YIVO Receives IMLS Save America’s Treasures Grant

Photo: The Strashun Library was one of the most important libraries of Jewish learning in pre-World War II Europe, Its founder, Matityahu Strashun (1817-1885) was a major book collector, who owned thousands of Hebrew texts and manuscripts, including religious writings, fiction, poetry, scientific works, Jewish and Karaite historical works, travel accounts, and Hasidic texts.

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a grant of $119,433 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) through Save America’s Treasures Grant. This grant will enable YIVO to preserve four music and theater collections that are part of the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections project, a seven-year, $7M international preservation project. These collections are important, yet little-known, resources for the study and exploration of not only modern Jewish culture and American Jewish immigrant culture, but also of American theater and popular culture more broadly.

The collections include:

  • The Esther Rachel Kaminska Yiddish Theater Museum Collection, which was donated to YIVO in 1927 in honor of the actress and director known as the “mother of Yiddish theater.” It became the basis for a permanent gallery at the original YIVO building in Vilna, Poland (now Vilnius, Lithuania) and includes manuscripts, playbills, posters, correspondence, clippings, and photographs related to Jewish theater in Poland and other countries before World War II.
  • A Music Collection, originally part of the Esther Rachel Kaminska Yiddish Theater Museum Collection, which contains rare, often handwritten, music. It includes the scores of about 200 operas, operettas, and vaudeville skits written for Yiddish-language plays performed in Europe and the Americas.
  • The Papers of Abraham Moshe Bernstein, which contains printed and manuscript musical works of a prominent Russian Jewish cantor, choirmaster, composer of Jewish liturgical and popular music, music teacher, musicologist, and writer who was active in Vilna, Poland from the late 19th century to the 1930s. The collection includes liturgical works, transcriptions of folk songs, and children’s songs from Europe and America.
  • The Jewish Music Societies Collection, which contains correspondence, minutes of meetings, reports, financial records, playbills, posters, and printed materials from several Russian Jewish music societies, including the Society for Jewish Folk Music, St. Petersburg, 1908-1930; Kultur Lige – Music Section, Kiev 1920-1926; and the Jewish Historical and Ethnographic Society, Music Section, Leningrad, 1927-1929.
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These four collections document Jewish culture in both Europe and America that nourished an important formative period in modern American culture. From its earliest years, Yiddish theater in America intersected with the mainstream English-language stage: with reviews appearing in the English-language press, actors and actresses transitioning to Broadway, and Yiddish plays translated and staged on Broadway to great acclaim.
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“The grant from IMLS signifies the importance of preserving these precious materials and that these collections are not just important for the Jewish community but also for the American people and American culture. They truly are an American Treasure,” said Jonathan Brent Executive Director and CEO of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.
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To learn more about the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections project visit: vilnacollections.yivo.org.


The Institute of Museum and Library Services

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is dedicated to the preservation and study of the history and culture of East European Jewry worldwide. For nearly a century, YIVO has pioneered new forms of Jewish scholarship, research, education, and cultural expression. Our public programs and exhibitions, as well as online and on-site courses, extend our global outreach and enable us to share our vast resources. The YIVO Archives contains more than 23 million unique items and YIVO’s Library has over 400,000 volumes—the single largest resource for such study in the world. yivo.org

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