History of the Price Library of Judaica

Jack, Samuel and Rae Price look at books
Jack, Samuel and Rae Price

The Price Library of Judaica was formally dedicated in March, 1981, to support the teaching and research missions of the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Florida. The library is named for Isser and Rae Price, whose sons, Jack and Samuel Price of Jacksonville, Florida, established a fund in support of the library.

The Price Library’s core collection is the Rabbi Leonard C. Mishkin Library from Chicago, Illinois. At the time it was purchased in 1977, it was the largest private library of Judaica and Hebraica in the United States. The Mishkin collection was supplemented by two major acquisitions – the Shlomo Marenof Library in 1978 and, in 1979, the inventory of Bernard Morgenstern’s bookstore in the Lower East Side of New York City. The Theodor H. Gaster Library, with a concentration in Ancient Near East and Dead Sea Scroll studies, subsequently enriched the collection in the mid-1980s.

The Price Library was expanded from 55,000 volumes housed initially in Smathers Library (Library East) to a collection of over 85,000 by its librarian Robert Singerman with technical assistance from Yael Herbsman, Joy Funk, Carol Bird and Emily Madden. Located in Norman Hall from 1995, the Collection finally found a permanent home in Library West in 2006.

Although some early editions in Hebrew from the 16th to 19th centuries are held, the overwhelming strength of the Price Library is in the literature of Jewish studies from 1880 to the present time. The Price Library is comprised of significant holdings in social, political and community history, Hebrew and Yiddish linguistics, literature, and translations into English, Palestinography, and modern Israel, Zionism, Hebrew Scriptures, Judaism and rabbinics, reference tools, and more than 500 serials and newsletters currently received on subscription. Along with inactive older titles, the majority of these serials are not held in other libraries in Florida or neighboring states.

Jewish contributions to world civilization and culture — medicine, science, the arts, literature, philosophy, etc., are conspicuous throughout the collection, as are an extraordinary number of uncommon pamphlets and ephemera. Due to their fugitive nature, these “here today, gone tomorrow” pamphlets and research reports are considered to be among the greatest of the Price Library’s treasures. Histories of Jewish communities and synagogues can be found interspersed throughout the collection. Virtually every Jewish population, from Alaska to Argentina and from Scandinavia to Hong Kong, is represented on the Price Library’s shelves. In addition to an extensive Holocaust collection, a special effort is made to preserve the memorial books of extinguished East European Jewish communities; 674 of these increasingly scarce and greatly sought after volumes are currently held.

The collection facilitates study and research in a great number of disciplines and areas of interest in the humanities and social sciences. Biblical archaeology, comparative religion and law, cultural pluralism and assimilation, Middle Eastern politics and literary stereotypes are a few representative areas. Though a comparatively young library, the Price Library of Judaica possesses an enviable, comprehensive collection of significant magnitude and potential, making it a regional center of library excellence alongside well respected and mature Judaica collections on other American campuses. With few exceptions, the Price Library holds most of the important scholarly landmark literature and classic texts in Jewish studies. It is a library without peer in the southeastern United States.

The Price Family

In 1979, two University of Florida alumni, Jack and Samuel Price, decided to endow the University’s burgeoning Judaica Library. The $400,000 endowment, the largest bestowed on a special collection at the University of Florida, was given in honor of their parents, Isser and Rae Price.

Isser and Rae Price were two outstanding members of the Jewish community who helped establish the Jacksonville Jewish Center in the 1920s. Isser and Rae had raised their children with a deep commitment to the Jewish community, a love of philanthropy and a profound sense of the importance of education.

For the past 30 years, Jack and Samuel Price have continued to back the development of the Isser and Rae Price Library of Judaica. Their interest in this important educational resource has filtered through to other generations of the Price family who are also lending their support to the Collection.

Isser and Rae Price READ poster
Jack and Samuel Price, featured on the Isser and Rae Price Library of Judaica 30th Rededication Celebration, 2011 READ poster

A special event to thank the Price family for their ongoing commitment to the Judaica library was held on March 6th, 2011 to coincide with the Library’s 30th anniversary. The special program included music by the Klezmer Katz and a range of distinguished speakers, including the UF President, Bernie Machen.

The event also enabled the George A. Smathers libraries to officially accept the donation of a Torah scroll from the Price family and the Beth Shalom Synagogue in Jacksonville. The scroll was originally purchased by Rae Price in memory of her husband, Isser and given to the Beth Shalom synagogue in Jacksonville. The scroll is believed to have been produced in the United States before the Second World War, and it was personally escorted to Jacksonville from Chicago. The imminent closure of the Beth Shalom synagogue, however, necessitated a decision about the future of the scroll. Thanks to encouragement from Isser and Rae’s children (Eunice, Florence, Jack and Samuel) together with their spouses, the Synagogue Board members agreed to allow the family donate the Torah scroll to the Price Library of Judaica. The Price family Torah scroll is now housed in the Smathers Library Special Collections Department.