:: Sara Royer

Study of Jewish Art, Music and Culture: Beth Yushurun & The Kaplan Collection

When I started this journey of studying the Book of Esther scroll and Jewish Medieval music, I will admit that I did not know where to start. I’m not Jewish, and had no knowledge of their Medieval history. Luckily, my professor, Dr. Steinhoff, pointed me in the right direction.

At Congregation Beth Yushurun, a synagogue here in Houston, there is a beautiful showcase of Jewish sacred art and literature in the The Mollie & Louis Kaplan Judaica Collection. The Chairman of the collection is Dr. Daniel Musher, and Dr. Steinhoff helped me to get in touch with him. I was fortunate enough to go to his home and see his personal collection of Megillot, scrolls that contain the story of Esther. These scrolls are recited during the Jewish holiday, Purim, and Dr. Musher knew how to chant the story. He said that he had also taught his children how to chant the scroll, showing me the importance of the scroll and holiday. He told me the story of how his wife had a Megillah illuminated several years after he had acquired it as a birthday gift for him. He allowed me to roll out the megillah and photograph it. This was the first time I had been allowed to roll out one of these scrolls.

This week, I was allowed to actually go to the Kaplan collection at Beth Yeshurun. I was very impressed with the well rounded, beautifully kept permanent exhibition. There were so many items that were showcased that pertained to Purim and the story of Esther. There all sorts of Megillot are on display: a Megillah that folded to look like a book, and silver ornate Megillah cases, cases shaped like castles, illuminated scrolls and even miniature ones! There were groggers (noise makers) that are used when the story is being read. Also, there was a collection of yads – metal pointers that keep the reader’s place on the scroll. These readers are not allowed to touch the scroll, but the yad customarily comes equipped with a human hand and pointing finger at the tip. In the collection, there was a yad from the same century as the Esther scroll that will be in our exhibition, and I hope to work out a way to borrow it.

To see the borrowing process will be very exciting for me. This process is one that involves museum protocol, and I am looking forward to understanding how that process really works. Overall, I found that Dr. Musher truly wanted to share all of his knowledge with me. He was extremely helpful, and the Kaplan collection was a reflection of his enthusiasm for Jewish art and history.

April 12, 2012

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:: Sara Royer

Houston Public Library: Archive and Rare Book Collection

Four students (Sara, Rachel, Gabriella and Monica) needed another look at the archival resources of the Houston Public Library. So we ventured out on a rainy day, into downtown Houston, to the Julia Ideson Building, the rare books facility of the Houston Public Library. As our archivist guide gathered primary information for us, we ventured up to the exhibition currently installed. Included in this exhibition is the “Book of Esther”, an 18th century scroll. Although it is not medieval, it will serve to illustrate the section on Jewish chant and music in the exhibition, as the example of this work that was chanted during the Jewish holiday of Purim. I knew that I had my work cut out for me when I saw that there was not even a name and information card for the scroll. Gabriella studied a large antiphonary, which will be featured in our exhibition and is part of her catalog entry assignment. This enormous codex was also a piece of the Houston Public Library’s current exhibition.

We were then escorted to the Rare Books Room. Monica thoroughly examined a Processional for Dominican Nuns. There were odd little faces drawn into the initials throughout the book, which Monica pointed out. She also asked interesting questions as to the book’s history.

We were all noticeably excited to be in this room. It was hard not to look around a bit and investigate all of the old and rare books that were shelved all around us. Our guide was very accommodating, answering all the questions that she could about the pages and books around us, and promising to help us find any additional information we were seeking about the items we had seen that day. I found it to be a very enlightening experience. I, for one, had never been into any kind of an archive room, and especially not in such an intimate setting. To see one of these pieces and to be able to touch them (with gloves on, of course) was a new contribution to my studies as an Art History Major.

March 20, 2012

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