Just one year ago an ambitious project was launched by The Jewish History Association of South Wales (JHASW) to tell the story of Jewish people in south Wales. The community has links back to the 1730s when, according to oral tradition, the first settlement was established in Swansea.
Swansea cheder, 1908-1909.
An enthusiastic project manager was appointed, and a team of volunteers gathered to plan the project, help with research work, and carry out interviews with members of the Jewish community. A total of 72 oral histories have so far been collected with more than 6,000 images put together in a digital collection. Many of these images can already be seen at www.peoplescollection.wales/users/31091.
On the 17th of June 2019 a travelling exhibition, entitled Voices and Images of the South Wales Jewish Community, opens at its first venue and will continue on its journey until mid-September. It captures the spirit of communities through excerpts from interviews with those who were there; through the stories of their lives, and their parents’ and grandparents’ lives.
Lena Samuel outside her shop Bridge Street, Tredegar c.1910.
Annual day outing of the Rapport company.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were small Jewish communities in many of the south Wales valleys, as well as larger ones in the main towns.
According to The Jewish Yearbook, in Merthyr
- in 1919 there were 400 Jews;
- in 1939, there were 175 Jews;
- in 1959, there were 40 Jews;
- in 1999, George Black “The Last Jew in Merthyr”, died aged 82.
Painting of Merthyr Tydfil Synagogue by Olwen Hughes.
The decline of the Jewish community in Merthyr was, for the most part, echoed throughout south Wales due to an ageing population, the migration of children to university, economic downturn, and movement to larger communities.
The Jewish community has made a wide-ranging contribution to life across south Wales. Individuals, whose roots are in the local Jewish communities, have, over the past 250 years, excelled in many fields, including the area’s economic, social, political and artistic life.
It is vital to record the stories of those still living before they are lost forever.
The first phase of the project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Jewish Historical Society of England, and individual contributions is coming to an end in September 2019. But much more needs to be done.
We are planning to create a website to showcase previously unseen material, research information on little known Jewish communities, and carry out more oral history interviews. A case study will examine the history of people named on a Cardiff Reform Synagogue’s Memorial Tablet, erected in memory of relatives of community members who died in the Holocaust. Information gathered will help people conduct their own research. We are also planning to create a Jewish heritage trail in Cardiff.
We will ensure that information collected is available to a range of local organisations and associations, including archives, museums, libraries, and local history and genealogical societies.
Our crowdfunding appeal runs in parallel with a new application for financial support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and other fundraising efforts. The new project is estimated at around £60,000.00.
We are anxious to take the next step forward with this exciting initiative and with your help, we can do that. Your support would be greatly appreciated.