by Zachary Levine, Assisant Curator and Jacob Wisse, Director, Yeshiva University Museum, one of five partners of the Center for Jewish History
A series of new textiles, commissioned from New York-based artist Mark Podwal for Prague’s celebrated Altneuschul (Old-New Synagogue), is the focus of an exhibition at Yeshiva University Museum, Old and the New (November 27, 2011–January 15, 2012). The oldest continuously-active synagogue in the world, the Altneuschul, completed in 1270, is recognized for its architectural beauty and as a symbol of Czech-Jewish identity. Embroidered in gold thread on rich velvet, the textiles represent the first major commission for the sanctuary of the Prague shul in over 70 years, merging a contemporary artistic aesthetic with traditional Czech-Jewish art. The YU Museum is privileged to unveil the textiles before they are shipped to Prague to be installed and dedicated in spring 2012.
The textiles, including a Torah ark cover, three Torah mantles, and covers for the Torah reading and cantor’s desks, will be used on a daily basis in the sanctuary of the synagogue. Podwal melds imagery from Jewish Prague’s physical landscape with that based on the mythology of the city and the synagogue. At the core of Old and the New is the Altneuschul itself, the historical center of Prague’s Jewish community. Complementing the textiles are the YU Museum’s historic scale model of the synagogue and a selection of Podwal’s earlier graphic work of Prague.
Reminder: The Center will be closed on Thursday (11/24) and Friday (11/25) for Thanksgiving. We will reopen on Sunday, November 27th. Be sure to visit us on Sunday to see our exhibitions currently on view or to visit our reading room and genealogy institute. 15 West 16th St., btwn 5th and 6th Aves. Click here to start planning your visit.
by Kevin Schlottmann, Levy Processing Archivist, Center for Jewish History
Excerpt from Genealogy of the Benda family (AR 10226), Leo Baeck Institute
Genealogists doing research at the Center for Jewish History can access plenty of resources, from the wealth of information available at the Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute to the electronic research guides and the Ask-A-Genealogist chat function. But one research avenue that is often overlooked is the wealth of existing genealogical work found in archival collections.
by Rachel C. Miller, Senior Project Archivist, Center for Jewish History
On November 11, 2011, the Archive and Library Services Department hosted the inaugural event of our new series, Archival Leaders Advocate: Annual Seminar at the Center for Jewish History. Our annual series will feature presentations by leading figures in the archives profession on timely issues relevant to both emerging and seasoned archives professionals. With this series, we at the Center aim to look beyond our own walls and make a regular contribution to the dialogue of the archives profession as a whole.
Kicking off our first year, V. Chapman-Smith, formerly the New York State Archivist (1996-2002) and currently the Regional Strategic Liaison in the Office of the Chief Operations Officer at the National Archives at Philadelphia, presented the talk, “Societal Trends and Archives Outreach: Constructing Roadmaps for Program Growth and Sustainability.”
Ms. Chapman-Smith discussed approaches that archives can use to sustain relevance and grow increasingly vital over time, in spite of and in response to financial challenges or drops in patron use and program attendance. Through an examination of case studies, Ms. Chapman-Smith showed attendees some tested effective strategies that leverage societal trends to build new audiences and community purposes for archives. Among the projects she drew attention to were PhillyHistory.org, the Electronic Schoolhouse, the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Outreach Program, the Navajo Education Consortium, and National History Day Philadelphia.
About the speaker: Ms. Chapman-Smith has nearly 30 years of executive leadership experience in records administration, history public programming and organizational capacity building. During this time, she has received several leadership awards for her work, and she has earned a distinguished reputation for bringing fresh approaches and innovations to community engagement within the institutions she has led.
Video of the lecture now available. Click here.
On November 21, 1861, Judah P. Benjamin became the Confederate Secretary of War. As the History Channel’s website explains, “A Jew who was born in the West Indies in 1811, Judah Benjamin was an exception to the rule in the Protestant South.” The JTA Archive blog points out Benjamin’s nickname as “the Confederate Kissinger.”
The American Jewish Historical Society here at the Center is home to the Collection of Judah P. Benjamin. You can click here to explore it.
