The Blavatnik Family Foundation has awarded $1 million to the Center for Jewish History, home to the largest collection of Jewish history in the world outside of Israel. The award reflects the generosity of Len and Alex Blavatnik, longtime board members at the Center.
“This extraordinary contribution from the Blavatnik Family Foundation provides key support for the Center in what may prove to be the most pivotal time in our 20-year history,” said Peter Baldwin, Chairman of the Board of Directors. “We are grateful that the Blavatnik Family Foundation strengthened their longtime support of the Center through this major gift. Together with increased support from other Board members, we are moving from a time of crisis to one of renewal.”
The coronavirus crisis has had a significant impact on the Center, as it has on the entire cultural sector. “This funding permits us to carry forward essential parts of our mission, such as supporting collections‑based scholarship and making treasures in the archives available online through digitization,” said Bernard Michael, President and CEO of the Center.
The Blavatnik Family Foundation’s $1 million grant will support ongoing preservation, digitization, and archival processing of the collections held by the Center’s five in-house partners – the American Jewish Historical Society, the American Sephardi Federation, the Leo Baeck Institute, the Yeshiva University Museum and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.
It also will cover expenses connected with COVID-19 crisis, such as supporting remote work and deep cleaning of facilities, and funding the systems and databases that hold all the information on the archive, library and museum holdings of the Center’s five partners. This includes the systems that run the online catalog (search.cjh.org), accessed by more than 308,000 researchers across the world annually as well as the digital asset management system that digitally preserves and provides access to almost 7 million items from the archives.
In addition, the grant from the Blavatnik Family Foundation will support the Center’s Fellowship Program, which has hosted almost 140 scholars – including some of the most acclaimed Jewish studies scholars of the day – whose residencies at the Center have resulted in hundreds of dissertations and ground-breaking publications. These include studies of early modern Rabbinic courts, the legacy of blood libel within the Soviet Union, the impact of Jewish philosophy of Kabbalah in the founding of the United States and an expansive bibliography of previously unknown Yiddish prose works by women writers.
The Blavatnik Family Foundation’s funding will match a prestigious Museums for America grant that the Institute of Museum and Library Services recently awarded to the Center, allowing it to begin the digitization of motion picture film reels, one of the most at-risk media in the stacks. Unlike paper, which can last for decades or even centuries, audiovisual materials can deteriorate quickly.
Digitization enables archivists to capture and preserve the content before it is lost. Supporting film digitization builds on the Blavatnik Family Foundation’s previous support for audiovisual digitization at the Center. In 2016-2017, its funding enabled the Center’s staff to digitize VHS tapes and audio cassettes from the Archive of the American Soviet Jewry Movement held at the American Jewish Historical Society.
“In such a critical moment, the generosity of the Blavatnik Family Foundation is making a significant impact,” Baldwin said. “With their support, we will continue our vital work to preserve and tell the remarkable stories that make up the history of the Jewish people.”