31 May 2007

Jerusalem: The wandering Jewish archive

The Central Archives of the History of the Jewish people is the subject of a Haaretz article:

The archive belongs to the Jewish People, but in practice it belongs to no one, and that is precisely the problem," says archive director Hadassah Assouline. Says the chairman, Professor Ya'akov Barnai: "The archive's status is unstable and no official body is actually responsible for us."

The budget comes from several sources: the Israeli government, private donations and grants. While money is received for earmarked projects, day-to-day expenses are not funded.

Because it belongs to everyone, but to no one, the wandering Jewish archive's status is "ambiguous" and it has moved six times in six decades. The last move was a few months ago from a Rehavia monastery to two old dorms at Hebrew University.

Budget problems mean that the archive can't bid on valuable documents, which wind up in private hands, says the director, although it has managed to preserve those documents it does hold. However, some are deteriorating and there are no funds to conserve them.

A former board member adds, "The archive was entrusted with the state, and the state has betrayed that trust."

Leaders are hopeful that the CAHJP will find a home in the new national library in preliminary planning, and that funding will arrive to produce a computerized database of the collection, scan and display documents. Today, researchers paw through files kept in drawers.

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