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Judaica with an Australian twist is rare to come by

With Pesach around the corner, the Sydney Jewish Museum is excited to have acquired a rare and possibly unique item of Judaica for the collection: a ‘Seder’ (Passover) plate. Purchased through a grant from the Australiana Society, this plate has joined our relatively small collection of Australian-made Judaica objects in the Museum archive.

The plate, in the shape of a six-pointed Star of David, was hand-made by Vande Pottery, a Sydney commercial pottery that operated until 1958, and it is the only one that we know of to date.

The pottery was originally established in Mosman in the early 1950s. It was purchased by Samuel Vandesluis, an English migrant with Dutch-Jewish heritage, who renamed it ‘Vande Pottery’. Samuel Vandesluis recognised the opportunity for producing Australian pottery and concentrated on the growing demand for souvenirs, or ‘Australiana’.

In addition to the thousands of wall plaques, ashtrays, dishes and platters that Vande produced, they also designed some one-off pieces which could be placed in the fine art category. All were hand-painted and many of the decorators came from East Sydney Technical College. Vandesluis appreciated his designers, allowing his craftsmen to add their signatures to the pieces they made.

Of particular note to us were the two decorators employed at Vande who could write Hebrew. Marlene Adams decorated and signed this Seder plate. She used gold paint to mark the placement of the ritual food items – salt water, bitter herbs, parsley, lettuce, haroseth (a mixture of chopped apple, nuts and wine to symbolise bricks and mortar), egg and shankbone. These foods are significant to the ritual retelling of the Exodus from Egypt, and are symbolic of freedom from oppression and slavery.

As the Museum continues to stumble upon unique and local representations of the ancient culture of Judaism, discoveries of objects like this Australian-made Seder plate reminds us that in a democratic country like Australia, we should always be grateful for our religious freedom.

Author: Roslyn Sugarman, Head Curator