Thursday, October 15, 2009
Businessman’s Largesse Helps Fund Historic Video Preservation

Ben Federman has yet to find the recording, buried amidst miles and miles of videotape, of his five-year-old self meeting the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. Years after the encounter, the 26-year-old N.Y.-based entrepreneur has no recollection of that day, but spurred by the knowledge that he might one day be able to relive it anew, Federman has decided to share some of his self-made fortune to make his search – and those of countless others in similar circumstances – a bit easier.

Federman's generous gift will dedicate the Federman Video Collection – the entire motion picture component of the Living Archive project, Jewish Educational Media's effort to preserve and restore the hundreds of thousands of hours of video and audio recordings of the Rebbe. The new Federman Video Collection will open up vaults of historic material recorded at Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters to an increasingly interested public.

"You can't compare the impression of seeing the Rebbe's love of people, and his passion for education and Torah to reading about them," said Federman, whose grant is helping to cover part of the effort's $4 million cost. "In Jewish history, even recent history, people gave their lives to preserve manuscripts and items of value to the Jewish people. Relative to that, this is easy.

"In my business," he continued, "solid investments give a return down the road and better ones return right away. This one does both. This is by far the best deal I've ever made, and also the best thing I've ever done."

The donation follows several government grants, including one from the National Endowment for the Humanities, benefitting the Living Archive. JEM archivists and producers' efforts dovetail with increased interest being shown by media companies, professionals and organizations around the world, such as the American Society for Moving Image Archivists and federal and state councils of the arts – to the importance of film and video preservation and the ability of technology to expand access to archival material.

All told, JEM's archive comprises recordings of the Rebbe's public addresses, community events, and footage of hundreds of thousands of people meeting the Rebbe during the Sunday sessions he held in his later years. It also includes one-of-a-kind primary documentation of the development of Chabad-Lubavitch activities following the move of the Sixth Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory, to the United States.

Rabbi Elkanah Shmotkin, JEM's director, said that the Federman Video Collection will help ensure that the life and teachings of the Rebbe as recorded on video will continue to inspire and educate generations to come. The original material, explained the rabbi, was recorded on magnetic tape that, over the years, has gradually degraded in quality and usability.

"The preservation and reformatting of the media will also provide greater access to the materials," said Shmotkin, who hired a preservation manager specifically for the project, which is slated to be completed in 18 months. "The materials, which comprise all of the video recordings of the Rebbe that exist, will be transferred to much more durable formats, and therefore have a longer lifetime."

Something Eternal

It was just two years ago that Federman launched a Web site,, selling everything from wireless devices to jewelry to toys at a deeply discounted rate. In that time, the venture has experienced rapid growth, expanding into four other sub-sites.

In backing the Living Archive, the businessman is honoring the memory of his father, Yitzchok Leib Federman, who passed away when he was just a young boy, and the merit of his mother, Chedva.

"My mother imbued me with an appreciation for the Rebbe's deep humanity. I owe the world to her, and this project is a gift to the entire world," said Federman. ""When I was in combat in the US Army, my mom would send a package of the Rebbe's inspirational lessons every week. I'd share them with my buddies, and I saw how everyone's spirits were raised.

"And for my father," he continued, "there is no greater [merit] to do something in his memory than something that is eternal, like how these videos will now become. This is my Kaddish for him."

George Rohr, the philanthropist whose gift established the Living Archive preservation effort, saw great hope in Federman's generosity.

"When I see a young businessman just starting out step forward so generously," said Rohr, "it gives me optimism that our People's work will be carried forward by the next generation. In his personal desire to perpetuate his father's memory, he chose to benefit" the entirety of the Jewish people."

Although Federman doesn't remember his own encounter with the Rebbe, JEM's existing stock of preserved video footage has been a powerful way to nurture his respect for the Rebbe's teachings. The archive research team found one clip of his father receiving a cup of wine from the Rebbe, and another of his mother requesting a blessing for her children.

"If I find one video of myself with the Rebbe in the entire collection and it triggered my memory, it would be amazing," said Federman. "Hundreds of thousands of people's moments with the Rebbe are in the collection, so if I can give that ability to others too, it will be a worthwhile project.

"These videos can benefit people on a very personal level," he added. "We're really saving precious gems here."

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