Trove Up for Grabs as Library Slims Down

Jewish History Books Go Begging as AJC Looks for Space

paul berger

By Paul Berger

Published September 20, 2012, issue of September 28, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The books, with such titles as “The Negro and Organized Labor” and “Who’s Who in World Jewry, 1965,” stretched in rows more than 50 feet down the hallway of a Manhattan office building. Hundreds more publications, on topics such as race, religion, civil rights, terrorism and the Holocaust, were clustered in empty adjoining offices, spread out silently on tabletops and windowsills as the Midtown traffic rumbled by.

These thousands of books, almost all hardcover, were waiting like unwanted mutts in a pound for someone to come and take them away. They were all that was left of 13,000 titles that the American Jewish Committee decided to cull as part of an 80% reduction in its print library holdings.

In recent weeks, graduate students, scholars and researchers, including library heads from Yeshiva University, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and the Jewish Theological Seminary, have descended on the AJC’s Midtown headquarters to pick over the collection, which includes periodicals and internal documents from a plethora of Jewish organizations.

Seth Chalmer, assistant director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive, said he collected 15 box loads of unpublished materials that provide a window into the 20th-century workings of Jewish groups.

They included internal memos and reports stretching back decades, from organizations such as the Zionist Organization of America, Hadassah and the Jewish Agency for Palestine (now the Jewish Agency for Israel).

Chalmer said that duplicates of these documents might exist inside the organizations themselves. But in cases of defunct organizations or those that have not properly maintained their papers, they may be the sole documentary record left. Don’t even think about surfing the Web.

“I saw a bunch of stuff that I feel fairly sure I couldn’t find on Google,” Chalmer said.

Steven Bayme, director of the AJC’s contemporary Jewish life department, said he had to clear out all the remaining books by September 14. Any Jewish titles will be sent to the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Everything left over will be thrown away.

Although the collection had largely been picked dry, a visit to the AJC’s offices before the September 14 deadline revealed several items of historical interest still waiting for an owner.

Among the hundreds of titles in a side room was a 1910 U.S. Immigration Commission publication titled Dictionary of Races and People. It provides a window into the prevailing bigotry of the day by defining “Negroes” as, among other things, “belonging to the lowest division of mankind from an evolutionary standpoint.”

Inside a cardboard box at the end of a hallway, a box of John Birch Society bulletins included a 1964 pamphlet titled “The Time Has Come.” The bulletin warned that “Communist influences are now in full working control of our Federal Government.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.