University of Sydney Library

A History of the Archive of Australian Judaica




Marianne Dacy

The late Professor Alan Crown and his wife Sadie


The Archive of Australian Judaica   was set up in the Rare Books Section of the University  of Sydney Library on July 4, 1983 to set up a cetnral repository for research and help arrest the deterioration  and destruction of Australian Jewish records..


The Archive of Australian Judaica has been in existence for thirty years in the University of Sydney Library, having been founded on July 4, 1983, the day I began in the Archive. The original project directors were Dr Neil Radford, the University Librarian, Dr Jennifer Alison (Selection and Collections Librarian) and Professor Alan Crown, then head of the Semitics Studies Department. Professor Crown remained a director till his death on November 2, 2010, and his place has been taken by Professor Suzanne Rutland. John Shipp replaced Dr Neil Radford in 1995 till his retirement in October 2011. The Archive has been a cooperative enterprise between the University of Sydney Library and the Mandelbaum Trust.

As is known, the Jewish community arrived with the first Fleet – with an estimated sixteen convicts coming with the first Europeans to Australia. Thanks to extreme poverty and little social security, people had to survive as best they could in Britain and Ireland, and, as a consequence, British goals were filled to overflowing with the poor, and those who were imprisoned for petty crimes such as the stealing of a loaf of bread or a card of fine lace, such as adorned the dresses of wealthy women. Those transported also included Irish political rebels. The Antipodes were seen as a convenient dumping ground for this unwanted population. 

Why an archive? This Archive was established to halt the deterioration and destruction of records that traced the growth of the Australian Jewish community and to centralise these records in a research repository that would be accessible to researchers in a university setting. In the course of the years, the Archive has come to house records that include those of some key Australian Jewish organisations such as the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the Australasian union of Jewish Students and the Australian Zionist Federation.  The records of some 81 individuals who have contributed to Australian Jewish life and the life of the nation are also housed in the Archive, as well as ephemera, journals, a few resource books for reference, tapes, videos, DVD's and subject files culled from newspapers.  Notable among the collections are papers and family photographs from the acclaimed Australian author Nancy Keesing, the Holocaust survivor Max Joseph and Ruby Rich-Schalit, musician and feminist activist.

The idea for an archive of the records of the Australian Jewish community at Sydney University started to become a reality when Professor Alan Crown, Head of the Department of Semitic Studies  and Dr Neil Radford the University of Sydney Librarian acquired a Government Grant of $10,000 in 1982 from the Australian Research Grants’ Commission.  A second librarian, Dr Jennifer Alison was involved in the project and remained as one of the three original Archive directors till her retirement in the early 1990s. Dr Alison died in July 26, 2010. I  am the original research assistant and will remain employed, till December 19. For the present, the Archive has been relocated in a refurbished Rare Books’ section, in the course of the Fisher Library renovations, which are continuing.

Government funding continued for another four years until 1987. From that time, the position was funded for three days a week, from February to December by the Mandelbaum Trust, which has pledged its continuing support for the part time  salary of an archivist till December 20, 2013. Funding is now available only for two days a week. Any funds for equipment, archive material or filming continue to be supplied through donations.  Certain stalwarts still remaining of the Friends of the Archive of Australian Judaica continue to donate much needed funds . However, with the death of Professor Crown and a recent financial crisis, the Archive funding is about to be withdrawn and a new funding source is urgently sought.

The Mandelbaum Trust was founded from the legacy of Rachel Mandelbaum, the daughter of Reverend Bezalel Mandelbaum, who served as minister at Ballarat at one time. She was an early woman graduate of Sydney University and married Harry Lipton, a chocolate manufacturer who amassed a substantial fortune. The plan to build a  Jewish College at  the University of Sydney was brought to fruition through many years of negotiations for a space by Professor Alan  Crown with the University and local councils. At length, a small residential Jewish College was opened in 1995 in Abercrombie Street, Chippendale. It houses about forty students and hosts scholars from overseas as "scholars in residence," but has recently freed space for more students, with tthe records of the Australian Jewish Historical Society being located to the Sydney Jewish Museum. Each year a biblical lecture in honour of Professor Alan Crown is held, which to date has been given by A/Prof Ian Young who now heads the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies.

