Continuing Scholarship: Essay by Mr. Albert Published in New Brandeis University Collection

by | Oct 22, 2021 | Learning, Our Stories, Rashi In the News

Middle School Social Studies & Language Arts Teacher by day, published author and researcher by night! Rashi faculty continue to astound us with their teaching. And in the case of Zach Albert, his continuing scholarship.

Mr. Albert recently published an essay in a collection by Brandeis University: “Honoring the History of the Brandeis Library: An Insight into Brandeis’ Special Collections.”

How Did You Learn About This Collection?

From 2011-2012 while studying for my M.A. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University, I worked as an Archives and Special Collections Assistant for the Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections.

What Was Your Role?

The day-to-day operations had me processing and digitizing artifacts and documents, conducting research, and creating online collection finding aids. One of the finding aids I created was for the Bernice and Henry J. Tumen collection of Jewish Ceremonials.

Can You Tell Us About the Collection?

These 177 objects are a jewel of Brandeis’ vast store of Judaica. The collection principally showcases nineteenth- and twentieth-century religious artifacts from Europe, North Africa, America, and the Near East, although it also contains Roman glass and clay pieces from the first to the fourth century.

Tell Us About Your Thesis

The M.A. thesis I was writing at the time focused on museum exhibitions and tour narratives, so I jumped at the opportunity to create a permanent exhibition of the Tumen collection in the Brandeis Library and put what I was studying into practice.  While the individual objects were fascinating on their own, I knew that an exhibition of the items would need to create context and cohesion. I was able to install a contextualized display with explanatory wall panels, object labels, and QR codes. To me, one of the most interesting elements of the collection was that many of the artifacts displayed an impressive receptiveness to outside influence.

These objects were a part of a living tradition that had gone through the filter of other lands, other communities, other cultures. For example, one exhibit case displays a hexagonal Dutch dreidel inscribed with Latin letters, a Christian censer transformed into a Jewish spice box, and a Near Eastern menorah backplate with nine mihrabs.

These items embody Jewish culture and history while simultaneously demonstrating the complex interactions between tradition and continuity, art and beauty in the substance of everyday life. Individually, they serve as representatives of hiddur mitzvah, performing religious commandments in the most beautiful manner possible. Collectively, they attest to the Jewish importance of the prescription of ritual needs and illuminate the environments that informed, challenged, and stimulated their creation and application.

Now, I am very excited to have this work published alongside many other fascinating essays in Honoring the History of the Brandeis Library: An Insight into Brandeis’ Special Collections, ed. Sarah M. Shoemaker, and hope that it finds those who are interested in Jewish history, ceremonials, and symbols.