New Effort Launched to Identify and Catalogue Every Hebrew Book in Italy for First Time Ever

Some 35,000 volumes from dozens of communities and institutions across the country will be included

A ground breaking collaborative effort to create a unified listing of all Hebrew books in Italy for the first time ever has been announced by The Union of Jewish Communities in Italy (UCEI), the Rome National Central Library (BNCR), and the National Library of Israel (NLI) in Jerusalem. The “I-Tal-Ya Books” initiative is being made possible through the support of the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe.

Jewish communities have existed in Italy for more than two millennia and over the centuries it has played a critical role in global Jewish history, particularly as a significant center for manuscript production and printing.

Today in Italy, thousands of uncatalogued rare Hebrew books dating back hundreds of years are held among collections belonging to local Jewish communities, as well as libraries owned by the state, the Italian Church Institutions (CEI) and the Vatican.

Some of the collections have been partially catalogued; however, there is no single integrated and standardized listing of these holdings and so while many of these books have significant historical importance and hold tremendous potential for scholars, they are often difficult if not impossible to find.

The “I-Tal-Ya Books” initiative will ensure the protection, preservation and provision of access to these cultural treasures as never before using technology developed specifically for the project. The Union of Jewish Communities in Italy (UCEI) will oversee the project, with the Rome National Central Library (BNCR) hosting the catalogue, and the National Library of Israel (NLI) providing the relevant training, support and expertise related to Hebrew books.

Dr. Yoel Finkelman, Curator of the Haim and Hanna Salomon Judaica Collection at the National Library of Israel commented: “As the national library for both the State of Israel and the Jewish people worldwide, we are honored to partner in the I-Tal-Ya Books initiative, sharing our expertise with colleagues in order to help identify and catalogue thousands of texts that would otherwise essentially be lost to history.”

An initial pilot phase has just concluded, and the full-scale project starting now will include an estimated 35,000 volumes from 14 Jewish communities and 25 state institutions. It will take approximately three years to complete.


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An 18th-Century Washing Machine

In the National Library of Israel's Edelstein Collection, we discovered evidence of one of the world's first modern washing machines, dating back to the 18th century


“Question: How can we bleach laundry under the following conditions?” This is how the first page of our pamphlet begins, in which we will discuss… laundry. The question is quickly followed by a list of sixteen conditions, which must have sounded farfetched to readers of the period – the mid-18th century.

  • No laundry soap
  • No boiling water
  • No special heating, and occasionally no wood nor fire
  • No boilers
  • No drainpipes
  • No water jugs nor laundry tools
  • Minimal preparation
  • No washerwoman
  • No noticing that you’re even doing laundry
  • No human contact
  • No tearing, nor dirt nor damage to the laundry
  • No more than 120 square centimeters of space required for laundering
  • No getting the entire area wet
  • No getting a cold in the winter nor suffering from heat in the summer
  • No repeated soaking of clothes in soap
  • And finally, laundry dries within approximately fifteen minutes

So how could this wonder be achieved? Was it really possible to wash laundry without standing knee-deep in a river, while scrubbing clothes on a metal washboard? French readers who received this pamphlet must have had endless questions… “To do all this, you must use the newly invented washing machine, and here is its description,” the pamphlet continued.

The more up-to-date readers of the time may have heard of an English patent for a similar device issued in the late 17th century. Or perhaps they came across an illustration of an early washing machine, published in 1752 in “The Gentleman’s Magazine“. But it’s more likely that they had never heard of such a thing, taking into account the world of the 18th century, which was experiencing only the first hints of globalization. Most readers were probably surprised to hear about this newfangled invention, and perhaps even dismissed the claims as nonsensical fabrications.

Illustration of a washing machine from the January 1752 issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine. “Of reducing the Starch Duty”, the title read, next to the rather offensive (by today’s standards) name given to the invention – the “Yorkshire Maiden”

Our pamphlet was printed in French in Strasbourg in 1767. As mentioned on the cover, it was in fact translated from German. The pamphlet’s title promised, “A description of the machine invented in England and perfected in Germany, for washing laundry – with greater convenience and at lower cost than you have been used to.” In Germany that same year, the original English washing machine received an upgrade thanks to a man named Jacob Christian Schäffer.

