Change of management at the Sydney Jewish Museum »J-Wire

December 8, 2021 by J-Wire Newsdesk

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Professor Gus Lehrer has retired from the presidency of the Sydney Jewish Museum after 11 years as its head.

Gus Lehrer at the AHM

At the recent AGM, it was announced that Greg Shand is the new president.

He has played an important role in a range of philanthropic activities supporting the Jewish community of NSW.

During Gus’ presidency his main priority was the financial viability of the museum and he ensured that measures were implemented in this regard, including two very successful capital calls.

Gus also worked on the implementation of the renovation program; this included the launch of the new Educational Resource Center, the redevelopment of The Holocaust exhibition, as well as the significant addition of The Holocaust and human rights exposure.

During Gus’ presidency, the Museum saw a significant increase in the number of visitors. This success has enabled the Museum to be a central part of the interaction of the Jewish community with the community at large.

Gus was thanked for his dedicated service during his presidency, as well as for the generous support of his own family. The Director General of the Museum, Norman Seligman, wished him every success in his future endeavors.

Greg Shand previously chaired both the JCA Allocations Committee and the JCA Building and Capital Committee.

Greg Shand

Greg and his wife Kathy took a strategic approach to philanthropy – including supporting the Museum by leading the Pillars fundraising initiative and supporting the Capital Appeal and Dimensions in Testimony project.

Greg was instrumental in establishing the Museum Foundation which he chaired until the Museum AGM, and helped secure the recent major grant from the NSW State Government.

Greg aims to continue initiatives for the Museum to become financially self-sufficient and to ensure that the vital work of Holocaust education grows.

Gus Lehrer listed some of the important accomplishments during his presidency.

1. The total reconstruction of the Holocaust exhibit, in the years following the 2012 Capital appeal. This was done to improve the rigor and accuracy of our narrative, as well as to incorporate modern research and issues arising from Australian war crimes law, such as the discovery of the site of the Serniki massacre in Ukraine. This redesign was led by Avril Alba and Konrad Kwiet, two outstanding academics, and today is largely responsible for our international reputation.

2. Maintaining and providing a “home”, Beit Hashoah, for a large group of Holocaust survivors, who shaped the life and soul of the museum.

3. Expanding and improving our education program, which before Covid 19, had around 30,000 students per year.

4. The rise of the SJM in the Jewish community and in the general community of the museum and its objectives.

5. The provision of a forum where more than 250 volunteers could help make the world a better place.

6. One of the consequences of this increase in rankings was the level of support the LSU received over the period. Two successful capital calls were organized, which raised more than $ 25 million. In addition, the Pillars initiative, led by Kathy and Greg Shand, generated support of $ 12 million and was undoubtedly influenced by the rise of the LSU. Others, including Egon Sonnenschein, also served in the LSU and were among the strongest supporters of the LSU.

7. This financial support, along with the establishment of the SJM Foundation, has brought the SJM a striking distance from sustainability, despite our large annual operating deficit.

8. The creation of a new section on human rights and the Holocaust. Although it is in potentially dangerous territory, it has proven to be a very valuable educational tool.

9. Our scholarship program, which is part of the strengthening of links with research centers on Judaism and the Holocaust.

10. The appointment of Kevin Sumption as successor to Norman Seligman, the longtime CEO. As mentioned, the star field of candidates for the position is itself a testament to the reputation of the LSU.

At the AGM, he said: “There are a lot of other things that could be mentioned in this context, but I think these ten sum up the broad themes of our progress over the past 11 years.

I would now like to move on to some things that I would have liked to do, but did not have time to implement. :

1. One of the main goals of the LSU is to demystify Judaism and open a window to the Jewish community. In this context, I would have liked to create an exhibition of Jews who made a major contribution to humanity, such as Spinoza, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, George Gerschwin, etc. Such an exhibition received almost unanimous support.

2. Human rights are a highly contested area. Controversy often arises as to which rights should take priority. We have tried to solve this problem by using the language of human responsibilities rather than that of rights. I would like to see this concept developed explicitly in our Human Rights section. In addition, we need to complete the formation of an external human rights advisory committee to advise the LSU on the content of the human rights section.

3. I would like to see a discussion in our plays of what I call the fundamental contradiction. It is enshrined in our Constitution that one of our main objectives is to emphasize the uniqueness of the Holocaust in the human experience. But if we try to learn “lessons” from them, which is another of our fundamental purposes, we are trying to abstract certain principles of human conduct. This necessarily involves a comparison of the Holocaust with other atrocities, and could therefore be seen as undermining its uniqueness. There are answers to this apparent contradiction, and it deserves to be discussed in our exhibitions.

4. The LSU obviously includes some references to anti-Semitism. However there is no
an exhibition specifically devoted to anti-Semitism, its history, its various forms, the recent attempt by the RAIC to formulate a universally recognized definition of it, etc. I mentioned to Kevin that I was very impressed with the anti-Semitism exhibit at the Imperial War Museum in London. In our time, with the rise of anti-Semitism, I think this should become an urgent priority, perhaps in the context of human rights.

5. The LSU has excellent links with universities and professional researchers on the Holocaust and Jewish culture. In particular, our scholarship program and April’s joint employment with the University of Sydney fit into this context. I wish to broaden and enrich these programs, which place the SJM at the forefront of research, particularly on the Shoah. It also strengthens the integrity of the LSU as a source of truth on these matters.

6. There is a fine line between being embroiled in controversy and serving as a forum for civil discussion. I would like to see the SJM expand its role in the latter, especially to use its prestige as a counter-power to nullify culture.
When I first developed an interest in Holocaust museums in the mid-1980s, my main motivation came from the fact that Holocaust denial had already become one of the main instruments of anti-Semitism by then.

It was then, and remains, a deeply held belief that the best way to counter this in the long term is scholarship and research. However, to support this requires community support such as the LSU, which in turn is fostered by more popular activities.

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