The small, fragile piece of paper shown below, carefully kept in amongst other correspondence and found in the archive of the Cardiff New Synagogue Ladies’ Guild, is a short and direct letter from Mrs L. Gerhard Graf, the wife of the then Rabbi of the Cardiff New Synagogue (‘CNS’). The letter, dated 8 May 1950, is to ‘friends’ of CNS, and expresses the hope that ‘every lady-member’ of the Synagogue will attend a meeting at the Royal Hotel in Cardiff to discuss the formation of a Ladies' Guild.
This letter marked the start of nearly forty years of Guild life – and was also the starting point for my research into the Guild. Working as a volunteer for the JHASW, I helped preserve and catalogue the Guild’s archive, and shared the stories of the organisation at a talk held at St Fagans National Museum of History on 22 September 2019.
The Guild archive offers a rich and remarkable insight into the lives of its members and the significant contribution they made across all aspects of Synagogue life. It was as fundraisers, caterers, organisers and educators that the formidable women of the Guild became the ‘backbone’ of the CNS, - which is now known as Cardiff Reform Synagogue, and still the only progressive Jewish community in Wales. The Guild’s meticulous minutes tell the stories of religious, organisational and social activities as forces that shaped the Synagogue’s identity and social fabric – from hugely successful garden parties, to talks held in members’ homes, to the food of festivals and the many acts of tzedakah (justice or charity). Through the lens of this communal service, the archive also highlights women’s increased status and roles within the Synagogue and the wider public sphere – which arguably helped lay the groundwork for the community’s future female leaders, (such as Rabbi Rachel Montagu, Wales’ first female Rabbi).
Emelye Clifford - JHASW Volunteer
You can download a PowerPoint presentation about the Guild here https://www.womensarchivewales.org/en/presentations-and-papers