THE JEWISH MUSEUM OF FLORIDA-FIU (JMOF-FIU) IS THE ONLY MUSEUM DEDICATED TO TELLING THE STORY OF 250 YEARS OF FLORIDA JEWISH HERITAGE, ARTS AND CULTURE THROUGH ITS PERMANENT EXHIBITION MOSAIC: JEWISH LIFE IN FLORIDA: A DOCUMENTARY EXHIBIT FROM 1763 TO PRESENT, AND FROM DECEMBER TO FEBRUARY, JMOF-FIU IS PRESENTING DISCOVERY AND RECOVERY: PRESERVING IRAQI JEWISH HERITAGE.
The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU’s temporary history and art exhibitions change periodically, so every single one is a must-see opportunity, and Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage is no exception. This presentation details the dramatic recovery of historic materials relating to the Jewish community in Iraq from a flooded basement in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters, and the National Archives’ ongoing work in support of U.S. Government efforts to preserve these materials. The soft opening for the exhibition coincides with Art Basel Miami Beach on December 3rd., 2015 with a Members’ Reception on December 7th. The exhibition will be on view for a limited time through February 14th, 2016.
In both English and Arabic, the 2,000-square-foot exhibition features 23 recovered items and a behind-the-scenes video of the fascinating yet painstaking preservation process. The entire collection includes more than 2,700 Jewish books and tens of thousands of documents in Hebrew, Arabic, Judeo-Arabic and English, dating from 1524 to the 1970s. A special website makes these historic materials freely available to all online: www.ija.archives.gov/. This work was made possible through generous support from the U.S. Department of State.
The National Endowment for the Humanities in partnership with The Center for Jewish History were very helpful in providing key start-up support for the project.
On May 6th, 2003, just days after the coalition forces went into Baghdad, American soldiers entered Saddam Hussein’s flooded intelligence building. In the basement, under four feet of water, they found thousands of books and documents relating to the Jewish community of Iraq—materials that had belonged to synagogues and Jewish organizations in Baghdad.
The water-logged materials quickly became moldy in Baghdad’s intense heat and humidity. Seeking guidance, the Coalition Provisional Authority placed an urgent call to the nation’s foremost conservation experts at the National Archives. Just a week later, National Archives Director of Preservation Programs Doris Hamburg and Conservation Chief Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler arrived in Baghdad via military transport to assess the damage and make recommendations for preservation of the materials. Given limited treatment options in Baghdad, and with the agreement of Iraqi representatives, the materials were shipped to the United States for preservation and exhibition. Since then, these materials have been vacuum freeze-dried, preserved and digitized under the direction of the National Archives.
The Jews of Iraq have a rich past, extending back 2500 years to Babylonia. These materials provide a tangible link to the community that flourished there, but in the second half of the twentieth century dispersed throughout the world. Today, fewer than five Jews remain.
Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage is divided into six sections. Discovery is a short film that captures the dramatic story of how these materials were found, rescued and preserved. Text and Heritage explores Iraqi Jewish history and tradition through recovered texts, including a Torah scroll fragment, a Hebrew Bible with commentaries from 1568, and a Babylonian Talmud from 1793. Using recovered texts, Iraqi Jewish Life—Constancy and Change explores the pattern of Jewish life in Iraq. Personal and Communal Life shows selected correspondence and publications, which illustrate the range and complexity of Iraqi Jewish life in the 19th and 20th centuries. After the Millennia features Iraqi Jewish life unraveled in the mid-20th century, with the rise of Nazism and proliferation of anti-Jewish propaganda. Preserving the Past shows us why it is not surprising that the coalition forces turned to National Archive conservators for help: shows the transformation of these materials from moldy, water-logged masses to a carefully preserved, enduring historic legacy.
Do not miss out on this unique opportunity to explore centuries of Jewish history like you’ve never seen, unfold before your eyes.