After spending over 40 years amassing a personal collection of Judaic objects, Michael Klein began to wonder how his collection could be shared with others. “He really wanted it to be used as a teaching tool that could enrich Jewish life through viewing and learning about religious objects,” says Abby Magariel, Head Curator of the collection at Congregation B’nai Jehudah.
Michael, a long-time member of the Overland Park, Kansas-based congregation, collaborated with Abby to begin donating his collection of approximately 1,500 objects to B’nai Jehudah in 2019. After taking in the collection, B’nai Jehudah desired to display the objects online to reach a broader audience, make the history and richness of the collection accessible to the public, and allow it to serve as an educational resource.
Founded in 1870 and at the center of Kansas City’s Jewish community, Congregation B’nai Jehudah is one of the oldest Reform Jewish congregations and synagogues in the United States. In the last 150 years B’nai Jehudah has amassed its own Judaica collection of nearly 1,500 objects. B’nai Jehudah’s collection was physically displayed within its synagogue and easily accessible to all members. But because the collection is among the largest and most diverse collections of its kind in the US, the congregation sought to share its content with a wider audience via the web and make it accessible for educational purposes. “This collection would be at home in any museum in the world,” says Abby. “It could fit into collections like the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Nelson Atkins Museum. Unfortunately, most museums don’t exhibit most of their collections at any given time, even more so for a collection with a focus as narrow as Judaica.”
With this niche collection in mind, Abby began to explore content management systems that could help share the objects with the public. As the collection’s primary curator and an experienced local historian, Abby chose CatalogIt to digitize the objects and publish them to the web. “CatalogIt has been very useful for a small collection, such as ours,” she says. “At this point in the curation process of this collection, [I need] a user-friendly way to experience the collection in an exhibit-oriented way. CatalogIt provides me with everything I need and nothing that I don’t need!”
With the help of synagogue volunteers, who can easily access and use CatalogIt from their own smartphones and tablets, B’nai Jehudah has published over 700 objects from Michael’s collection for the public to virtually explore. Organized into a variety of clearly-labeled categories, anyone can access detailed photos and information about the rich collection through their newly-published CatalogIt HUB page.
Digitizing Michael’s collection in an easily-accessible online space has allowed B’nai Jehudah to fulfill the Jewish practice of “Hiddur Mitzvah.” This Yiddish term refers to the organization and beautification of ceremonial objects for educational purposes and religious observance. As a guiding principle behind their collection, B’nai Jehudah is now able to perform this meaningful ritual with their congregation members and the general public.
To explore their extensive collections, view Congregation B’nai Jehudah’s CatalogIt HUB Page.