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Ben Zion Black Collection

Identifier: mss-199


The Ben Zion Black Collection documents Black's creative life through his original poetry (written in the Hebrew alphabet), scrapbooks of clippings from Yiddish and Hebrew papers, photographs, and folk music he collected.


  • 1900-2015
  • Majority of material found in 1920-1974


Language of Materials

A large proportion of the material is written using the Hebrew alphabet, especially Black's poems and collected newspaper clippings. The lanuguage is presumed to be Yiddish, based on clues within the material and Black's biographical details (ex. president of the local Yiddish Culture Society). Approximately one quarter of the written material is presented in English.


Collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Manuscripts.

Biographical / Historical

Ben Zion Joseph Black was born in the city of Kovno (later Kaunauss), Lithuania on July 4, 1886. (At that time, the area was officially in Russia but gained independence in 1918.) His father, Chaim, worked as an artist. The family moved to England. His mother's name was Leah. Ben Zion studied art in Europe and worked as a sign maker there. He immigrated to America, arriving in Burlington, VT in 1909.

In 1910, he was hired by the Chavi Adam Synagogue on Hyde Street in Burlington to paint the interior. A portion of his work came to be known as the Lost Shul Mural which was partially restored and unveiled in 2015. The mural is a rare surviving example of the religious and folk art tradition prevalent in synagogues in Europe that were systematically destroyed by the Nazis.

In February of 1912, he married Ruth (Rachel) Ethel Saiger (1890-1975). She was the daughter of Moses I. Saiger (approximately 1849-1911) and Beileh Rokovsky (approximately 1849-1934). Ruth and her parents immigrated through New York City in 1907, settling in Burlington where her siblings Sarah Clara Saiger Rosenberg (1871-1954), George Saiger (1873-1925), and Simon/Simeon Saiger (1881-1924) were already living. Ben Zion and Ruth had known each other in Kovno. Both were active in the arts: Ruth had a talent for singing and acting and Ben Zion created poems, plays, and drawings. They lived in the Boston, MA area from 1912-1918 where Ben Zion was employed as a commercial painter, creating murals and movie theatre marquees.

They returned to Burlington in 1919 where he opened a sign painting business on Center Street called B. Black Signs, using the motto "signs of the better kind." As owner/operator for about 50 years, he created banners, billboards, and posters and designed logos for several local businesses such as Vermont Transit and Maltex Cereal. He became a specalist in gold leaf which meant he was in demand at professional offices from New York to New Hampshire. He even supervised the work of painting Montpelier's gold dome for several years.

Ben Zion and Ruth and were active supporters of the Yiddish culture and art community in Burlington. He established a Yiddish Theatre Group (1920) for which he wrote, produced, and acted in local theatrical performances; Ruth often performed as well. In 1931, he assembled a mandolin orchestra with over 30 participants. He also served as chair of the local Yiddish Culture Society, regularly inviting and often underwriting visits from prominent Yiddish scholars and performing artists. He assembled a collection of more than 5,000 Yiddish books and phonograph records. He wrote a column called "The Yiddish World" for a newsletter printed in Vermont and wrote Yiddish poetry that appeared in Yiddish newspapers and periodicals. Ben Zion died on December 20, 1972.

The family included three daughters: Rebecca Eva Rieders (1913-1999), Leicia A. Black (1921-2012), and Constance M. Black (1927-1994). A granddaughter, Bonnie L. Rieders, also known as Hannah Bond (1943-1994), was a poet and visual artist. A few of her works are included in the collection.


2 Linear Feet (2 cartons)


Library Research Annex; contact for access.

Processing Information

There is no volume (scrapbook or poetry) identified as number 4. A few album pockets/envelopes in volume 2 are empty.

Ben Zion's name has been expressed in various ways including Joseph Benzion Black, Benjamin J. Black, Ben-Zion Black, Benzion Black, Benzain Black, and Benny Black. Ben Zion is the form used by the group working to restore the Lost Shul Mural and therefore used here. Ruth (Rachel) Ethel Saiger Black's mother's name varies by record including the first names Bailey, Bessie, Betsie, and Biele and the last names Karnowsky, Rakowsky, Rakowski, and Rokovsky. Her grave marker uses Beileh and is therefore used here. Ruth (Rachel) Ethel Saiger Black's name is also expressed as R. Ethel Black (ex. in Burlington City Directories) but the expanded form is used here on first mention in each note, followed by just Ruth as a shorter form, for convenience. Rachel Eva Black Rieders is listed in various records as R. Eva or just Eva.

Many relevant dates vary slightly: Ruth (Rachel) Ethel Saiger Black's grave is marked with the dates 1890-1975. Her federal naturalization records give her birthdate as February 25, 1893. Various records give Ben Zion's birthdate as 1886 (grave marker, obituary, Lost Shul Mural website, death record) and 1888 (WW2 draft registration record, Ruth's naturalization record, various census records). The 1886 date is more prevalent in the records and therefore used here. Ben Zion and Ruth's wedding dates vary slightly between different sources. The official state of Vermont certificate gives February 19, 1912 as does Ruth's naturalization records. A March 30, 1972 Burlington Free Press article gives the date as January 25. The invitation and Ruth's obituary lists February 25, 1912. Immigration dates also vary. According to the 1910 US Census, the Saiger family (Moses, Beileh, and Ruth), immigrated to the US in 1907 and Ben Zion Black immigrated in 1909. According to the 1920 Census, Ben Zion and Ruth immigrated in 1909 while Beileh immigrated in 1908. According to the 1930 US Census, Ben Zion immigrated in 1909 while Beileh and Ruth immigrated in 1907. According to Ruth's 1938 naturalization record, she entered the US on September 11, 1907 from Bremen, Germany on the ship US Barbarossa while Ben-Zion entered the US on October 13, 1909. According to Ben Zion's obituary, he "came to Burlington in 1909."

Genealogical information gathered via searching,, and For more information about the Lost Shul Mural:

Guide to the Ben Zion Black Collection
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the University of Vermont Libraries, Special Collections Repository

Silver Special Collections Library
48 University Place, Room B201
Burlington Vermont 05405 U.S.A. US
(802) 656-2138
(802) 656-4038 (Fax)