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The Binding of Isaac, Torah Curtain and Valance, Austria, 1878. Silk with metallic and silk threads. Gift of Judge Michael Linfield in honor of his father, Seymour Linfield SCC59.97.a,b.

The Binding of Isaac, Torah Curtain and Valance, Austria, 1878. Silk with metallic and silk threads.
Gift of Judge Michael Linfield in honor of his father, Seymour Linfield
SCC59.97.a,b.

The Skirball is proud to announce the recent donation of a very rare Torah ark curtain and valance saved from destruction during World War II.

An American paratrooper during World War II, Seymour Linfield, found this Torah ark curtain in an abandoned synagogue in Austria, which had been in use as a stable. He rescued the curtain and passed it on to his son, Michael, who recently donated it to the Skirball Museum for conservation and posterity.

The curtain depicts the biblical episode of the binding of Isaac by his father Abraham, as portrayed in the Book of Genesis. The curtain and valance feature hand-sewn silk construction and intricate metallic thread embroidery. The Hebrew inscription at the top of the curtain, above the decorative fringe, reads “sound the shofar at the new moon,” which is derived from the New Year liturgy, when the scriptural reading from the binding of Isaac is read. This suggests that the curtain was specially made for the Jewish High Holy Days. The Hebrew abbreviation “Crown of Torah,” as seen on either side of the embroidered crown, refers to the sovereign authority of the Torah (the five books of Moses), which Jewish tradition ascribes to divine origin. The Hebrew inscription below the scene identifies the congregation of origin: Tagendorf (possibly a transliteration of Techendorf, a lakeside village in the south of Austria). The Hebrew numerical abbreviation just below that states the Jewish calendar year 5638, which translates to the secular calendar year 1878.

Before agreeing to accept this object as a contribution to the Museum collection, the Skirball contacted the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. (USHMM), for guidance on accepting items brought home by US soldiers during World War II. According to the USHMM, both they and the Library of Congress accept such items as long as the object is fully documented and thorough provenance research is conducted. Items looted by Nazis or their sympathizers, on the other hand, are repatriated as a matter of policy to community, synagogue, or family of origin. Continue reading

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Richard Meier Designed the Getty… and This Hanukkah Lamp

The designs of Hanukkah lamps often incorporate architectural forms. In 1985 the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, invited leading architects to submit designs of Hanukkah lamps for an exhibition entitled Nerot Mitzvah: Contemporary Ideas for Light in Jewish Ritual. The hanukkiah pictured below was designed by Richard Meier, the architect of the Getty Center just down the road from the Skirball.  An original is on view in the Skirball’s core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America

Each of the chess piece–like candleholders represents architecturally a place where Jews have experienced major crises. These historical events are arranged chronologically by branch from left to right.

Each of the chess piece–like candleholders represents architecturally a place where Jews have experienced major crises. These historical events are arranged chronologically by branch from left to right.

Branch 1
The obelisk on the far left represents Egypt—historically the period of slavery culminating in the Exodus story.

Branch 2
Second is a column of Roman style, representing the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE.

Branch 3
The third branch is a castle-like tower representing England, from which there was an expulsion of Jews in 1290. Specifically it may be the Tower of York where there was a massacre of Jews in 1190. Continue reading

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What’s a Shofar? Ask Marcus Jonas.

Shofar and Case, Maker: Marcus Jonas. Oakland, California, ca. 1870s. Wood and ram’s horn. From the collection of the Skirball Cultural Center. Photograph by John Reed Forsman.

What’s a shofar? It’s a ram’s horn that is hollowed out (through a pretty messy process) and polished. In Jewish tradition, it is blown during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. Some interpret the shofar’s blast as a call to reflect, a call to repent, a call to listen to the voice of one’s own conscience, a call to do good deeds, or a call to express prayer with breath.

When I take high school students through the Holidays gallery of our core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America, we make sure to stop at the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur case. Inside is this shofar and case (pictured above), which like many objects throughout the gallery tell a fascinating story. Continue reading

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A Special Place for Everyone: A Summer Intern’s Perspective

A simple biblical passage that transformed into an unforgettable lesson for me this summer.

A simple biblical passage that transformed into an unforgettable lesson for me this summer.

It was a Tuesday morning and a group of summer interns and new hires were gathered in the lobby. We were waiting to tour the Skirball’s permanent exhibition Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America guided by the extremely knowledgeable Museum Director, Dr. Robert Kirschner. As one of only two Multicultural Undergraduate Interns, funded by the Getty Foundation, lucky enough to work at the Skirball this summer, I had the pleasure of going on this exclusive walkthrough. The tour began with Dr. Kirschner’s passionate remarks about the Skirball’s beginnings, the Skirball’s President and CEO, Uri Herscher (with whom I’ve met on multiple occasions and who is absolutely wonderful!), and Dr. Kirschner’s personal dedication to the museum.

Most importantly, he spoke of the Skirball mission as a Jewish institution that welcomes both Jews and non-Jews. As I enter the final days of my Skirball internship, I am more and more convinced that everyone is welcome here regardless of a person’s culture, religion, or race.

