Until relatively recently, the story of the Sephardim in Sydney had been largely untold and unrecognised. Their communities across the Middle East and North Africa were displaced and those who eventually found a home in Australia faced numerous challenges.
Sydney Jewish Museum’s recent exhibition Jews From Islamic Lands (March to December 2020) told the story of this ‘minority within a minority’, acknowledging their rich history, the difficulties they faced, and their willingness to embrace new opportunities in Australia while still holding onto their cherished customs.
Camille Fox’s paintings, inspired by her memories of Egypt, were included in the exhibition. Her vibrant and colourful paintings and her ability to tell stories through the lens of happy memories of a bygone era, really appealed to our Museum audiences.
Enchanted by her work, we decided to commission Camille to produce a series of artworks for the Museum’s collection to depict key Jewish life cycle events and ‘Chaggim’ (Jewish high holy days) such as Pesach, Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year), Shavuot and Channukah.
We trusted her creativity to respond to our commission, bringing her unique sensibilities and illustration skills to give us a glimpse into contemporary Jewish life in a specifically Sydney setting.
Roslyn Sugarman, Head Curator
Sydney Jewish Museum
My painting of the Jewish agricultural festival of thanksgiving, Sukkot, is a colourful and inviting depiction of this special occasion. The focal point of the painting is the Sukkah, adorned with fruit hanging from a makeshift roof of palm fronds and located in a lush garden. The scene is set against the backdrop of the Sydney city skyline and harbour, with the full moon of Sukkot adding to the atmosphere.
The weeklong festival of Sukkot commemorates the forty year period when the Israelites were using their own temporary shelters (the Sukkah) while wandering in the desert after being freed from slavery in Egypt.
Inside the Sukkah, family and friends are gathered together, enjoying good food, wine, and each other's company. Their warmth and closeness is evident.
I’d like to think that my painting pays an appropriate tribute to the joy and beauty of Sukkot, celebrating the richness of life and the bonds of family and community.
Rosh Hashanah family celebration dinners have been a part of my life since my very early recollections.
As a small child in our villa in Alexandria, Egypt, our extended family would gather around a large table laden with crystal and silver, following ancient Jewish traditions to enjoy the delectable cuisine of my grandmother and aunts.
After our expulsion from Egypt, we celebrated Rosh Hashanah on our desert outpost in Southern Israel – a modest makeshift table lit by kerosene lamps with some of us sitting on wooden crates and others on milk cans – the joy and excitement of this family gathering not diminished by our circumstances.
Several years later in our cramped flat in Bondi, with our extended family around us, we celebrated the same traditions with the same delicious foods, the animated conversation peppered with words from several languages in one sentence.
Finally, we celebrate from a vast terrace overlooking Sydney Harbour, comfortable in the late afternoon of life. The traditions remain the same, and the joy has never diminished.
My painting reflects this journey.
Over many years, I have seen a World War II photograph in various publications, magazines, Judaica books and more recently on the internet and social media. The image shows a beautiful Chanukiah on the sill of an open window overlooking a street with a huge Nazi swastika flag hanging from a balcony across the street.
I have chills when I see this image and also a mixture of sadness and awe at the bravery of the owner of that chanukiah. Traditionally we are to light our chanukiah by an open window unless threatened by fear of antisemitism.
My painting is inspired by that image. My chanukiah is also lit by an open window but with a backdrop of Bondi Beach. We are now living our lives within a largely caring inclusive and diverse society, secure in the knowledge that we can light our chanukiah by an open window.
Purim has always been my favourite Chag of all, with people getting dressed up in all manner of flamboyant outfits. I remember being dressed as an Arab dancing girl at a Purim Party held at our Country Club in Alexandria, Egypt, covered in folds of red voile with a scattering of gold sequins, large gold hoops in my ears, and red voile draped across my face.
It was to be my last such opulent Purim Party.
Many decades later, as I create my painted characters in a bright palette of primary colours, I am reminded of those wonderful Disney animated feature films of my childhood. My mother took me to these movie matinées as soon as they were released at the ‘Odeon Cinema’ near our home in ‘Camp of Caesar’ Alexandria. I felt exaltation and excitement as the colourful spectacle unfolded before my eyes on the large screen…. ”One day I am going to paint pictures like these” my six year old self thought.
I wanted my painting to be a vivid and colourful representation of a Sydney family busy preparing for the Jewish ceremonial Seder dinner for the first night of Pesach (Passover).
I was inspired by my recent experience as a volunteer at ‘Our Big Kitchen’ in Bondi, where energy, joy, and camaraderie joined together while we prepared meals for people in need. I think of the painting as a homage to those who generously give their time to cook delicious food that is filled with love.
I wanted to show these feelings in my canvas by infusing it with bright hues and by reflecting the warmth and light of the holiday, just as the family prepares to share their love, their stories, and their food with one another.
It's a reminder of the beauty and joy that can be found in coming together to celebrate, to give, and to love. As the family will later gather around the Seder table, they embody the true spirit of the festival of Pesach - a celebration of family, friends, tradition, kindness, and good food.
My painting ‘Shavuot’ is a celebration of innocence, joy and childhood. The vibrant sunshine and blue sky are symbols of hope and a new beginning.
The fruit, flowers and wheat fields represent the bounty of nature and the abundance of life. They evoke memories of my late father-in-law, Farkash Fuchs, whose two little girls were murdered at Auschwitz.
This painting is a tribute to their memory and to the children who did not have a chance to grow up.
My painting is a reminder of the children who were lost, but also of the children who survived and whose children and grandchildren continue to thrive, thereby representing a bright future.