I began work as a research assistant I worked downstairs in Rare Books with just a desk, and a New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies diary. That afternoon Professor Crown carried over a very large typewriter.  My task was to contact Jewish organisations round Australia and request they send us their journals and annual reports and the flyers that they issue from time to time. This was the beginning of the periodical  collection and also of the ephemera resources.  I started writing letters, ringing people and locating and collecting records and seeing to their listing and documentation. This process continues to the present day, except we now use email as well. My contract is till the end of 2013 and then the funding from Mandelbaum ceases It is a crucial moment.

The idea for an archive of the records of the Australian Jewish community was the “brainchild” of Professor Alan Crown who envisaged an archive that was easily accessible and at the University, and was readily available for students and those who needed access to the records of the Australian Jewish community for research. Records, although zealously collected also by the Australian Jewish Historical Society in Sydney, Melbourne and other states, still continue to disappear, as people quite often throw out papers of Jewish organisations when moving to smaller residences or shifting to new office buildings. In addition, partial runs of Australian Jewish newspapers of the twentieth century  are scattered in various State libraries or in private hands or offices  throughout the country and some are difficult to access. Nowadays many journals are “virtual” and appear only on webpages. Steps need to be made to ensure these records are preserved and should not be left to the indivdual Jewish organisations.

The Archive began a successful project of gathering and microfilming the various nineteenth and early twentieth century Australian Jewish newspapers, having them filmed in cooperative projects with the National Library in Canberra and other State Libraries. All extant nineteenth century Ausralian Jewish newspapers now are filmed. These microfilms are housed in the Fisher Library collection on Floor 2. Microfiche of small runs are stored in the Archive filing cabinet at present. As yet, the latter have not been made available “online” and await digitalisation.

Another problem faced and not completely solved today is that records continue to be lost or are deteriorating because of poor storage. These records often are in private hands (their owners cannot bring themselves to donate them to an archive) or stored in synagogues or Jewish organisational offices where adequate provision is often not made for their preservation. Families are not always intersted in preserving the papers their parents collected and these frequently are lost. Better funding is needed for their care at this University.. The Archive partially provides  for this need, but basic funding makes it difficult to provide optimum service to users.  Most requests for assistance arrive by email from all around the world and from students from SydneyUniversity itself. Keeping the Archive web page up to date is vital.

The Australian Jewish Historical Society, first set up in 1938 by the historian and bibliographer Percy Marks has housed a collection since that time, with branches in other states, so much of their material is older than what is housed in the Archive but it also complements our collection. Professor Crown’s unfulfilled desire was for the Sydney collection of the AJHS  to be integrated into the Library at Sydney University to be available for research and for future generations. The AJHS collection is now in the Sydney Jewish Museum, where it has little space, and there is no qualified archivist to look after it. Helen Bersten performed this service on a voluntary basis (trained librarian) for thirty years.

The newspapers, crumbling copies of the Sydney Morning Herald for example, were moved out of Rom 237 (which housed the Archive) about five years ago, so I had six ranges instead of three for the Archive collection in Room 237 on Floor 2. Over three years ago, the Jewish Folk Centre Library closed and was sold. Those in charge were not Yiddish speakers, and wished to send the Yiddish books out of the country but Professor Crown and Dr Jennifer Dowling asked for the Yiddish books to be temporarily housed in the Archive, pending a new home. Some 4000 Yiddish books were moved in to my newly acquired extra space. The arrangement was always meant to be a temporary. Eventually, earlier in that year Emanuel Synagogue pledged to house the books, but in about two years when their purpose built library would l have been finished. They were to be  relocated in the new library being built especially to house them at Emanuel Synagogue in Woollahra. This is not going to happen as funding for the new resource centre failed to meet the target.  In the meantime, the Library has generously allowed the Yiddish books (many very rare) to remain here.  

