A Note on Ilana Sondak's Collection
Ilana Sondak (daughter of Alec Jonah and Rachel Luddy)
Only when I saw the movie "Everything is Illuminated" did I realise that I, too, was a Collector. I was always interested in everything to do with my family's past history. It started with my mother who was a born story-teller. Many were the social gatherings when she was begged "Tell us about the fan breaking down", or "about the Tiger Hunt", and I knew all the stories off by heart, and eventually even made a video of my mother telling her stories. I would beg my grandmother Seemah to tell me anything and everything. "Tell me how Grandpa proposed – did he get down on one knee? Did he ask permission from your father? What were you wearing? My flustered grandmother didn't know how to deal with this inquisitive grandchild. And then I found myself interested in the little items connected with family – old wedding invitations with the names of parents, places and dates, birth certificates, and then I got involved in trying to build my family tree – from both the Jonah and the Luddy sides. My mother's cousin Ramster Luddy gave me lots of information. I would question my uncles – any elderly member of the Jonah family who came to visit – to tell me anything about my ancestors, any anecdote or item connected with them, to make them more alive to me. This was before Esmond Ezra published his family tree volume of "Turning Back the Pages" where to my delight I could trace back all twelve generations. In 1993 I managed to get copies of the two lists (one of males and one of females) of all the people buried in the Jewish Cemetery at Narkeldunga, which provided much information. I treasured the Ketuboth and Shohet Certificates of my ancestors, old letters, and the beautiful clothing of my great-grandmother Nanee, as she was affectionately called by my mother. Old bits of simple jewellery, and household items like a silver tongue-scraper. And then I started collecting all the old photographs – and taking many myself – of buildings where my family had lived, places that were important to the community, in and around the synagogues, furniture, matza ovens, mikvot, parokhot and sifrei torah in the synagogue, wall plaques telling of past events. My grandmother who was so proud of her three sporty daughters, who participated in hockey, table-tennis, basketball, kept a scrapbook of every mention of her children in the local newspapers, plus a collection of memorabilia from the social life in Calcutta of the 1920's and 1930's – dance programmes, guide meetings, etc. This treasure-trove I received from my Aunt Ramoo's family after she passed away. I pored over every scrap of paper in that bundle with great delight. When the Israel Museum's Department of Anthropology held a one-year exhibition on "The Jews of India" they took many of my items for it, and also requested that I leave something with them on permanent loan. I just couldn't. I explained that I had to have my family history WITH me, to show physically to my children, to get them interested in their own history – which would be difficult it the items were locked away in the museum. I had, and have, a great affection for my small, intimate family collection – it is not locked away – it is taken out often to peruse and show my children. When I heard that a digital archive on the life of our community was being assembled, I knew that my collection had come home.