We chat to Yael Cass from The Joint
Can you tell us briefly about the history of The Joint, when and how it began?
The Joint, or JDC as it’s called in America, was founded during World War 1, when U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Henry Morgenthau, Sr. wired New York to prominent Jewish philanthropist Jacob Schiff to ask for money to help Jews suffering in Ottoman Palestine. We were the first Jewish organisation in America to give large-scale funding for international relief. World War 1 left in its wake the seeds of many additional catastrophes – pogroms, health epidemics, famine, revolution, and economic ruin – and JDC played a major role in sustaining Jews in Palestine and rebuilding the devastated communities of Eastern Europe and beyond.
How long have you been the Director there, and what makes you passionate about the work you do?
I was appointed as the Victorian Director for The Joint Australia in November 2017. Growing up in Israel and living through several wars and serving in the IDF, I learnt the meaning of “Kol Israel arevim ze la ze” – we are all connected, responsible for our mutual destiny and taking care of each other in times of trouble. This notion is a fundamental value in the Jewish tradition and assists in invigorating Israeli society and other Jewish communities around the world including ours, here in Melbourne. It is a notion that gives hope, strength and a sense of security. The main mission of the Joint is to save Jewish lives and build Jewish life. Unfortunately, there are still many countries in our world where poor elderly Jews are in need, living on as little as $2 a day. The Joint eases their burden and provides hope and care for those suffering Jews, because we are connected, because we care. There is a sense of comfort in knowing that if things get worse there will always be someone who cares. I am happy I can be part of this great mission. This is what drives me forward.
Why do you think it’s important for people to record their family history? How does it impact on future generations and the community?
I keep hearing people who lost loved ones say: “I wish I had asked my dad/mum or a grandparent more about his/her life”. I interviewed my grandpa when I was 15 for a school project. I could see the benefits of this work, the impact it made and the value it brought to the entire family and the wider community after he passed away. My kids, who never met my grandpa, had a chance to hear his voice and listen to his stories about pioneering life in the land of Israel at the time of the British Occupation, first hand, live, not from a secondary source. As human beings we seek connections, roots, and a sense of community. These stories bond us and in part form the community we are today. It is important to learn the lessons of the past for a better future. To assist generations to come to have the same sense of community, to be connected to their roots, it is important not to forget the past.
At the Open Day, visitors will have the opportunity to try and identify anonymous faces in photographs from the 40s and 50s. Where did the collection of photos come from?
The photos come from the Joint’s Global Archives. With records of activity of the Joint in over 90 countries dating from 1914 to the present, our Archives are an extraordinary and unique treasure for those who want to understand modern Jewish history. Our photo collection, as an example, includes over 100,000 photographs documenting the organisation’s global work. The photographs for this open day relate to The Joint’s assistance to European Jewish refugees during the World War 2 era who emigrated to Australia.
The Open Day will be all about people recording and exploring their roots. What sort of discoveries do you expect to be made on the Open Day?
I am hoping that families will come together to the Museum and learn new things about their journey to Australia or their roots. Unfortunately, not many of the adults who immigrated to Australia after WW2 are with us today. Those who were children at the time may not remember the journey or the process of emigration and immigration in detail. I hope that those people will have a chance to connect some dots, to fill some gaps in their life journey. Some of the photos we will exhibit will reveal a piece of the journey that I am not sure many remember or are aware of. I wish that visitors of the open day will help us identify family members and/or friends on the anonymous photos. In searching and discovering their roots, they enrich our history as an organisation and underscore our connectedness.
What are you most looking forward to on the Open Day?
To meet the community – seniors, families, and young people – and to see how people come together to discover their roots. In that, we will build community together and learn more about how The Joint contributed to the marvellous Jewish community here in Australia. The day will provide engaging and interesting activities from exploring the Jewish Museum collection, identifying people in photos taken 40’s and 50’s, and an impressive panel discussion exploring the history of our community and its future and the future of other Jewish communities around the world.
Thanks for the chat, Yael. For more information about the Open Day, click here.