Some Problems- a setback 

At the end of August, 2012, the last box of the Yiddish books (Box 170) was being taped up when disaster struck. John Shipp, the University Librarian had requested that the books be removed immediaetly, as renvoations were about to begin, and the room had to be vacated for work to start ont eh new lifts. Dr Dowling and her son Shaun had come in for couple of hours on that fateful Sunday afternoon to finish packing up the Yiddish books for their removal into storage when the shelving collapsed from the back of the room.  The incident  warned all that wide shelving (which existed elsewhere in the Library stacks) where the books had been must be packed evenly from both sides, as the  actual shelves were wider than the shelving bases and thus were inherently unstable if a weight iwere to be removed from them. The total removal of weight from the shelf sides on which the Yiddish books had been caused an imbalance and subsequently the shelves  collapsed  without warning.  Fortunately neither was injured,  apart from some bruises. When the room was made safe the Ar chive was boxed and went into storage for some months.

Apart from this crisis, there have been some setbacks in the collection of archives attempted. Perth Hebrew Congregation reneged on giving copies of their synagogue records in 1988, which I had gone over especially to list, as more recent records than anticipated had been copied by mistake. Adelaide Hebrew Congregation, then in the old 1840s synagogue in Arundel Street refused the Archive copies of microfilmed records now kept in the South Australian State Library.  Unfortunately an earlier researcher had been paid a sum of money and had actually absconded with some of the records, Thus, I did not feel so welcome in 1988 in teh aftermath of this incident.  Again, Melbourne Hebrew Congregation would not allow me to organise  the microfilming of the minute books of the Congregation from the late 1890s, and subsequently a flood damaged the minute books which dated back to the late nineteenth century,  and one was lost altogether.  Again at  the Central Synagogue in Bondi   all of the records were destroyed by an electrical fire in the 1990s.  All this  loss could have been prevented, but distrust of a non Jewish organisation,  a legacy of the Holocaust, was at the basis of these refusals of cooperation. Again, the records of the Australian Zionist Federation were destroyed when moving premises in the 1950s and again in the late eighties, and well known personalities who were active in different Jewish organisations tended not to preserve records, and some destroyed them.

Fortunately some of the early Australian Jewish material has been preserved in archives kept overseas in Israel, America, and England for example. Thus, on several visits to the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem, I listed and had filmed the earliest correspondence between Australia and the World Zionist Organisation which began in the 1890s. Further funding is need to film more of this material in the CZA, which unfortunately charge high rates for copying.  All correspondence from 1890s, which was housed in Berlin at that time and later moved to Jerusalem has been preserved in their files   and includes material  which did not survive in Australia from Percy Marks and other early Zionists who played  an important role in the organisation.  I also visited the archives of YIVO in New York and the synagogue of the late Rabbi Hillel Silver in Cleveland, USA in 1990 at Professor Crown’s request.

Another challenge being faced in the preservation of archives and journals is the digitalisation of records that is taking place now at an accelerating rate, with paper copies of journals being phased out. While this is very convenient for users and makes some archive resources available quickly in multiple locations around the world, one wonders about the permanency of these records “online” which do not exist in hard copy.  The problem is acute in the case of digital journals that appear regularly every week on the web pages of some organisations. Some websites keep a copy of each journal from its digital inception on the webpage, but other digital journals have disappeared  and file copies have not been kept. The archive has attempted to record each “online” Australian Jewish journal webpage and the names of the journals that were featured and the runs of some of them.

“On line” journals tend to be longer with  large, brilliant coloured photos and much more longer making them very resource consuming to print out. Some journals such as The Great Synagogue Journal are issued as printed copies to subscribers but  the journal is also “on line”. This situation is ideal.  Others appear weekly and essentially are reflections and copies of the torah readings for the week.  Ideally each “online” journal   should be downloaded on to a disc and sent to the  Australian National Library. The printed copies already are sent on legal deposit, but many of the smaller journals are not submitted in any form and will not survive.when webpages are updated or closed down.

As an addendum I should add that in the course of running the Archive I have encountered some very colourful and interesting characters. These were some of the donors of papers to the Archive.

Donations of Archives from individuals

Karen Angell  gave me the first donation, the papers of Max Joseph, her father, in two deliveries which I organised  by taxi.  Max Joseph was interned for three weeks in Sachenhausen,  but this wife and daughter fled to England and obtained papers for the family to migrate to Australia on his release the Concentration Camp  in 1939. Subsequently, the records, which included a full edition of The New Citizen were copied for Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on Mount Hertzl, and the Washington Holocaust Museum. Karen Angell worked in a factory in Glebe, but subsequently I realised she owned the factory.

