Tradition and Remembrance: Treasures of the Derfner Judaica Museum

Tradition and Remembrance: Treasures of the Derfner Judaica Museum


Decalogue, New York, late 19th century, wood: carved, painted, gold leaf, 21 x 54 in. The Hebrew Home at Riverdale Archive, HHARA.14.

"As Israel is enjoined to remember, so is it adjured not to forget."

In this exhibition, objects used in traditional Jewish practice are interpreted in light of the role memory plays in shaping both individual and collective identities. Jewish ritual objects tell the stories of the people who once owned them and the places they came from. They also teach about traditional Jewish life. In that sense they embody memory and transmit collective history across the generations. As Yosef Yerushalmi, the historian of Jewish history and culture, suggests, memory is crucial both to Jewish faith and to its very existence. The absence of a story connected to an individual object mirrors the loss of individual identity, and suggests that there is much at stake when individuals or communities forget the past.


The Judaica Museum of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale was founded in 1982 when Riverdale residents Ralph and Leuba Baum donated their collection of Jewish ceremonial art to the Home. A refugee from Nazi persecution, Ralph Baum (1907–1984) and his wife, Leuba (1906–1997), had an intense desire to preserve and pass on to future generations the memory embodied in the objects they collected, the majority of which were used primarily by European Jews before the Holocaust. In 2008 the Judaica Museum was named in honor of benefactors Helen and Harold Derfner and has opened in this newly furnished space where it is hoped the active engagement of visitors will re-animate the objects presented here.