While we can never resurrect whole communities, their synagogues and their artefacts, we can preserve their memory through the documentation and study of their remaining visual culture.
With this vision in mind the late Prof. Bezalel Narkiss, Israel Prize Laureate, established the Center for Jewish Art in 1979, as a research center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, to preserve the artistic heritage of the Jewish people.
For over thirty years the Center has carried out a comprehensive program documenting Jewish art all over the globe, encompassing all facets of Jewish visual art. Work is performed in five sections: Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts, Sacred and Ritual Objects, Ancient Jewish Art, Modern Jewish Art, as well as Jewish Ritual Architecture.
So far the Center has documented in 41 countries, from India in the east to the USA in the west. Special attention was given to the remnants left after the havoc of WWII and the Communist regimes in Europe. Collapse and ruin are the fate of hundreds of synagogues in Eastern Europe and of thousands others worldwide. The Center also documents Hebrew illuminated manuscripts, dispersed in libraries all over the world and ritual objects in museums and private collections.
Through detailed descriptions and photography by the Center’s researchers the vanishing objects are preserved for future generations. All along, the Center has been racing time. In many cases its researchers reached sites just in time to document and photograph, before a synagogue collapsed or were sold as a real estate commodity and before more ritual objects are sold by auction or dealers.
All the documentation, including detailed textual descriptions, architectural plans and photographs, is incorporated into The Bezalel Narkiss Index of Jewish Art (formerly the Jerusalem Index for Jewish Art), the world's most comprehensive and systematic Jewish art data collection. At present the Index comprises documentation of about 150,000 objects, ranging from a coin to a complex of synagogues. The objects are also classified according to iconographical subjects, with references to textual sources for cross-reference, biographies and bibliography.
Through documentation and computerization our researchers try to reconstruct the varied visual culture of lost communities and preserve it for posterity. With the forthcoming project of digitization of its archives the information amassed by the Center for over thirty years will be preserved and become accessible for academic research. In turn it will also unfold new vistas for the young - to learn about their heritage and for the old - to cherish and remember.
Dr. Lola Kantor-Kasovsky, Director
Dr. Vladimir Levin, Deputy Director
Prof. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin, Head, The Bezalel Narkiss Index of Jewish Art , Head of Bet Tfila - Research Unit for Jewish Architecture
Dr. Sergei Kravtsov, Section of Jewish Ritual Architeture
Michal Sternthal, Section of Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts
Dipl.-Ing. Zoya Arshavsky, Section of Jewish Ritual Architeture
Dipl.-Ing. Ivan Ceresnjes, Section of Jewish Ritual Architeture
Gilad Hemed, Development Team ,Digitization, CM, Web Master, Graphic Designer and Administration Director
Ido Noy, Section of Ancient Jewish Art
Mark Gondelman, Database Engineering, Programmer