Yeshiva University Museum’s new online catalogue of the Max Stern collection of Jewish ceremonial art is a real accomplishment and a tangible touchstone furthering both the University’s and Museum’s mission. It marks the Museum’s debut into digital publishing.
One of the goals of Yeshiva University is to provide the intellectual and spiritual grounding inherent in our motto of Torah U’Madda, bringing wisdom to life. As an integral part of the Yeshiva University family, the Yeshiva University Museum, through its exhibits, illustrates some of the myriad meanings inherent in that motto.
The Stern collection is a wonderful exemplar. Max Stern’s collection of ceremonial Judaica is both personal and profound. Stern did not start his collection with the idea of an appreciating investment, nor was he trying to assemble a comprehensive or chronological story. His collection was a labor of love.
Because he loved birds – Hartz Mountain Industries started as a small business selling canaries and bird seed – the Stern collection contains many pieces that are decorated with images of birds. But the whimsical decorations don’t detract from the collection’s deeper purpose: to try to recapture as much as possible of the Jewish heritage that had been destroyed in the Holocaust. In both ornate objects designed for formal synagogue ceremonies and equally cherished, if more mundane, pieces used for rituals at home, the collection depicts the full spectrum of solemnity and exuberance that colors every Jewish religious holiday and family celebration.
Now, I’m delighted to say, this collection will not just be preserved for future generations who visit the Museum but will be available to anyone with access to the Internet.
It is comprehensive, with professional-quality images of every object in the collection. It is multi-layered, with a rich mine of information about the pieces. It is dynamic, offering viewers the ability to get so close to precious objects that, in the physical world, they would have their noses pressed against the glass.
Dr. Bernard Revel, the first president of Yeshiva University, in his first commencement address, reminded his audience of the central place of Jewish studies in humanistic disciplines. “The cultural resources, traditions and heritage of Judaism, in its millennial history, its interweaving and influence upon general history, are essential for the full understanding of man’s history,” he said. Since its founding in 1973, the Museum has made those cultural resources manifest in collections and exhibitions that celebrate the diversity of Jewish cultural, intellectual and artistic experience.
-- Richard Joel, President, Yeshiva University
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Max Stern (1898-1982) was a legend in his lifetime. Arriving in the United States as an immigrant from Fulda, Germany, he built up a major business – Hartz Mountain. But other than his acknowledged material success, he achieved his real and enduring greatness as a philanthropist for a variety of causes – mainly Jewish education and Israel.
Among the former, most prominent was Yeshiva University—he was a chairman of the Board of Trustees and the founder of Stern College for Women; in the latter, Shaarei Zedek Hospital. He was also a leader in New York’s The Jewish Center, in Manhattan Day School, in the United Jewish Appeal, etc.
Mr. Stern loved all things Jewish, and this expressed itself as well in his hobby of collecting Judaica, especially silver objects d’art of ritual significance. He was both a passionate and a serious collector.
His life was suffused with Torah ideals and commitment to Israel and the Jewish people, and he endeavored to bequeath these loves to his children, grandchildren, and community. His collection, therefore, is an expression of his combination of his profound love for Judaism and his appreciation of aesthetics.
This catalogue of his collection is a testament to the remarkable personality of a truly great man.