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Jewish history in Australia began in 1788 when Jewish convicts numbered among the first European settlers. Growth of a subsequent Jewish community was made in jumps, and certain dates remain. The first minyan and burial society date from 1817, and the 1828 census records about 150 Jews in New South Wales and Tasmania. In the 1830s Jews arrived in increasing numbers, mainly from England. There were several waves of immigration -- in the 1850s due to the prosperity following the discovery of gold; from 1891 to 1911 due to an influx of Eastern European Jews fleeing from pogroms; in the 1930s, German refugees; and in the post-World War II period, Holocaust survivors.

The first synagogue in Sydney was constructed in 1844. Organized communities were established in Hobart (1845) and Launceston (1846) (both on Tasmania), Melbourne (1841), and Adelaide (1848). Several small communities which came into being during the gold-rushes had all but disappeared in the 1960s: Forbes, Goulburn, Maitland, Tamworth, Bendigo, Geelong, Kalgoorlie, Toowoomba, and Launceston.

Today most of Australia's 100,000 Jews are centered in two major cities, Melbourne and Sydney. Melbourne's Jews are mostly Polish with some Russians while Sydney's are mostly Hungarian. The majority of synagogues in Australia are Orthodox. In some cities there are reform (progressive) congregations.

Australia is home to three holocaust and Jewish history museums. The Sydney Jewish Museum is dedicated to documenting and teaching the history of the Holocaust. Housed in the historic Maccabean Hall , the museum presents visitors with an elaborate critique of the best and worst of humanity. Its two permanent exhibitions, Culture and Continuity and The Holocaust, challenge visitors' perceptions of democracy, morality, social justice and human rights and are testimony to the fortitude and endurance of the human spirit. The Jewish Museum of Australia in Melbourne is a community museum which aims to explore and share the Jewish experience in Australia and benefit Australia's diverse society. It is committed to being a respected and innovative cultural centre, recognised nationally for its excellence in exhibitions, education programs and collection management. The Jewish Holocaust Museum & Research Centre in Melbourne was established by Holocaust survivors in 1984 particularly to serve as an educational resource for students of all ages.

Australian Jewish Beginnings

Australian Jewish history covers the period from the arrival of the first convicts in 1788, through the early Jewish community which began with the arrivval of free settlers in 1828 and the later community boosted by immigration waves in the 1850s, 1880s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1970s to 1990s. The present community consists of "old" Australian Jewish families, European migrants, Russian migrants, South African migrants, Israeli migrants, and the religious affiliation varies from ultra orthodox, through more moderate conservative, liberal to secular. The community includes both Sephardi and Ashkenazi congregations.

The first Jews arrived to Australia from England. Among them were expelled convicts as well as free settlers looking for improvement of their living conditions. They were later joined by fortune hunters - mainly from continental Europe - following the discovery of gold in 1851. The first Jews came to Australia literally on the first day of European settlement on the continent ­ 26 January 1788. Among the 827 convicts on the English First Fleet who began Australia's European settlement was a small number of Jewish convicts, estimated by historians at between eight and 14, transported from England to Botany Bay, near Sydney, for relatively trivial crimes. The first free Jewish settler to arrive in Australia, however, came in 1816. 

The first Jewish religious society in Australia, a burial society, began in 1817 and the first Jewish religious service took place about the same time. Organized Jewish religious life in Australia began in the 1830s in Sydney, with the formation of the first permanent congregation. 

The first synagogue, Beth Tephilah, was established in 1837. By the mid-nineteenth century, an organized Jewish community existed in Sydney and in several country towns in New South Wales. Communities also developed contemporaneously in 1840 and, too, in the remaining colonies.

19th Century

There were 5,486 Jews in Australia in 1861 and 15,239 by 1901. Most had come from Britain (rather than Eastern Europe) and were English-speaking. In part because of this, they knew little or no organized anti-Semitism or persecution. Many of these Jews were merchants or traders, although nearly all occupational backgrounds were to be found among these early Jewish settlers. Many lived in country towns.

All Jewish religious worship until the 1930s was according to the Orthodox rite, and followed the Anglo-Orthodox tradition of British Jewry. Although the Jewish community may claim to be the earliest organized non-Anglo-Celtic community in Australia, with its own synagogues and other institutions, pressures on it to assimilate and merge by intermarriage with the majority population were considerable. This was particularly due to the lack of a Jewish day school system until the 1940s and because of a traditional Australian mistrust of non-British communities until after World War II. 

