Synagogue Records Transcribed

​Photo: Alastair Bett

A request for volunteers to help transcribe the Hobart Hebrew Congregation’s meeting minutes at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown resulted in a quick turnaround for the laborious exercise.

The Hobart Synagogue, the oldest Jewish place of worship still in use in Australia, celebrated its 175 anniversary this year. With many of the celebrations to mark the milestone were cancelled, the transcribing the Congregation’s meeting minutes has become a highlight of the year.

The aim was to make the Congregation’s meeting minutes from 1841 to 1958 easily accessible online. The State Library of Tasmania (which holds the synagogue’s archives), finished digitising the minutes early this year, but it was still challenging to make sense of the mostly handwritten documents.

The synagogue put out a call for volunteers to undertake the laborious exercise of transcribing the records, amounting to more than 475 separate documents, into standard text. A team of members and friends seized on the opportunity to keep busy while helping out, and got the work done in under three months. Among them was Beverley Hooper of Perth, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Judah Solomon, who was one of the key figures in the early life of the congregation.  It was Solomon, in fact, who donated land from the garden of his nearby mansion Temple House for the building of the synagogue.

Ms Hooper had the honour of transcribing the earliest congregational minutes from 1841 that record the contributions of her ancestor and other synagogue founders.

Once the transcriptions were complete, the congregation’s current President, Jeff Schneider, a web developer by profession, converted them into an online archive that can accessed from the synagogue’s website at www.hobartsynagogue.org/archives/

The congregation also took advantage of the enforced interruption to services during the lockdown to accelerate a number of planned maintenance and restoration projects at the synagogue, as well as at the historic Jewish cemetery a few kilometres away in Cornelian Bay.

Mr Schneider commented: “It was a great disappointment that we couldn’t hold services or celebrate the anniversary, but at the same time the closure gave us the chance to better equip ourselves for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

“We were delighted that so many members of our community were able to come together for the important work of transcribing the minutes. We’re very proud of what they achieved, as well as of the improvements we were able to make to the synagogue and cemetery.

“It’s a further illustration of how, throughout our history as a small and isolated community, we’ve been able to overcome every difficulty we’ve faced. Now that things are starting to return to normal, the congregation’s future looks brighter than ever.”

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