Through names we connect to history

"Our volunteers are the heart beat that brings this museum to life"

Normally when l greet visitors in our space, I begin by telling them my Hebrew name, Rivka - and the fact I am named in this tradition of zachor, of memory - as we name our children after those who came before us. Through names we connect to history. Names are so important.

Recently I have been thinking back further to my earlier namesake, our biblical matriarch Rebecca.

You might remember her story - but in case you slept through shul that week, let me tell you a little.

Rebecca is the woman at the well. Abraham is seeking a wife for his son Isaac and sends his servant out to search for a worthy woman. His servant travelled for days through the desert, finally arriving in the city of Abraham’s birth. He and his entourage of camels are tired and thirsty. When Rebecca appears, and offers to draw water. She draws water for the servant and fills the trough for him camels while they rest. She is deemed a worthy woman, and has been remembered for her strength and generosity.

As I reflect on my years at the museum, I keep coming back to this image of the well. A well is a place of connection, a place for the gathering of community and a place of nourishment.

This museum like the well, is a place for Connection -

When I arrived here 6,5 years ago, it felt very much like I was come home. I was literally returning home after a stint in the UK, but I was also reconnecting with my roots. Here my family history became entwined in my work in a way I had previously avoided. It felt too emotionally charged. Too personal.

But what I learned here is that personal is powerful.

I split my first weeks reading Holocaust history and listening to survivor testimony. When I listened to survivors share their stories, the past came alive in a way it didn’t in my reading. I wanted to know more, to ask questions. The map of Europe I had flipped past before, now sprung off the page as place names became birth places, sites of separation, or safe havens where lives were rebuilt. Those names impossibly full of consonants were recast in my mind in the voices of Dasia, Paul, Olga and Jack.

I quickly realized that it was the people that made the history important and connected not just me - but all our visitors with history, culture and tradition.

This well is a place for connection.

This connection is only possible because our well, our museum, is a gathering place for Community.

Our volunteers are the heart beat that brings this museum to life. Your passion and dedication is truly remarkable. You care fiercely about this place.

I think my proudest achievement here has been making one small addition to this community, a new volunteer position: the floor assistant.

When I arrived at the museum, survivors were expected to run their part of the program on their own. They would arrive at their allocated room and more or less take over from the educator. But it was clear to me that, not only were some of the survivors aging and in need of greater support – but all of them were sharing incredibly traumatic stories. With growing student numbers, educators had no time to brief or debrief with them, and sending them out of the room alone felt unkind. So I worked with the team to recruit and train a group of floor assistants. A wonderful bunch of people who would make cups of tea, navigate the increasingly confusing daily runsheet and have a natter on the way back upstairs.

Elinor Roosevelt talks about real change starting “in small places, close to home.” It is the way we care for each other that leads the lessons we seek to share here. Our team of floor assistants has grown and matured, becoming an essential part of our program, of our community.

This museum is a place for Nourishment. Yes! Jews and food get on famously. But this museum offers a longer-lasting nourishment – a nourishment for the heart and mind. It is a place to learn.

Here I have been nourished with learning life-changing lessons: big lessons about ethics and morals, lessons of leadership, lessons of history, lessons about what it means to be human. I have grappled with impossible questions and witnessed unimaginable resilience.

The education team sit at the centre of this. You work tirelessly in pursuit of learning. You pour your souls into your stories. You challenge each other to really think. I have such profound respect for each of you and the gifts you bring to this work. It has been such a privilege to learn from you, and learn with you.

You have taught me the most significant lesson I have learned: the importance of staying curious. The more I learn, the less I know and the more I want to learn. You have taught me to carry a question mark with me wherever I go.

We remember Rebecca as a woman of great strength and generosity. But in this case, those traits are yours.

Through strength and generosity you built this well - a museum of connection, community and nourishment. Through your love and devotion you have imbued it with its neshama, its soul, and your warm energy fills it with ruach - spirit.

In the coming years this museum will grow, so that the community and connection you fill it with will have the capacity to nourish even larger numbers than we have already. And though I am gutted that I won’t be a part of that journey, I am grateful for the strength and generosity you have given me as I pursue my own path.