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Spertus Institute Collection Highlights Go Digital

Spertus Institute Collection Highlights Go Digital

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — November 16, 2015

For more information contact:

Joanna Rothenberg | 312.322.1724

Betsy Gomberg | 312.322.1756


Treasures from Spertus Institute’s World-Class Collection
Accessible From Your Computer, Tablet, or Phone.

(Chicago) Rare examples from Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership’s collections of Jewish art, artifacts, and archival items can now be explored online by researchers, scholars, and members of the public through a new website portal at

With generous support from the Spitz Foundation, Spertus Institute has been able to make high-resolution photographs, multimedia clips, and a range of related resources available digitally for the first time.

Preserving the material culture of the Jewish people is essential to the mission of Spertus Institute. The Spertus collection comprises roughly 15,000 objects. It includes a diverse range of Jewish religious objects from around the world, as well as fine art, rare books, maps, and historical artifacts that have shaped and given expression to the Jewish experience. Items from the collection have long been incorporated into exhibits — large and small, in Chicago and around the world — and have been studied by historians, students, and artists, but until now they have not been available to researchers or the public on an on-demand basis.

The online initiative was designed to be used in conjunction with Spertus programs and educational offerings, including arts initiatives such as the Midwest Jewish Artists Lab and the Certificate in Jewish Arts Education. In additional, it will be used for instruction at Jewish schools — both elementary and secondary — and at other colleges and universities. It also is available to the Jewish community and the general public, addressing a demand for increased access to the collection.

About the initiative, Spertus Curator Illana Segal said, “The goal of the project was to make some of Spertus Institute's most important pieces available online any time of day, anywhere in the world. The site is designed to be responsive so it adapts to multiple formats and can be viewed from home computers, tablets, and phones. As it grows, onsite kiosks will be added at Spertus to provide background about works on display and those that are not.”

Ms. Segal continued, “Users may browse items by themed categories such as “Chicago” or “Ceremonial Art” or search by keyword. Objects were photographed in ultra-high-resolution for clarity, creating stunning up-close views. Multimedia clips bring the stories of the objects to life.”

One featured object is a 17th-century Torah shield decorated with semi-precious stones and cast lions and unicorns (detail shown here). The shield is noteworthy for its remarkable provenance. It was owned by the Dottenheimer family of Bavaria, and lost in 1938 during the violence of Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass). In 1990, 52 years after its disappearance, the shield resurfaced. It was given to the curator of the Jewish museum in Fürth, Bavaria, by a local man whose father-in-law was said to have been a Nazi storm trooper. After extensive research, a living descendant of the Dottenheimer family was found in Jefferson City, Missouri. The shield was returned to Mr. Dottheim and his sister, Faye Dottheim Brooks, who tells the story of the piece in a moving video included in the online resources.

Also featured is a monumental Hanukkah lamp, created in Germany or Bohemia in the 18th century and used at the White House Hanukkah celebration in 2003. Other important pieces include a Torah Case made in Bagdad in 1897, a prisoner’s uniform from Auschwitz, a stained glass window that once graced the sanctuary of a Logan Square synagogue, and the theater trunk of Yiddish stage star Dina Halpern.

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Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership offers dynamic learning opportunities, rooted in Jewish wisdom and culture and open to all. Graduate programs and workshops train future leaders and engage individuals in exploration of Jewish life. Public programs — including films, speakers, seminars, exhibits, and concerts — take place at the Institute's Michigan Avenue facility, in the Chicago suburbs, and online.

Spertus Institute is a partner with the Jewish United Fund in serving our community.

Exhibits at Spertus Institute are supported in part by the Harry and Sadie Lasky Foundation.

White House menorahHanukkah Lamp
Used at the White House

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Brooks Torah ShieldBrooks
Torah Shield

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