I began volunteering with the Jewish History Association of South Wales in November 2019, after an appeal from my History lecturer at the University of South Wales. I decided to volunteer for several reasons: the opportunity to gain experience within a heritage environment being one and the fact it would also go towards my work placement in year two of my history degree. Another reason for my volunteering is my passion for local history and inclusion; I have always appreciated the cultural diversity within the area of the South Wales coalfield in the late 19th and 20th centuries.
I went along to the training day at Pontypridd Museum where I learnt how to handle museum artifacts. We were told what the project was about and what its aims were. It was made clear to me what would be expected from me and what I would be doing on a weekly basis. The museums cataloguing system (MODES) and the correct way to input information for uploading to the Peoples’ Collection Wales website were explained to us all.
The following week I met up with my co-volunteers, Geoff and Rhian, at the Cynon Valley Museum. The first few weeks were by far the most exciting and enjoyable of the entire project for me. We used MODES to find several items relating to the prominent Jewish businessman Victor Freed in the Cynon Valley and entered the storerooms for the very first time. I have learnt many new skills during my time volunteering for the association, however, the one that I found most useful is thoroughness. We have had to work as a team to piece together all the clues that we have unearthed from the collection. To take Victor Freed again as an example, we first found several record sleeves emblazoned with his name and from those we were able to put together his life in the valley. We visited the local library at Aberdare and explored the Freed’s family tree which helped us put together a comprehensive account of the family’s time in the Cynon Valley.
Another huge bonus to volunteering with the Association is the people I have worked alongside. Klavdija is always on hand to point you in the direction that you need to go and explain anything that you do not find clear. Rob is very good at explaining the digital side of the project to me in basic terms that I mostly understand. This project has also provided a route into my local museum, making me now feel at home there. Working in a small group of three researchers has also been a plus point as we all offer different skills and ideas. I have learnt so much not only from the practical side of the training but also from speaking with my fellow researchers and being able to pick their brains.
Looking back at the number of items we found in the museum’s collection, it is fantastic to realise just how much we have found. From letters of recommendation from Victor Freed to a walking stick presented to a prominent Jewish member of the community, we have been able to connect these inanimate objects into real people with real stories to tell. I found the National Library of Wales online newspaper collection extremely useful in this. A man that jumped out to me from our research is Mr Zavil Badash; his was not a name that had been mentioned in our initial research, however, his name appeared in the local press time and time again. A scrap metal dealer in Aberdare during the early part of the 20th century, Badash was charged with receiving stolen goods on several occasions and was even questioned after the body of a deceased child was found in his yard (it was later concluded the baby had been dumped in his cart at Mountain Ash, amongst rags, the previous day).
From The Aberdare Leader
Image Credit: Then National Library of Wales
The law finally caught up with Badash and he was sent to Swansea jail to await trial. He was sentenced to three years of penal servitude with hard labour for again receiving stolen goods. However, Zavil’s luck held, as the verdict was quashed due to an error made by the presiding judge. We were able to trace Badash to a terraced street in Swansea before he left to go to Egypt, although he was back in Swansea by the beginning of the war in 1939. Badash and his wife finally left Wales for good in the 1950s for a new life in Israel. It strikes me that if it were not for this project, I would not have known anything of the life of Zavil Badash, a man who walked the same streets as I do today.
Finally, I would like to say how much enjoyment I have had from taking part in this project over the 6 or 7 months I have been involved so far. I have been able to learn a lot about my local area that I would not have had the opportunity to do otherwise, as well as gaining much needed experience in the heritage and museum sector, which will serve me well if I decide to pursue that area once I have graduated from my degree.
Written by Geraint Lewis, JHASW volunteer.