Abigail Bacon (she/her)
Head of Public Services and Outreach, HUC Libraries
Please tell me about your Jewish journey and what led you to HUC.
Though I grew up in a Modern Orthodox home, I moved to Cincinnati 15 years ago with my family so that my husband could study in a more Orthodox seminary. Over this time, and after a lot of moving between communities, we had both evolved religiously. It’s been a personal examination of what I felt comfortable with and wanted to explore. What I’ve loved about working at HUC is being able to learn about anything in this library and in this community. I’ve really enjoyed being exposed to so many new ideas and people who think differently than me, who practice differently than me, but for whom I have the utmost respect. I’m proud to be among all those studying here and especially the rabbinical students who are working to further Jewish education and engagement.
What is your role within HUC’s Libraries? What project has most impacted you?
Shortly before COVID, I started as the Head of Public Services and Outreach. We do everything that’s public facing in the library, such as helping the students and faculty with research materials for class assignments and readings, and putting together exhibits and lectures. I enjoy being able to help students on their academic journey here, and the outreach programs are great because I’m so proud of the library and I just want to share everything we have. There are so many neat things to see and learn about.
Two years ago we put together a project with a local public elementary school and the Skirball Museum. We had about a hundred little kids in first grade, many of whom had never met a Jewish person in their life. We were introducing them as part of their cultural exploration series to what Judaism is. We had a shofar blowing demonstration, a whole exhibit and activity on New Years greeting cards, storytime, snack time with apples and sweet candies, and library learning games. It was a full day event and a lot of fun.
Please share some of the treasures of the HUC Libraries. What is your favorite book/artifact in our collection?
The rare book room is my favorite place in the library. Whenever I was feeling kind of down during the pandemic, I would head down there and look through some of the rare items and find new things to get excited about (and of course, to share on our Instagram account!). Whenever I go there it’s an amazing pick-me-up. The illuminated manuscripts are my favorite thing; we have these gorgeous Esther scrolls with colorful floral borders and scenes from the story. But my absolute favorite item in this library is a folk art Haggadah from Italy in the 18th century, where every page is plastered with detailed miniature illustrations. Having a Haggadah like this would keep your attention during the seder; everytime I see the Conegliano Haggadah it fills me with joy. You can see the digital version here (and it’s part of our new exhibit in Cincinnati right now).
Rosh Hashanah is fast approaching! Can you share some of the High Holy Days resources offered by HUC’s Libraries?
HUC’s libraries offer many resources for the High Holy Days. On the musical side, HUC’s libraries have incredible scores and sheet music for cantorial students or anyone who is musically inclined. There are endless editions of the actual machzor (prayer book) that we use on Rosh Hashanah that range from extremely old to modern, spanning hundreds of years. There are historical sermons, ones that are inspiring, ones that talk about repentance, sermons that talk about social justice, and changing times. You can make Rosh Hashanah more meaningful by reading a Jewish philosophy book about something with which you are struggling. Learning something new about yourself or your relationships with God and with others makes a big difference in how you experience the day.
What are your hopes for this new school year at HUC?
We all learned a lot about each other and ourselves over the course of this pandemic. I hope we can all be more tolerant, and know that everyone is coming from their different perspectives. We all need to be more forgiving and understanding and support each other in any way we can. If you’re having a moment of strength, that’s an opportunity to carry it over and give it to someone else. I hope that this year we can get back to a better normal that we were at before.