The first international conference on Jewish art was held in St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, from October 23 to 25, 1977, under the aegis of the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies and the Tarbuth Foundation, New York.This memorial volume commemorates the life and work of Isaiah Shachar through the medium of papers given at that conference, of which he was the instigator and organizer.
I had met Ishay Shachar only once or twice before the conference was mooted. He lived in London, but when I joined the staff of the Oxford Centre in March 1975 he was its Littman Fellow for 1975-76. From the time the first notices of the conference were dispatched in December 1976 he was not well enough to visit Oxford except for the most urgent reasons, but letters and telephone calls passed almost daily between us as he considered every detail of the approaching meeting. The sharp, critical mind not sparing of himself or others of which Professor Abramsky writes in his Appreciation was a marked part of the character that I saw, as was the lightness and charm and the reaching out to share ideas.
Dr. Shachar wrote an article that appeared in The Times of London on August 20, 1977 (reprinted in this volume), outlining the history of Jewish art and the background to the first conference. (A summary by Vera Emmanuel of various conference events and personalities appeared in The Jewish Quarterly 25  [Autumn 1977], pp. 34-36, and a report by David Patterson appeared in Jewish Affairs [February 1978], pp. II, 13-14, and in Reconstructionist [April 1978], pp. 27-28). Dr.Shachar was to have given a lecture on some aspect of eighteenth-century Jewish art, but his health at the time of the conference was too poor. We were indebted to Professor Dov Noy, director, Folklore Research Centre, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, for filling this gap at the eleventh hour.Professor Noy's lecture on Jewish folk art as part of Jewish folk culture is not included in this volume, but the work has been published elsewhere. Likewise, Dr.Mendel Metzger's lecture "The Italian Haggadah, Its Rite and Iconography from the Thirteenth to Nineteenth Century" is not included: Although he and I worked prodigiously on the wealth of material he has gathered on this subject it proved impossible to reduce it to Dr.Metzger's satisfaction in order to fit the scope of our book. Instead, the lecture will be published as a monograph, with an acknowledgment to the conference organized by Dr.Shachar as its source and inspiration.
Interest in the coming conference was high in the early months of 1977. The number of participants was restricted in the interests of informality and ease of communication. Messages of goodwill came from those, like the late Rachel Wischnitzer in New York, who were unable to attend.Ishay Shachar's underlying purpose for the conference, to encourage the systematic photographic recording of Jewish art and artifacts worldwide, was quite clear. But without the impetus that he would have provided had he lived, the proposal coming from the conference (confirmed in a press . . .