Jewish Digital Narratives

The Jewish Digital Narratives of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life explore the networks of Jewish life in California and beyond.

The more we look at Jewish history and culture, the more we hear the resonance of the ancient term, haggadah.
Narration is at the heart of the Jewish experience, and the holdings of the Magnes, which span archive, library and museum collections, tell many stories from the four corners of the world. To us, the meaning of a narrative approach to Jewish cultural history lies in the particular, in the intricacies of its many interweaving cultures, but it also represents a paradigm that can often be applied to other cultures and interactions.

The Jewish Digital Narratives make a creative (and at times unintended) use of current technologies and social networking tools to organize, showcase and share what the Magnes has collected in almost half a century. How the objects, texts and documents in our collections reached Northern California is in itself a captivating story, which has only been partially told by the founders of the Magnes.

Digital images generated by the Magnes, or collected through programs like the Memory Lab, are first organized in a narrative form, on the basis of a detailed storyboard. The results are presented on the Magnes website in an interactive learning environment created with the innovative software, MemoryMiner. The narratives are also uploaded to popular networks like Flickr, where users can comment, provide feedback, tag images and circulate information. Research and collection information is made available through links to the Magnes Collections Online, our integrated Archive-Library-Museum (ALM) collections database.

The Jewish Digital Narratives are the result of meticulous research by our curatorial staff, by guest curators and scholars, and by an energetic pool of interns, for whom our collection represents an invaluable training ground.

- Francesco Spagnolo, PhD, Curator of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life

To go directly to a specific entry, begin typing a name (e.g. "Haas," "Jewish Community Center," or "Emanu-El") in the filter box below. To search for a name or term that may not be included in a collection's title, use the search box at the top of this page, or go to the advanced search page.

A Festival of Faith: The Musical Legacy of Cantor Reuben Rinder

Cantor Reuben H. Rinder (1887-1966) was one of the most influential figures in 20th-century Jewish musical culture. 

During his 50-year tenure as cantor of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, California, Reuben Rinder commissioned works from world-renown composers, including Ernest Bloch, Darius Milhaud, Paul Ben-Haim and Marc Lavry, and helped launching the career of violinists Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern. 

Christmas Parties at 2007 Franklin Street (1954-1971): American-Jewish Family Life in the Haas-Lilienthal House of San Francisco

Elizabeth Lilienthal Gerstley's Christmas Parties album contains 201 photographs taken inside the Haas Lilienthal House at 2007 Franklin Street, San Francisco, between 1954 and 1971. These images, all taken by Elizabeth's daughter, Anne Gerstley Pieper, portray members of the Haas, Lilienthal, Bransten and Gerstley families and their guests during their annual Christmas celebrations, and depict their gatherings and the interiors of the Haas Lilienthal House in vivid detail.

Firschein Posters Collection

The aim of my project with the Firschein Posters was to discover the histories of the locations advertised by the Printing press. To start it was necessary to locate the addresses and note any changes to the geography itself. Whilst the streets have almost all stayed the same, some streets have been renamed, with the main challenge being the many new structures that have replaced a number of the sites described.

Shmuel Lerner, The Flower-World of Israel (1949-1950)

In 1984, The Magnes acquired a unique portfolio of botanical drawings made in Israel by Shmuel (Samuel) Lerner, a Ukraine-born amateur artist from California. While Lerner’s biography and many details surrounding this work remain obscure, his drawings open today a unique window into the landscape, the history and the languages of Israel immediately after the establishment of the State.

Supporting Israel in Northern California: Israel Bonds Initiatives (1950s-1960s)

The Development Corporation for Israel (Israel Bonds) was founded in 1951 to raise money from the American public for the fledgling Israeli state, which, at the time, was struggling to build an infrastructure and economy to support its growing population. The first Israel Bonds sales drive was launched in New York by David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister. Ben-Gurion's coast to coast tour of the United States would raise 52.6 million dollars by the end of 1951.