Descriptive summary of the collection: Judah P. Benjamin, called the “brains of the Confederacy”, was a statesman and jurist in the United States, the Confederate States, and Great Britain who achieved high-ranking titles wherever he served, and especially left an indelible mark in the South where he held more official positions than any other man during the Civil War. After the fall of the Confederacy, Benjamin fled to England, where he was admitted to the English bar, and later assumed a judgeship. In 1872, he was appointed the highest ranking of Queen’s counselor. Containing correspondence, letters, newspaper clippings, Confederate bank notes and bonds, Civil War memorabilia, pamphlets, and a bound copy of Benjamin’s diary from 1862-1864, the collection is valuable to researchers studying the activities and experiences of Jews in the antebellum South and under the brief reign of the Confederate States of America. Additionally, through the material relating to memorials and preservation endeavors for Benjamin, the collection also provides a look at the continued glorification of Confederate heroes in the South long into the twentieth century.
November 10—second day of the conference. Summary Session led by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Program Director, Core Exhibition, Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, and University Professor, New York University
Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett began the “From Access to Integration” summary session by saying that this conference was a worthy, fitting and appropriate way to celebrate the Center’s ten-year anniversary. Later, she added that we could have done the whole conference online, but we didn’t, because face-to-face interaction still has enormous value. “We don’t want to create a robotic field of knowledge,” she said. “The experience of us here should be a reminder to us that ‘online’ is not a substitute for everything we ever did face-to-face.”
The goal of the conference was to explore ways in which we might create a global resource for enhancing knowledge of Jewish history, and Kirschenblatt-Gimblett said that she came away from the event “quite optimistic.” But identifying next steps and future directions is a daunting task, and it was one that she thought should be shared with several of the panelists and all of the conference participants. She invited all to participate in this discussion of ways to address the issues raised in the two-day meeting of the minds.
The first issue Kirschenblatt-Gimblett raised was the major shift in the culture of repositories. “There must be historians in this room who remember the days before digital access, and they tell wonderful archive war stories,” she said, and then shared one of her own. She remembered that when she was doing research in the ‘70s, in an archive that will remained unnamed, “there was an archivist whose specialty was torture”—someone who would say, “I found something wonderful that’s perfect for your project,” and then abruptly end the conversation without releasing the material or any other information.
Even to this day, there is still in some quarters a reigning “culture of withholding,” and there are still those researchers and scholars who guard what they believe to be badges of honor associated with mining material in inaccessible archives—as though it is a competition over who has found the most arcane material in the most accessible places. Controlling access has been the archivists’ power. Changing from the power of the archivist to a culture of open access “is not just a shift. It is a tectonic shift,” Kirschenblatt-Gimblett said.
Günter Waibel, who spoke in the evening session on the first day of the conference, made a valuable distinction between talking about “what we want to accomplish” and “how, exactly, we’re going to accomplish it.” Kirshenblatt-Gimblett took up this distinction and defined the “what” as the goals to digitize as much as possible and to maximize access. But she also said that she’d like to push her colleagues beyond this particular “what.” Is there something additional to take us beyond access/integration and toward what might be completely transformative?
There are some serious challenges. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett identified one as the obsolescence of the technology. It happens very quickly. Technology is a “moving target.” Something she said she didn’t hear too much during the conference was the challenge of resistance—essentially, a situation where the resources and tools are moving so quickly that they are outpacing scholars’ abilities to use them. From her own experience in her department, she has found that scholars want as little technology as possible. They don’t have the time or inclination for the learning curve that is required to do much more than get the material “fast and easy.” There is a lot of work to be done to build the capacity in the scholars for making the best possible use of these tools and resources.
Kirschenblatt-Gimblett identified what she called the “takeaway” of the conference. “The takeaway is that data does not equal knowledge,” she said. There are many steps from data to knowledge or data or meaning. “Our mission is to create a global resource for enhancing knowledge of Jewish history”—and that does not mean only the aggregate of data or information. Scholars are the key. Investing in them and their capacity to make full use of technology resources is a high priority. And much of the discussion of partnering, collaboration and integration has focused on partnering with institutions on projects. That’s different from the range of scholarship. (When scholars teach, they’re making new scholars. It isn’t as though teaching is somehow separated from scholarship.)
