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Jewish Journal

Calling all Jewish heirlooms

by Ryan E. Smith, Contributing Writer

May 17, 2011 | 5:52 pm

Appraiser David Streets has a passion for Jewish antiques — old Kiddush cups passed down for generations, Shabbat candlesticks with stories to share. It’s a history that he loves, even if it’s not his.

“I’m an Episcopalian,” he confessed, explaining, “Many of my clients were and are Jewish and have wonderful items that have been inherited, passed down, saved, of Judaica.”

Streets, 46, will bring his years of experience to American Jewish University in Bel Air on May 22 for a Jewish Antiques Appraisal Show from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Admission is $10, but appraisals are free. TRIBE Media Corp., parent company of The Journal, is a co-sponsor of the event.

The son of collectors in Indiana, Streets started working in the industry during high school and broadened his range as an appraiser and art dealer as he worked in New Orleans and, now, in Beverly Hills. Over the years, this came to include Judaica as well as fine art and celebrity memorabilia.

“It’s one specialty that’s very, very rare,” he said. “Most of the people traditionally who value Judaica or even research it are rabbis.”

Streets said he has appraised everything from tefillin dating to the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls, to Sammy Davis Jr.’s gold Torah money clip that sold for $19,200.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” he continued. “I’m very passionate about it. I love the research element, and I love the history of these wonderful items.”

Unlike, say, real estate, there is no formal training for the profession. “It’s really based on experience,” Streets said.

Jonathan Greenstein, owner of J. Greenstein & Co. Inc., a New York auction house devoted solely to selling antique Jewish ritual objects, said evaluating Judaica is a tricky business.

It requires a knowledge of metal and how it’s created, the vast history of the Jewish people spanning countries and centuries, and idiosyncrasies, such as the different Hebrew writing styles from different areas.

Then there is the major issue of authenticity. “Judaica is second only to Faberge in the amount of fakes and forgeries, because [so much] was stolen and melted by Hitler and the Third Reich,” Greenstein said.

Because surviving artifacts are relatively rare, a silver cup from a certain period that has a Hebrew inscription may be worth many times more than a plain one. It provides a huge incentive to create fakes, he said.

A history buff at heart, Streets said he is most intrigued by the stories behind the items he appraises.

“Some of the most moving and wonderful stories are family Judaica that were saved and carried through the Holocaust,” he said. “As valuable as anything are the stories of where they came [from] and how they were passed down and where they were found.”

Of course, there is the issue of monetary value, too.

“I’ve found some really amazing early items that are museum pieces, a number of priceless pieces,” Streets said.

More information on the Jewish Antiques Appraisal Show at the Gindi Auditorium of American Jewish University, 15600 Mullholland Drive, Bel Air, can be found at http://www.jewishjournal.com/featured_event/tribe_live_event/jewish_antiques_appraisal_show_20110428/.

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