There's little indication of the remarkable contents of the Sydney Jewish Museum on the street side of its heavy Darlinghurst Road doors. But once you step through, the museum opens up to a world of insight and learning, all bundled up in an impressive design.
"The museum has got a well-needed facelift and it's now a vibrant institution, much bigger inside than you ever imagine from outside," says the museum's development and marketing director, Charles Aronson. "It offers a lot more than the history of Jewish people, culture and the Holocaust.
"Of course we look at the Holocaust, the biggest genocide in world history, and it's part of the curriculum in NSW schools, but it's not a question of making people feel sorry for the Jewish people who suffered. The idea of the museum is for it to be used as anti-racism education; it's used to show what happens with bullying. In schools, if they have problems with bullying they bring them here and show them what Hitler did, the ultimate case of bullying in the whole world."
During six months of renovations the building's ground floor was equipped with state-of-the-art presentations looking at Sydney and Australian Jewish history (including paintings by Jewish Australian artists such as two-time Archibald winner Judy Cassab) and the first Jewish cemetery. "It was found under Central Station," says Aronson. "When the Jews came on the first fleet, and there were a few of them, they weren't religious people, but they wanted to be buried Jewish, so they established a cemetery. We have actually found one gravestone dating back to 1842."
Another interesting feature is a mosaic weighing six tonnes, found, in all places, in the toilet of a house in Oatley. "That's nowhere near any part of Jewish Sydney. A guy was pulling up his bathroom floor and it was underneath. It was made by the Melocco brothers [one of whom designed both the altar and crypt floors for St Mary's Cathedral] but we haven't been able to trace more than that."
But the centrepiece of the space is the enormous Star of David covering the floor just as you enter and made in Jerusalem stone - the shape reflected on the four mezzanine levels above. Set against a reproduction of George Street from the 1840s, the result is striking.
Guided tours of the museum are at noon Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, and are about 45 minutes in duration. You can also arrange group tours of two hours with two weeks notice, or make an individual booking for an alternative time. In most cases tours are conducted with Holocaust survivors.
|Venue name:||Sydney Jewish Museum|
148 Darlinghurst Rd
|Opening hours:||Sun-Thu 10am-4pm; Fri 10am-2pm. Closed Sat, Jewish Holy Days and some public holidays|
|Transport:||Nearby stations: Kings Cross, Buses: Kings Cross|