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The collector of family treasures: Zippi Rosenne


Zippi RosseneThe collector of family treasures: Interview with Zippi Rosenne


Zippi Rosenne, Director of The Bernard H. and Miriam Oster Visual Documentation Center, has been an integral part of Beit Hatfutsot since she began as a young mother volunteering in research on Jewish communities some 27 years ago. Today, Zippi, who speaks six languages and holds a degree in Hebrew linguistics and French Literature and Linguistics, oversees projects that manage hundreds of thousands of visual artifacts using cutting edge digital database systems at Beit Hatfutsot. In a special interview with Elana Sztokman writing for Beit Hatfutsot, Zippi recalls the highlights of her career as a veteran staff member of Beit Hatfutsot:


How did you start working at Beit Hatfutsot?

I began in October 1985. I began as a volunteer in the Research Department and worked on communities. It was fascinating. German is like a mother tongue for me, so I dealt with German communities, and coordinated the project on the Jewish communities in Bavaria.

Where are you from?

I was born in Israel, born and bred in Tel Aviv, but I spoke German with all my family, parents and relatives.

What kind of work have you done over the past 27 years?

I got to the Visual Documentation Center by accident.  In my work as a research volunteer, I was asked to help the photo archives with a project documenting wooden synagogues, which, as it turned out, I loved. So in 1991, when I was asked to work in the department, of course I agreed. In 1994 I helped write the proposal for the new photographic database system, and then became responsible for the database. I worked mostly editing and writing descriptions of materials in Hebrew and English. In 1998, I moved to a new position in the department – Customer Services, and became a full time employee. In April 2001, I became head of the department, and since then there have been many changes to the digital database, making it more efficient, retrievable, systematic, easy to use, and easy for customers. 

How has the Visual Documentation Center changed since the renewal began?

The most significant event has been the establishment of a new digital database. In May 2005, the system we had been using collapsed, and could not handle any more material. It was very difficult – we could not add new material or edit existing entries. Meanwhile, in March 2005, we received the Sonnenfeld collection of approximately 250,000 photos, which was a phenomenal donation – but it created tremendous pressure: we had no system, and we had an enormous amount of work.


We began to document the new collection, we recruited volunteers, and we all worked very hard. Eventually the Fondation pour la mémoire de la Shoah stepped in and funded the digitization of the Sonnenfeld collection, which was a turning point in our department. As a result of their intervention, we were able to work on the collection.

Tell me about your team

We have amazing professional staff and dedicated volunteers –without whom we wouldn’t be where we are today. In addition to our regular volunteers, we have often students and interns from around the world who come to us via the Jewish Agency and other institutions, and they are very helpful. One young woman, Jessica Parker, had just finished her first degree and came to us for a few months, from Canada. Jessica volunteered with us, and it enjoyed the work so much that she decided to study museology and last year returned here to write her master’s thesis on Beit Hatfutsot.  

What would you say has been the highlight of your work?

I love working with people who bring in pictures from family collections. The experiences and encounters with people who bring us their photos are so interesting. We hear fascinating family stories and it’s one of the most moving parts of this work, to see how happy they are to know that their collections are preserved at Beit Hatfutsot. At times it is very touching. They are delighted that we are looking after their treasured photos.


Most people lend the photos to us, and get them back after we’ve scanned them and entered the information into the database. In some cases, older people come to us and give us their photos to keep because they are afraid that the future generations will throw them away. We have cases in which people bring us original documentation from earlier generations in order to make it available to the public.

And of course another highlight is when my grandchildren come and visit. They love the new A-B-See-Do family exhibition!