Polygon restores priceless scripture

The Central Chabad Library is housed in the world headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in Brooklyn, New York City. The library is home to 250,000 rare books, more than 100,000 letters, artifacts and pictures, and priceless scripture on Jewish topics that date back several hundred years. The library is in an area prone to heavy floods and storms, leaving the unique collection exposed to hazardous conditions and at risk of moisture damage. When disaster did hit, thankfully Polygon was able to come to the rescue.

A precious collection

Chabad-Lubavitch, a branch of the Jewish Hasidic movements, brings individuals together from all over the world. The community revolves around sharing knowledge and cultural identity, which makes the central library an essential resource in helping teach Jews about their vast heritage. The extensive and invaluable collection of old books and scriptures it holds contains items in a range of conditions and of varying chemical compositions. For all items, however, their age and the material of the historical pages makes them very delicate and vulnerable to mould and moisture damage.

Hurricane Ida

When Hurricane Ida hit Brooklyn and many other NYC boroughs in September 2021, flooding became an immediate and urgent problem. Continued heavy rainfall led to water infiltrating the precious Central Chabad Library, damaging over 5,000 books and scriptures. Rabbi Yossi Cunin, who was involved in the upkeep of the library, quickly sprang into action, searching for help to reverse the water damage. He called on the help of Polygon US, and the damaged books were quickly and carefully transferred to our facility in Pennsylvania for specialist treatment.

The vacuum freeze-drying process

One of our most intricate and delicate restoration services is the vacuum freeze-drying technique, which was perfectly suited to this situation. In Polygon’s Pennsylvania facility, the books were first frozen to stabilize the material. Matt DeCirce, Product Manager at Polygon US, describes the vacuum-freeze process:

“The materials go into the vacuum chamber frozen, where we can digitally control the climate. It is usually around 70-75˚F with a relative humidity of 20-30%. The pressure is then sucked out of the chamber. This way, the water in the books goes directly from a frozen form into a gas, avoiding the materials being exposed to liquid water again.”

The care required means it is quite a lengthy restoration process, with the books needing to remain in the drying chamber for multiple weeks. The community at the Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters was therefore delighted when their collection was eventually returned, restored to prime condition once again.

Disaster strikes again

A year later, in September 2022, heavy rainfall and hazardous floods caused disastrous effects on the streets of Brooklyn once more. As a safety measurement to protect against this risk, the facilities managers of the Central Chabad Library had installed water pumps in the building to keep the collection safe. Unfortunately, with the electricity also being shut down because of the flood, the pumps were of no use. Once again, precious scripture had been infiltrated with moisture. This time, however, the rabbis knew exactly what to do. Polygon received the call at six in the morning and arrived just a few hours later, fully equipped to offer the same service they provided a year earlier.

DeCirce continues: "I am glad we were able to support the Chabad HQ and library to recover and protect their seforim. Water damage is common after floods but having a plan in place ahead of time can really help minimize the impact. We will, of course, take great care during the drying process and return their items to their proper condition and rightful place."

This story paints a colourful picture of the importance of Polygon’s work. With integrity, excellence and, most importantly, empathy, we aid in delicate situations, making life easier when disaster has struck.


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