The Preservation of UCLA Library’s Fantastic Collection of Hebraica and Judaica

The UCLA Library recently reported that 400 volumes of a collection consisting of over 33,300 volumes, the Cummings Collection of Hebraica and Judaica, is now available on HathiTrust. The HathiTrust, to those unfamiliar, is a large-scale collaborative repository of digital content collected primarily from the United States and other commonwealth country academic research libraries. Another 700 volumes of the collection are currently being uploaded and made full-text searchable.

The UCLA Preservation blog of May 13, 2019, titled “Fifty Years Later: The Cummings Collection of Hebraica and Judaica” by Stephanie Geller, gives a fascinating account of the collection. She explains how the collection ended up at the UCLA Library.  She also provides some endearing accounts from the UCLA Library preservation staff on some of the fun and interesting items they encounter in preserving the collection.

The story of the acquisition of the fantastic collection goes back ninety-seven years ago to 1921 when Moshe Aaron Wahrman in Frankfort opened a scholarly Hebrew book store which eventually became a Hebrew book store renowned across Europe. Upon Moshe Wahrman’s death, the store passed to his cousin, Samuel Wahrman, a noted authority on Hebrew bibliography. With the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, Samuel Wahrman moved to Jerusalem, taking a good part of his book stock.

In Jerusalem, Samuel met Nathan Bamberger, and soon “Bamberger and Wahrman” became the catchphrase in helping develop famous Hebraica and Judaica collections in great libraries around the world. They are credited with helping solidify the Hebraica and Judaica scholarly collections for the Hebrew National and University Library in Jerusalem, the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, the Brandeis University Library, the Harvard University Library, and the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, to name a few.

In 1948 Bamberger died, and Wahrman continues the business until his death in 1961. The UCLA Department of Near Eastern and African Studies established in 1955, had an Assistant Professor, Arnold Band on sabbatical in Jerusalem in 1963. Professor Band had made a point of visiting the infamous Bamberger and Wahrman store. He found the store locked and upon investigation found that the store was being run temporarily by a manager but was up for sale.

Band immediately got in touch with the Chair of his department who immediately got in touch with the UCLA Chancellor. Through the warm-hearted generosity from Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Cummings of Los Angeles, the University of Los Angeles was able to acquire the book store collection and ship it to the UCLA Library giving UCLA immediate credibility in owning one of the vast library Hebraica and Judaica collections.

As is many times the case, the collection sat in the library until Dawn Aveline, the former Head of the Library Preservation Program, chanced upon the collection and initiated the digitization project that is in place today. The digitization of the collection started in 2014 and is progressing, as stated above.

In Geller’s post, she supplies several illustrations of the collection. One of the illustrations depicts a pressed flower, apparently forgotten, left in a book of 1791/2 Viennese religious commentary. 

A couple of other illustrations depict doodles and notations in the antique books from many years ago suggesting the thoughts of previous readers, perhaps some who were bored school children attempting to sit through boring class lectures? Many of the notations found are in Hebrew, and the paleographic skills needed to translate are lacking, but some of the writing can be made out.

The signatures of previous owners are often identifiable. For example, the signature of Moses Gaster, a 19th and early 20th-century linguist, scholar, and hugely influential Zionist is identifiable in several of the books worked on to this point. Gaster was a Romanian Jew who had been expelled by Romania for his beliefs. He went to England where he lectured at the University of Oxford, the lectures later published. Romania eventually canceled his expulsion, but he did not go back, becoming a British citizen. The Gaster Collection of manuscripts are housed at the British Museum.

Hopefully, you will have the opportunity to research this dynamic digital collection that is growing daily.

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