Sunday, February 14, 2010

Genizah Update #3: Expedition Plans Coalesce

January 14, 2007

Dear Friends,

Shalom! Since my last email, plans for the Glickman Genizah Expedition 2010 have been progressing - quickly in some areas, and at a snail’s pace in others.

As you know, I’ll be traveling with my assistant/cameraman, the almost-16-year-old Jacob Glickman, and our expedition will take us too three foreign countries: England, Egypt, and New York.

Due to the complexities of the trip, I’ve been working with three travel agents – an American in America, and American in Egypt, and an Egyptian in Egypt – and in the process I have learned that working with three travel agents for a single trip is really quite foolish.

Here, however, are some of the details:


At 4:12 AM yesterday, I received an email from Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, giving Jacob and me special permission to visit the Genizah room at the Ben Ezra Synagogue. As I mentioned in a previous update, I don’t believe that any westerners have been in that room for many, many years. I’d been told that this permission was on its way some time ago, but then I hit a couple of bureaucratic bumps, and I had to resubmit my request. Now, finally it’s official, and I am very excited…and relieved!


I’ve been approached by a reporter from a nationally syndicated public radio news program interested in doing a story on my trip. It’s still not a sure thing, but I will keep you posted.

CAMBRIDGE – Feb 21-26

• The university community is just back from its “Winter Holiday,” and as a result, it has been difficult to connect with the caretakers of Cambridge’s collection of more than 140,000 Genizah manuscripts. I’ve sent several emails, however, and I am confident that I will be able to connect with them soon to make all of the necessary arrangements.

• I have, however, arranged for us to visit Castlebrae. Pictured below, Castlebrae was the home of Margaret Gibson and Agnes Lewis, the identical-twin Scholars-Collectors-Explorers who first showed Rabbi Solomon Schechter the documents that alerted him to the treasures of the Cairo Genizah. In fact, it was in the Castlebrae dining room (behind the cones in the picture below) that Schechter first examined these documents. Today, Castlebrae is a dormitory for Clare College at Cambridge, and we have arranged with the college archivist and head porter to see the building during our visit.

• When Solomon Schechter first returned to Cairo from Cambridge, the University assigned him a workroom in the library that afforded him some quiet and good lighting by which he could study the manuscripts. The library has since moved, but I am working to determine whether the Schechter Genizah Garret is still there. If so, I hope to visit it. By then, I may look even more overwhelmed that he does in this picture:

• Jacob and I will be staying at the De Vere University Arms Hotel in Cambridge. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t bore you with a detail like that, but this hotel was originally built in 1834 in preparation for Queen Victoria’s coronation. It overlooks a field called Parker’s Piece where, according to the Great Sages of Wikipedia, many of the rules of soccer were first formulated (such as the “no hands” dictum). And I think it looks really cool.

• Finally, in Santa Monica last week, I met with Mr. Gifford Combs, an investment banker who owns one of the last remaining private collections of Genizah documents. Mr. Combs’ collection is now in a vault at Christie’s in London, and he has graciously offered to arrange for us to see it when we are in England.

CAIRO – Feb 26-March 2

• There are literally dozens of people around the world who have helped me make the necessary connections in Cairo, and I am grateful to them all. Because of the complexities of the way things work in Egypt, I won’t mention them by name, but you all know who you are, and I thank you very much. I hope to meet several of you during my visit.

• I have hired an agent to meet us at the airport, and a driver/guide to shlep us around for the duration of our stay.

• On February 28th, we are scheduled to visit the Ben Ezra synagogue, Pictured below from outside and in. Evidently, the Supreme Council of Antiquities will be sending a government representative with us during our visit to the Genizah “to make sure everything runs smoothly.”

Here is a picture of the Genizah room at the Ben Ezra. I have no idea what lies behind that dark opening, but I’ll be sure to let you know when I find out.

• I am in the process of arranging meetings with representatives of Cairo’s small Jewish community, and also, I hope, with a leading scholar of Islamic history – a former high-ranking university official – who has used Genizah materials in his research.

NEW YORK – March 2-6

• Our time in New York will be spent interviewing scholars at the Hebrew Union College (Reform) and Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative).

• We will also be working on the DVD with Michael Strong of the Regal Literary Agency, who will be producing it.

• Finally, the night before we depart, I plan to speak at a local synagogue about the Genizah and my trip. The local congregation gets what I hope will be a good talk. We get some film footage, I hope, of people becoming fascinated with the Genizah story.


• In my last update, I issued a call for suggestions as to a title for my book. I received many responses – some were wonderful, others came from my family. A few of you even liked my original title ideas. I have attached the list and, although I won’t say who suggested which title, I will tell you that my youngest brother’s name is Jimmy.

Of course, your further thoughts on the matter would be quite welcome.


• I have been seeking funds to help cover the costs of travel and other expenses involved this project (although Jacob is traveling at our family’s expense). Many of you have been very generous in your support, and I have also received a grant from the Fritz and Adelaide Kaufmann Foundation in New Jersey. Thank you! I am , however, still in search of funds; I plan to direct whatever monies remain at the end of the project to organizations now housing and caring for the Genizah documents.

If you’d like to send a donation, please mail it to me at my home:

15030 232nd Ave. NE
Woodinville, WA 98077

I thank you all for your ongoing support and interest. Your enthusiasm is a powerful inspiration to me as I strive to write a book that does justice to the fantastic story of the Cairo Genizah.

With Best Wishes,

Rabbi Mark Glickman

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