She stated that integration means, on one level, taking a lot of disparate projects and resources and somehow bringing them together. The focus of this conference was “the potential of integration: increasing awareness, networking, collaborating and establishing uniform standards.” The next step is to form an association or program to create a global resource, however it may be configured. That process of integration should be twofold: on the one hand, bring everyone together, and on the other, strengthening the smaller projects so that they don’t get swallowed up or find themselves without resources to leverage.
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett then returned to the word “transformation.” What does the word mean here? What is the transformation that we’re after? If we were to take the definition for granted, our efforts would be producer-centered, or coming from those who are creating these databases and tools, and focusing on the transformative effects of digitizing more and more materials and providing greater and greater access. But that mission is just the tip of the iceberg; digitization and access can’t be the full picture of what “transformation” means.
And is that enough—to be transformative? If so, what is it transformative of? What is, precisely, to be transformed? Where is the tipping point from quantitative (more and more, better and better, access) to qualitative? Kirshenblatt-Gimblett reminded conference participants of the importance of putting these questions not only to colleagues sitting in the room, but also to the scholars who are supposed to benefit from all of these developments.
She said, “If we were to look specifically at institutions—archives, libraries, museums and universities—and see how this works, these new technologies, particularly in relationship to their wonderful collections, actually change the [institutions’] function, culture, relationship to constituents. And there can be an exponential effect.” She added, “We should consider it in two regards. We have considered it in regard to the digital end of the spectrum, but not the bricks-and-mortar end of the spectrum. What is the role of the bricks-and-mortar library in the age of the digital resources accessible from anywhere?”
The bricks-and-mortar library serves several roles, in Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s point of view. If we dismantled libraries, we would lose the face-to-face interaction with people who really know their materials. It’s not just about what you can teach yourself online. “Libraries have always been social places, and they have continued to have a social role. Nothing you can do online will replace encountering a special collection in its analog form.”
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett then raised another question: In what ways does the meeting place between technology and scholarship produce not only new knowledge, but also new forms of knowledge? When we talk about the field of digital humanities and the intersection of new technologies and scholarships, can we talk about where it is going? Can we look at both the collection side and the scholarship side to discover transformative potential?
She then invited panelists Günter Waibel, Douglas Greenberg and Anne Kenney to join her for the rest of the summary session. Other conference participants also shared their questions, thoughts and insights in a lively question-and-answer conclusion.
In addition to the Digital Project Demonstrations, the “From Access to Integration” conference (which the Center hosted Nov. 9-10) included:
Evening Session: A Discussion
Two prominent creative and strategic leaders in the field of digital technology and the humanities, shared their thoughts about the potential and the pitfalls of a digital humanities future. Douglas Greenberg (Executive Dean, School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers University) and Günter Waibel (Director, Digitization Program Office, Smithsonian Institution). Moderator: Arthur Kiron (Curator, Judaica Collections, University of Pennsylvania Libraries)
Working Session I
Oren Kosansky (Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Lewis & Clark College) presented The Rabat Genizah Project: Institutions, Communities, Agendas.
Yaron Tsur, (Head, School of Jewish Studies, Tel Aviv University) presented The Historical Jewish Press Website.
Moderator: Anne Kenney (University Librarian, Cornell University)
Working Session II
Jonathan Dekel-Chen (Academic Chairman) & Semion Goldin (Director, the Leonid Nevzlin Center for Russian and East European Jewry, Hebrew University) presented Reconstructing a (Nearly) Lost World: Digital Documentation and Research on East European Jewry.
Jean-Claude Kuperminc (Director of the Library and Archives, Alliance Israélite Universelle in Paris and President, French Commission on Jewish Archives) presented Partnerships, Autonomy, Visibility: Challenges in Building a Digital Library.
Rachel Heuberger (Head, Judaica Division at the University Library Frankfurt) presented Company Memory and More: Digitizing Frankfurt University Judaica Collection.
Moderator: Ann Kirschner, University Dean, Macaulay Honors College, City University of New York
Working Session III
Gila Flam (Music Department, National Library of Israel) presented Audiovisual Prayer: Sound and Letters as a Source of Inspiration and Learning.
