A labour of love – sharing a culture and religion

Collecting and exhibiting hundreds of artefacts is a huge task – and when the person doing the work’s only aim is to share their culture and religion with no thought to making a profit, it’s a labour of love.

That’s the sort of exhibition Michael Clements, president of the New Zealand Jewish Archives has just held.  His week-long display at Wellington’s Jewish Community centre showcased a snapshot of Jewish life in New Zealand over the past 170 years or so.

Clements says he’d like to see the Catholic Church and others join him in mounting a combined exhibition.

“The Church must have a number of artefacts tucked away that would be worth displaying,” he suggests.

Making a collection obviously takes commitment, particularly if you start from scratch.

“There was only a small collection when I started looking after it 40 years ago,” he says.

Just two drawers in a filing cabinet, to be exact.

These days, thanks to Clements’ foraging from one end of the country to the other, it’s grown enormously since then and includes just about everything.

There are birth and death records, Seder dishes, an illuminated address to Wellington’s first rabbi, religious texts, prayer shawls, kippah (skull caps), art works, biographies and personal possessions from prominent Jewish New Zealanders.

Some items are serious acquisitions, some are on loan. Some are in constant use like the Wellington synagogue’s Torah scroll it took a scribe six months to write (on kosher vellum).

Others are fascinating ritual objects – a yad (a pointer used when reading to Torah to prevent the parchment being finger-marked), the shofar – a musical horn made of ram’s horn used for religious purposes, the beautiful sets of rimonim bells and the Torah shields.

“I’m an avid collector,” he says.

Why does he do it? “Because I can,” he replies.

Despite the graft this involves (and dare one mention his age … someone mentions “80’s”) he shows no sign of slowing down.

After all, there’s still the possibility of a bigger, interfaith exhibition to consider.


  • Juliet Palmer
  • Image: Juliet Palmer
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