archives of the magnes Collection include her papers and photographs.
Bay area painter and muralist, Clarkson Dye, celebrated the re-dedication of the synagogue of Congregation emanuel after the 1906 earthquake and fire in this painting. the building, located on sutter street, was built in 1866. the architecture, by William patton, blended a gothic plan with the moorish style found in german synagogues at the time. severely damaged in 1906, it reopened on september 1, 1907, and remained in use until the dedication of the congregation’s current synagogue in 1926.
the Commission for the preservation of pioneer Jewish Cemeteries and Landmarks was created under the sponsorship of the Judah L. magnes museum in 1963. In the 1980’s, it promoted the photographic documentation of the gravestones in the cemeteries in the gold Country by Ira nowinski, a photographer closely associated with the magnes.
the san Francisco Jewish Film Festival, conceived and founded by Deborah Kaufman in 1980, was initially supported by the Judah L. magnes museum with the american Film Institute in Washington, DC, and the UCLa Film archives. Its goal was to spark a cultural debate inside the Jewish community, and to challenge the image of the Jews in hollywood.
aaron shenson (1859–1920), immigrated to san Francisco from Lithuania in 1880 and found work as a kosher butcher. he opened his own shop on Folsom street in 1882, and moved it to mcallister street after the 1906 earthquake. he was president of Congregation Keneset Israel (founded in 1903). In 1932, his sons, Louis, Jesse and Joseph, opened shenson Bros. Kosher sausage Co., a prominent kosher market in the Fillmore District. his descendants became important art collectors and philanthropists in the Bay area. the hebrew inscription recites: “In memory of our father and teacher, aharon son of Yeshayahu ha-Levi, who passed away on the 27th day of the month of adar, 680” (corresponding to march 17, 1920).
seeKIng the pLURaL
among american Jewish museums, the magnes defined itself early on by collecting outside of the eurocentric focus. It now includes important holdings from asia, north africa and the middle east, which directly highlight the multicultural character of the global Jewish Diaspora.
maurice Bismouth (1891–1965: tunisia and United states) Untitled (Old Man with Prayer Book), n.d.
Oil on wood Judah L. magnes museum purchase, 93.1
Ketubbah (Marriage Contract) of Elias ben Meir Roby and Simchah bat Yehudah
Kochi, Kerala, India, 8 Kislev 676 (november 15, 1915) gold paint, tempera, and ink on paper Judah L. magnes museum, Bernard Kimmel Collection, 67.0.11
the island of Djerba, tunisia, was an inspiration to French Orientalist painters and, later, to matisse and picasso. Jews had a long history throughout tunisia. tunisian-born painter maurice Bismouth mostly portrayed typical scenes from the life in the Jewish community and at the el ghriba synagogue.
Kolkata, West Bengal, India, 1830 Wood, leather brocade and metal Judah L. magnes museum purchase, Bernard Kimmel Collection, 69.71
Ritual items acquired by Bernard Kimmel, an american rabbi who served as a chaplain on cruise ships, and visited India and the middle east since the 1960’s. Kimmel collaborated with the Judah L. magnes museum in creating a large collection of holdings from these regions, with a focus on the Jewish communities of Calcutta and Cochin.
Beyond collecting historical artifacts and documents of material culture, the magnes has continuously supported new artistic endeavors through commissions and exhibitions. It had the courage to showcase experimental art and innovative forms, and provided a forum for California artists.