Here is a photo of the beautiful handsewn “Proclaim Liberty” Torah mantle. It was made by Peachy Levy in Santa Monica in 1991. Wool, embroidered and appliquéd with cotton and metallic thread. HUCSM 60.138.

Here is a photo of the beautiful handsewn “Proclaim Liberty” Torah mantle. It was made by Peachy Levy in Santa Monica in 1991. Wool, embroidered and appliquéd with cotton and metallic thread. HUCSM 60.138.

When Dr. Kirschner guided us to the entrance of the exhibition, I stood face-to-face with a simple yet powerful statement: “Go forth…and be a blessing” [The writer of this LA Times article about the opening of the Skirball in 1996 took note of this detail as well.] He urged us to look beyond the biblical context of the passage (it’s from the Book of Genesis) and to view it as a philosophy about inclusivity and universality—a philosophy by which all of us should aspire to live, one that encourages people of all cultures to be a blessing in the world and to all humankind. What I loved most was that this message is physically and philosophically ingrained into the Skirball’s foundations.

We walked a few steps ahead and there I saw one of the Skirball’s most prized possessions. A beautifully sewn object displayed behind glass beckoned me to take a closer look. Dr. Kirschner explained that it was a Torah case. When I was close enough to read what’s embroidered in the fabric, I became even more fascinated. Similar to the passage engraved in stone at the entrance, this object carried a biblical passage (this time from Leviticus) with a universal message: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land.” These words, it turns out, are also written on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, a truly American treasure.

Recently I had the opportunity to learn more about this Torah case when I spoke with Adele Lander Burke, VP of Learning for Life, who oversees the Skirball docent program. She told me that in place of the object currently on view, there used to be a Torah scroll open to the exact same verse. But the Skirball decided that the Torah case, with its red, white, and blue motif and message about freedom, was more symbolic of the American values and ideals that are central to the Skirball mission. I also learned that the light tan color of the scroll image was meant to represent the lyrics “amber waves of grain” from “America the Beautiful.” All of these details underscored the Skirball’s deep interest in the American story, which brings me to my favorite part of the exhibition: the Liberty Gallery. Continue reading

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Saying Yes to the Dress

 

Gift of Mary and Sidney Green. SCC 9.26.

Gift of Mary and Sidney Green. SCC 9.26.

This lovely bridal gown—worn first by Eva Selbin in 1912, then altered for use by her daughter for a second generation of wear in 1936—has found new life once again… as the newest addition to the Skirball’s core exhibition, Visions and Values.

We were excited to help bring this treasured family heirloom in our permanent collection back into the galleries. As we prepared to display it, we checked in with our Senior Curator, Grace Cohen Grossman, who had studied the object in depth when the Skirball presented the exhibition Romance and Ritual: Celebrating the Jewish Wedding. Grace pointed out details of the garment. “The style of the silk satin dress with high collar and asymmetrical bands of lace is typical of the Belle Époque period, prior to World War I,” she explained. “It has a romantic, ethereal look.”

But it is no simple matter to take an object from collection storage and place it on view. Often preparations begin weeks, sometimes months, in advance during the curatorial research and conservation phases, before museum staff can even consider an installation date. Once that work is done and an object has been prepped for display, the installation itself is no piece of (wedding) cake!

So how does it happen?  It begins with a mannequin…

Mannequin… which must be vacuumed and prepped for display. This includes measuring it for proper fit, making adjustments to its height and waist size, and removing the arms to facilitate the dressing process.Prepping the mannequin Continue reading

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The Statue of Liberty and the Hanukkah Lamp It Inspired

Manfred Anson’s Statue of Liberty Hanukkah Lamp, made in 1985, is a beloved object in the Skirball museum collections. Here I am with the lamp in 1988, along with Uri D. Herscher, Skirball Founding President and CEO. Photo by Ellen Jaskol, Los Angeles Times.

Just a few weeks ago, the majestic Statue of Liberty celebrated its 125th anniversary. It seems like just yesterday that Lady Liberty turned 100, back in 1986. In the fall of that year, my husband, Ira, and I traveled with our sons, Dov and Ari—then aged eleven and eight—to New York City and brought them to the famed landmark. It had recently been reopened, after extensive renovations, in time for its centennial. On that sunny autumn morning, I had no idea I would be returning from Liberty Island with a Hanukkah lamp in mind.

Until 2001, visitors to the Statue of Liberty were allowed to climb to the crown. Our sons were determined to make it to the very top—154 steps in all. Exhausted though they were, it was a never-to-forget moment to take in views of the city from high above.

Dov and Ari had never been on a ship before and so they were in high spirits as we waited to board the Circle Line Tour. We had prepped the boys about our family history—all of my grandparents had immigrated to the United States as children—and we encouraged them to imagine what it might’ve been like for their ancestors to catch sight of the Statue of Liberty, after a long ocean journey, and begin to fulfill their dreams of coming to America.

Of course, as a curator, I wanted to see the Statue of Liberty Museum, which presents historical information and fascinating reconstructions. It also showcases the hundreds of different ways Lady Liberty’s image has figured in popular culture, including in posters, pennants, plates, medals, spoons, puzzles, and postcards aplenty, as well as advertisements for products ranging from cars to cookies. Continue reading

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