Pages of the Jewish Past

The Kiev Collection in Gelman Library is recognized as one of the most impressive compilations of Jewish publications on the East Coast. Its resources range from first-edition manuscripts of Hebrew and Yiddish texts to three books about the Three Stooges.

“The collection is fantastic,” said Reuben Schlanker, a member of the Gelman Library staff who oversees the collection. “Rabbi I. Edward Kiev had a passion for books and this collection includes many of the very rare items that he obtained.”

Kiev worked as the chief librarian of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said Erica Aungst, assistant director of Development Communications, Donor Relations and Gelman Library Events. In his 32-year tenure at the Jewish Institute of Religion, Kiev amassed the majority of the literary volumes that are housed at GW. At the time of his death in 1975, his personal collection included more than 10,000 volumes.

“Kiev collected anything that had to do with Judaism, including its culture, religion and history,” said Schlanker.

Dr. Ari and Phyllis Kiev, the son and daughter-in-law of Rabbi Kiev, chose to donate their father’s collection to GW in 1994. Aungst said they chose GW partially because of its close proximity to other major Jewish resources in the D.C. area, such as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“The collection could have gone to a higher profile place, but instead we were lucky enough to obtain it,” Aungst said.

President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg played a large role in obtaining the collection, meeting with and persuading family members to place the valuable resources in the University’s care.

“I met with Dr. Kiev and made the case for why his father’s extraordinary library should come to GW and to the nation’s capital rather than go elsewhere,” he said.

The papers officially donating the collection to GW were signed in November of 1997, and the I. Edward Kiev Dedication Ceremony was held on May 14, 1998.

“Having the Kiev Collection at The George Washington University makes it possible for mature scholars and young students to be exposed to a significant collection of important texts,” Trachtenberg said. “Those who seek to know more about Judaica will find that these books and documents are a treasure trove.”

For the last two years Schlanker has catalogued the Kiev Collection, diligently scanning all of the volumes, translating some of the works and adding them into the database.

“A lot of the cataloguing turns out to be guesswork,” said Schlanker. “Some of the volumes here don’t have title pages, but we want to know exactly where they came from, so we can put them into our database.”

Schlanker said he relies on his knowledge of Jewish history and language to discover the obscure origins of some of the books. The collection also includes journals, manuscripts, and historical materials.

Most of the books are from the 18th to 20th centuries; however, some date back as early as the 15th century, Aungst said. Works from that era are particularly noteworthy because they were published illegally. Stripped of the right to print, Jewish people relied on Christian publishers throughout Europe to continue producing their texts.

“The beauty of the collection is that Kiev collected such a large range of texts,” said Aungst. “He wanted a representation of all different cultures.”

The Kiev family continues to donate its findings to Gelman. In addition, the Kiev Circle of Friends was established within The Friends of The George Washington University Libraries. Its purpose is to collect donations in order to continue adding to the collection and maintaining the quality of the existing volumes.

The collection is located on the seventh floor of Gelman, within the University Archives. A glass case holds some of Rabbi Kiev’s personal items and also some of the older texts within the collection. Students can only gain access to the locked room by appointment.

“It’s a shame that we have to have people make appointments to see the collection, but things are so valuable we need to protect and preserve them,” Aungst said. “Not too many students really know about the collection, which is really a shame.”

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