Hanukkah tops, also called dreidel or sevivon, turn up in a number of different forms and from many countries in Yeshiva University Museum’s collection – including actual tops as well as images of tops in books and cards. Here are just a few examples.

Lead dreidels such as this one were common in America into the 1940s.

In 2013, fiber artist Ina Golub (1938-2015) offered part of her extensive archive of completed commissions (invoices, presentation boards, photographs) to Yeshiva University Museum. Since we had long been familiar with Ina’s wonderful work and already had several of her pieces in our collection, we were delighted to accept these materials. Ina planned to continue working, but she promised to donate materials relating to ongoing and future projects when she retired. Sadly, Ina’s life was cut short by cancer in October 2015. The remaining part of her archives, as well as a select group of her works, recently came to us; and so we are prompted to reflect on Ina’s creative work and rich legacy.

June is a popular month for weddings and what better way to join in the celebrations than to share several wedding garments from our collection with you?

The first pictured garment is known as a bindalli, which means 1,000 branches, named for the decoration consisting of radiating scrolling stems and sprays. An ethnic garment, it was popular with urban women in the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century. The style of embroidery – gold-washed metal thread wrapped around pasteboard –p called dival work or kaveséra. The example shown here wsas worn by Buka Yohai for the ceremonial walk to the mikvah before her marriage to Nahman YOhai in Gallipoli in 1910. The dress was worn by her mother, Naomi Ben Exra, and grandmother before her. The central decorative motif is striking: a graceful form evoking a tree of life, with grape clusters and sheaves of wheat, perhas symbolizing fertiflity. The garment has a special undergarments, a chemise, embroidered at the neck and wrist where the decoration would be visible.

Arthur Szyk's 1948 drawing, Baruch Dayan Emeth, is inscribed with a quotation from Thomas Jefferson: "The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time by the blood of patriots and tyrants. [It is it's natural manure.]" This quote is from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to William Stephens Smith, Paris, 13 November, 1787.

The holiday of Passover brings to mind a variety of imagery – from Passovers long past and more recent, from famous works of art, from rare and familiar haggadot and book illustrations. We’d like to share a few Passover-related highlights from Yeshiva University Museum’s collections.

The holiday of Purim is represented by an array of objects from Yeshiva University Museum's collection - from rare ceremonial Judaica to popularly themed ephemera. I would like to share several examples with you here today.


Purim Greeting Card Issued by the Jewish Welfare Board Collection of Yeshiva University Museum

Ilana Benson, head of education at Yeshiva University Museum, reflects on the holiday of Tu B’Shevat through a few objects from the Museum’s collection

Keren Kayemet tu B-Shevat Poster, Israel, ca. 1960s.

Lillian Freehof’s 1954 book, The Carrot Candle, tells the story of a rabbit that thinks a bunch of orange Hanukkah candles are carrots. Orange Hanukkah candles were produced into the 1950s; and a box in our collection made by Socony-Vacuum Oil Company is a reminder of that tradition. The company became Socony Mobil Oil Company in 1955, so the candles must have been made before that date. By the late 1950s, however, boxed Hanukkah candles were produced in now-familiar pink, blue, yellow and white tones. Many children reading Freehof’s book in the late 50s and early 60s, when multi-colored candles became common, must have wondered how that rabbit could have mistaken candles for carrots!

Lillian Freehof, The Carrot Candle, 1954, The Jean Sorkin Moldovan Collection Company, before 1955
Gift of the Jesselson Family

Box of Hanukkah candles, Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, N.Y., before 1955

Over the next few weeks, many of us will pick up the phone to call family and friends to wish them a Shana Tova, a Happy New Year. We might also take advantage of the social media options available to us, or choose from the ever-growing number of websites allowing us to send customized e-cards. About a century ago, however, the medium used to connect loved ones and share New Year’s wishes across short and vast distances was the postcard, or “postal card”, as it was originally called.

The custom of sending written greetings for the New Year dates to 14th-century Germany when Rabbi Jacob, son of Moses Moellin, known as the Maharil (1360–1427), suggested that people begin any correspondence in the month of Elul with the words "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year." From the late 1800s through the early 1900s, color postcards printed in Germany and Eastern Europe were widely available. Though many depicted scenes of religious practice or Jewish history, others used more subtle images and conveyed personal messages through sentimental Yiddish verses.

