Ten poignant objects and stories from the Jewish Museum's Journeys exhibition

| 27 May 2015

Objects, artworks and moving testimonies of physical, spiritual and emotional journeys surround the Jewish Museum's latest crowd sourced exhibition. Here are ten in the words of their contributors

Signpost to the past

a photo of a signpost with amended words on it
Tony Rickaby, Signpost
These signposts, on a corner with Clapham Road, show a journey into my past as a young child living in a Clapham street just after World War II - a war in which my father was killed. The arrows direct me to different memory stops on a voyage to places that now exist only in my mind, although Waterloo Station, where I always caught the train to visit my grandmother, still remains.

An Auschwitz leaf

a photo of two leaves, one with the words 'will you marry me' written on to its reverse
Sam Winston, Two Leaves
Two leaves that have travelled from a tree to the ground. Yet if I was to say the small leaf is from the grounds of Auschwitz and you connect how the soil contains the ash of the crematorium that operated there, its journey is poignantly different. And if the larger leaf has the words ‘will you marry me’ written on the reverse part of a marriage proposal in Hackney Downs Park, again its journey changes. So now we have four journeys, two of them testaments to human lives, two of them a tree shedding its leaves.

'Rootless cosmopolitans'

a black and white photograph of two women in overcoats and hats, arm in arm in a square or park with winter trees in the background
Marat Shterin, Photograph
This is my mother Elizabeth Shterina (nee Novik, on the right) and her sister-in-law, Hannah (Anya) Novikova, in 1948 in Kiev. My mother is 19 and visiting her brother’s family from her native Bragin in Belarus. The virulent anti-Semitic Stalinist campaign against "the rootless cosmopolitans" is underway; my mother’s just changed her name from Lea. She’s also just met my father who’s still in the Red Army; they will wait another five years before he’s demobilised and moves to Moscow. My mother is in her mid-80s now and seeing Kiev on Russian TV is a most painful experience for her.

The Sabbath of Return

a composite photo showing a snapshot of an elderly man and younger man in Buddhist robes next to a photo of a man with beard, glasses and top hat
Amaranatho, Shabbat Teshuva (The Sabbath of Return)
This is a photo of me meeting my uncle for the first time, when he was 101. We both have the same name (my lay name) even though my name was taken from my grandfather on my dad’s side. The picture with it is Rev’d Behrman, my great-grandfather, born in Palestine. He was a reader at Willesden and Brondesbury Synagogue during the mid-1930’s. I ran a Jewish/Buddhist retreat in the same street nearly 80 years later. So I have returned to what my great-grandfather did - wandering as a Buddhist monk.

Rainbow Kippah

a photo of a knitted skull cap with rainbow edging
Surat Knan, Kippah
This rainbow kippah signifies the miracle of my journey: female assigned at birth, tomboy child, secular upbringing, coming out as a lesbian, turning into a practising Jew, joining the Liberal Jewish movement, identifying as genderqueer, running pioneering LGBT and faith projects, coming out as trans-masculine, becoming an out and proud transgender activist, changing my Hebrew name to a male one – and I am legally male now. I have successfully (gender) queered the kippah by subversively turning a marker of traditional Jewish masculinity into a mark of my trans-masculinity.

Junk shop

a painting of a junk shop full of old furniture and paintings
Anna Freeman Bentley, Waiting and Hoping, oil on board, 2011
In the junk shop, objects are out of context: opulent commodities of grandeur are hung amongst household goods and industrial furniture. An idea of displacement is evoked through the merging of histories; the juxtaposition of incongruous space evokes an idea of longing. Each object has been extracted from some original context and waits in limbo for permanence.  Styles and colors clash as each trinket or piece of furniture is caught “en-route”.  This painting represents a journey of discovery and also a snapshot of colliding journeys, interrupted futures and dislocated space.

Child evacuees

a photo of a crowded station platform full of children
Norma Levenstein, Photograph
This is from the beginning of World War Two, when we were sent away from our loved ones. The night before, our father had spoken very seriously us, but I did not really understand. Our parents took us to school and left us. We lined up and were led to the local train station. Adults lined the road. I saw my grandfather, tears streaming down his face. We took several trains to a station where the picture was taken as we waited for yet another train. Finally we reached the end of the line, and were given shelter by strangers.

A barber’s tale

a composite photo showing an identity card with photograph and various barber's tools including razor, clippers, scissors and shaving brush
Helena Thompson, Barber’s tools and license
These objects reflect the spiritual, geographical journey of my grandfather, Arthur Alexander Malcolm. Arthur was born 26th February 1929 in St Elizabeth, Jamaica. He moved to the capital, Kingston and worked as a licensed barber before emigrating to England in 1961. He resided in Reading, Berkshire, where he became the first black barber to set up shop.  Following the footsteps of his father and grandfather, Arthur was a devout Seventh-day Adventist who kept the Sabbath. Lent here are his credentials and tools of the trade: trimmers, combs used for Afro-Caribbean hair, and a heavy duty leather strap for sharpening razors.

A Soviet Citizen

a photo of a wallet with documents in it
Diana Siclovan, Birth Certificate
This is my birth certificate from the Soviet Union. It includes a medal with my name and date of birth, and Vladimir Lenin on the back – in honour of the fact that I was born in Leningrad (now St Petersburg). Because we are Jewish my family was able to leave Russia in the early 1990’s, and went to live in Germany. Later, I moved to the UK. I’m only 27 years old and this object reminds me of how much my life - also Russia, which has abandoned its Communist past - has changed in this relatively short span of time.

Passport to marriage

a photo of a printed wedding certificate based on the design of passport
Anna and Muzzy Walton, Wedding Invitation
I was traveling with my younger sister, Kate, in Bolivia when we met Muzzy. There was no romance at the time, but we clearly felt a connection as when we returned home we named our family cat after him. Two years later we met up again and love blossomed. We’ve been together almost ten years, have travelled the world together and now have a two-year-old son called Miles (his name partly chosen because of our love of journeys). We decided to theme our wedding around travel; my cousin Cee Cee designed our wonderful passport invitation for us.

  • Journeys is at the Jewish Museum's Welcome Gallery until September 4 2015. Admission is free. Visit jewishmuseum.org.uk for more.

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