In all likelihood, Jewish life in Australia would virtually have disappeared by the 1980s without the arrival of Central and East European refugees in the 1930s and 1940s and the creation of a distinctive network of Jewish institutions, especially the Jewish day school system. Nevertheless, the Jewish community which existed here prior to the 1930s produced a remarkable range of great men and women who contributed considerably to the development of the Australian nation.

Post-War Immigration

The Australian Jewish community was transformed in the 1930s and 1940s by the arrival of approximately 8,000 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany Austria and Czechoslovakia and, slightly later, by approximately 35,000 East European survivors of the Holocaust. (Melbourne's Jewish community is said to have the highest percentage of Holocaust survivors of any Jewish community in the world.) 

These Central and East European Jews differed markedly in their outlook from the largely Anglo-Jewish community which they found on their arrival. Most spoke Yiddish, Polish, German or
Hungarian. In contrast to many non-Zionist Australian Jews of British background, the newcomers were keenly Zionist in orientation and strongly supported the establishment of Israel in 1948 and since. 

From the 1940s, too, substantial numbers of Sephardi Jews, especially from Egypt, have settled in Australia (particularly in Adelaide) as have, more recently, thousands of Jews from Southern
Africa and the former Soviet Union.

Jewish Community Organizations in Australia

As a result, the Australian Jewish community grew markedly and developed a flourishing range of communal institutions previously unknown. Australian synagogues grew in number from about a dozen in the 1930s to over 80 today, representing nearly all streams in contemporary Jewish religious life from Adass Yisroel and Chassidic to Progressive Judaism. 

The most important institution developed by the newcomers, however, has been the network of Jewish day schools, now numbering about 20, which in some respects is without parallel in the diaspora. 

Over 75% of Melbourne's Primary Jewish school children and over 50% of the city's secondary school students now attend a Jewish day school. Melbourne's Mount Scopus Memorial College, which takes students from pre-schoolers to high school seniors, is one of the largest Jewish day schools in the diaspora, with an enrolment of almost 2,000. The estimated percentages for the Sydney Jewish community is 60% for primary and 40% for secondary students.

The Australian Jewish community has a well-organized system of communal self-government which represents nearly all synagogues, schools, communal groups, and institutions at both the national (federal) and state levels. The national roof body of the Australian Jewish community, which represents the Jewish community at a national level to the Australian government, is known as the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ). As in Britain, at the state level the roof body of the Jewish community is often known as the Jewish Board of Deputies. Most Australian states have such a Board ­ or an equivalent body. The Melbourne-based board is the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV).

There is, especially in Melbourne and Sydney, a rich variety of Jewish organizations, clubs and societies of every description relating to women's, sporting, political, cultural, and veterans' activities, inter alia. The B'nai B'rith, the first Australian branch of which was founded in 1945, is an important part of the Australian Jewish scene. Additionally, there are numerous societies of Holocaust survivors and former anti-Nazi resistance fighters and important Yiddish cultural activities, especially those associated with the Kadimah Jewish Cultural Centre and National Library.

A number of excellent Jewish museums exist in Australia, together with Holocaust Museums and resource centres. There is also a well-established Australian Jewish Historical Society with branches in Sydney and Melbourne. It publishes an important Journal and has collected a plethora of historical and genealogical material relating to Australian Jewry.

Like all other Jewish communities worldwide, the Australian Jewish community strongly supports the State of Israel, and many of its public activities are directed toward assisting it and demonstrating support for its continuing progress. Education about Israel is an important part of the curricula of the overwhelming majority of the Jewish day schools, and many organizations exist specifically to support Israel or to assist Australia-Israel friendship and trade.

There are numerous bodies in the Jewish community which work directly to support the State of Israel. The most important is the Zionist Federation of Australia, with branches in all states. Many other organizations, such as the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce and Industry, exist whose aim is to promote Australia-Israel contact. Communal Yom Yerushalayim, Yom Ha'atzmaut, and other celebrations, and Yom Hazikaron and Yom Hashoah commemorations, are attended by thousands of community members.

The Jewish community has a long-established and highly regarded welfare and relief system providing, especially, assistance for newly-arrived immigrants in need, for children and teenagers in financial or emotional difficulty and for the handicapped and the aged. The Montefiore Homes in Melbourne and Sydney are impressive residences for the aged. A wide variety of other Jewish welfare organizations exist in all Jewish communities.

Australian Jewish Population Summary

The great majority of Australia's Jewish population (approx. 100,000) lives in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia's two largest cities, with only Western Australia of the other states having as many as about 8,000 Jews. There are, however, established Jewish communities in all major cities in Australia.

