Monday, January 3, 2011

Judaica Europeana Provides a Unified Digital Presence for Judaica Collections

Nothing beats visiting a museum in person, as these visitors to Manchester's Jewish museum learn firsthand, but someday soon Judaica Europeana might be the next best thing. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

Judaica Europeana Provides a Unified Digital Presence for Judaica Collections

Judaica Europeana is a growing network of Jewish museums, libraries and archives which have joined to present a unified digital presences to highlight the strengths of their collections. So far twenty-three institutions in 17 cities have joined forces to provide integrated online access to Jewish collections. These include the Jewish museums of Amsterdam, Berlin, Frankurt and Toledo as well as London’s Ben Uri Gallery. The National Library of Israel will strengthen Judaica’s technical expertise and provide access to its collections. The Center for Jewish History in New York, which includes outstanding collections on Jewish life in Europe such as those of YIVO and Leo Baeck Institute, will complement the content held in Europe.

I hope I'll be able to use Judaica Europeana to getter better images than this one, which I took a few years ago without flash at the Budapest Jewish Museum. photograph: Samuel Gruber.

The Paris Yiddish Centre-Medem Library which has been associated with the project from an early stage, will provide among other things, a remarkable collection of Yiddish music. The Steinheim Institute in Duisburg has a very large database of Jewish tombstones and important photographic archives. The Spanish Ministry of Culture and the Sefardi Museum in Toledo will provide valuable content from their collections. See a full list of Partners at

Judaica Europeana is one of a series of initiatives supported by the European Commission’s eContentplus programme that harvest and aggregate content for EUROPEANA, Europe's museums, libraries and archives online. A prototype which features 14 million items online can be accessed on A fully operational version will become available later in 2011. Judaica Europeana is co-funded by the European Commission under the eContentplus programme, as part of the i2010 policy.

The project is just the latest in an still-evolving pan-European community of Jewish culture. In the past decade we have the slow but still struggling efforts of the Association of European Jewish Museums and also the highly popular annual Day of Jewish Culture. Judaica Europeana aims to create the most visible type of product from such international culture efforts - namely to show shared collections of Judaica to everyone, all the time, online. If successful the project will trample those last remaining cultural borders in Europe - recognizing that historically and now in contemporary terms, the Jewish people and Jewish culture are trans-national. The great strength of the site appears to be its intent and ability to house thousands of images. The weakness will be one shared with many websites - that there will be limited depth of information and analysis. For web-designers, seeing is often believing. Still, having such a big image library handy will be a boon to many.

Budapest, Hungary. Jewish Museum. Photo: Samuel Gruber

The project, however, dramatically demonstrates again the great divide that still exists in vision, organization, and technical resources between institutions in the old "West" - may of which receive state aid - and the struggling institutions in the former Soviet block. Twenty years after Communism only a few institutions such as the Prague Jewish Museum and the Jewish Historical Institute have been able to compete in competence with the old centers of London, Paris, and Berlin. A few centers, such as Budapest are also now emerging as major exhibition and research centers (on Budapest link to the JE newsletter below). Sadly, there are still many "orphaned" institutions in former "East" that most need to catalog, digitize and publish their collections. I hope that Judaica Europeana will extend a helping hand to institutions large and small.

Two views form the Amsterdam Jewish Historical Museum. Video can be watch online at home, but old synagogues are best understood in the spaces, moving around, turning this way and that, and experiencing passing time and shifting light. Ah, but how many musuem goers work that hard? Photos: Samuel Gruber.

According to Judaica Europeana, its strength "lies in the diversity and richness of its cross-domain offerings. Users will find at their fingertips ― only a few clicks away ― books, documents and manuscripts along with images, film and sound recordings on almost any subject. Everyone will be able to integrate this material in virtual exhibitions or in learning resources. The APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) developed by Europeana will allow the distribution of these resources directly into the workflow of the users, on PCs and mobile devices. This vast Jewish content resource will become progressively available online during 2011 and will continue to grow in the coming years."

The new Judaica Europeana illustrated newsletter is out and presents highlights from the collections of Frankfurt University and the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, two virtual exhibits from Budapest and Athens and some papers given at the EAJS Congress in Ravenna. It can be viewed here.

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