Australian Jews and World War One

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By Mary McConville

Australian Jews have been a quiet but important part of the local community for generations. They have supplied many famous names in the arts, medicine and philanthropy. In the arts we had the comedian Roy Rene who played the larrikin character of Mo MaKackie. It is less well known that the Jewish community has supplied many of the fighting men and women that Australia sent overseas to fight in the First World War aka “The Great War”.

The Jewish Museum, in Alma Rd., is putting on an exhibition to tell the stories of these people. It is called “True Jews and Patriots: Australian Jews and World War One.”

“True Jews and Patriots” is taken from the obituary of Captain Keith M. Levi which was published in the Jewish Heraldon Friday 27 August 1915 and said that “like the true Jew and Patriot he was he gave his all to his country …”

These military stories are told through a range of objects such as the combat boots that belonged to Sir John Monash, Algie Sander’s photographs and a custom made uniform for Oswald Benjamin. It also includes art works, such as the dignified portrait of one of our most well-known and highest ranking military men, Lieutenant General Sir John Monash.

It was painted by Isaac Cohen in 1919 after the war finished and was donated by Sir John Monash himself to the National Gallery of Victoria in 1921. Sir John Monash was the Australian born son of Jewish migrants and he developed into a well-known polymath, engineer and soldier.

Local students have been brought into the preparation for the exhibition under the aegis of curator Dr Deborah Rechter. They have researched some of the men and women mentioned in the exhibition. One source of names came from the ‘Victorian Association of Jewish Servicemen and Women’ who are developing a multimedia database of Australian Jewish soldiers in World War One.

The exhibition will run for six months from the 30th of June 2015 to the 31st of January 2016 and will be held in the Jewish Museum at 26 Alma Rd in St Kilda.

Further information can be obtained at Opening hours are from 10 am to 4 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, from 10 pm to 3 pm on Friday and from 10 am to 5 pm on Sunday. The Museum is closed on Monday, the Sabbath and Jewish holy days.

The price of admission is $20 for the whole family. Separate admission prices are $10 for adults unless they have a concession card which will allow them to pay only $5. Children under five are free and those over six are charged $5.


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