Welsh Jewish history goes on show in travelling exhibition

Oral histories and images 'will show how people lived'


The history of Jewish communities in South Wales will be featured in a major touring exhibition starting in Neath this week and continuing until September.

It is the culmination of the painstaking collation of oral histories and images from Jews whose families lived in a number of communities dotted across the region in the early part of the 20th century.

“We recorded 72 oral histories and created a digital collection consisting of more than 6,000 images,” explained project manager Klavdija Erzen. The exhibition will be augmented by a series of talks “that will show how people lived”.

The first Jewish community in Wales was set up in Swansea in 1768. Others followed in the main cities and in many smaller valley towns that were flourishing as a result of the industrial revolution. The peak of population was in the 1920s and 30s.

According to The Jewish Yearbook, there were 400 Jews in Merthyr Tydfil in 1939. By 1959, there were just 40 and in 1999, George Black, “the last Jew in Merthyr”, died, aged 82.

Stanley Soffa of the Jewish History Association of South Wales noted that “during the past 250 years, Jewish people have played an active part in the religious and secular life of South Wales. And through the exhibition and talks, we will strive to bring this to the attention of people who have no, or only limited knowledge that Jews lived here’”

The exhibition is going on the road as the history association launches a crowdfunding campaign to raise £3,000 as part of a bid for Heritage Lottery funding for a further project estimated at around £60,000.

Its aim is to produce a toolkit enabling communities to collect, preserve and share their heritage.

Another goal is to research the stories of those named on the Cardiff Reform Synagogue memorial tablet, remembering relatives of congregants who died in the Holocaust and whose graves are unknown.

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