Libraries Receive Gift to Establish Norman E. Alexander Library for Jewish Studies

Oct. 28, 2010Bookmark and Share

The Columbia University Libraries have received a gift of $4 million to establish the Norman E. Alexander Library for Jewish Studies which will include three new endowments: a Jewish Studies librarian, the General Jewish Studies Collection and the Special Collections in Judaica.

A copy of the Babylonian Talmud, acquired by the Columbia University Libraries in 1890 (Image credit: Columbia University Libraries)
Babylonian Talmud. This one, copied in the 16th century in Yemen, was acquired by the Columbia University Libraries in 1890.
Image credit: Columbia University Libraries

The new Norman E. Alexander Librarian for Jewish Studies is Michelle Chesner. She joined the Columbia Libraries in May 2010, coming from the University of Pennsylvania where she served as an archivist and as the Judaica Public Services Librarian at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. Previously, Chesner was a research assistant at Kestenbaum, a cataloger at NYU, and a special collections assistant at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Her research interests include 15th century Jewish history and the early Hebrew book.

The new Norman E. Alexander Library for Jewish Studies in special collections builds on a strong tradition of rare book and archival resources, including 29 Hebrew incunabula, over 300 sixteenth-century printed books, and nearly 1,500 Hebrew manuscripts, plus extensive archival collections related to Jewish life and culture, and Jewish individuals in all fields of study and work. In 1947, the Libraries acquired the magnificent Oko-Gebhardt Spinoza Collection, consisting of almost 4,000 books by and about the Dutch Jewish philosopher and in 2009 acquired the papers of Yosef Yerushalmi, the Columbia faculty member and groundbreaking and wide ranging scholar of Jewish history. Funds from this endowment are initially being focused on a project to catalog the Hebrew manuscripts collection, the second largest in North America.

The Jewish Studies research collections at Columbia exceed 100,000 monograph volumes and 1,000 current and historical periodical titles. The collection comprises about 60,000 Hebrew and Yiddish titles in addition to its large holdings of Jewish scholarly works in Western and Slavic languages. Columbia also subscribes to many electronic titles, both ebooks and databases, which pertain to Jewish Studies, and is the only repository in New York City for the Visual History Archive of the Shoah Foundation.

Norman E. Alexander graduated from Columbia University in 1934 and Columbia Law School in 1936, after which he set off on a business career that spanned seven decades. When he died in 2006, he was executive chairman of Sequa Corporation, a $2 billion conglomerate that he led for nearly 50 years. A lifelong supporter of academic, Jewish and other philanthropic causes, Alexander was a member of the Board of Visitors of Columbia Law School and of the Board of Columbia/Barnard Hillel, where he established the Alexander Program Center for Jewish Life. In 1985 he received the University’s John Jay Award for outstanding service and in 2008 the Norman E. Alexander Scholarships were endowed at the Columbia Law School. His advocacy of Jewish culture and tradition took many forms. He was a patron and trustee of The Jewish Museum and a governor and vice president of the American Jewish Committee. He was a longstanding member of the publication committee of Commentary Magazine, a founding member of the board of The Jewish Week, and a major supporter of UJA-Federation as well as Temple Kol Ami in White Plains, NY. In addition, he supported the Jewish Publication Society, was a founder and board member of the Albert Einstein Medical College and was a founding trustee of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. He also served on the boards of Bronx Lebanon Hospital and as chairman of New York Medical College.

"We're delighted that the generosity bestowed by Norman E. Alexander has enabled Columbia, which for many decades has been a leader in Jewish studies, to build on those strengths in its world-class library system. We hope and look forward to working with Michelle Chesner, to strengthening the collection, and making it useful and available to undergraduates, graduates and the whole scholarly community," said Jeremy Dauber, director of the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies. "The Norman Alexander Library for Jewish Studies is an investment in our students, our faculty, and in the many scholars whose learning and research will benefit from the outstanding collections and services at Columbia," stated James Neal, vice president for information services and University Librarian.

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