Museum educators like to ask, “What’s going on in this picture?” The postcards below were produced in Germany in the early 1900s and are now part of the Yeshiva University Museum collection. In the first, a well-dressed man on the right side leans forward, elbow on raised knee, as he speaks into a 1920s German telephone. The woman on the left sits in a slightly altered mirror image of the same pose. In between them, making or representing their separation, is a grand house on verdant grounds. Can we identify the location by its architecture, or is it intentionally generic? Is there anything in the card’s images that suggests Rosh Hashanah? It does not seem so. Perhaps that is why the phrase Shana Tova appears four times in Hebrew (can you find them?) and once in English. But the real heartfelt message is conveyed in the four-line Yiddish verse at left: “I wish you strength and vigor/ To love me with truth and ardor/ May not a single cloud/ Darken your sky.”

Scottish-born David Roberts began his career as a stage painter and designer of scenery. Largely self-taught, he eventually made his reputation through the detailed lithograph prints that were produced after his sketches and paintings of sites across Europe and the Middle East. In 1838, after his election to the Royal Academy in London, he embarked on a trip to Egypt and the Holy Land. His visit inspired a painting of The Destruction of Jerusalem, which caused a sensation when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1849. The popularity of the painting prompted Roberts to produce a print based on it, of which few copies survive. Roberts anachronistically dates the scene to September of 71 CE, a year after the historical siege of Jerusalem, and takes certain theatrical liberties with events and topography. The image represents the Romans, under the command of Emperor Titus, having just destroyed the wall of the outer city, about to attack Mount Zion and the Temple. This view from the north side of the Mount of Olives shows the Temple with its various courts. Adjacent to the Temple is Herod’s Palace, site of the ancient Temple of Solomon and its numerous public buildings. In the foreground are represented Roman soldiers and their captives. This post anticipates Tisha b'Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, which this year begins at sunset on Saturday, July 25, 2015, and continues until the evening of Sunday, July 26. A day of communal mourning, Tisha b’Av commemorates the anniversary of the destructions of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.

YUM’s Collections Curator, Bonni-Dara Michaels, reflects on three Passover Seder plates from the collection – spanning three centuries and three cultures. Is your table set?

Created in 1769, this plate from the Museum’s Max Stern Collection of Judaica, is inscribed in Hebrew with the order of the Passover Seder, and in Yiddish with the name of the owner. Narrative motifs, inscribed within a star form, include depictions of Moses and Pharaoh, three of the four sons of the Haggadah, and the figures of Miriam and Aaron. In the center is a depiction of the paschal lamb standing on an altar of burnt offerings. This plate is made of pewter, an alloy composed of tin and zinc, with trace elements of copper or antimony. Pewter was more affordable than silver, and was frequently used as tableware from the Middle Ages into the 19th century. This plate is currently on view in our exhibition Shabbat – Inside and Out.

Over 150 years later – and 12 years after stainless steel was first patented for weaponry in Germany (in 1912) – this plate by Haim ben-David Schwed recalls traditional pewter Seder plates, although the artistic style is modern. It, too, is inscribed with a star motif, and some of the same figures from the Passover story, but on this plate a depiction of matzoh is the central element.

Harriete Estele Berman’s 21st-century Seder plate also depicts the lamb, an egg and other familiar
motifs, but that’s where the similarities may end. For the Child is made from pre-printed steel from doll houses, recycled tin containers, and other materials to create a panoramic evocation of contemporary life. This plate has eight “windows,” each containing a reference to the Seder service; the orange seems to be a modern addition to the Seder plate and Passover tradition.

The Museum has a rich collection of Passover Seder plates. Want to have a look at them and our collection of other Passover-related objects? You can start here.

Show us your Seder plate by using the hashtag #mysederplate on Instagram or Twitter and we’ll post them to our Tumblr page.

Best wishes from Yeshiva University Museum for a happy Passover – chag sameach!

The Yeshiva University Museum blog will be launched in the coming months. We invite you to return to this space, where we will explore:

  • Updates on exhibitions and programs in development at YUM;
  • Insight into the behind-the-scenes preparations for YUM exhibitions;
  • Reflections on specific objects from YUM’s collection and their resonance with holidays or contemporary events;
  • Discussion of key issues in the world of Jewish museums and cultural organizations;
  • Perspective from YUM staff or visitors to YUM.

Please stay tuned and, in the meantime, enjoy the rest of the site.

Installation view: Zero to 10 – First Decades/New Centuries: Highlights from the Collections at the Center for Jewish History, 2011