About the Museum + Art Collection

"We wanted to bring the beauty that is art into the lives of people. We’re trying to remove the invisible wall that often separates an institution from the community."

The Hudson River and Palisades provide a spectacular backdrop to Derfner Judaica Museum + The Art Collection. Its mission is to collect and display fine art and Jewish ceremonial objects and to interpret its collections for the public. A model of universal accessibility, our unique setting on the campus of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale allows us to provide meaningful museum experiences to older adults and persons with special needs, while appealing to a diverse audience. Structured tours and workshops are provided at little or no cost to visitors of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, and promote cross-cultural exchange.


History of the Art Collection

In the 1960s, Jacob Reingold (1915–1999), the visionary leader of the Hebrew Home for more than forty years, founded the art program with the mission of bringing art and culture to residents who could no longer visit museums and galleries on their own.


The art program began in 1968, initially with a loan exhibition of seventy objects from The Jewish Museum on Fifth Avenue. Jacob Reingold went on to secure gifts and donations for a permanent collection of the Home’s own, beginning in the mid-1970s. He worked initially with Eric Estorick of the Grosvenor Gallery in London. Mr. Estorick’s father had been a resident of the Home from 1975 to 1978.


The focus of the Grosvenor Gallery shaped the early holdings of the Hebrew Home and the character of its collection today, including more than 4,500 modern and contemporary paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs and prints on display throughout the public spaces of the Hebrew Home’s thirty-two-acre campus. Estorick’s gallery was a premier venue for Eastern European art at a time when the Iron Curtain limited opportunities for artists to exhibit in the West. Works by many of the artists that Estorick brought to public attention, including Jewish artists and other modernists whose freedom of expression was severely restricted in the Soviet Union and its satellite states, came to form the core of the early collection. These include such better known artists as Oskar Rabin and Anatoli Kaplan, as well as more obscure artists whose works are prized in their home countries, yet are virtually unknown in the United States, such as Armenian painter Mariam Aslamazian and Slovak painter and graphic artist Vincent Hložník.


The Art Collection also features American and Western European contemporary and modern artists, who represent a range of styles, from Cubism to Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art to Minimalism. The permanent collection includes paintings and works on paper by such renowned artists as Milton Avery, Romare Bearden, Nell Blaine, Ilya Bolotowsky, Peter Bradley, Marc Chagall, Alex Katz, Robert Mangold, Joan Mitchell, Louise Nevelson, Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera, Ben Shahn, Hunt Slonem, Joan Snyder and Andy Warhol; photographs by Richard Avedon, Christian Boltanski, Larry Fink, Leonard Freed and Andre Kertesz; and decorative and historic artifacts from world cultures. The collections can be explored using the online database and holdings continue to grow through the generosity of donors.


Sculpture Garden
A rarity in New York City, the Hebrew Home at Riverdale has a sculpture garden that overlooks the magnificent Hudson River and Palisades. It includes works by such sculptors as Herbert Ferber, Menashe Kadishman, Reuben Nakian, Marsha Pels and Joel Perlman, among others.


Derfner Judaica Museum
As a repository of Jewish ritual objects, the Museum serves as an educational resource about Jewish art, culture and practice through permanent and changing exhibitions. The Judaica Museum was founded in 1982 with a gift of eight hundred Jewish ceremonial objects from local Riverdale residents Ralph and Leuba Silberman Baum. As refugees, their experiences and identities informed their decision to preserve, literally, to salvage, objects of Jewish ritual life and preserve them for future generations.


Originally located in a fifth floor space, in 2005 the Museum was awarded a furnishings grant by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, for its large, accessible ground-level 5,000 square-foot galleries in the Jacob Reingold Pavilion. In 2009 the Museum was rededicated as the Derfner Judaica Museum in honor of benefactors Helen and Harold Derfner.


The Museum is the focal point for a wide range of educational and exhibition programming for residents and visitors alike. During its forty year history the Museum has organized more than one hundred exhibitions and has added to its holdings through the generosity of new donors.


Rotating exhibitions can be seen throughout the year. These engaging exhibitions feature contemporary artists, explore themes drawn from the permanent collection or highlight Jewish art and culture. With approximately two hundred fifty objects, the ongoing exhibition, Tradition and Remembrance: Treasures of the Derfner Judaica Museum, explores the intersections of Jewish history and memory. The exhibition includes metalwork from the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts, founded in Jerusalem in 1906, ritual art used at home and in synagogue to celebrate Jewish holidays, in ritual observance and for life cycle events, and other artifacts that tell the stories of Jewish objects and the communities they come from around the world. Among the highlights are a set of 18th-century German Torah implements, a handsomely illuminated 19th-century Italian marriage contract and a 2nd-4th century lamella amulet.


The Museum’s Founders
A refugee from Nazi persecution, Ralph Baum (1907–1984) and Leuba Baum (1906–1997), had an intense desire to preserve and pass on to future generations the memory embodied in the objects they collected, many of which were used by European Jews before the Holocaust.


Leuba Silberman came to the United States from Latvia with her parents and four siblings in 1921. She was born in what was then Dvinsk, in the Russian Empire, now Daugavpils, Latvia. The family settled in the Bronx and Leuba worked in the garment industry. Ralph Baum (born Rudolph) emigrated to the United States in 1936 from Elmshorn, Germany, where he ran a successful wholesale paper business. However, he was always interested in photography and after arriving in New York started working in a photo lab. He married Leuba in 1939. Ralph Baum went on to found ModernAge, a commercial photography laboratory in the 1940s, creating a high tech lab doing print work for photographers, magazines and exhibitions, like Harlem on My Mind (1969) at the Metropolitan Museum or The Lower East Side: Portal to American Life (1966) at the Jewish Museum.


Baum emigrated from Elmshorn, north of Hamburg, a town that was for hundreds of years part of Denmark, until becoming part of Germany in 1864. The first synagogue had been built there in 1749. It was replaced with another synagogue in 1846 at a time when the Jewish population of the town was about two hundred. Over time, the city’s Jewish population declined as people resettled in more urban areas. In 1907 Ralph Baum’s father, David (1869–1954), came to Elmshorn from Wittelsberg, about 265 miles to the south. He was a teacher and became the cultural clerk of the community, performing functions in place of a rabbi. He served in the German army in World War I and had received the Iron Cross, awarded for bravery and heroism.


After Kristallnacht, on the night of November 9–10, 1938—when the Elmshorn synagogue and an apartment building were set on fire during the widespread anti-Jewish attacks that took place across Austria and Germany—David Baum was arrested and interned at Sachsenhausen. He was freed after twelve days because he and Ralph’s mother, Paula, already had a visa to travel to the United States. They soon departed and arrived in New York in early 1939. It wasn’t long before the rest of Elmshorn’s Jewish residents either fled or were deported, and on November 22, 1943, Elmshorn was declared “free of Jews.” Five members of the local Nazi Party (including a bank teller and an innkeeper) were put on trial after the War for burning of the synagogue, however they were exonerated in a trial in 1948.


It is believed that only one of the thirteen Torah scrolls belonging to the Elmshorn synagogue was saved (although it was severely damaged). In 1953 on a trip to Germany, when Ralph Baum returned to his birthplace, a burnt Torah scroll—now on permanent display in the Museum—that had been kept in storage at the local police station was given to him. It became the inspiration for his efforts to salvage remnants of European Jewish material culture by collecting Judaica.


As a member of the American Alliance of Museums and the Bronx Arts Alliance, RiverSpring Living is proud to possess a world-class collection of paintings, sculpture, drawings, photographs and prints, as well as decorative arts and objects from world cultures.