I have the perfect job. It’s perfect for me, anyway. As curator of the Goldsmith Museum and the Hendler Learning Center of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, I interact daily with beautiful objects, old and interesting books, and documents about the history of this community. Part of my job is to get these inanimate objects to “talk” to me. What secret stories they hold! So along with all of the other adjectives in my job description, we must include the word detective.
We now have a real museum here at the synagogue, but when I arrived 11 years ago, all of the objects in the collection were either in miscellaneous cases throughout the building or in an unheated storeroom above the sanctuary or in the shul basement. In those first few months on the job, and in preparation for the opening of the Goldsmith Museum in September of 2000, I spent hours and days in the storerooms all over the building trying to get an idea of the scope of the collection. And I found some real treasures.
Take a look at this manuscript page, which I found between two non-archival plastic sleeves (!!!!) in the room above the sanctuary.
It’s very old: a fragment of some sort, with writing in Hebrew. It turns out that this fragment was written in the 11th century and is a formerly lost section of a letter that was copied (by hand, of course) from an original 10th century letter by one of the great medieval Jewish scholars and teachers – Sa’adia Gaon. How did it get here? – We have no idea. The only clue we have makes reference to a former owner of the fragment named Israel Levi. If you have any further information, please do let me know.
So here’s your homework- or really, shulwork: next time you are in the building, walk through the Goldsmith Museum and visit the Hendler Learning Center. Many of you will be here for the upcoming holidays, and, perhaps during a break from prayer, stroll around and enjoy the scenery. There are some magnificent objects in the cases on the first floor, and the Timeline of Jewish History will be accessible in the Hendler Learning Center on the museum’s second floor.
And tell me what you think.