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 # 9 Shanghai doll

Between 1933 and 1944 some 20,000 European Jews escaped to Shanghai, China, an international port and industrial and financial centre. Migrants required no visa or documentation proving health or financial independence and there were no quotas. 

A community of about 4,000 Jews already lived in Shanghai when Jewish refugees fleeing Nazism began to arrive. At its peak, the community had seven synagogues, four cemeteries, a school, a scout troop and a social club.

After the war, most Jews left China; about 1,500 were admitted into Australia. This gorgeous doll was brought by the family of the donor, Peter Pulver, when they migrated to Australia from Shanghai in 1947. 

The Shanghai experience remained a strong part of the identity of these Jews, who absorbed some local customs into their Jewish practice. I always remember the story of Sam Moshinsky, a former Chair of the Museum’s Board, who was born in Shanghai and lived there for most of his childhood. He told of how he always at his chicken soup – the archetypal Jewish broth – with a dash of soy sauce, as they did in China! 

Chinese Doll Circa 1945, China Linen, cotton woven, wool yarn, raffia, and silk, 410 x 200 x 150mm Donated by Peter and Bette Pulver Jewish Museum of Australia Collection 13278.2
Article by Author/s
Rebecca Forgasz
Rebecca Forgasz is an Associate Professor (Practice) at the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation, Monash University, where she is responsible for leading the Centre’s community engagement activities. She recently departed from her role as Director & CEO of the Jewish Museum of Australia, which she held for almost a decade.

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