Jacob Christian Schäffer, 1718-1790

Schäffer was a theologian, inventor, and scientist. He researched the plants, birds, fungi, and insects found in the vicinity of his city – Regensburg. His research was extensive and covered many fields of knowledge, and he also drew wonderful illustrations of the animals and plants he researched. The aforementioned washing machine wasn’t his only invention. He also experimented with color pigments and optics, created lenses and invented paper-making methods.

An illustration by Schäffer for one of his books

From Germany, the washing machine pamphlet made its way to Strasbourg – the capital of the Alsace region, which throughout history has changed hands many times between Germany and France. And there, as described in the beginning of the pamphlet, a “clever mechanic” managed to construct the machine successfully. The pamphlet goes on to describe the various machine parts. As we see in the accompanying illustration, the device consisted of a large container into which the clothes were thrown, as well as a rod, which was inserted into it and which generated the spinning motion that we are familiar with in modern washing machines. The pamphlet also contained technical instructions, essentially providing an answer to the booklet’s opening question.

As with any self-respecting pamphlet, the text concluded by detailing the various advantages of using the machine, including: saving wood, soap, and time, as well as maintaining the health of those doing the laundry. In summary, Schäffer wrote, “I think my work here is done. What I have stated here proves that we can rightfully describe the new invention as a convenient, efficient, and lucrative machine in every way.”

The illustration of Schäffer’s improved washing machine

The next development was the invention of the “drum,” in which clothes were inserted and rotated with a handle. It took another hundred years for the next significant improvement: the use of a steam engine that could rotate the device without any human assistance whatsoever.

In the early twentieth century, the electric washing machine came into existence.

If you’ve read this far, you probably want to know how this French translation of a German text about an improvement on an English invention found its way to Israel’s National Library. We won’t leave you hanging: the copy found in the National Library is a small, green book which includes essays about different washing machines, with a particular focus on those operated by steam. The book is part of the Edelstein Collection, a large collection of books donated to the National Library of Israel by the Jewish-American chemist, Sydney M. Edelstein and named after him. Edelstein studied the history of fabrics and their dyes, and is especially famous for his contribution to the research of archaeological textile in Israel. His collection of books is the foundation of the National Library’s scientific collection. We invite you to visit this collection and have a look at this fascinating book.


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Can You Sell Judaism Like You Sell Toothpaste? The Uproar Over Advertising Jewish life

How Gary Wexler's ads dealing with the Jewish world took risks and used controversial content to reach non-involved Jews

From the Gary Wexler Collection at the National Library of Israel

Can the story of a modern Jewish era be captured in advertising campaigns?  A generation later I realize that is exactly what we had accomplished. These campaigns are a creative and powerful window into the issues and actions of Jewish life at the time. They tell a story about our community in a medium, a creative one, in a way it has never been revealed before.

The storytelling began in 1988. It was two years before the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey in the United States revealed the 52% intermarriage rate that began to change everything— the way the organized Jewish community saw itself and focused its efforts. But we, a team of young Jewish advertising creative professionals, didn’t need the outcome of the survey to tell us what we already knew. Several of the young creative people in this group were married to non-Jews, themselves.

I was a creative director in ad agencies having won awards for work on clients such as Apple and Coca Cola. I was also active in the Jewish world. And this was the first time I had ever been asked to use my professional skills on behalf of the community. Jewish organizations, of course, expected us to be safe, not rocking any boats. But as young Jews and also as creative professionals, we knew we needed to take risks. Or the work would be dismissed and unnoticed by its intended audience—Jews who were not engaged in Jewish life. When people would ask me during this time what I did professionally, I would simply answer, “I find Jews.”

