Rebecca Forgasz was the Director & CEO of the Jewish Museum of Australia for nearly ten years. This extract of her recent farewell lecture, Ten tantalising tales: stories from our collection, is part of a series published here to mark the High Holidays. In each instalment Rebecca reflects on the personal, collective and cultural significance of objects and the collections that house them.
Ten Tantalising Tales #10 Ian Synman Football Jumper
For this item, rather than tell you the story myself, I want you to hear from one of the Musuem’s most longstanding and revered volunteer guides, Sonya Oberman.
The great part of this story is how many different variations there are. Sonya says that Ian went to Rabbi Levi, a Progressive Rabbi. I had heard that he went to one of the most prominent Orthodox rabbis in the community. When he asked what he should do, he said “You should go where God needs you to be!” – a typical Jewish answer that is open to interpretation! (Of course, this whole story is apocryphal; he most likely never really consulted a rabbi at all!)
To add another dimension to the story, I also heard recently from a guide who was talking to visitors about this object that even though Ian decided to play, he managed to make it to shul after the match for neilah, the closing service of Yom Kippur – so he had best of both worlds!
Now, of course, some of you here in the room might know Ian Synman and might know the real version of events. Over the years, I guess I could always have picked up the phone to him and asked him myself. But the thing is – I didn’t want to. One of the things I love most about this object is all these different stories that circulate it around it. They bring to mind for me the quote from Elie Wiesel – “some stories are true even though they never happened”.
And there is a truth here than is told through these stories – about the dilemma of Jews in modern societies – and that takes us right back to first item, the German concession. When Jews were not able to be citizens or be part of wider society, there were few conflicts about Jewish identity. Once Jews were accepted and able to be equal citizens – they had choice and freedom and those freedoms and choices often conflicted with their Jewishness. It’s a dilemma we all still negotiate all the time.
So there we have it – ten tantalising tales from this magnificent, diverse, surprising and unique collection. There’s beauty, drama, pathos, tales of terror and of heroism, of persecution and resilience, stories to delight and intrigue and stories touch our hearts.
All of these precious things are held in this special place – a collection of and for the Jewish community – to educate, connect and inspire – to find, without question, both resonance and wonder.