Jewish Community Views on Objects in the Collections

From April to September 2006, seven advisory groups were held with different faith community groups.  The aim of these were to consult with the communities that the V&A collections were relevant to and see what reactions the members of the advisory groups had about the items. The participants were asked to select from groups of pictures of V&A objects and prioritise what items struck them most. These could be for personal reasons or how important they were from a cultural or faith point of view, for artistic reasons or whether they still had relevance to their lives today.

Wailing Place of the Jews outside the Temple Walls at Jerusalem

'Wailing Place of the Jews outside the Temple Walls at Jerusalem', Museum no. E.1270:23

'Wailing Place of the Jews outside the Temple Walls at Jerusalem', Museum no. E.1270:23

'I realised this is just a stunning photograph of the Wailing Wall and what struck me about it was the connection between the people and the characters and also so early in the idea of taking photos. My questions were whether these people posed for the photo or whether it was supposed to be a snapshot of what happens.There's also a lot of connections between comparing what that scene would look like today. It is also interesting what they are wearing and what background they had, how long they had been in Israel for and if they had come from Eastern Europe.I am not an expert in any of that stuff but I thought it was just a really visually exciting photo.'

Rachel Heilbron

'Being an Israeli, or former Israeli, I was attracted also to the Wailing Wall, basically from a personal point of view, in spite of being secular I should say. Every time I used to go to the Wailing Wall and being with the Jews there, I still felt some sort of excitement, some sort of a feeling I can hardly explain and I am sure for non-Jewish people this proximity around the wall has some sort of feeling with it.'

Darya Feuerstein

'When King Solomon was involved in building the wall he collected money so that everybody should have a part in it and there were different groups of people who paid for each of the walls.It was the poor people who paid for the Western Wall.When the Temple was destroyed in the Babylonian exile the three walls were destroyed and the fourth one stood. When the second Temple was built 70 years later in the time of Syrus, after the Purim story, there were four generals who were ordered by the Romans to destroy it and three of them did, and the fourth one, also at the Western Wall, didn't, so the Emperor asked him, 'Why didn't you carry out the Imperial law?' and he said, 'had I had carried it out nobody would have known the greatness that you did in destroying this citadel of Judaism.'The Emperor said, 'you're right but you went against me and that is a capital offence.Jump off the wall, if you survive you are forgiven.'That was Roman justice! He did not survive.'

Rabbi Suffrin

Rochester Synagogue

Francis Frith, Interior of Rochester Jewish Synagogue, Museum no. E.208:2393-1994

Francis Frith, Interior of Rochester Jewish Synagogue, Museum no. E.208:2393-1994

'Well, being a synagogue man, you will not be surprised to hear I have picked what is known as the Chatham Memorial Synagogue although it is actually in Rochester and the reason why is because it tells so many stories. If you are not familiar with it, it is right on the high street and you can walk up from the dockside to it, as probably the Jews did in the original building. This isn't the original building, it' s the second synagogue, I think, in Chatham which links the Jews with the navy and the whole story of that.It is the only synagogue I think in Englandthat has its graveyard attached to the synagogue. There is no other synagogue I know of where you walk out and you are in the graveyard, like a church, it is a very unusual. There are lots of interesting stones there to see and, as I said before, it is the memorial synagogue to Philip Magnus's son who was killed. I think he was a very senior soldier who was killed in action and he is certainly buried in the graveyard.The synagogue itself is typical of synagogues that were built in this country and it is one of the few surviving synagogues that has a maritime influence because it is so close to the dockside and within easy sight of the old Chatham military dockyard.Jews were very much involved as ship's chandlers and slop sellers and stuff like that'. David Jacobs, co-founder of the Jewish Museum in Finchley and the Director of Synagogue Support for the Reform Synagogues

Torah binder

Torah Binder, 1719-1720, Museum no.T.4-1941

Torah Binder, 1719-1720, Museum no.T.4-1941

 

'I picked the Torah binder because I did an exhibition about Torah binders. I had three groups, Czech, Alsatian and German so I look at this one and see, perhaps because it is quite an early one, it is not a typical binder in terms of its colouring, it is much more monochrome whereas by the late 19th century they were getting very elaborate and very multi coloured. The other reason I was so drawn to the binder was because my daughter has just produced my first grandchild (a girl). These binders were made for boys, they were made from the nappy that the child was laid on for his circumcision, they were then cut into usually four pieces and sewn together by somebody in the family and embroidered and is such a beautiful tradition because the binder would then be brought to the synagogue for the boys Bar Mitzvah, for his confirmation on the Sabbath before his wedding, it would be used to wrap the Torah so that there was always this link between the child and the Torah which was very specific.'