I never imagined the campaigns would one day become an archive at the National Library of Israel, a body of work that would live on in perpetuity for the Jewish people.


Clearing out my garage

Eighteen months ago, I was clearing out my garage to make room for the 1950s Lionel Electric trains that my father had set up for me, to now set them up for my grandchildren. I thought that alone would be my big emotional moment.

But while cleaning, I noticed the dusty portfolios of the ad campaigns I had created over the years. They were taking up a huge amount of room on the shelves.  I scratched my head, “Why am I saving them? For my kids to throw out after I’m dead? When my grandchildren discover that I wrote Coke jingles to help people rot their teeth, is this the legacy I want to leave them?”


Trash. Trash. Bingo.

I haven’t worked in advertising for a long time and I knew I would not be needing these portfolios to find another ad job (Besides, nobody in the ad biz hires people in their late sixties). And I certainly didn’t need to bring them to class and encourage my Millennial students in the Masters Program at the USC (University of Southern California) Annenberg School of Communication, to believe that this professor was living in the communication profession of the past.

So I opened up the portfolio of the Apple computer campaigns. Trash. The portfolio of Coca Cola campaigns. Trash. The Intel campaigns. Bank of America, United Airlines. Trash, Trash, Trash.

Then I opened the portfolios of campaigns I created for the Jewish world, between the years of 1988- 2008. I hadn’t looked at it in over ten years. A twenty year era of Jewish life poured out in front of me. Campaign after campaign added another piece of a story of how the Jewish world functioned and engaged Jewish populations in its causes during this time.  I realized I was looking at something historic: campaigns about peace signings, terrorism, spousal abuse (the first time the community publicly admitted it, causing a controversial uproar), Jewish men dying of AIDS, religious and political tensions in Israel and how the Diaspora was lining up on different sides, the blossoming of the foundation world, the centrality of Jerusalem, the murder of Rabin, fundraising efforts, Jewish day schools and every other need and issue of the times.


Never before a collection like this

I contacted my good friend, Naomi Schacter, the director of external relations and partnerships at the Israel National Library. She asked me to send photos. The Library responded within two days writing, “In fact this is very interesting to us,” and asked that I bring the portfolios to Jerusalem.  There were forty pounds of ads I had laminated over the years for preservation, which is how people in those years presented their work in order to be hired.  I didn’t let El Al take the portfolio out of my hands.  In June, I met, portfolio in hand, with the Library, specifically with Matan Barzilai, head of the archives department and Dr. Yoel Finkelman, the curator of the Judaica collection.  Person after person came into the room until there were about ten people from assorted departments.  I explained that in a time when digital and online communication is replacing traditional advertising and newspapers, a volume of creative print advertising work such as this will not again be produced in the Jewish world. The Library enthusiastically accepted the portfolio as an ephemera archive. They told me, “We have never before owned a collection like this.”  They then told me this archive will be among the works of people such as Gershom Scholem and Naomi Shemer. I had no idea what “ephemera” even meant, and I’m not sure I yet do.


“Marketing is too commercial for the Jewish world”

In the mid-1980s when I began this venture, it was a struggle to bring my marketing and advertising creative expertise, along with an intimate knowledge of Jewish life, into the organized Jewish community. At the time, almost no nonprofits believed in marketing. I was admonished by several prominent Jewish lay leaders telling me, “Marketing is too commercial for the Jewish and nonprofit world. It is crass. It demeans what we do.” But I was unrelenting in my persistence, and eventually broke down the resistance, establishing Passion Marketing and growing it to twenty-five professionals. Passion Marketing, the company I eventually created became the go to place for Jewish organizations in America, Canada and Israel, creating over one-hundred campaigns for Jewish and Israeli causes, while also delivering marketing, communication and creative training to thousands of professionals and lay people.


