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