Yarmuths’ gift to make Jewish Studies Reading Room a reality

An artist rendering of the proposed Jewish Studies reading room at the Ekstrom Library (photo provided by the University of Louisville)

By Lee Chottiner
Community Editor
The Jewish Studies experience at the University of Louisville is about to move forward.
UofL officials announced Monday that the long-awaited Jewish Studies Reading Room at the Ekstrom Library is about to become a reality, thanks to a gift by Susan and William Yarmuth.
And the Susan and William Yarmuth Jewish Studies Reading Room, slated for dedication this fall, already has an important book collection pegged for its new shelves: Rabbi Robert and Deborah Slosberg are donating their collection to the university.
“We are thrilled to be able to help the University create such an exciting venue in support of its Jewish Studies program,” the Yarmuths said in a statement. “We are equally proud to be able to honor Deborah and Rabbi Robert
Slosberg for their lifetime commitment to Jewish education.”
Rabbi Slosberg described the Yarmuths as quiet, yet generous philanthropists whose giving has touched just about
every segment of Jewish Louisville.
“They do a lot of wonderful things, which fly under the radar,” he said.
The Yarmuths’ gift will be used to “build out” the 2,800-square-foot space on the third floor of the Ekstrom, adding
shelves, chairs and tables, but also to set up an endowment for maintaining the room and growing the collection.
“That’s really a key component,” Robert E. Fox, Jr, dean of university libraries at UofL, said of the endowment. “It’s a gift that’s going to outlive all of us.”
The space already has a drop-down screen, a built-in projection and sound system and wi-fi , plus a glass wall,
which will include display cases that Jewish Studies can use to highlight its collections.
But the hallmark feature of the room has nothing to do with books or technology; it’s the floor-to-ceiling bank
of windows that offers a commanding view of the campus.
“I believe it will be the most popular venue to have meetings,” said Matt Wyatt, UofL director of development.
All of which gives Jewish Studies a physical presence on campus that it has never had.
“It’s giving the Jewish Studies program a visible presence,” Fox said. “It’s not just an office where the professors are; it’s
giving the program a central point.”
For Ranen Omer-Sherman, chairman of Jewish Studies, the reading room is like a dream come true.
He envisions using the space for public events, including colloquium luncheons
and guest speakers.
The Israel Naamani Lecture, JHFE Lecture as well as the new Albert and Anita Goldin Endowment for Yiddish
Culture series, which will explore the art and scholarship of the language, will be held in the space, which seats 80.
“We hope that this warm and attractive space, which will be open to all UofL students – Jewish or not – will
arouse their curiosity about Jewish life and culture,” Omer-Sherman said, “and perhaps encourage them to take
advantage of our rich Jewish studies offerings in the classroom and beyond.”
Rabbi Slosberg and his wife Deborah have been building their book collection for 50 years. He described it as a “very
good rabbinic collection.”
Many of the books date back to his days as a library page at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Back then, the library sold duplicates of books in the stacks for $1, and Slosberg bought some.
That’s how he discovered he had just purchased an autographed copy of a book by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the
founder of Reconstructionist Judaism.
“We wanted to do our part in supporting this venture,” said Slosberg, who is retiring in 2023. “We think it’s so really important to have this [reading room] at UofL.”
UofL announced in 2018 that it was seeking funding to turn part of the top
fl oor of the Ekstrom Library into a Jewish Studies reading room, an idea
that had taken root by accident.
It began when Natalie Polzer, professor of humanities at UofL, who also teaches in the Jewish Studies program,
happened to be on the third floor of the library one day. Seeing the door to the room open, she decided to peek inside.
“The physical space is so beautiful,”
Polzer told Community at the time. “It overlooks the quad. You can see the greenery, the trees. It’s all window on one
side – such natural light!”
So she floated the idea to the administration for a Jewish Studies reading room in that space.
They liked the idea.
“We went running with it; we took the idea and never wavered,” Fox said. However, he added, “Natalie Polzer was kind
a seed for all of this.”

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