March 20, 2008
Vol. 27 No. 12

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    New library exhibition celebrates daily, ceremonial moments in Jewish life cycle

    By Julia Morse
    News Office


    Clockwise from top center: Das Verhöre, Sabbat-Ruhe auf der Gasse, Après le repas du Sabbath, Bar Mizwa-Vortrag and La bénédiction du Rabbi. Postcards reproducing paintings by Moritz Oppenheim (1800-1882) of scenes from Jewish family life. Harry and Branka Sondheim Jewish Heritage Collection, University of Chicago Library.


    A new exhibition at the University Library, “Images of Prayer, Politics, and Everyday Jewish Life from the Harry and Branka Sondheim Jewish Heritage Collection,” celebrates and represents both ceremonial and daily moments in the Jewish life cycle.

    “The Sondheim collection supports increasing interest in visual culture studies among students and scholars,” said Alice Schreyer, Director of the Special Collections Research Center. “Visual representations are now an essential element of understanding how an individual, group or culture portrays itself and is presented by others.”

    The exhibition opened Monday, March 10 in the gallery of the Special Collections Research Center and will continue through Monday, July 7.

    Assembled over many years by alumnus Harry Sondheim (A.B.’54, J.D.’57), the collection spans the 16th to the late-20th centuries and includes early books, prints, drawings, 19th- and 20th-century newspaper and magazine illustrations, and ephemeral items such as New Year’s cards and postcards depicting Jewish life and customs. In 2005, Sondheim began to present his collection to the University in a series of gifts.

    The exhibition is organized around representations of events of the Jewish life cycle—birth, circumcision, naming, marriage and death—and those of the Jewish calendar—the Sabbath, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Simchat Torah, Sukkot and Passover. Sondheim also collected numerous images of Jews at labor and leisure, and works by illustrators and artists Ben Shahn, Moritz Oppenheim, Ephraim Lilien, Alfred Szyk, Alphonse Lévy and Bernard Picart, which also are represented in the exhibition.

    Many items on display bear the evidence of their roles in Jewish life, including postcards with handwritten messages in French, German and English, and Haggadot (Passover prayer books), stained from use at the Seder table.

    The Sondheim collection complements other Library collections, particularly the Ludwig Rosenberger Library of Judaica.

    “Harry Sondheim’s decision to donate his collection to the University of Chicago is an act of great generosity to his alma mater and reflects his goal for the collection to be an active resource for research and teaching,” Schreyer said.

    Leora Auslander, Professor in History and the College, organized the exhibition with graduate student Sara Hume. Auslander will teach a Spring Quarter course on modern European Jewish history and culture, which, she said, the items from the Sondheim collection will enhance.

    “These materials will provide students with a much richer source base for traditional topics and open new areas for research,” said Auslander. “The numerous and diverse representations of the celebrations of major Jewish holidays will add substance to the arguments for innovation and creativity in the Diaspora.”

    Examples of the impact of mass culture on Jewish life also will be used in the course. “Students will have the great privilege of using these objects in class, but also of thoroughly researching items they find particularly intriguing,” said Auslander.

    Exhibition viewing hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. Special Collections is closed Saturdays during interims. For further information, contact the Special Collections Research Center at (773) 702-8705 or visit http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/spcl.