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Wednesday, 04 November 2020 19:14

Michael Kent: Secrets from the Geniza

Written by
Michael Kent Michael Kent

The September 14th 2020 presentation of the Historical Society of Ottawa took us on two journeys. One was to the Middle East; but more on that in a moment. The other journey was shorter in distance but was a big step technologically. With recent social restrictions forcing us to cancel live presentations at the Main branch of the Ottawa Public Library (for the time being) our Regular Events coordinator, Ben Weiss, asked guest speaker Michael Kent if he’d be interested in making a presentation online through a video conferencing application called Zoom, so that HSO members and the community could link in and make the journey half way around the world from their own home.

And so HSO hosted its first on-line lecture. Fortunately, Michael’s presentation included a number of videos, so the digital platform was perfect. (Zoom allows presenters to show photos, videos, and slides.) This allowed Michael to tell about his personal research of ancient Hebrew texts from Canada’s own large collection at Library and Archives Canada, here in Ottawa, as well as the many efforts being made around the world to reconstruct ancient texts that survive often only as small shards of paper; sometimes with only a few words, or even a few letters. It’s like putting a puzzle together when many of the pieces are blank.

While international in scope Michael also talked about, and was asked questions about, Jewish artifacts from Ottawa. There are a number of active synagogues in Ottawa today, including the beautiful and historic Adath Jeshurun Synagogue on King Edward Avenue, but others, like the Machzikei Hadas Synagogue on Rideau Street are gone. Fortunately texts from many old synagogues, Talmud schools, and homes survive and have been catalogued by Library and Archives Canada. Ancient books are still being reconstruction in Cairo today from pieces found in Egypt decades ago.

One advantage of online presentations is that they can be recorded and played back later. This allows those unable to participate live to watch later. So if you think you’ve missed Michael’s presentation, you haven’t! You can watch it now by going to our website at www.historicalsocietyottawa.ca and choosing the ‘Resources’ link on the top toolbar. On the drop-down box, choose ‘Videos’ and you can watch this and other presentations.

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