With the support of the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce (AICC), the Library created a digital collection of the little-known stories of Jewish life in Australia. This online story was called The Australian Jewish Community and Culture. It documented Jewish history in Australia and explores the rich contributions Jewish people have made to our nation’s heritage since 1788.
Over 3000 items about Jewish culture from the Library's collection were digitised. This online collection has proved to be a great resource for schools and those interested in elements of Australian history.
The story is an exciting and engaging initiative encompassing the journey of the Jewish community in Australia. It reveals a cavalcade of fascinating characters from the early days of the colony onwards.
The collection begins with convicts like Esther Abrahams, a Jewish First Fleeter who married Lt.-Col. George Johnston, a prominent NSW Corpsman instrumental in the Rum Rebellion of 1808. There is also the notorious Tasmanian convict Michael Isaacs, whose fascinating confession reveals a globe-trotting criminal career in London, Spain, France and the US. Isaacs wryly notes himself: ‘My father gave me good advice, but I did not take it....' Or other colourful characters such as Ikey Solomon, said to be the inspiration for Fagin in Oliver Twist.
The collection also tells the story of the first synagogues in Sydney. These include the magnificent Great Synagogue built in 1875 and which still stands proudly in Sydney’s Castlereagh Street.
Australian business has significantly benefited from contributions from the Jewish community – including the ‘wizard of finance’ George Cohen, who started work in his father's warehouse and went on to become director of many major Australian companies. Other famous businessmen included Solomon Levey and Louis Phillips. Phillips arrived in Sydney 1856 and, within a short time, was partner of Moses Moss, as well as director of Australian Joint Stock Bank, Pacific Fire & Marine Insurance.
Another important feature of the collection was digitising a number of oral histories from Holocaust survivors. These raw, frank accounts of life during the Holocaust of World War 2 are extremely valuable additions for the community in general to understand first hand the traumas and unspeakable injustices that were suffered as well as the stories of heroism and courage. The collection also included private and emotionally evocative letters from their family members unable to leave Europe during the 1930s.
The collection had a strong religious focus, apart from the Great Synagogue it also told the story of the York Street Synagogue and the Hebrew Ladies’ Bazaar (1875). This was of great help to family historians and those interested in the religious rites and ceremonies of the Jewish people.
Dr Alex Byrne, State Librarian & Chief Executive, described the collection as 'exploring the rich contributions Jewish people have made to our nation’s heritage since 1788,'.
The Australia-Israel Chamber of Commence (AICC) funded the project and made it freely available online. A significant contribution to the Library’s Jewish collection came from Percy J Marks – a solicitor and leading Jewish Historian.
The digital collection was extremely comprehensive and displayed some fascinating curios such as the Great Synagogue booklet in original Hebrew from 1875 and lithographs and early photos. This unique digital exhibition was certainly a terrific success story as it unearthed a valuable and educational resource of deep interest to the Library's community . It would never have happened without the contribution of resources by the AICC and their passion in making it happen.
This is just one tremendous success story of a corporate partnership. Talk to us today to find out how you can be involved.