Jews live mainly in the state capital cities, with only small numbers in the smaller country towns. The only exceptions to this are in Queensland, where there is a substantial, rapidly growing Jewish population in the Gold Coast resort area, and in Tasmania. 

As noted, the two largest Jewish communities by far in Australia are in Melbourne and Sydney. It is often said that the ambience of the two communities is different, with the Melbourne community (approx. 50,000) primarily of Polish background, being more conservative, and the Sydney community, with relatively more Hungarian and German Jews, being more liberal. This may, however, reflect the tone of the two cities as much as anything else.

In both cities there are distinctly Jewish areas where many (though certainly not all) Jews live and where most Jewish synagogues and other institutions may be found. 

In Melbourne, about 75 percent of the Jewish community lives south of the Yarra River in a belt running from South Yarra and Toorak to Moorabbin and Glen Iris, and centering in Caulfield and St. Kilda. The 'Main Street' of Melbourne Jewry is Carlisle Street, East St. Kilda, while the well-known tourist district around St. Kilda's Acland Street also has a Jewish ambience. Much of the Caulfield-St. Kilda area is heavily and recognisably part of a 'Jewish neighborhood', with many Jewish interest shops, kosher restaurants, cafes, butcher shops, and numerous Chassidic residents. 

About 20 percent of the community lives in a second belt of Jewish settlement in north-eastern Melbourne, with synagogues and community centres in Doncaster and Kew. Before the Second World War many Jewish migrants lived in Carlton, north of the city centre, but Jewish settlement there has declined in recent decades. 

Another distinctive feature of Melbourne life (much more so than of other Jewish communities) is the amount of Yiddish still spoken by the Jewish community. Many older Jews still prefer to speak Yiddish. There is also a Yiddish school and Yiddish theatre in Melbourne. 

The Jewish community of Sydney is more spread out than in Melbourne. The traditional centre of Jewish life in Sydney is in the eastern bay and beach suburbs from Double Bay through Woollahra to Bondi, although these areas are not as distinctively 'Jewish' as their equivalents in Melbourne. Bondi contains a number of Jewish shops and the principally-Jewish Hakoah Club. Many Jews also live in the northern suburbs to the north of Sydney Harbour, known as the North Shore, which has a strong Southern African Jewish ex-patriate presence. 

There are no distinctively Jewish areas in other Australian cities. However, many Jews in Perth live in Yokine, Dianella West and Noranda which, like Sydney's North Shore and Melbourne's Doncaster, is home to large numbers of South African and Zimbabwean Jewish migrants.

The Melbourne Community

The Melbourne Jewish community was established in 1841. In 1847 the first synagogue was opened. The Melbourne Hebrew school was established as a day school in 1874 and continued till 1886, when it was closed because of financial difficulties. During the first decades of the 20th century, a struggle for communal supremacy developed gradually between the earlier immigrants who lived south of the Yarra river - and who were more prosperous and assimilated - and the more recent immigrants, mostly from Eastern Europe. The latter were concentrated north of the river, had an orthodox background, Yiddish culture, and strong Zionist leanings.

At the same time a change took place in the centers of Jewish activity. Whereas until the first decades of the 20th century, life centered round the synagogues, in the following decades a shift took place whereby non-synagogal bodies were organized and gradually took a more prominent place in communal leadership.

In 1911, new immigrants from Eastern Europe had helped to form a center of Yiddish culture, the Jewish Cultural Centre and National Library "Kadimah", which apart from its book collection held regular cultural meetings including Yiddish lectures and plays. The Judean League of Victoria was founded in 1921 as a roof-organization for non-synagogal activity, sports, literary, cultural, social, and Zionist activity.

Early efforts to spread Zionism were not successful. The Victorian Zionist League, founded in 1902, was short-lived. In 1913 the Victorian Zionist Society, Hatechiah, was formed. In the 1920s, following the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate in Palestine, there was some influential support from the well-established families. In 1921 the community, then numbering only 7,700, contributed £26,000 to the Palestine Reformation Fund. In 1923 the Palestine Welfare League was formed and in 1927 the Zionist Federation of Australia was launched.

However, as soon as there appeared to be an apparent clash of interests between Britain and the Zionists, the Melbourne Jewish Advisory Board disassociated itself from the declarations and appeals of the Zionist movement.

One of the key personalities who had a lasting influence on the development of Melbourne Jewry was Rabbi Jacob Danglow, whose ministry at St. Kilda Hebrew congregation extended over 50 years. Another important figure was Rabbi Israel Brodie (later chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth), Chief Minister of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation and Av Beth Din from 1923 to 1937, where he wielded great influence, and his regular practice of visiting every community in Australia fostered a federal consciousness.