Breaking down the resistance

The first crack in the wall of resistance appeared in 1988 with CAJE (Conference on the Advancement of Jewish Education) held in Jerusalem and attended by hundreds of Jewish educational leaders, donors and professionals from North America and Israel. At the time, I was serving on the board of the Bureau of Jewish Education in Los Angeles. I had been constantly advocating for marketing and advertising as the way to recruit students and build a donor population for Jewish schools. Finally, I was asked to make a presentation on the marketing of Jewish education at CAJE.


Pulling together five creative Jews

I threw myself into the opportunity. I was creative director for an ad agency where there were thirty-five people in the Creative Department. Among them were five Jews, Sharon Rich, Moira Schwartz, Rick Rosenberg, Colin Shubitz and Aram (today Ephraim) Tabackman. I pulled them all together one night after work and explained I would be going to Jerusalem to make an ad presentation aimed at Jews just like them——non-involved in Jewish life (except for Aram)—-trying to convince them to send their kids to some form of Jewish education. I told them I would write the strategic creative brief but really wanted to see what ads they would create to target people like themselves. They enthusiastically agreed.  However, the first and last ads in the campaign I created myself, in order to set the tone for the kind of creative depth I wanted them to reach for and touch in the target audiences.

The ads Gary Wexler created to set the tone of controversy and depth for the campaign, the Gary Wexler Collection at the National Library of Israel

The ads spark an uproar, a controversy, and an embrace

Sessions at the CAJE conference had on the average thirty people. I walked into the room for my presentation and there were hundreds, sitting, standing in the hallways, crowding into the doorways. I realized at that moment people knew it was time for a new approach and believed that marketing may be the answer.  I showed the work on a big screen. The room erupted. There were people who loved the bold truths, the resonance and what was currently happening in the Jewish world. And there were those who were incredibly offended and shocked, denying the realities of the day and wanting to cling onto the Jewish world as they believed it should be.


My biggest battle

It was exactly the reaction I was hoping and prepared for. It led to the real conversation I wanted to have in that room. Advertising in the Jewish world, I believed, needed to the bold and shocking. If we spoke to our audiences only with the safe things we wanted to say, that made us feel good, our audience would not listen. We’d be talking to ourselves and the audience we so badly needed would not be paying attention. We had to be honest about the realities we were facing and show the target market of uninvolved Jews that we understood who they were. For twenty years, this conversation regarding many issues, convincing Jewish organizations and particularly lay people to take risks when promoting Jewish life, remained my biggest battle.

The uproar: Additional ads created by the team of Sharon Rich, Moira Schwartz, Rick Rosenberg, Colin Shubitz and Aram (Ephraim) Tabackman; the Gary Wexler Collection at the National Library of Israel

Front page story in Jerusalem Post

I had no idea that a Jerusalem Post reporter had been present and the next day the entire campaign would be the lead article in the Jerusalem Post with the headline, “Can you sell Judaism like toothpaste?”  It was picked up by the Jewish press in the US and Canada. And my twenty year advertising journey into Jewish life began.


The Gary Wexler Collection at the National Library of Israel

Tell us what you think

Over the next few months, the Library will feature several of the campaigns. I will tell their stories, the reactions to them and whether they actually achieved their goals. One of the most startling discoveries I made when reviewing the collection is that many of the same issues that became the subject of several campaigns years ago, are still the issues today. The delivery system of communication through technology may have changed, but many of our issues as Jewish people have not. I and the Library will be extraordinarily interested in your reactions to how we promote Jewish life today and whether our issues will ever change. Advertising, as a medium, belongs to everyone. And everyone has an opinion. Tell us yours.  I don’t think any of you will be shy.



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Marcel Marceau: The Legendary Mime Who Saved Jewish Children and Fought Nazis

"Marceau started miming to keep children quiet as they were escaping"

Marcel Marceau. From the Yossi Alfi Archive, accessible through a collaboration between the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, the National Library of Israel and Haifa University.

He was born Marcel Mangel on March 22, 1923 in Strasbourg, France, to a Jewish family. His parents were Ann Werzberg Mangel and Charles Mangel, a kosher butcher. Young Marcel Mangel discovered Charlie Chaplin at age five when his mother took him to the movies and he became an avid fan. He entertained his friends with Chaplin imitations, and dreamed of starring in silent movies.

