NSW Jewish History online

September 20, 2011 by  
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The State Library of New South Wales will launch a new web site tomorrow making available a new online collection of celebrated and little-known stories of Jewish life in Australia since 1788.

York St Synagogue c. 1840-1850

Alex Byrne, NSW State Librarian & Chief Executive, said: “Tomorrow, we’re launching a fantastic new online collection that documents Jewish history in Australia and explores the rich contributions Jewish people have made to our nation’s heritage since 1788.”

With the support of the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commence (AICC), the State Library of NSW is digitally preserving its unique collection of celebrated and also little-known stories of Jewish life in Australia and making it freely available online.

The Australian Jewish Community and its Culture online collection will explore the cultural, economic, religious and sporting lives of Jewish Australians, and share stories of Jewish convicts, successful merchants including Solomon Levey and Louis Phillips, and notable public figures such as Sir Asher Joel and E.S. Marks.

Hebrew Ladies' Bazaar, 1876

Funding from AICC will also support the digitisation of oral histories of Holocaust survivors who later settled in Australia, as well as private and emotionally evocative letters from their family members unable to leave Europe during the 1930s.

“We are both proud and privileged to be able to fund and, more importantly, be a part of this project in partnership with the State Library of NSW, one of the world’s great libraries,” says Kim Jacobs, President of the AICC for NSW.

“Aside from the promotion of trade with Israel, the other tenet of the AICC is to promote thought leadership particularly through education and involvement in the Australian community, and this project epitomises this facet of the Chamber and that is why we had no hesitation in supporting it,” says Mr Jacobs. “We look forward to our continuing involvement with the Library.”

The online collection looks at 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 … ‘My father gave me good advice, but I did not take it’ ….

Notable businessmen include the “wizard of finance” George Judah Cohen who started work in his father’s warehouse and went on to become a director of the Australian Gas Light Company, Commercial Banking Company of Sydney, the Tooth and Company Brewery and the Royal Exchange. Louis 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.

The religious life of Australia’s Jewish community will be a major focus, looking at the establishment of Sydney’s first synagogues and first religious rites of Jewish people in New South Wales.

The online collection is a great resource for family historians, with selected material relating to the York Street Synagogue, the Great Synagogue and the Hebrew Ladies’ Bazaar (1875) now fully digitised and available to access.

New content will be added to the Australian Jewish Community and its Culture on a regular basis until the end of 2012. Visit the online collection at http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/discover_collections/index.html

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