Victor Ries (b. 1907: germany, palestine, and United states) Eternal Light, 1965–1975
Brass gift of elaine henderson, 83.1
tal shochat (b. 1974: Israel) Untitled (Orange Tree), 2005
C-print, 6/6 Judah L. magnes museum purchase, 2008.10
al Farrow (b. 1943: United states) Menorah (II), 2005
machinegun barrels, guns, bullets, and steel gift of Claire I. Wahrhaftig, 2008.35
Ries was born in Berlin, germany, and educated in the Bauhaus tradition. In the early 1940s, after immigrating to California, he became a founding member of the pond Farm artists’ colony, near guerneville. Ries made many contributions to modern liturgical metal arts and crafts in the United states. In the Bay area, he created narrative window screens depicting Jewish holidays at temple Beth abraham in Oakland and the distinctive gate at the former Judah L. magnes museum.
shochat portrays trees, with various calculated backdrops and designed lighting, creating tension between nature and artifice. these are “studio portraits” of trees. Untitled is part of a series depicting wilting orange trees, photographed in an Israeli orchard that has thrived in spite of neglect, as part of a growing phenomenon of orchard clearance in favor of real-estate projects.
san-Francisco-based al Farrow is best known for his controversial reliquaries, based on Jewish, Christian, and muslim motifs, made from gun parts, bullets, artillery shells, and human bone.
COLLeCtIng the FRagments
In preserving the evidence of the holocaust and its aftermaths, the magnes has continued to collect, exhibit and publish new work created by subsequent generations of survivors as they try to make sense of history.
marc Chagall (1887–1985: Belarus, France, United states) Josué se prosterne devant l’ange porteur d’épée, chef des armées de l’Eternel (Josué, V, 13–15), 1957
(Joshua prostrates himself before the sword-bearing angel, captain of the hosts of the Lord. Joshua 5:13–15)
From Bible, paris, tériade editeur, 1956, pl. 45 hand-colored etching, 53/100 gift of Benjamin J. Baum, 88.35.7
Vardi Kahana (b. 1959: Israel) Three Sisters and Three Generations
From the portfolio, One Family, photographs by Vardi Kahana, text by meir shalev, 2007 silver gelatin print gift of Doron and marian Livnat, 2010.3.1 & 2010.3.21
Larry Bercow (b. 1956: United states) Mauthausen Wall, 1993
1993, edition 1/6 Color photograph, steel frame gift of the photographer, 95.5
David mamet (b. 1947) and Donald sultan (b. 1951) Bar Mitzvah, story by David mamet, drawings by Donald sultan
el segundo, Calif., mFa Contemporary atelier, 1999 Bound silk screen plates with hand-inlaid gold leaf Judah L. magnes museum purchase, 99.30
Chagall’s project, Bible, started and encouraged by ambroise Vollard in 1930, was published by tériade after the second World War, between 1952 and 1956. the illustrated scenes, which were based on twelve biblical books, were chosen by Chagall to reflect the recent experience of the Jews in europe. In 1957, Chagall hand colored 100 sets of the entire series.
the first and the last photographs in a documentary project by Israeli photographer Vardi Kahana. In the artist’s words: “this is the story of one family. It is the entire Jewish-Israeli narrative embodied in a single family. this is my family. to the big question of Jewish-Israeli identity, the photographs of my family provide a kaleidoscope of answers.” Three Sisters depicts Kahana’s mother Rivka, with her two sisters Leah and esther, each with her left sleeve rolled up to expose consecutive inmate numbers tattooed on their forearms. having survived auschwitz, Rivka and her sisters live in Israel with thirty-one grandchildren; two of them have thirty-five great-grandchildren.
the mauthausen Concentration Camp was established after the Anschluss of 1938 around a quarry on the bank of the Dabube river, in Upper austria, to incarcerate “traitors to the people from all over austria.” according to the United states holocaust memorial museum, an estimated 197,464 prisoners passed through the mauthausen camp system between august 1938 and may 1945. at least 95,000 died there. more than 14,000 were Jewish. new York-based Larry Bercow created a series of photographs of the site during a visit in 1993.
Limited edition book with text by David mamet and illustrations by Donald sultan. the literary narrative, which features a conversation between an old man and a boy on the eve of his Bar mitzvah, moves from the intricacies of watchmaking to the holocaust. the visual narrative proceeds from gilded clocks and elaborate timepieces to blank watch faces, barbed wire, empty windows, and stark architectural renderings.
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