Yehuda Feher, a Hungarian refugee to Australia, who trained as a textile engineer gave me his collection  of Zionist Youth magazines and  I helped him write a 10,000 word article on Percy Marks, which was published in the Journal  of  the Australian Jewish Historical Society.

Ruby Rich-Schalit. I recorded her reminiscences for five hours on one visit, but having only two or three tapes, I chose what I recorded, as she talked without a break for that five hours. She mentioned Nellie Melba as an acquaintance. I was invited to go with her to the concert of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and met her at her flat on the ground floor of an address in Darling Point Road. You could see Sydney Harbour from her window. As well as being a philanthropist, she was the founder of the Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Was active in the Racial Hygiene Society in the 1920s and was a talented musician. When her father would not allow her to  become a  concert pianist, she turned to women’s issues. She married Maurice Schalit when in her fifties and died just a few days before her one hundreth birthday. 

I visited her sister in law Colleen Rich, married to Ruby’s brother, a doctor,  with  the Rare Books Librarian, Trevor Mills. Colleen had a rather ancient and blind cocker spaniel who appeared not to like Trevor Mills and barked at us horribly.  She did not approve of the recording I made of her interview. At the age of  91  she had a cataract operation and told me happily that she could read the paper without her glasses. She lived to be over 100.

Catherine Gluck I had some adventures on her account  at Potts Point.  The latter, who also lived to be 100, threw books at Trevor Mills, the Rare Books Librarian who had come with me to look at her artist’s brother’s books and papers. She gave us no papers or books but wanted us to buy some of her pamphlets, examples of which I already had collected in my Archive ephemera collection.  I next encountered her at the Jewish book Fair in Darlinghurst in the late 80s where she sold more of her papers and old books (from her late artist brother) than either Helen Bersten (Jewish Historical Society archivist) or I sold of our publications. It was not surprising. Catherine Gluck had been a Holocaust survivor and had no inhibitions about confronting  all who showed the slightest interest in her collection. If they approached her stand within a metre, and looked in her direction she managed to get them to buy something. She did quite well financially, I believe, on that day. On the other hand, Helen Bersten and I were not assertive enough, apparently, and sold almost nothing at our stalls.

Benzion Patkin and Aaron Patkin’s papers. I visited  Benzion  Patkin at his home in  Caulfield in late 1983 and  in  early 1984. He was writing another book, this time on the Australian zionism and was guarding his papers from me. Dramatically he unlocked a small gray metal box, allowed me to the collection of papers inside and then shut it with a bang, declaring he would never let me have his uncle’s papers as he needed them for his book.

A few weeks later, to my surprise, he phoned me and said he would give me the papers.  Three weeks later he died. It was round about Anzac Day, 1984.  For years I visited his widow who over the space of many years gradually gave me his papers which included some original  music by Boaz Bischofswerder, the father of the Melbourne musician Felix Werder and a handwritten diary in Yiddish, which I had copied on to microfiche and have unsuccesfully tried to get translated, though I can work out the gist of it, myself.

Hemda Patkin. I used to have lunches  with her  quite regularly when I visited Melbourne, from 1984 till mid 2003.  She gave me small amounts of her husband’s papers each time, if I was lucky. She would always save another batch till  the next time, as she wanted to examine each page and to read it carefully. Also, I think she enjoyed my visits. When she took ill, I visited her in her nursing home from the time of her stroke in August 2003 for two years, till the last week of her life when she had pneumonia, which everyone calls  ‘the old person’s friend’, the same malady from which  my mother died.  We also visited Hemda’s friend Rose Kornan, where we  talked,  ate wonderful cakes  and drank tea out of  glorious fine bone china cups. When  Hemda was 91, she last drove me to see her friend Bertha Porush, who lived five minutes away,  and gave  up driving shortly afterwards.

I continued to take myself off to visit Mrs  Bertha Porush, as my mother also lived in Melbourne,  and  once took a whole  week off to list  her husband’s papers. Rabbi  Israel Porush had been the rabbi of the Great Synagogue from the early 1940s till 1973, when Rabbi Raymond Apple replaced him. The Porushes then moved down to Caulfield where I used occasionally to visit them. After Rabbi Porush died, Mrs Porush asked me to take her husband’s papers for the Archive. At each visit to sort through the papers, time was restricted to a very short time and included lunch with her.

