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Sydney Jewish Museum to open new Centre of Contemporary Jewish Life

Deborah Stone
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Published: 24 March 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

An expanded museum precinct on the site of the current Sydney Jewish Museum will incorporate both a Centre of Contemporary Jewish Life and a Sydney Holocaust Museum.

The expansion project aims to double the number of visitors from 55,000 annually to 100,000 by 2032.

Expected to open by 2027, the new precinct will house two museums in one at the original Darlinghurst site, a Centre of Contemporary Jewish Life and a Sydney Holocaust Museum.

It will include programming that celebrates Jewish life and culture, strengthens the museum’s telling of Holocaust history, and responds to a changing world with programs that actively challenge racism and antisemitism.

Both Liberal and Labor have committed to supporting the expansion with funding in the vicinity of $10 million, if elected at tomorrow’s NSW election.

Sydney Jewish Museum (SJM) was founded in 1992 by the generation of Holocaust survivors who made new lives in Sydney after the war. It was opened in Darlinghurst’s historic Jewish War Memorial Hall and became a place for survivors to share their memories, commemorate the six million Jewish people who were murdered, and provide important messages to future generations about tolerance and inclusion.

Its displays have a heavy emphasis on the Holocaust with limited space for other aspects of contemporary Jewish culture.

SJM Head of Marketing Ilana Gertskis said it was essential that the new museum precinct continued to tell the stories of the Holocaust, but it was also important that it provided access points to other aspects of Jewish culture.

She said the museum welcomes 28,000 school students but most of them are secondary students who visit as part of curriculum studies. It has little to offer primary students and could also provide a greater range of options for family visitors from the general public.

“The expansion will allow us to present a greater diversity of material about Jewish culture to help educate the public and demystify Jewish life. We will remain true to our mission of countering antisemitism and telling the stories of the six million who were murdered in the Holocaust, but we also want to focus more on the positive message.”

The new museums will also draw on museum techniques that were not available when SJM was established 30 years ago.

“We are reaching a time quite soon when there will be no Holocaust survivors left to tell their stories so how we distil those stories and tell them in new ways is becoming more and more important,” Gertskis said.

Museum CEO Kevin Sumption said it was gratifying that both the Liberal and Labor parties will commit significant funding towards the expansion project.

“It signals that racism and antisemitism have no place here, and that the vision of our survivors will live on well into the future.”

Museum President Greg Shand acknowledged the important contribution of Holocaust survivors in creating the museum and telling their stories, with the aim of ensuring that the tragedy of the Holocaust is never to be repeated.

“The recent upsurge in antisemitism only serves to highlight the importance of the museum seeking to double its impact by doubling the number that visit annually. The support from both major parties, for which the museum is enormously grateful, will contribute in a material way to creating a larger, state-of-the-art facility, and will greatly assist the museum in achieving this objective.”

Image: Artist's impression of the new Jewish Museum precinct (SJM)

About the author

Deborah Stone

Deborah Stone is Editor-in-Chief of TJI. She has more than 30 years experience as a journalist and editor, including as a reporter and feature writer on The Age and The Sunday Age, as Editor of the Australian Jewish News and as Editor of ArtsHub.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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