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YIVO recognized by US government for saving cultural treasures

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The Institute of Museum and Library Services has awarded the YIVO Institute a grant of $119,433 to preserve four collections of materials related to the history of Yiddish theater and Jewish music.

The grant was awarded through the federal program, Save America’s Treasures, which provides funding for the preservation of archival materials as well as historic buildings, archeological sites and national parks that reflect America’s cultural heritage.

The money will allow the YIVO Institute to preserve and digitize four collections as part of the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections Project. The first collection, the Esther Rachel Kaminska Yiddish Theater Museum Collection, constitutes the holdings of YIVO’s original pre-war theater archives from Vilna. It includes manuscripts, posters, correspondence and photographs from Yiddish theater companies in Poland, America and the USSR. YIVO will also digitize its prewar archive of Yiddish theater music, which includes 200 handwritten scores for operas, operettas and vaudeville skits from the US and Eastern Europe.

Researchers will have access to a treasure trove of folk and cantorial music through the soon-to-be digitized archives of Abraham Moshe Bernstein. Bernstein, a leading cantor, choirmaster, composer and musicologist who was active in Vilna during the late Czarist and interwar periods, collected music from all over Eastern Europe. His papers include children’s songs, folk music and cantorial compositions.

Also to be digitized is the Jewish Music Societies Collection, which represents the combined holdings of several leading Russian-Jewish music societies that were at the vanguard of collecting, promoting and disseminating Jewish folk and classical music. The collection includes music, correspondence, reports and publications from the St. Petersburg-based Society for Jewish Folk Music (active: 1908-1930), the music section of the Kiev-based Kultur-Lige (active 1920-1926) and the music section of the Leningrad-based Jewish Historical and Ethnographic Society (active 1927-1929).

Although the four collections were created in Europe by European-Jewish institutions, they include extensive holdings of American-Jewish theater and music. Jonathan Brent, director and CEO of the YIVO Institute, said that “the grant from IMLS signifies the importance of preserving these precious materials and that these collections are not just important for the Jewish community but also for the American people and American culture. They truly are an American treasure.”

Among the previous recipients of the Save America’s Treasures Grant are the homes of historical figures including Frank Lloyd Wright, Paul Robeson and Harriet Tubman, the archives of Norman Rockwell and Ernest Hemingway and the National Cathedral in Washington.

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