The JHASW has been uncovering and preserving stories from the Jewish community in south Wales since it was founded in November 2017.
There has been an established Jewish community in south Wales since the 1730s. At its peak in 1929, the south Wales Jewish community numbered 5,120 (Jewish Year Books’ data). However, from the 1920s onwards, south Wales’s Jewish communities have witnessed a steep decline. Many stories that the elderly members of the Jewish community could have told and shared have already been lost.
Beginning in October 2021, we are planning to record over 70 new oral history interviews to expand our current collection. We hope to include anyone with Jewish heritage who has, or had, a connection to south Wales. We are looking for people of any age with a story they wish to share. We have already uncovered some incredible histories - from beheading by Cossacks to run-ins with the Mafia and witnessing the explosion of a tour bus in Israel - and we know that there are many more stories still left untold. Oral testimonies are an essential primary resource. They provide the personal element to counterbalance the ‘official’ written record. They are the memories of our times, recounting the events of history, but told through an individual voice and perspective. When we gather a wide enough range of oral histories, a more complete picture of our society begins to emerge - but we cannot do this without your help.
Max Fay (middle, front row) and the Welsh Water Polo Team c. 1927.
Image courtesy of Janet Pins.
The JHASW can only operate because it has a group of dedicated volunteers. Oral histories require meticulous planning, research, recording, and transcription, before being deposited with the relevant archive. If this project were to pay for the volunteer hours which are kindly given, it would cost more than £70,000.00! Due to our volunteers, we are able to deliver this project for £20,023.00. An anonymous donor has already pledged £2,500.00 and we have applied to charitable trusts and foundations for a grant of £12,523.88. We are asking for your kind support to raise the remaining £5,000.00. We will value and make use of every penny of your donation. We are passionate about this project and dedicated to preserving the history of our Jewish community.
Michael Pruchnie, one of our interviewees, summarises the importance of our work:
“[The JHASW is] making sure that the heritage actually stays. It’s the one thing, the stories of the lifeblood of the community, and you are, I suppose, the eternal flame. When it’s done people will be able to say ‘how did the community in Cardiff get started? …what happened to all these people?’ I think what you’re doing is fabulous.”
Hymmie Kahn, Cardiff Special Constabulary, 26 February 1940.
Image courtesy of Laurence Kahn.
The contribution of the Jewish community to south Wales has been as diverse as the individuals who form it. Sadly, we still hear the same Jewish stereotypes time after time. This project will dispel these outdated ideas by capturing the voices of individuals who have dedicated their lives to Music, Medicine, Art, Teaching, Military and Civil Service and the establishment of many different businesses from Treforest to Merthyr, Cardiff and beyond, which helped to revive areas suffering from the severe economic impact of the decline of the mining industry.
The opening of the Pontypridd Synagogue Community Hall, 11 March 1934.
We are in a fight against time: People age, memories fade. Of 82 individuals we interviewed, 9 are no longer with us; their voices have been stilled but their stories are still accessible through our work. We want to ensure that the voices that remain can be captured for posterity. Any contribution you can make towards the project will help us towards that goal.