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Vanderbilt's Judaica Collection : 70 Years in the Making

Frederick Kuhlman

Frederick Kuhlman

In the 70th year of the Judaica Collection, the Jean and Alexander Heard Library has created an exhibit, drawing upon the significance of the number 70 in Jewish history and literature. From its beginnings in 1945, the collection has had a special place in the mission of the University Library, eventually earning a room of its own and, through the decades, attracting a number of donors. This summary of the history of the collection is written from the perspective of seven decades and from a 21st century context in which Dr. Frederick Kuhlman, the library director at the start of the Judaica Collection, plays a leading role.

Beginnings and First Chapter

The year is 1945 and the world is waking up to all that has been lost to the Jews and their heritage and to an awareness of what still may be lost in the chaos of post-war Europe. Fortunately for Jewish education, some European Jewish scholars immigrated to the United States in the 1930’s and brought their libraries with them. Director Kuhlman recognized the importance of spreading Jewish scholarship in the South and most particularly to his university. He engaged in negotiations to secure a donor and to purchase the professional library of Professor Ismar Elbogan. In his letter to Mrs. Regina Elbogen, Kuhlman writes:

Ismar Elbogen

Ismar Elbogen

“… if reason, truth, and justice are to prevail to the treatment of the Jew the world over, then we must combat ignorance, misrepresentation, and hate with education and enlightenment based upon the truth and upon goodwill. In this combat, books and sound literature are our best weapon … New centers of Jewish learning are urgently needed. America must become one of the sanctuaries of Jewish scholarship to give the proper perspective for the Jew and the values for which his best leadership has stood … we need this collection in the South-central region partly because of our present poverty in books, but also because such a collection would make this a Mecca for study and research in problems dealing with the Jew.”

The story of the first four decades of the Judaica Collection is told in the pamphlet Judaica Collection: A History (.pdf). The contributions of faculty who had an advocacy role (Professor Samuel Sandmel, Professor Lou Silberman, and Rabbi Randall Falk) and the major donors (Sarah Lowenstein Teitelbaum, the Lee J. Loventhal family, Howard Lehman Goodhart, and the Eskind family) are detailed in the pamphlet’s narrative.

Second Chapter

The Judaica Collection achieved a new level of distinction in 1988 when the Raymond Zimmerman Family Foundation pledged $500,000 to honor the memory of Mary and Harry Zimmerman. In a letter of intention to commit this gift, Raymond Zimmerman, their son, states:

Mary and Harry Zimmerman

Mary and Harry Zimmerman

“It is my hope that this collection will serve people who want a basic knowledge and understanding as well as those who wish to do research on specialized issues. In addition to students and professors, it should be freely available to members of the wider community who are interested in a fuller understanding of Judaism.”

A commemoration ceremony on October 16, 1989, named the collection The Mary and Harry Zimmerman Judaica Collection. A bookplate was created in expectation of a significant growth in holdings.

The Divinity Library Director, Dr. William Hook, began a search for a scholar’s collection that would complement the 7,000 volumes in the existing collection. The widow of Nahum N. Glatzer had placed the library of her husband on the market. Before WWII, Professor Glatzer had been a student and scholar in Germany alongside Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Buber. Leaving Germany for Israel shortly after the Nazi rise to power, Professor Glatzer then immigrated to the United States in 1938 to begin his final career path as an academic. His longest faculty tenure was at Brandeis University, where he chaired the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. He also edited the periodical Judaism and served as a consulting editor of Schocken Books. The Glatzer Collection included 6,000 monographs, primarily in German, Hebrew and English, but the prize in the collection was the archival material, most notably the correspondence between Buber and Rosenzweig and the Star of Redemption manuscript.

Nahum Glatzer

Nahum Glatzer

The purchase of the Glatzer Collection was finalized in 1991. Processing the titles began in earnest in 1992, and in December of 1993 an exhibit and reception showcased the highlights of the Collection. Vanderbilt could now boast one of the finest Judaica collections in the South.

Additional significant acquisitions followed in short order. The Hebrew Books from the Harvard College Library microfiche set (4,686 titles) was purchased in 1993. One thousand Yiddish books from the National Yiddish Book Center were purchased in 1994, and German-Jewish Periodicals from the Leo Baeck Institute in New York were purchased in the form of 247 microfilm reels. Following a mandate from Raymond Zimmerman, over the next six years the balance of the gift was expended on current publications for both general readers and scholars.

Three endowed book funds enable a modest but steady growth of the collection: the Silberman Book Fund to honor Professor Lou H. Silberman; the Littauer Book Fund in memory of Professor Samuel Sandmel; and the Sylvia and Sydney Zwick Memorial Fund established by Carol Zwick in memory of her parents. Many of the current periodical subscriptions are now electronic and some of the reference sources also have moved to electronic format. The title count in 2014, after 70 years of judicious acquisitions, is 18,800. The Judaica Collection is open to the Jewish community in Nashville and circulation privileges are provided for those who make a request.

2015 Summary Statement

Director Kuhlman’s dream to create a center for Jewish study and research at Vanderbilt University has been fulfilled beyond his expectations. Vanderbilt’s Jewish Studies Department includes seventeen faculty members. Jewish Studies is one of the interdisciplinary programs on campus that is integrated into the undergraduate and graduate curriculum. Jewish student life on campus is supported by Vanderbilt Hillel, whose services and programs are administered out of the Ben Shulman Center for Jewish Life. The Library played an early role in this renaissance. Without the efforts of dedicated faculty and generous donors, the resources for Jewish scholarship would not have attained their current richness and depth. This exhibition celebrates their contributions and showcases some of the treasures in the hopes that the next 70 years will create a story as rich as the first 70 years.