In the years after the Second World War, Rabbi Isaac Toubin of New York traveled through Europe with the Jewish War Board, helping to relocate Jewish refugees. During his travels, he rescued many works of Judaica, some 200 to 300 years old, that otherwise might have been discarded or melted down for the value of the metal. With further purchases in Israel, Europe and the United States during the 1950’s and 1960’s, he built his personal collection into a major one. Rabbi Toubin came be regarded as an authority on Judaica, and he served as a consultant to the Jewish Museum in New York. In 1972, Rafi Arbisser, then the Educational Director of Congregation Beth Yeshurun, learned that Rabbi Toubin might sell his collection and discussed this opportunity with Beth Yeshurun past-president Louis Kaplan and his wife Mollie. As a result of these discussions, the Kaplan brothers, Louis and Irvin, and their wives, Mollie and Molly Ann, graciously donated the funds needed to purchase the Toubin collection which comprises the core of the museum display and is now called the Kaplan Collection. The Congregation named the museum in honor of Mollie and Louis Kaplan.
Thanks to the generosity of many others, including members and non-members of Congregation Beth Yeshurun, more than 600 items have been added to the museum collection since 1972. When the synagogue was renovated in 2003, the collection was relocated to its present site, a more public area that is always accessible to congregants and, at designated times, to visitors. The construction was accomplished through the generosity of Mollie Kaplan and her son Jerry. In 2005, Marvin and Joan Kaplan, Louis and Mollie’s other son and daughter-in-law, generously established a major endowment to support the operations of the museum.
The Museum collection now consists of over 700 pieces.
Items for regular display, dating from the mid-17th century to the present, are categorized as follows:
Art displayed in the Museum area and Stein Hall includes oil paintings by Krestin and Mane-Katz and lithographs by Rubin, Pann and Mane-Katz.
Some items that are regarded as most important are portraits of Rabbis by Krestin and Mane-Katz; the full suite of lithographs illustrating the first chapters of Genesis by Abel Pann (the first known attempt by a Jew to illustrate Torah); a round Hanukiyah (Hanukah menorah) and a lamp to light a synagogue reading desk, both in brass from Poland, 18th century; a miniature kosher Torah scroll about 4” in height; an 18th century silver and gilt Torah scroll shield; and a magnificent, 19th century filigree Torah scroll crown and rimmonim (finials) from Russia.
Only part of the collection can be shown at any one time. Some pieces are on “permanent” display; others are displayed according to season or special interest. A more complete discription of the collection is offered in our museum catalogue available for purchase in the Beth Yeshurun Sisterhood gift shop.
To visit the Museum
Hours and Admission : Museum open 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM Monday through Thursday; guided tours by appointment. No admission charge.
The collection is open to congregants whenever the building is open. For non-members an appointment is required. Various groups, both Jewish and non-Jewish, take advantage of the opportunity to visit the collection each year, and docents can be arranged for groups that wish to use them.