When France entered World War II, Marcel, 16, fled with his family to Limoges, France. In 1944 Marcel’s father was captured and deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he was killed. Marcel’s mother survived.

Marcel and his younger brother Alain adopted the last name “Marceau” during the German occupation of France to avoid being identified as Jewish. The name was chosen as a reference to François Séverin Marceau-Desgraviers, a general of the French Revolution. The two brothers joined the French Resistance in Limoges, where they saved hundreds of Jewish children from the race laws and concentration camps, and after the liberation of Paris, joined the French army.

The first time Marcel used mime was after France was invaded, in order to keep Jewish children quiet while he helped them escape to neutral Switzerland.

“He was miming for his life.” Image from the Yossi Alfi Archive, accessible through a collaboration between the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, the National Library of Israel and Haifa University.

Masquerading as a boy scout, Marcel evacuated a Jewish orphanage in eastern France. He told the children he was taking them on a vacation in the Alps, and led them to safety in Switzerland. Marcel made the perilous journey three times, saving hundreds of Jewish orphans. He was able to avoid detection by entertaining the children with silent pantomime. The documentary filmmaker Phillipe Mora, whose father fought alongside Marcel in the French resistance, said, “Marceau started miming to keep children quiet as they were escaping. It had nothing to do with show business. He was miming for his life.” While fighting with the French resistance, Marcel ran into a unit of German soldiers. Thinking fast, he mimicked the advance of a large French force, and the German soldiers retreated.

Word spread throughout the Allied forces of Marcel’s remarkable talent as a mime. In his first major performance, Marcel entertained 3,000 US troops after the liberation of Paris in August 1944. Later in life, he expressed great pride that his first review was in the US Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes. Owing to Marcel’s excellent command of the English, French, and German languages, he worked as a liaison officer with General George Patton’s army.

An American officer and French partisan crouch behind a car during a street fight in France, 1944. (Public Domain: National Archives and Records Administration)

Marceau joined Jean-Louis Barrault’s company and was soon cast in the role of Arlequin in the pantomime, “Baptiste” (which Barrault had interpreted in the film Les Enfants du Paradis). Marceau’s performance won him such acclaim that he was encouraged to present his first “mimodrama”, Praxitele and the Golden Fish, at the Bernhardt Theatre that same year. The acclaim was unanimous and Marceau’s career as a mime was firmly established.

In 1947 Marceau created “Bip the Clown” which was first played at the Théâtre de Poche (Pocket Theatre) in Paris. In his appearance he wore a striped pullover and a battered, beflowered, stovepipe silk opera hat. The outfit signified life’s fragility and Bip became his alter ego, just as the “Little Tramp” became Charlie Chaplin’s. Bip’s misadventures with everything from butterflies to lions, from ships and trains, to dance-halls or restaurants, were limitless.

Program for Marcel Marceau’s 1966 appearance in Israel. From the Yossi Alfi Archive, accessible through a collaboration between the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, the National Library of Israel and Haifa University.

For the next six decades, Marcel was the world’s foremost master of the art of silence. Pop star Michael Jackson credited Marcel with inspiring his famous moonwalk. In 2001, Marcel was awarded the Wallenberg Medal for his acts of courage during the Holocaust. When the award was announced, people speculated on whether Marcel would give an acceptance speech. He replied, “Never get a mime talking, because he won’t stop.”

Marcel Marceau died at the racetrack in Cahors, France, on 22 September 2007, which happened to be Yom Kippur, at the age of 84. At his burial ceremony, the second movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 (which Marceau long used as an accompaniment for an elegant mime routine) was played, as was Bach’s Cello Suite No. 5.

Marcel Marceau was interred in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. In 1999 New York City declared 18 March “Marcel Marceau Day”.



Many thanks to the author and JewishGen for permission to republish this article. It appears here as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to connect with people, institutions and communities in Europe and beyond.


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