Gratz College gifts Gratz-Mandell Jewish music collection to the Penn Libraries

The collaboration to catalog and digitize materials will ensure lasting access to the collection of Jewish Music History.

The University of Pennsylvania Libraries and Gratz College are collaborating to ensure access to a significant collection of more than 15,000 items in manuscript and print that documents the musical life of synagogues in Germany and throughout Europe before the Holocaust.

Old sheet music from the Gatz collection.
Loose music papers of liturgical music, the top composition is a Keddusha by Cantor Moses Zivy from Müllheim, Germany. (Image: Courtesy of Penn Libraries)

Through this new partnership, Gratz College, the oldest independent and pluralistic college for Jewish studies in North America, is gifting the Gratz College-Eric Mandell Jewish Music Collection to the Penn Libraries, where the collection will be fully cataloged for the first time. Supported by a grant award from the Federal Republic of Germany, the Libraries will also digitize 190 music manuscript compositions, establishing the Gratz-Mandell Jewish Music Digital Archive.

“We are honored to partner with Gratz College to ensure perpetual access to this priceless collection,” says Brigitte Weinsteiger, interim director of the Penn Libraries and Gershwind & Bennett Family Senior Associate Vice Provost for Collections & Scholarly Communications. “The project to digitize the Gratz-Mandell Jewish Music Collection and make it discoverable is important not only to Gratz and to Penn, but to the world’s cultural and scholarly record.”

The physical and forthcoming digital archive will join Penn’s collections in Jewish sound, including the Robert and Molly Freedman Jewish Sound Archive, which is regarded as one of the most important resources in the world for the study of Jewish culture, folklore, history, linguistics, and literature.

The Gratz-Mandell Collection includes manuscripts, books, articles, clippings, catalogues, anthologies, sheet music, vocal and instrumental compilations, and more, all collected by German-born cantor and collector Eric Mandell, who resettled in Philadelphia in 1941 after fleeing the threat of Nazi expansion in Europe.

For many scholars of Jewish music, including Israel Prize-winning musicologist Edwin Seroussi, the Emanuel Alexandre Professor Emeritus of Musicology and Chair of the Academic Committee of the Jewish Music Research Centre at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the name Mandell is legendary. In fall 2023, Seroussi was awarded the Ellie and Herbert D. Katz Distinguished Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania’s Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies to study German Jewish sacred musical intersections using the Gratz-Mandell Collection.

As a scholar of Jewish music, Seroussi was deeply invested in the future of the Mandell Collection, immediately understanding the importance of both preserving the physical collection for the future and making it easier for scholars to access all over the world—so much so that he returned to Philadelphia on sabbatical to work with the collection. Seroussi credits Gratz College President Zev Eleff with recognizing the magnitude of the collection’s importance and with giving Seroussi free reign to review, audit, and organize the collection.

Seroussi began championing the collection and advocating for this digitization partnership when he met the president emeritus of Gratz College, Jonathan Rosenbaum, in spring of 2019.

“That’s when we started to play with the idea of moving [the collection] to Penn. But at the time it was a faraway dream,” Seroussi says. “So it took five years ... for the dream to become reality.”

Kiron, Seroussi, and Eleff are all excited by the possibilities for new scholarship that could come from this partnership. In addition to the many avenues for study within the field of Jewish music, the collection offers plenty of opportunity for wider cultural study.

This story is by Amanda Alexander. Read more at Penn Libraries.