A Librarian and Holocaust Survivor Dedicated to Preserving the Jewish Past

Dec. 29 2022

Born in a rural Hungarian village in 1934, Menahem Schmelzer survived the Holocaust in a forced-labor camp. Continuing his Jewish education after the war, he was later arrested by the Hungarian Communist government for his Zionist activities, and left the country shortly after his release. He served from 1964 until 1987 as the chief librarian of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, presiding over its vast collection of rare books and manuscripts. In his obituary for Schmelzer, who died earlier this month, Joseph Berger writes:

Professor Schmelzer looked after all these documents with striking tenderness. In 1984, he showed a Newsday reporter what he called, with tart humor, an “ugly manuscript—a battered volume of parchment pages that contained biographies of talmudic rabbis but that had no particular aesthetic appeal. It was written in about the year 1200, but what endeared Professor Schmelzer to it was its 20th-century history: it had been rescued from the destruction of Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom in Germany and Austria in November 1938 that burned down or vandalized 267 synagogues and 7,000 Jewish-owned stores and killed more than 90 Jews.

“This manuscript is a survivor, a real survivor,” he said. “It survived from 1200 to 1938, and in 1938 it survived the Kristallnacht. It’s a symbol of continuity, of how it survived the centuries and the tragedies.”

In his time as chief librarian, Professor Schmelzer, who spoke four languages fluently, taught seminary students, first as an assistant professor of medieval Hebrew literature and Jewish bibliography and then, after 1980, as a full professor. His particular expertise was in the liturgical Hebrew poetry known as piyyutim; when he received his doctorate at the seminary, his dissertation was about the work of an 11th-century Spanish rabbi famous for such poems.

Scholars from around the world consulted with Professor Schmelzer, often about arcane factual details, because of his familiarity with so many books and his near-photographic memory.

Read more at New York Times

More about: Holocaust, Jewish history, Jewish Theological Seminary, Libraries, Rare books

In the Aftermath of a Deadly Attack, President Sisi Should Visit Israel

On June 3, an Egyptian policeman crossed the border into Israel and killed three soldiers. Jonathan Schanzer and Natalie Ecanow urge President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to respond by visiting the Jewish state as a show of goodwill:

Such a dramatic gesture is not without precedent: in 1997, a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls visiting the “Isle of Peace,” a parcel of farmland previously under Israeli jurisdiction that Jordan leased back to Israel as part of the Oslo peace process. In a remarkable display of humanity, King Hussein of Jordan, who had only three years earlier signed a peace agreement with Israel, traveled to the Jewish state to mourn with the families of the seven girls who died in the massacre.

That massacre unfolded as a diplomatic cold front descended on Jerusalem and Amman. . . . Yet a week later, Hussein flipped the script. “I feel as if I have lost a child of my own,” Hussein lamented. He told the parents of one of the victims that the tragedy “affects us all as members of one family.”

While security cooperation [between Cairo and Jerusalem] remains strong, the bilateral relationship is still rather frosty outside the military domain. True normalization between the two nations is elusive. A survey in 2021 found that only 8 percent of Egyptians support “business or sports contacts” with Israel. With a visit to Israel, Sisi can move beyond the cold pragmatism that largely defines Egyptian-Israeli relations and recast himself as a world figure ready to embrace his diplomatic partners as human beings. At a personal level, the Egyptian leader can win international acclaim for such a move rather than criticism for his country’s poor human-rights record.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: General Sisi, Israeli Security, Jordan