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The Mollie & Louis Kaplan Judaica Museum of Congregation Beth Yeshurun

 
 

Research Fields:
Judaica; post-biblical history of the Jews; synagogues.

Facilities:
Gallery/exhibition and lecture space.

Activities:
Docent program; group tours, special tours for children 3rd-12th grades, public and private schools.

Hours and Admission Prices:
Museum open 10-4 daily; guided tours by appointment. No admission charge.

The mission of the Mollie and Louis Kaplan Judaica Museum of Congregation Beth Yeshurun is to:

  • Preserve objects of lasting value that comprise the museum collection;
  • Display these objects in a manner that is aesthetically pleasing and that will attract attention of congregants and visitors to our congregation;
  • Use these displayed items as the basis for educational programs that teach students, congregants and visitors about the history, religion, culture and customs of the Jewish people;
  • Serve as a resource for study of individual works by interested scholars.

History of the Museum

In 1972, Rafi Arbisser, the Educational Director of Congregation Beth Yeshurun, learned that Rabbi Isaac Toubin was interested in selling his collection of Judaica. Rabbi Toubin was a prominent Jewish educator who had served on the Jewish War Board, traveling through Europe at the end of the Second World War in order to help relocate Jewish refugees. Rabbi Toubin loved Judaica and, as a way of rescuing works that otherwise might have been lost, collected them as he went. He continued to acquire Judaica in the 1950's and 1960's, amassing a major collection.

Mr. Arbisser asked Louis Kaplan, a man who had been enormously generous to the Congregation and its new day school, whether he would cover the cost to purchase the collection for Beth Yeshurun, and Mr. Kaplan agreed.

The Board of Trustees was unsure about accepting the gift. They asked Mr. Arbisser to contact the Jewish Theological Seminary in order to obtain a valid appraisal. Mr. Arbisser was afraid that, if he revealed the owner of the collection, the Seminary (which owns the Jewish Museum in New York) might outbid the Congregation for it. The problem rapidly solved itself. When Mr. Arbisser called the Chancellor of the Seminary and, without naming the owner of the collection, told him that the Congregation needed an expert to make an honest appraisal of a Judaica collection, the Chancellor told him that the expert they relied upon was none other than Rabbi Isaac Toubin. The Congregation's Board finally approved the purchase of Rabbi Toubin's collection in October, 1973. The final donation was made jointly by Mollie and Louis Kaplan and Irvin and Molly Ann Kaplan. These works, which comprise the nucleus of the Judaica museum, are called the Kaplan Collection.

Rabbi Toubin's dictated description of the entire collection 39 pages double-spaced is invaluable. Because he was such an authority, his description of each piece is definitive. Furthermore, the description provides a provenance for many of the pieces, an extremely important feature in an art world that is full of fakes. Finally, the reader gains insight into the mind of a great collector. Many pieces have stories that go with their purchase, all of which add interest and depth to our knowledge of the artworks.

In the first few years that the congregation housed the Kaplan Collection, objects were displayed in cases in the main atrium of the congregation. The displays were arranged by a committee consisting of Sidney Aron, Mildred Gertner, Barbara Goldfield, Hortense Katz and Miriam Joachim. The Collection was also displayed at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts in September, 1974, coordinated by Mildred Gertner. Beginning in 1982, thanks to major gifts from Louis and Mollie Kaplan and with support of other congregants who served as major donors, a museum was constructed in the area that is now Stein Hall; this was named the Louis and Mollie Judaica Museum of Congregation Beth Yeshurun, and it opened in November 1983.

With the construction of the first Museum Space, Marilyn Nathan was given the title of Museum Director. She worked with Mildred Gertner, Chair of the Museum Committee to accomplish much of the work of cataloging the collection. Subsequently the Congregation hired Florence Yellen to work part-time as a curator. She continued the work of Marilyn Nathan, encouraging donations of objects and also of money to purchase additional items, all of which were added to the Kaplan Museum to supplement the original Kaplan Collection. After Ms. Yellen's retirement, Myrna Rudolph, Sidney Aron and Jerry Kaplan made many of the decisions regarding the museum collection. Since the museum collection has been moved to its present site in the lobby, these three individuals have been joined by Daniel Musher and Joe Rice.

The Mollie and Louis Judaica Museum remained in place from 1983 until 2000. At that time, the collection was put into storage while the Beth Yeshurun 2000 construction was in progress. Lisa Unsell worked with Myrna Rudolph and Sidney Aron to assign a number to, and to photograph every item in the collection. The collection was installed in new museum display cases which were displayed when the construction of the Freedman Levit sanctuary was completed in the Fall of 2004.

In 2005, the Marvin Kaplan Family made a major donation to endow the maintenance of the Kaplan Collection. Congregants continue to donate works to the Museum; some of these, for example the Berkowitz Haggadah, are of major interest and importance. Others, such as old books, tallit cases, Kiddush cups, and even a recently donated Yiddish typewriter from 1910 are of interest for historic reasons and because of their association with members of the Congregation. Purchases from the famous Central Synagogue of New York in 2006 further augmented the collection; the cost of these was offset in part by generous donations from congregants.

In the past three years, Myrna Rudolph, Sidney Aron, Daniel Musher and Jerry Kaplan have worked together with Lisa Unsell to maintain the displays. Daniel Musher has worked to upgrade the records of the collection, to provide correct attributions for all the pieces and to display accurate explanations in all the cases. The entire committee meets regularly to polish silver, rearrange cases and change displays appropriately with the Jewish calendar.

 

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4525 Beechnut Street
Houston, Texas 77096
Phone: (713) 666-1881 Phone: (713) 666-1881
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