It was a cold and windy autumn day when I stepped into Glamorgan Archives, ready to discuss volunteering with the Jewish History Association. I had just moved to Wales after a year in Leicester, completing an MA in Photographic History. There we spent our first term delving into the world of archives and finding out how invaluable a resource they are. We learnt how to use them as researchers, how to approach objects and how we can write histories from those objects. As fantastic as this was, I wanted to learn more about the other side of archives, not just a researcher. (Although I was later to find out how much research I would end up doing!) I had previously spent a year volunteering in the DMU archive, cataloguing the V&A National Arts Slide Library and was ready for a new project! When I met Klavdija, I was both excited and nervous. I hadn't really studied Judaism but was keen to learn about the project and to dive straight in.
During my time with the association, I catalogued items, ready to be uploaded onto Peoples Collection Wales and to later be deposited into an archive. My first collection was a box of letters concerning the sale of land attached to Brynmawr Jewish Cemetery and the farmer who lived on said land. Whilst researching the material to write their descriptions, I was having to do a lot for myself as well. I was new to the world of Judaism and there were many, and still are many, words, phrases and names that were unknown to me. Practises, holidays festivals and religious traditions got my head in a spin!
I moved onto helping with the touring exhibition. Here, along with a few other volunteers and the core JHASW team, we went through all of our material. We searched for quotes and images that represented key aspects of Judaism but from the voices and objects specific to the communities in Wales. I then moved onto checking catalogues and double-checking material being deposited into various archives. I'm a keen cross stitcher so I am used to counting and recounting, to double checking and triple checking my work! When it was all finished and ready to go, there was one small task left. Ten boxes. These had simply been left as others had taken priority and my task, which I chose to accept, was to examine their contents and somehow separate them into categories. And I did it. Eventually.
Before joining the project, I knew nothing about Judaism and the South Wales Jewish heritage. I have learnt so much about the communities, the synagogues and have met many wonderful people. If it wasn’t for my time with the JHASW, I wouldn’t have the job I have today. Nor would I have learnt about the Women’s Archive of Wales and given a paper at their conference! Being of no religion, I believe it has helped me become more open and understanding towards religious beliefs. My volunteering gave me time to sit quietly with a task, to calm and to ground myself whilst my own life was getting hectic. It wasn’t just archive experience I gained, it was a fuller understanding of the world and the people in it.
[Molly's also written a really interesting piece for Holocaust Memorial Day on her own blog at http://www.mollycaenwyn.co.uk/blog ]
A Year with the JHASW by Molly Caenwyn