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The beginnings of the Museum building

Did you know that the building in which the Sydney Jewish Museum is housed has an interesting history of its own before it became a museum?

The Sydney Jewish Museum is located within the historic NSW Jewish Memorial Hall – commonly known as the Maccabean Hall, or ‘the Macc’.

The Inter-War Classical style building was designed in the 1920s by Sydney architect Gordon Keesing. The Maccabean Hall was established to operate as a communal centre for the social and educational activities of Sydney’s Jewish community, and to stand as a memorial to Jewish soldiers from New South Wales who served in World War I.

The building was officially opened on 11 November 1923 by Sir John Monash, who was then considered one of the most outstanding commanders in WWI.

In his opening address, Monash confirmed the future role of the Memorial Hall:

‘It has the aim of keeping the Jewish people together and preserving the creed, perpetuating the faith…to prevent the regrettable drift that is making many of our people cease from owing allegiance to the religion of their fathers…’

By the early 1940s, the Maccabean Hall held more than 90 percent of the Sydney Jewish community’s activities and functions. The community centre became crucial in rehabilitating and integrating Jewish refugees from Europe in the late 1940s and early 1950s, after World War II. Its spaces were used for English lessons for migrants, weddings, weekly Sunday dances, meetings, rallies and commemorative events for Anzac soldiers and Holocaust victims.

Stay tuned for another blog post on how the interiors of The Macc were transformed into a museum, and the meaning behind the Sydney Jewish Museum’s design.