One of the things I love about my job is that I am able to spend a large portion of my time engaged in what I most enjoy – archival research. Last Monday I journeyed to Southampton University’s Hartley Library, where I spent two days discovering its many project-specific resources. The Parkes Library is unobtrusively tucked away on the fourth level of the busy university library: nevertheless it houses one of the largest special collections in Western Europe relating to Jewish history and culture. It is staffed by a highly efficient and capable team keen to offer professional assistance and to optimize the productivity of any research visit.
My mission was to locate documentation relating to discrete project themes – my main task is to find out more about the late Edinburgh Rabbi Dr Salis Daiches and the various UK organisations to which he was committed, or with whom he communicated. Additionally, I am keen to source any material which will deepen my understanding of British Jewish women’s role in WIZO and Friendly Societies.
A major find was material relating to the Council of Jews and Christians, in the form of letters, minute books and newspaper cuttings contained within Special Collections. I also located documentation and ephemera relating to friendly societies: of particular interest were the rules of the Order of Achei Brith (a Jewish friendly society founded in 1888), tables displaying financial contributions and benefits for London-based branches (which I can compare with Glasgow), membership figures of various orders, and the ritual rubric of the B’nai Brith. I leave having delved into over twenty very different folders, and having submitted numerous requests for scanned material (since photography is prohibited).
On Wednesday I headed direct to London to sample some of the contrasting delights of the London Metropolitan Archives. Here, I am permitted to photograph materials after I have purchased a daily permit. Adjacent to the Reading Room is a library containing a rich array of guides to research, as well as comprehensive resources dealing with business, family and local history. Requested material takes approximately 20 minutes to retrieve, and the time is easily filled browsing collections or viewing the War in London exhibition.
The Chief Rabbi’s extensive collection contains correspondence with various UK Hebrew Congregations, including those in which Rabbi Daiches had previously served as minister. Annual reports, minutes and press clippings of the Conference of Anglo-Jewish Preachers – a group that boasted Daiches among its members – are other exciting finds. Letters received by the Chief Rabbi from ministers of various synagogues in South Africa during the first decades of the 1900s, debating the legitimacy of his authority for continental congregations, are an unexpectedly controversial yet fascinating discovery. A wealth of sources relating to national headquarters of WIZO (including the correspondence and speeches of founder-member Rebecca Sieff) complement and help to contextualize what I already know of the business of provincial Scottish branches. Late on Friday I returned to Glasgow, to begin the work of reflecting upon and categorizing my latest discoveries.