One of Oregon Jewish Museum’s most significant holdings is the collection of Jewish ceremonial objects donated by Gustav and Mira Berger. Gustav Berger was born in Vienna in 1920, where his father and grandfather were dealers of art and antiques. Mira came from Vilna, which was Poland at the time of her birth and is in Lithuania today. After meeting in Italy following the war, the Bergers moved to New York in 1954, where Gustav began his illustrious career as a painting conservator, opening his own studio in 1967. He was an inventive conservator and developed BEVA, an adhesive for painting conservators still widely used today. Mira has been an active writer throughout her life. She began her career with articles about Hebrew education and culture in Europe between the World Wars and in the Vilna Ghetto.
Throughout their lives together, the Bergers enjoyed collecting Jewish ceremonial objects. They focused mostly on silver, but also collected glass, copper, tin, parchment and fine art. In 1993 Gustav and Mira engaged in conversation with the Oregon Jewish Museum about bequeathing their collection. They were seeking a museum in which the collection could make a significant impact and determined that OJM could greatly benefit from a collection of such extraordinary breadth and quality. Each year they donate several objects to the collection–38 pieces to date. These include a flashed ruby-glass decanter used at the table, a late example of Bohemian glass from the late 19th century; a whimsical havdalah spice box in the shape of fish with flexible scales; and a pair of 19th century rimonim, to adorn the scrolls of the Torah, each with teardrop silver bells dangling from chains.
Gustav Berger died in March 2006 after a lengthy illness. In the many tributes that followed, he was hailed as the man who had “arguably the most influence of anyone on the techniques and materials used in the present-day conservation of easel paintings.”
Once the Oregon Jewish Museum identifies and relocates to a permanent home, the Berger Collection will become a centerpiece of the permanent exhibition. The museum continues to be deeply grateful to Mira Berger for her enduring support of our endeavors.