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Historic treasure of Jewish life and culture gifted to UC Berkeley

This summer, one of the world’s preeminent collections of Jewish life, culture and history will begin arriving at its new home at UC Berkeley. The transfer of a 10,000-piece collection from the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley is being made possible through gifts totaling $2.5 million from philanthropists Warren Hellman, Tad Taube, and the Koret Foundation.

One of the world’s preeminent collections of Jewish life, culture and history will have a new home at the University of California, Berkeley, starting this fall, campus officials and the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley announced today (Monday, June 21).

The 10,000-piece collection of precious music, art, rare books and historical archives – part of the Magnes Museum since its founding in 1961 – will be transferred to UC Berkeley over the summer. The collaboration will partner a world-class collection with a world-class university, complementing the school’s academic offerings, raising the profile of the Magnes collection, and making it more accessible to scholars.

The transfer is being made possible by gifts totaling $2.5 million over five years from philanthropists Warren Hellman, Tad Taube, and the Koret Foundation. These gifts will ensure that the acquisition is built on a solid and self-sustaining financial model.

Support from other Magnes Museum donors will finance the renovation of a building at 2121 Allston Way, in the heart of the city of Berkeley’s arts and commerce district. The 25,000-square-foot space will have a lecture room, seminar rooms and a state-of-the art space to exhibit the Magnes’ prints, paintings, photographs, costumes and Jewish ceremonial objects.

The new name of the Magnes Museum will be the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at The Bancroft Library.

The Magnes’ Western Jewish History Archives, the world’s largest collection of letters, diaries, photographs and other archival documents relating to the Jewish settlement of the West, will move into The Bancroft Library. Musical manuscripts and sheet music will be located at the Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library.

“We are excited to acquire, steward and grow this precious cultural asset and ensure that it contributes to a much broader vision for our already robust Jewish studies programs at UC Berkeley,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau. “We thank Warren Hellman, the Taube Family, and the Koret Foundation, who have stepped forward to help make this vision possible. We also look to build on the foundation of support created in the last five decades by the many friends of the Magnes Museum who have given generously and made this collection the treasure that it is today.”

The Magnes Collection – considered among the world’s finest holdings of Jewish history and culture – features Hanukkah lamps, Torah ornaments, musical recordings, portraits, modern paintings and sculpture that date as far back as the 15th century. In some cases, long-separated papers of Jewish families will be reunited under one roof at The Bancroft Library.

“The Magnes has been a vital and vibrant part of the cultural life of the Bay Area for almost 50 years,” said Charles Faulhaber, the James D. Hart Director of The Bancroft Library. “There is such a close fit between the Magnes’ Western Jewish Archives and library collections and The Bancroft’s collections on the history of California and the American West that it seems like a match made in heaven.”

With the upcoming renovation of the Allston Way building, the core Magnes collections of Jewish art and ceremonial objects will be more available than ever to the public, Faulhaber added.

“I think that this is the best of both worlds – a new and revitalized Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life as an integral part of The Bancroft, and a prominent physical and programmatic presence at the heart of the Berkeley Arts District,” he said. “What’s not to like?”

That point is echoed by Frances Dinkelspiel, president of the Magnes Board of Directors.

“Moving the Magnes Collection to a new facility in the heart of downtown means it will continue to enhance the cultural life of Berkeley,” Dinkelspiel said. “The partnership with UC will also introduce the collections to a new generation of scholars. The board of the Magnes Museum is delighted that the collection will not only be preserved, but will flourish.”