Building a Jewish Museum for New Zealand

August 31, 2020 by Miriam Bell
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Despite some past efforts, New Zealand doesn’t have its own Jewish museum. However, it looks as though that’s finally set to change.

David Shieff

A charitable trust, the Jewish Museum of New Zealand Charitable Trust, has been established and it’s working hard to create a modern Jewish museum which represents and reflects New Zealand’s Jewish history and community.

Roger Moses and David Shieff, (along with David Robinson, the Honorary Consul of Israel) are trustees. They envision any future museum as an interactive, dynamic resource which is a real and active part of people’s lives.

“It will be about contemporary Jewish life as well as the past, so we see it as a living thing,” Shieff says. “We want it to be a window into Jewish lives – and as much about current lives and living as it is about the past.

“While it will tell the stories of notable Jewish New Zealander’s who have contributed to the development of the country, we want to increase its relevance to the younger generation (and not just Jewish youth). So it can’t be just a recital of our history.”

To that end, Moses and Shieff have some ambitious goals for the future museum. But, at this stage, development is just getting underway.

Roger Mosed

Recently, the trust received two separate grants from different government agencies which will allow them to properly progress two of the projects which will form the foundations of the planned museum.

Moses says one of the grants, which is from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, will go towards revival work on the Jewish Online Museum ( which the trust took over responsibility for some time ago.

“It has fallen into serious disrepair, but our aim is to resurrect it. We will begin by redesigning the website to modernise it. Then we’ll rebuild the platform on which it operates as the old one is well and truly obsolete.”

The other grant, which was from the NZ Lottery Grants Board, will go towards work on the Auckland Hebrew Congregation’s historical materials, which the trust has been engaged to preserve and archive for the AHC.

“They are an important source of history and they are in dire need of rescue, restoration, cataloguing and digitalisation. We need to protect them for the future,” Moses says.

“But we also believe the AHC archives (and, potentially, other community archives) could help form an interesting and important source of content and material for the Jewish Museum of New Zealand.”

The trust will be tackling both projects in parallel. Moses and Shieff see huge potential in both of them and like to think the material and content in both will become widely available as a community resource.

Shieff says they don’t want to confine the museum to one channel. Rather they want it to encompass a range of different channels and initiatives, making the most of digital, multi-media technology as part of it all.

“We are researching what forms that might take. We’re looking at other museum/archive projects around the world and reaching out to them to build relationships for potential content-sharing purposes.”

The trust is also hoping that, eventually, they will be able to have a presence at the AHC’s new premises at Remuera in order to showcase the museum’s technology and resources.

Shieff says it’s important that people understand the museum will be more than just a bunch of stories about old folks who have done things in the past.

“We are living in an ecosystem and resources can be used for different purposes. Our goal is to help people, especially young people, understand that Jews are like everyone else – and build a favourable impression of Jews and the Jewish community.”

Right now though, it’s all about making sure the project’s progress continues and gains traction. To that end, the trustees are keen to raise community awareness of the project.

Moses says they are inviting people to get in touch if they are interested in being actively involved in work on the various initiatives underway for the museum.

“Once the new Jewish Museum website is up and running we will be looking for content contributions from a wide variety of sources, including families with stories to tell. So, again, please get in touch if you want to contribute.”

The trust has also begun fundraising for the project. As they are a charitable trust any donations are tax-deductible.


One Response to “Building a Jewish Museum for New Zealand”
  1. Sue Levy says:

    On March 1 1865 the schooner ‘Eclipse’ sailed up the river to Opotiki with a load of cargo and two passengers. The captain of the schooner, Morris Levy, was my husband Julian’s great grandfather, born in Guernsey (1830) and died in Nelson (1901). He and his wife Sophia raised a large family there.

    In 1865 the Maori Wars were at their height and Morris’s passengers were at extreme risk. The senior, Rev C S Volkner, was seized and murdered by the hostile Maoris in a truly sickening way, and Morris and his brother Samuel, a storekeeper in the town, were eventually successful in spiriting the other, Rev T S Grace, to safety.
    Being Jewish, the Levy brothers were untouched by the Maoris, who felt an affinity with our people.

    Julian and I have amassed a great deal of research into this incident and others in the lives of Morris and Sophia, which we have built even further after recent visits to Whakatane and Opotiki, and in Nelson. We would be happy to share this on your Museum site.

    We congratulate you on this venture and wish it all the success it deserves.

    I have written to you already, without receiving an answer, but I guess you are too busy formulating the overall plan. When the time is right, I would be delighted to compile a history of this remarkable man and some of his experiences for your collection of histories. When you send me the submission criteria (format, usage of pictures, etc), I’ll work within the bounds of them.

    When I first read of this venture I immediately showed it to the Jewish Historical & Genealogical Society of Western Australia, of which I am the Librarian. Our determination to create a museum of local history has been foundering for lack of a forum to display it, so with imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, we hope to emulate your ‘Jewish Lives’ and learn from its style and presentation.

    Very best wishes to you all. Y’Shar Koach!!

    Sue Levy
    Perth, Western Australia

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