I also  tried to obtain copies of the papers of her son in law, Isi Leibler  and organised their filming  with a film company, but in the end, the filming did not go ahead and he took all his  vast collection to Jerusalem  where they now are in an archive of his own in the basement of his home in Jerusalem, where he has lived since 1995  or so. Is Leibler’s house was just across the road from that of Mrs Porush.  I saw is silver  ethrog collection, his original paintings from great masters, the  enormous television which was uncommon in the nineties, and his large collection of books, many of them rare originals. I  last  visited Mrs Porush in Jerusalem, in 2008 when she was 104. She moved to Jerusalem with her daughter and son in law when she was in her mid nineties, and lived till 105.

Nehama Patkin (musician),  Hemda Patkin’s daughter whom I met at her mother’s place occasionally later asked me to come and see what she had left of her father’s papers. I visited her at her home in January 2008, and she gave me some more copies of The Zionist that her uncle Aaron Patkin had edited in the 1940s and 50s.  Like her mother before her, she counted every page, and asked me to return as she had more, she thought. I did not go back as at that time my mother had become ill and I had to spend all my time with her on my subsequent visits to Melbourne. Nehama rather unexpectedly died in mid March 2009, not long after my mother,  who had died on January 24 of the same year.

Mrs Bertha Porush. I had to watch ‘Days of our Lives’ before I was allowed to speak to her, whenever Mrs Patkin took me over from her house to see her. In fact, I think it was two programmes we usually watched before she would speak to us, for fear of missing out on some vital incident, and there was always a nice cup of tea and refreshments! There  always was a strictly limited time to view  the papers of Rabbi Porush. Eventually they were given to me when she went on alia to Jerusalem at age 94 with her daughter Naomi  and son in law, Isi Leiber. I had visited her earlier when Rabbi Porush was alive and he wished to donate the papers to the Archive. Isi Leibler once, in 1993 gave me a ticket to Rome when he was in charge of Jet Set so on that occasion  I had only to pay for  the $600 ticket from Rome to Israel. A $2000 saving was much appreciated! I was attending the Eleventh World Congress of Jewish Studies to give a paper on the Archive of Australian Judaica at their invitation, and continued my  listing of Australian  materials in  the Central  Zionist Archives. I also was able to attend the conference of the International Council of Christians and Jews in Haifa, Carmel in 1993, as the conference times coincided really well.  

Mrs Eliza Siderowitz was an expert teacher of Yiddish. When I visited her at her home  a couple of times  she gave me gefilte fish and a marvellous lunch.  I received no donations of material, but we had very interesting conversations at that time and over the phone at times.

The New South Wales Jewish  Board of Deputies : A truck load  of an enormous number of cartons  smelling  horribly of mould  and dust was delivered to me in the Archive in December  of 1983. This was at the time I worked in the basement of Rare Books, an originally almost empty  space with no windows. It still has no windows in the basement.  Only the old editions of Shakespeare or incunabula were there when I began work there on July 4, 1983  and there is still the safe  there for the most valuable items, which include Hebrew manuscripts.  I returned to work after the break   in February 1984, later in the middle of that  year arranging for  the Zionist Federation material to be filmed both in  Sydney and then in Melbourne.  In 1984,  we were assigned  four Archive  students from the University of NSW(of which my sister was one)  to list  the Jewish Board of Deputies’  material on Professor  Crown’s initiative, as there was an enormous amount of material to catalogue. The students  worked under the direction of Peter Orlovich. It was mostly well catalogued, but I had to relist one collection which one of the students had incorrectly numbered.  Other records were listed by archive students from New South Wales University,   in latter years those of Sam Karpin (by one student) and the voluminous Zionist Federation material that arrived from Melbourne  in the 1990s was catalogued by four more students. Sadly, the archive course and library courses at the University of New South Wales were stopped in favour of more  IT course, so there are no more students to help in listing archives. It is worth mentioning that the minutes  of NSW Jewish Board of Deputies  were put on microfiche to 1974when I first started in the Archive. 