Arthur Kiron (Schottenstein-Jesselson Curator of Judaica Collections, University of Pennsylvania) presented Partnering to Digitize the Holy Land: Photographs of Ottoman Palestine and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Naomi Steinberger (Director of Library Services, Jewish Theological Seminary) presented One Plus One is Greater than Two: Collaborating in the Digital World.
Moderator: Charles J. Henry (President, Council of Library and Information Resources)
Digital Project Demonstration by Frank Mecklenburg (Leo Baeck Institute)
The Leo Baeck Institute (LBI) is one of the five partners that make up the Center for Jewish History. More than 50 years after its founding, LBI continues to add significant new materials to its research library devoted to the history of German-speaking Jewry.
Notes on the DigiBaeck demonstration at the Center for Jewish History’s “From Access to Integration” conference:
The Leo Baeck Institute has set an ambitious goal: to make the entire LBI archive available on the Internet. That means that 4,000 linear feet of archival collections (10,000 individual collections; 2,500 unpublished papers; 40,000 photos) will be accessible online through DigiBaeck.
LBI hopes to serve three major user groups: academic scholars, genealogists/family researchers and the general public. The plan is to broaden access to LBI’s unique collections, in keeping with a philosophical commitment to openness and a policy framework for open access. The project involves not only digitizing all archival holdings, but also digitally publishing many manuscripts that could not find print publishers but are worth circulating to a wider audience.
The Leo Baeck Institute’s commitment to an open content policy has motivated it to plan to:
- provide open and free access
- publish collections using a Creative Commons license
- promote holdings with third parties
- and, whenever possible, give any rights and permissions that may be needed for scholars to make use of material in the collections.
There will be various ways to access DigiBaeck, including through DigiTool, the LBI website and search engines like Google. You will be able to log in as a user, store your search history and take advantage of additional e-shelf functions.
Some of the items from LBI’s collections must be converted from microfilm format to digital format before they can be accessible online. The Center for Jewish History’s Gruss Lipper Digital Lab is helping with this necessary work. (To read more about the Center’s digital lab and Collection Management & Conservation Wing, click here.)
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Digital Project Demonstration by Susan Malbin and Christine McEvilly (American Jewish Historical Society)
The American Jewish Historical Society is one of the five partners that make up the Center for Jewish History. It provides access to more than 20 million documents and 50,000 books, photographs, art and artifacts that reflect the history of the Jewish presence in the United States from 1654 to the present. The AJHS’s Portal to American Jewish History offers links to hundreds of research resources around the country.
Notes on the Portal to American Jewish History demonstration at the Center for Jewish History’s “From Access to Integration” conference:
The new and improved “Portal to American Jewish History” offers simpler data standards, unified searching (both basic and advanced), data standardization, improved subject browsing and clear links between levels of records. In addition to providing a more user-friendly experience for people interested in researching American Jewish History, these developments also make it easier for smaller institutions to join and make their resources available through the portal.
More partners with diverse data means more challenges. Partners’ records in traditional library catalogs don’t have stable URLs; the portal will instead link to catalog homepages. The automated input processes will rely on standard repository records.
AJHS has established goals for the project that it wishes two accomplish in the next two to five years. These goals include:
- Finding hidden resources (such as ones in small, unknown collections, or relevant resources currently housed in general topical repositories)
- Standardizing the modes of discovery (creating uniform digital linking, etc.)
- Sharing the software (which requires creating a software system that is ideal for partnering; customized modules on open source web and data management software.)
- Establishing the Portal as an aggregator—a collection of well organized, linked, collected data—that is the perfect platform for exhibits and curriculum gateways
- Launching portal site outreach initiatives (including curriculum guides and shared information resources)
Browsing options on the homepage help users to search the collections. A user can also search by repository or resource type. In the future, increased browsing opportunities will provide extensive subject browsing. Now, advanced search is provided directly on homepage. Search results offer temporally and geographically diverse records across partners’ collections. For example, searching “Jewish children’s homes” will gets results from four different repositories.
In the future, AJHS would like to expand online resources like the “Jewish Summer camping narrative” into curriculum guides and interactive exhibits.
