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New Yorker amasses collection of 4,000 dreidels from pre-WWII


Nizzan Cohen | CC BY-SA 4.0

J-P Mauro - published on 12/03/21

Arthur Kurzweil is considering turning his massive collection into a museum display that would present a picture of the every day lives of Jewish people in Europe before the Holocaust.

A Long Island-based author has revealed his collection of historical Jewish artifacts that includes some 4,000 dreidels. The collection of everyday items were sourced from treasure hunters who explore regions of Eastern Europe in hopes of discovering relics of WWII and the Holocaust. Now, he is considering a museum display that would paint a vivid picture of Eastern European Jewish life during the early 20th century. 

The Times of Israel explains that Arthur Kurzweil’s fascination with the artifacts began in the 1970’s, when he bought a Jewish amulet in a small Polish town. Kurzweil has written extensively about Jewish genealogy and his own efforts to learn about the fate of his ancestors during the Holocaust. He was taken with the historical nature of the finds and shocked that such things could survive underground for so long. 

Kurzweil kept the amulet, but he did not add to his collection until 2015, when he learned that treasure hunters had been unearthing dreidels. With no market for the small Jewish toys, Kurzweil was able to forge a network of connections to acquire his collection. He noted that many of the hunters see no value in the dreidels and will send them to him for just the cost of postage. 

His collection has only grown since he began devoting himself to it. Today it includes dozens of workaday items that shed light on Eastern European Jewish life. These include small metal seals that once identified foods as kosher, pins from Zionist organizations, and coin-sized metal disks which were handed out by synagogues. Of course, the most extensive aspect of his collection is the more than 4,000 dreidels. 

The Kurzweil collection is unique in that it focuses on relatively common objects, as opposed to similar collections that focus on ritual objects. The items speak to the daily life of Eastern European Jewish communities prior to WWII, a topic which Kurzweil considered understudied. While Holocaust exhibits often show how so many Eastern European Jews died, this rare collection shows how they lived. 

Kurzweil’s collection has had him traveling to Poland and surrounding regions many times in recent years. In 2017, he even helped raise $22,000 to build a new playground in Dobromyl, Ukraine. Kurzweil explained why he built the playground:

“The reason I wanted to build a playground was because these were innocent children,” Kurzweil said. “If it was the other way around, these would have been my neighbors. I don’t want to inherit hatred and bitterness.”

Kurzweil said he has been considering presenting the collection to a museum, or opening a museum where he can display his collection. The exhibits would educate visitors on the day to day lives of those Jewish families, many of whom were lost during the Holocaust.

Read the fascinating full story at The Times of Israel

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