As the Center for Jewish History begins its second decade, it has placed a sign on a glass wall leading to its 10th anniversary exhibition highlighting 600 years of Jewish history; the sign, which overlooks the sculpture garden, invites its visitors to “look up.” From that vantage point one can suddenly glimpse the scale of the 12 stories of stacks and archives that tower over the research rooms and exhibit spaces of a Center that draws all streams of Jews seeking to learn about their past and thus their future.
Many doubted that a marriage could be made of such proud and independent institutions as the partners in the Center for Jewish History — the American Jewish Historical Society, with its holdings of everything from the records of many of our greatest charitable organizations to the original manuscript of Emma Lazarus’ poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty; the American Sephardi Federation, with its mission to preserve and promote the traditions of all Sephardic communities as an integral part of Jewish heritage; the Leo Baeck Institute, with its library and archives for the study of German Jewish history; the Yeshiva University Museum, with its panorama of 3,000 years of Jewish experience, and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research dedicated to the history and culture of Ashkenazi Jewry.
Yet the Center begins its second decade as a thriving institution that has just completed a $30 million capital campaign, retired its debts, and secured the future of its buildings on West 16th Street in Manhattan. These moves now enable it to care for, digitize and exhibit the treasures of these institutions. Scholars and laypersons alike come to its state-of-the-art reading room, to open their laptops and have books and documents brought from the stacks. The Center’s public rooms host seminars, conferences, colloquia and receptions. And its exhibition spaces brim with the contents of its own partners and others attracted to its location at the heart of America’s Jewish communities. “Look up,” indeed.