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Digital Project Demonstration by Melissa Shiff (University of Toronto); Louis Kaplan (University of Toronto); John Craig Freeman (Emerson College)
From the Mapping Ararat website: In September 1825, Major Mordecai Noah founded Ararat, “a city of refuge for the Jews” in Grand Island, New York. This turned out to be just one of many failed projects and schemes in modern history that sought to carve out a nation for the Jewish people apart from British Palestine. Mapping Ararat offers the user/participant the tools to imagine an alternative historical outcome for Noah’s Ararat and to navigate through an imaginary Jewish homeland.
Notes on the Mapping Ararat demonstration at the Center for Jewish History’s “From Access to Integration” conference:
“Research Journeys Toward a Virtual Jewish History”
Research for the Mapping Ararat project began with the Mordecai Noah papers housed in the American Jewish Historical Society’s collection here at the Center for Jewish History.
The Mapping Ararat project combines historical research and artistic creation to image and imagine Mordecai Noah’s vision of establishing a Jewish refuge. This collaborative digital arts and humanities work-in-progress gives Grand Island, New York the virtual chance to become the Jewish homeland that its founder envisioned. The project also offers new approaches to coordinating and integrating different digital technologies.
First, there is the familiar website platform with a rich collection of material drawn from all of the archives where research has been conducted. Resources include maps, photographs and newspapers from the period. The website also has a social media component that allows for wide dissemination, as well as the ability to broadcast upcoming news and events, post comments and access documentation of the major artistic components of the project.
The augmented reality elements of the project include a virtual flag and an on-site walking tour of “Ararat”—a place that now exists virtually in exactly the geographical location that its creator had intended.
How does the technology of “augmented reality “work? One has to download the augmented reality browser “Layar” onto one’s smart phone to be able to view the architecture and landmarks that don’t actually exist as assets in the physical landscape but are housed on a server and inserted into the landscape virtually.
If you hold up your smart phone, it will use location services to determine exactly where you are standing, and images of buildings and other landmarks will appear on your phone’s screen according to your physical location. These virtual objects are tied to particular locations, allowing you to physically walk around and take a tour (using your phone) of a virtual landscape. As GPS technology allows your phone to pinpoint your exact location, you will be able to see on your phone’s screen the synagogue, mikvah, graveyard, casino and Noah’s Ark theme park (to name a few elements of the project) that are now a digital part of the imagined land of Ararat. Viewers are also able to access primary source materials using this same technology, providing them with supplemental information on-site.
Another component of the project is to create an exhibition in a gallery setting. When the visitor enters, s/he will see a projection on the ground of the topography of the real Grand Island, New York. Utilizing a digital map in order to overlap the topography and a gaming software program known as “Unity,” visitors can chart a course through the map using a joystick controller. Samples of vernacular culture—postcards, money, stamps, newspapers—will be juxtaposed with actual grand island artifacts (such as postcards that were available for purchase on EBay) or newspapers with which Mordecai Noah was associated. Video interviews with scholars will illuminate the material.
The purpose of the installation will be to act act as the catalyst that will enable the project to bring together archival materials from many institutions and house them together under one roof. Another possibility for this future exhibition is to present primary source artifacts and supplementary historical materials that can constellate around the digital world of Mapping Ararat.
As part of the demonstration, the Mapping Ararat team created an “augment” that they tied to the GPS coordinates of the front of the Center for Jewish History. Conference attendees with smart phones were able to go outside and, using the “Layar” app, view a virtual monument that Mapping Ararat built for the middle of 16th Street.
Click here to learn more about Mapping Ararat.
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Digital Project Demonstration by Maxine Schackman (Florida Atlantic University)
The primary mission of the Judaica Sound Archives at FAU Libraries is to collect, preserve, and digitize Judaica sound recordings; to create educational programs highlighting the contents of this rich cultural legacy; and to encourage the use of this unique scholarly resource by students, scholars and the general public.
Notes on the Judaica Sound Archives demonstration at the Center for Jewish History’s “From Access to Integration” conference:
The FAU Judaica Sound Archives—which specializes in 78 RPMs and Yiddish materials—built its mission around this question: How could a vast collection of digital information be made available to teachers, students, scholars and researchers all around the world, consistent with copyright law?