The Zionist Federation of Australia Before organising the Melbourne filming in 1984,  W & F Pascoe’s  already had  filmed  the Sydney material which was stored in  a musty storeroom in the Darlinghurst Building.  Some minute books had been singed from a fire from which they had been rescued. There was a distinct smell of burning.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry. Early in 2011 I received 20 large cartons of material from the Executive council of Australian Jewry and catalogued in 100 acid free white boxes  them shortly before the library renovations and their removal to storage.  The alter material was joined on to the large collection alrleady listed.  

Central Zionist Archives. I listed what had not survived in Australia and had it filmed up to the 1940s, and then it was 1995, and I had no more money to  film Australian  Zionist material that is only available in Jerusalem. The Australian  Jewish News. I  rescued  many photos from the dumpers  when the offices  moved to Surry Hills in 2004.  Over the years the Archive has filmed   all nineteenth century Australian Jewish newspapers and some into the 20th century and records of Wollongong Synagogue, and other organisations. I did not purchase the many reels of   the Australian Jewish Herald from the State Library of New South Wales  because of the cost.  

Webpage. The Archive was first  hosted “online”  by Gary Luke in 1993/4.  He is the proprietor of feraltek. I had my own computer and modem  by 1992 and was on the Listserve  of J.O.I.N. (Jewish Ozzies On Line), which continues to be  moderated by Geraldine Jones. The Archive webpage  has developed very much since that time.  In 1995 the Archive’s’ own  webpage was set up at the  University by Kerry Taylor.  In 2010, there was a change of branding by the University to a more unified style and the Archive website was integrated into the University of Sydney  Library webpage.

Problems: Archives are not valued by many in the community and continue to be destroyed. In many respects they are considered to be the  “poor cousins “  if kept in libraries at all,  and are not as valued as magazine resources or books. Yet, archives are the raw materials from which books are written and are primary historical resources.  There was a  spate of books written on topics around Australian Jewish history just before the bi centenary in 1988 and after it, and many have acknowledged the Archive  of Australian Judaica as a resource. I have also supplied authors photos from the Archive resources,  for displays at the City of Sydney Museum, the Maritime Museum, The Sydney Jewish Museum and the Australian Jewish Museum in Melbourne.  

Many of the artefacts came from the Cyril Pearl collection  based on the fateful  voyage of the “Dunera “ were microfilmed and digitalised  for the Washington Holocaust Museum as well as material from three other individual collections, that of Max Laserson, Benzion Patkin (Magen David Adom files) and Wolff Matsdorf.  The Washington Holocaust Museum budget for the filming was $10,000 US and the Archive has received copies of all the digitalised material.  

Business is mostly done by email, now with the occasional student coming across for help with essays or in search of suitable material from the Archive for their theses.  The bibliography of Australian Jewish journals published in 1986 has been updated “online” till 2008  and will be published as book  when formatted for printing.  Dr Jennifer Dowling is preparing it for the publication . We will need to find a  sponsor, whne the editing is finished.

The Future

Secure and sufficient funding to run the Archive of Australian Judaica is needed urgently.

The Archive is well known internationally in the Jewish world . It is an extremely valuable resource, and its value will increase over time.   Five hundred shelf metres of archives are there in the collection, representing the passions, achievements, and hopes and experiences of many  Australian  Jews,  Holocaust survivors, Jewish migrants, children of immigrants, , established Australian Jewish families and   extensive records  of  key Australian Jewish organisations  such as the  Australian Zionist Federation, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, the Executive Council of Austrlain Jewry, the  defunct Bankstown and Woolongong  synagogues and many  others. These archives are an irreplaceable part to the heritage of Australian  Jews, and need proper funding for their maintenance.  

As the Mandelbaum Trust is ceasing to fund the Archive at the end of 2013, money must be found  to  finance an archivist’s salary to care for the collection.


Dr Marianne Dacy (NDS)

L -.R. Professor Suzanne Rutland and Dr Marianne Dacy

Archive of Australian Judaica
C/- Rare Books
Fisher Library University of Sydney 2006 AUSTRALIA
Tel:  61 2  9351 4162
  A revised version of a paper presented to the Australian Society of Archivists on 23rd October  2011.