Evelyn Friedlander, chair of the Czech Memorial Scroll Trust

'I chose the Torah binder for purely personal reasons. The reason why I chose it is because I have never seen a decorated one like that in practice although I regularly have the opportunity of using a Torah binder so what struck me is that the ones used nowadays are just plain. There is a simple band of cloth with plastic clasps instead of the usual strings with which you tie the bow.So what is particularly interesting is an example of an item which is, as far as I'm aware and I've used these in many parts of the world, is no longer in use in that particular form and they are popularly known in the synagogue by most people by the Yiddish name, a bindle, something which binds something up.'

Jack Lassman

Jewish stevedores

W T Maud, 'Jewish Stevedores on the quay at Thessalonica', 1902, Museum no. SD.638

W T Maud, 'Jewish Stevedores on the quay at Thessalonica', 1902, Museum no. SD.638

'The one that appealed to me is a picture of the stevedores.This is because the history of the Jews of Salonika is absolutely amazing because to my knowledge it is the only city in the world that had its port run almost entirely by Jews and so much so that it used to close on the Sabbath.

It is an unusual job for a Jew. In London I don't think there were any dockers who were Jewish and Salonika was a very important port. It was called Salonika before the Greeks got hold of it and then it became Thessalonika.I think 40% of the population of Salonika was Jewish.Not only were they stevedores but there was a very important embroidery industry going there with gold thread and things like that.Unfortunately the Nazis got there and practically destroyed the whole, well they took them all away to Auschwitz and that was the end of the Jews of Thessalonika. So that's why I find that interesting.'

Sheila Lassman

Parochet or ark curtain

Parochet or Ark Curtain, 1703, Museum no.511-1877

Parochet or Ark Curtain, 1703, Museum no.511-1877

'I have chosen the parochet because it has personal meaning for me in many ways.

Some years ago I was contacted by Jennifer Weardon who is a curator of textiles here to explain to her all the symbols and so on, and I was quite gobsmacked that the V&A had such a fantastic Jewish object, such a textile as this.I think I have only actually seen it once when it was on display, I think on a staircase, a landing, a long time ago but it is something I would really like to have a close encounter with.

First of all it is so beautiful, it is in amazing condition it is obviously a very high class deluxe commercial job, it is not something that somebody has done at home. It is absolutely beautiful, very rich and you start wondering about the synagogue it was made for, who commissioned it and whose memory was it.I would like to know a bit more of the circumstances behind it. Behind the most magnificent textiles there is always a personal story and it is just because I love textiles I think and I would drool over this.I don't know why it isn't on display, not all the time necessarily but it could be on display more often and I think it should be.'

Jennifer Marin, Curator of the Jewish Museum, Camden Town

13th century spice box

Spice Box, 13th century. Museum no. 2090-1855

Spice Box, 13th century. Museum no. 2090-1855

'I thought it was simple and open and I guess it wasn't so much about the actual thing but about my connections with spice boxes now and the idea of havdallah being such a beautiful ceremony that takes me back to my youth movement: days of people standing around singing and thinking of 27 different ways of making spice boxes whether from a polystyrene cup you have made holes in or orange with cloves, all the different ways you can create these objects when you don't have the beautiful ones It's about creating the object and whether the object has to be a thing of absolute beauty or whatever, it is the significance of the object.'

Rachel Helibron

Jewish star Sabbath lamp

Jewish Star Sabbath Lamp, 18th Century, Museum no.1512A-1903

Jewish Star Sabbath Lamp, 18th Century, Museum no.1512A-1903

'I picked what is probably the humblest object which was the Sabbath lamp which attracted me first of all because I've got one, but also because it is a very universal domestic object that was found in households right across Europe and, of all places, the oldest extant German one is in the Cathedral at Ehfort. They have for some reason a few Jewish objects that ended up much prized in this Cathedral. Also you find this symbol in lots of illustrations in books that were printed in Prague and Venice and reprinted in Amsterdam. Whenever there is an illustration of a woman presiding over a table there is almost always one of these lamps and they always look exactly like this.'

Evelyn Friedlander

Jewish wedding ring

Jewish Wedding Ring, 18th-19th century, Museum no.453-1873

Jewish Wedding Ring, 18th-19th century, Museum no.453-1873

'I actually just chose a wedding ring. I think it is rather nice because the whole wedding ceremony is based on to me the symbolism of a house, you get married under the chuppah which is supposed to be a sort of house type thing so it carries on reflecting that idea, the symbolism of the future home of the bride and groom. The other thing is that although it is decorated there is no break in it, is there, so of course a Jewish wedding ring mustn't be broken or have any gaps.'

Sheila Lassman

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