Part of the Judaica Sound Archives online is made available to the public. It’s searchable by metadata, and anyone can access the records and information. But the Archives have also digitized a much larger collection of material that is still on copyright—and making this material legally available to scholars and researchers posed a challenge.
The Scholar’s Research Station is the Archives’ answer to this challenge. In order to use the Scholar’s workstation, you must come through a recognized organization and have a scholarly purpose. Then you can access some 8,078 RPM items, 24,663 LP songs and 7,368 LP albums—all searchable by the title of the song, the name of the performer or the genre. When you arrive at the recording you want, you can see a scan of the original label and view additional information about the item.
Of course, there are more persistent challenges specific to doing work with Judaica materials—for example, the inconsistent ways that Yiddish and even Hebrew words are sometimes transliterated into the English alphabet. In order to compensate for the fact that you can have a myriad of different spellings for the same word, the Judaica Sound Archives uses a “sounds like” option. If you type in something like “eelee eelee,” for instance, you will arrive at the many different recordings of the song “Eili, Eili” that you are looking for.
The Judaica Sound Archives make available recordings that were created during the heyday of Yiddish culture in NYC and in other areas of the country. This material has nostalgic value for people who remember it from their earlier lives. But the Archives also present an opportunity for people who have never heard this music before to listen to it for the first time—and this is at the core of the Archives’ mission.
The Judaica Sound Archives also store and preserve original recordings. Technology is constantly changing; there are many examples of obsolete equipment. In the future, it might be difficult to recreate things in digital formats. With the original materials, there is always an original source to which archivists will be able to return.
Click here to visit the Judaica Sound Archives.
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Digital Project Demonstration by Dov Winer (European Association for Jewish Culture)
Judaica Europeana works with cultural institutions to identify and provide access online to content which documents the Jewish presence and heritage in the cities of Europe.
Notes on the Judaica Europeana demonstration at the Center for Jewish History’s “From Access to Integration” conference:
To complete this project, a network of 24 institutions (including the Center for Jewish History) have combined forces to provide integrated access to digitized Jewish collections around Europe.
Judaica Europeana deals with Jewish participation in life in Europe. Collected material includes documents, photographs, films and recordings that attest this participation. There is a focus on both the internal life of the communities and their impacts on broader communities of Europe.
Europeana is not a web portal. It is a services platform providing an Application Program Interface (API), enabling cultural institutions and users to access content; provide content; and build applications using Europeana functionalities for their own use. It is a digital library system (DLS).
The Digital Public Library of America has also decided to join forces with Europeana for an integrated data portal covering both US and Europe.
Now, there is not a web of physical documents; “the new web is the web of RDF.” (And the “RDF triple” is “subject – property – value.”) That is why this conference occurs at such a critical moment. There is a new environment, and it is important to propose ways in which libraries will be integrated into it.
Dov Winer explains: “This is the new web. The new web is a database. You can make queries and get answers from the web. The vocabularies are critical here. Vocabulary is the mini-structure of knowledge… you can make links to other things.” These are the new primary sources.
For now, there are 5 million documents, or 5 million digital objects (uploaded documents) that comprise the digital library. The goals are to advance the digitization and aggregation of Jewish content; synchronize the metadata; and to create knowledge-management tools (to establish vocabularies, standards for indexing, etc.). The hope is that this online resource will be used in academic research, virtual exhibitions, the arts, conferences, cultural tourism and more.
Europe’s digital libraries, archives and museums online provide a showcase for Europe’s cultural and scientific heritage. This is a flagship project of the European Commission and the European parliament.
Strategic tracks for the future are centered on these goals: to aggregate, facilitate, distribute and engage—and are also based on the strong belief that knowledge society is able to create new jobs and be part of a new economy.
The new Europeana data model is able to express much more complex elements—such as different (and even contradictory) statements about the same objects. These different statements about the same objects can now coexist in the same layer of metadata.
For example, take the word “Vikings.” The Irish definitions of and associations with the word “Vikings” include “pillagers”; the Norwegian definitions of and associations with the word “Vikings” include “loving fathers.” Now both statements can coexist in the metadata, allowing for much more effective searches.
Learn about these and other Judaica Europeana developments here.
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