But don’t look for “The Klutznick” — which had existed in Washington, D.C. — to have its own brick-and-mortar building here. Rather, its holdings this year have become part of the existing Skirball Museum on the Clifton campus of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. Nevertheless, Skirball plans to clearly identify the source of its new collection.
The first exhibition to feature these arrivals is now open. Called Ten Treasures from the B’nai B’rith Klutznick Collection, it is on display at the Skirball through Jan. 24.
Really, the size of the total Klutznick collection dwarfs that of the Skirball’s — it has some 2,200 objects compared to the Skirball’s roughly 500. It also has some major historic and contemporary Judaica and art, including several Rembrandt etchings.
The arrival of this gift from B’nai B’rith, an organization that has advocated on behalf of global Jewry since 1843, gives the Klutznick collection a new life. It had been in storage for 13 years, since B’nai B’rith moved its Washington headquarters to a downsized space without room for its museum. B’nai B’rith earlier had given its archives to American Jewish Archives, also based on the HUC-JIR Cincinnati campus.
Many, but not all, of the Ten Treasures relate to the Jewish tradition of creating beautiful objects to hold, accompany or cover the Torah, the scroll that is central to the teachings of the religion and used in services.
One exceptional piece now on display is contemporary, a 1967 polished-silver and blue patinated-copper “Torah Crown” by the Israeli artist Ori Resheff, a third-generation silversmith.
This modern piece, with its layers of swooping, curved metal ovals inscribed with Hebrew lettering, seems too abstract to serve its stated function of covering both the top and front (like a breastplate) of a Torah.
It looks more like an art object in its own right, or a model for the next futuristically silvery Frank Gehry building.
Another of the objects has a somewhat similar stated purpose but is very different in many ways — although, it, too, is of great beauty. It is a late-19th/early-20th century “Tik (Case) and Torah” by an unknown artisan and comes from India.
While made of wood, that material is only visible on the opened inside, which holds the deerskin Torah. The exterior is covered with velvet and plated with silver. On the top are ornamental, Middle Eastern-shaped objects with engraved Hebrew inscriptions, including the Ten Commandments. There are also two finials called rimmonim.
Designed for use by nomadic peoples who may not have a home synagogue (the Jews of India migrated from Baghdad), it allowed the Torah scroll to be read while still inside the traveling case.
The arrival of the Klutznick collection marks an impressive turnaround for the Skirball since Jonathan Cohen became dean of HUC-JIR’s Cincinnati campus in 2011. (There are also New York, Jerusalem and Los Angeles campuses.)
During the early years of the Great Recession, the museum had major cutbacks, losing its full-time curator and reducing operations to appointment-only hours. Under Cohen, the museum first resumed shows and then appointed Abby Schwartz — former curator of education at Taft Museum — full-time director in 2013.
The Skirball opened in 1990 primarily to show material collected by HUC over the years in a permanent exhibit called An Eternal People: The Jewish Experience.
“The intake of this collection is a tipping point for us,” Schwartz said of the Klutznick collection. “We are now thinking about a redesign of our permanent collection, or core exhibition, that pretty much has looked the same since 1990. We are exploring a rethinking of that space and others in this building that can be developed as exhibition spaces.”