What can a single artifact tell us about history? For an archaeologist schooled in deciphering subtle traces, a lone relic can speak volumes. So it is with the 19th century brass menorah at the center of Andrew Jakubowicz's The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu. Serving as a metaphor for the intertwining stories of four Jewish families living in Shanghai in the late 19th and early 20thcenturies, this object also provides evidence of a community that has since disappeared from the city, having joined the worldwide Jewish diaspora during World War II, only to make their way to Australia. Their stories are told and this history is pieced together through interviews with surviving family members and collections of photographs, documents and testimonies that describe a strikingly similar set of experiences. Jakubowicz's exhaustively documented site offers a model for constructing a multi-perspectival portrait of a moment from the past that cannot be otherwise reconstituted. The family stories that constellate around the image of the menorah describe a set of common themes emerging from individual experiences with immigration, community and participation in an economic system. At the same time, the stories remain separate and distinct, a subtle evocation of the fact that none of the families knew each other when living in Shanghai; it is only through this reconstruction after the fact that their lives have been woven into a larger historical narrative. As a piece of historical evidence whose origins can only be conjectured, the menorah also functions as a metaphor for Jakubowicz's investigation. The graceful folk tune that emanates from the music box in the base of the menorah is at once familiar and indecipherable, some of the notes having been long since worn away, but leaving enough of the tune intact to provide a suggestive starting point for historical enquiry. Like the films of Hungarian Peter Forgacs, who constructs historical narratives out of home movies shot by WWII era European Jewish families, Jakubowicz's work resonates with traditions of oral history and history-from-below, implicitly arguing that the stories of "ordinary" people should not be excluded from the historical record.
-- Tara McPherson and Steve Anderson