Judaism exhibition opens in Wellington

An exhibition on the history of Judaism has opened in Wellington right in time for the school holidays.

The collection has taken decades to build and has been acquired almost entirely by one man.

Michael Clements has spent over 30 years building up the New Zealand Jewish Archives. 

"They had two drawers of a filing cabinet, that's all they had. Now I have three rooms full," he told Newshub.

With the archives fit to burst, he's now putting it on public display upstairs at the Wellington Jewish Community Centre.

It covers everything - and everyone - since 1840, including former Prime Ministers Sir Francis Bell and Sir Julius Vogel, Chief Justice Sir Michael Myers and the founder of pharmaceutical giant 'GlaxoSmithKline', Joseph Edward Nathan.

The exhibition can be viewed at the Wellington Jewish Community Centre.
The exhibition can be viewed at the Wellington Jewish Community Centre. Photo credit: Newshub.

It's not only a history lesson - there's a range of everyday items non-Jews might not otherwise get to see.

Mr Clements is a lifelong avid collector, inspired by his own genealogy to chronicle the history of the whole city.

"It's just one of those things. I like it. I like the history, I like delving into the past, seeing what's happening then and now."

Most of his collection is from the Wellington area, but he tries to bring things back from every trip away with his wife - including from Hokitika.

"There were a lot of Jews in Hokitika at one stage, because of the gold rush."

He says people are often happy to give him things after their loved ones have died.

"I hint, and say, you know, if there's anything Jewish that we can take for the archives we'd be happy to do that."

And there's been some strokes of luck, like an address left forgotten behind a cupboard since the 1930s, and a cast-iron Star of David he saved from destruction.

"I was driving along one day in the late '70s and saw them demolishing the second synagogue on The Terrace. I saw a chap coming out, dragging this Star of David. I stopped the car, rushed over and said, 'What are doing with that?' He said, 'Throwing it away.' I said, 'No way. Please put it in my car!'"

Considering how heavy it is, it shows the dedication Clements has to put the exhibition together.

'Jewish Life in Wellington' runs until July 16.