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Newsletter of the Adelaide Jewish Museum – October 2002

Pope Pius XII

I often receive interesting letters addressed to the Museum Curator. Recently, a student from Sacred Heart College researching the topic of Pope Pius XII wrote asking for views on the hypothesis that Pope Pius XII was instrumental in protecting the Jews during the Second World War. I replied with a “sorry, can’t comment; this is not my field of expertise” letter. The student did not go away, but sent another letter, this time a questionnaire. Did the Vatican’s silence during the war save lives from persecution, or could speaking out have saved more lives? This time I couldn’t ignore him, and entered “Pope Pius and the Jews” into an Internet search engine and was surprised to discover that there are over 40,000 articles on the topic. Ambivalence surrounds the role of the Vatican during this period. There are testimonies that he spoke out against anti-Semitism, as clearly as he dared under the circumstances, working behind the scenes to save Jews, and there are those that condemn him because he failed to publicly condemn anti-Semitism. Could speaking out have stopped or prevented killings? I may be closer to an answer if I continue to read a few more of those articles.

Transient object
During the week of Succot Rabbi Engel was clutching a magnificent silver container, housing an unblemished specimen of an Etrog, imported from Italy where they grow in the Kalabria region at the Southern tip. There is an ancient Jewish tradition, that has been passed on from generation to generation, that when Moshe was enjoined by Hashem for the Israelites to take an Etrog, he sent off messengers to Kalabria in Italy from where they got Etrogim for all of Israel.

Even if I’d wanted to exhibit this perfect specimen I couldn’t, as it has been promised back to Customs Department as part of the condition of importing a fruit for religious purposes into the country. It is one of the four species at the core of Succot observances: the citron, myrtle, willow and lulav. The Etrog itself may be an enchanting non-permanent object, but the rareness and beauty of the Engel’s Etrog Box is another matter altogether. It makes me want to run to that Judaica shop and buy one for the museum. If only New York were not so far away.

Decorated Kiddush Cups
Wine, as we know, is an integral part of Jewish ritual and almost every ceremony involves drinking it. In the contemporary world of secular wine drinking, wine lovers use unadorned transparent wine glasses so that the beauty, colour and texture of the wine is visible. However, it is quite acceptable to drink wine for religious purposes from a decorated cup.

This was the motivation to provide an opportunity for some of our Jewish youth to paint images of Judaica on ceramic goblets. A painting workshop to produce wine cups took place with the children at a Habonim meeting in August, and the cups are now on public display in the AHC foyer.

I am still obsessed with the freshness and creativity of children’s paintings, and have one last project on the go for this year. Once again painting on ceramics. This time the object is a Channukah menorah, sourced from Hillary Brenner who is a well-known local ceramic painter. Students from years 3 to 7 are welcome to contact me if they wish to participate.

Personal stories
The Adelaide Jewish Museum website is continuously being updated with stories, and I continue to encourage or harass, whichever way you look at it, the community to write stories. This is what Garry Rogers wrote: “I just got your letter regarding the Jewish Museum in Adelaide and certainly agree with you on the need for it. I am 78 years old and my time is running out. All the more reason to remember the past”. His story was one of the first to appear on the website.

Jeanie Susman comments on the most recent story entered onto the website: “Just to say how delighted I was to find the Solomon Story on your Jewish Museum site. It is certainly a very fascinating account of a great person, told of course with delightful touches of humour”.

To make sure that your family’s heritage is recorded for posterity, contact me, or simply start writing.

The newly founded Friends society supports the Museum in promoting and preserving Jewish life in South Australia. Thank you sincerely to those members of the community who responded to the request to subscribe to the Friends of the Adelaide Jewish Museum.

R Sugarman