In the black-and-white photograph, men and boys lean against the Western Wall, while women sit just behind them. The year is 1880, or thereabouts, and it’s just one of the many fleeting moments captured in a vast and priceless photography collection at the National Library of Israel that has just received a $2.5 million gift from the John Pritzker Family Fund.
“Photography plays a unique role in capturing and conveying human stories, and thereby in deepening understanding and compassion,” S.F.-based philanthropist John Pritzker said in a statement.
The collection in Jerusalem, which will now be known as the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, has more than 2 million items from private photographers and photo agencies that together show the changing landscape of life in Israel from Ottoman Palestine in the late 1800s to present-day Israel. The collection includes the Dan Hadani Archive, which alone has around 1 million photos of Israel from 1965 to 2000.
The Pritzker gift will help curators continue to digitize the collection, established shortly after the library itself in 1892, which is an important step in making the images accessible to the public. It’ll also help set up a site for the collection in the library’s striking future building, expected to be finished in 2021.
“Supporting the photography collection was a natural fit for the Fund, as John Pritzker and his family have long supported social and cultural programs in Israel, as well as the visual arts,” said Amy Rabbino, executive director of the Pritzker Fund, in an email to J.
Pritzker, a Hyatt Hotels scion and founder of hospitality investor Geolo Capital, is a former president of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. The Pritzkers have been significant donors to Jewish and non-Jewish causes locally: In 2014 the fund gave $25 million to SFMOMA for its new photography exhibition space, and it supported the Federation’s 2018 survey of Jews across the 10-county Bay Area.