Immigration to Australia as a whole continued steadily in the 1920's-30's with an influx of migrants from the Land of Israel and from countries in Europe like Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, where due to the upcoming anti-Semitism Jews feared their lives.

In the years following World War II Jews arrived to Australia from Europe, seeking to build a new life, and from Shanghai, where Jews had found shelter during the war. In the years between 1950 and 1970, Sephardi Jews from, among others, Cairo, Baghdad, and Damascus, as well as Jews from Hungary (who were allowed to leave Hungary after the 1956 Revolution) made their way to Australia. Jews coming from Israel, South Africa, and Russia to Australia have followed them in more recent years.

In Australia as a whole about 80% of Jews belong to orthodox congregations and about 20% to liberal. The Melbourne Jewish community consists of three congregations: Melbourne, East Melbourne and St. Kilda. In 1970 there were 34,500 Jews living in Melbourne, the general population of the city was 2,400,000. In 1997 there were 45,000 Jews living in Melbourne. Compared to any other city in Australia, Melbourne contains the highest number of Jewish inhabitants.

The United Jewish Education Board was established in Melbourne (and in Sydney and other cities) in 1895. Its main purpose was to provide children with Jewish education. Today, Melbourne has a variety of Jewish schools, including the following: Mount Scopus Memorial College, opened in 1948, is Australia's largest and oldest orthodox school. Bialik College, founded as a Kindergarten and Sunday school in 1940, today rates among the top academic schools of Victoria. It offers a secular Jewish education with a strongly Zionist emphasis. In 1977 the King David School was founded in Melbourne, serving the needs of the Progressive Jewish community. In the 1950s two schools were founded by the Lubavitch movement: Yeshiva College and Beth Rivkah Ladies College. Adass-Israel School, founded in 1952, is a secondary school offering education to the ultra-orthodox Adass-Israel community in Melbourne. Both the Adass-Israel and Lubavitch movements organize rabbinical education through Kollels and in yeshivot in America and Israel.

In 1982, the Jewish Museum of Australia opened its doors at the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation in South Yarra. Since 1995 it has been located in St. Kilda. The museum houses Judaica, historical material and contemporary art. The Jewish Holocaust Museum & Research Centre was established by Holocaust survivors in 1984.

Whereas in the 19th century the strict observance of Jewish dietary laws was often difficult due to the small number of Jews, today there is a number of kosher butchers, bakers, restaurants and delicatessen-shops in Melbourne. The food is many times imported from Israel.

The Jewish Cultural Centre and National Library "Kadimah", founded in 1911, is the main focus for Yiddish social and cultural life. In 1997-1998 Beth Hatefutsoth produced the CD The Musical Tradition of the Jewish Reform Congregation in Berlin thanks to and in cooperation with Rabbi John Levi of Temple Beth Israel. The production of this record, realized in cooperation between an Australian rabbi, the son of the original producer - Hans Lachmann-Mosse - and Beth Hatefutsoth is the consequence of historical circumstances that may not be untypical for the Melbourne community. Berlin choir director Dr. Herman Schildberger fled Berlin in 1939 for Melbourne where he found refuge in the then small reform community. Fifty years later, Rabbi John Levi of that community initiated and partly produced the Berlin disk. Dr. Schildberger set and arranged the music.

Melbourne has more than 30 synagogues. Australian Maccabi, a branch of the Maccabi World Union Jewish sporting movement established in 1921, is the driving force behind many sports activities. Maccabi Victoria has about 25 sporting clubs. Elitzur is a Jewish sports organization serving the orthodox community. In 1909 a Chevra Kadisha was established in Melbourne, mainly by pressure from newly immigrated Jews. There are three burial societies: one for the ultra-orthodox Adass community, Beth-Olam for members of the Progressive community and one for the orthodox.

Synagogues in Australia

There are currently about 35 synagogues in Sydney and an equal or greater number in Melbourne representing, in both cities, a variety of strands in religious Jewish life ­ Sephardi and Ashkenazi Orthodoxy (middle-of-the-road, Chassidic, etc.) and Progressive (Liberal/Reform) Judaism. 

Most are located in the major areas of Jewish settlement, but in both Sydney and Melbourne there are architecturally distinguished and historically important synagogues near the centre of each city and away from these areas, viz. the Great Synagogue in Elizabeth Street, Sydney, the East Melbourne Hebrew Congregation in Albert Street, East Melbourne, and the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation in Toorak Road, South Yarra. 

In Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and the Gold Coast (Queensland) there are synagogues in each city, representing the Orthodox and Progressive communities. 

Hobart, Launceston, Newcastle and Ballarat each has a single Orthodox synagogue, although the Hobart synagogue is today shared by the Orthodox and Reform communities of that city. 

All synagogues maintain the normal religious requirements of Judaism.

Kosher products, comprehensive lists of which are published in booklet form by Melbourne's Mizrachi Organisation and by the Sydney Beth Din, are widely available. 

Although American Judaism is traditionally divided into Orthodox, Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative Judaism, the latter two movements have never really found their place in Australian Jewish life. Nevertheless, most Australian Jews who are affiliated to synagogues would define themselves as traditional ­ perhaps even 'Conservadox'.

Furthermore, there have been fledgling attempts in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane to establish Conservative congregations in recent times. Reconstructionist Judaism, an exclusively American Phenomenon, has not, however, made a mark on Australian Jewry, which is still strongly attached to its European roots.

Australia's Longest-Standing Synagogue
condensed from Old 'Shul" Ties, by Mark Schulman, Jerusalem Post,

The synagogue in Hobart (circa 1845) is one of the oldest of its kind south of the equator and the oldest in Australia. There is also a synagogue in Launceston, Tasmania's second-largest city in the northern part of the island, that was consecrated two years later. It is currently closed and in need of repair. European settlement in Australia began in 1788 with the arrival of Governor Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet of convicts at Botany Bay, which today is the site of Sydney's international airport. Hobart Town in Van Dieman's Land, as Hobart and Tasmania were respectively referred to back then, is the second oldest city in Australia. Only Sydney is older.

It was settled in 1804 by 300 convicts, a garrison of British soldiers to guard them, and some 30 free settlers. Six of those first 300 were Jewish and their names are inscribed on a bronze monument recently dedicated by the waterfront in Hobart. Almost 1,000 Jewish convicts arrived in New South Wales between 1788 and 1852, according to the archives at the Sydney Jewish Museum, about a third of whom were sent to the harsher conditions of the penal colony in Tasmania.

One of those early convicts, Judah Solomon, would eventually donate the front garden of his mansion as land for the future synagogue. Solomon had been transported, along with his brother, to Tasmania in 1819 for selling alcohol without a license. He was given a provisional pardon in 1832.

Other Jews made their way to Tasmania, and not just as convicts. Synagogue records show that the Jewish population in 1832 was 132, growing to 500 in the following years. By 1891 it had dwindled to only 84, mostly due to the mass migration of Jews and non-Jews alike to the mainland during the Victoria gold rush of the mid-19th century.

Today, Hobart's Jewish community has only about 30 active families, along with a number of short-term residents who are on sabbatical at the local university, working in various hospitals, or have business interests on the island. There are probably twice as many Jews in Hobart who don't come to synagogue," said Tom Schlessinger, a former president of the Hobart Synagogue. "They mostly come for the High Holy Days or for other activities."

The synagogue seats about 200, an intimate setting for concerts, which are staged on occasion. It was designed in a "Regency-Egyptian" style of architecture, resembling depictions of what was believed to be the Temple of Herod. The inside is decorated simply, with wood paneling and a brilliant chandelier hanging overhead. A prayer in honor of Queen Victoria and the British royal family is displayed on a board on the northern wall, though the congregation no longer recites this prayer. Specially designated benches where the Jewish convicts used to sit are vivid reminders of the colonial past.

The synagogue has a Torah scroll once seized by the Nazis from a desecrated synagogue in Czechoslovakia. Today, it stands near the entrance, behind a protective case, as a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.

Schlessinger is also from Czechoslovakia. He came to Australia via Haifa in 1947 with a group of 30 orphans. Other survivors here include two elderly sisters from Alsace and a woman from the Netherlands who says she was a classmate of Anne Frank. Although there is not much of a younger generation to carry on, there are bar- and bat mitzvot from time to time and an occasional bris. There is no permanent rabbi in Tasmania, but support, especially during the High Holy Days, comes predominantly from Melbourne. Progressive and Orthodox services are conducted only three times a month. "We are small, but active," Schlessinger said.

Hobart Hebrew Congregation, P.O. Box 128B, Hobart, Australia, 7001

Australian Jewish Day Schools and Universities

Perhaps the most notable and distinctive feature of Australian Jewish life is the system of Jewish private day schools which now educate most Australian Jewish children of school age. 

Melbourne's Mount Scopus Memorial College, the first such school to make a real impact on the Jewish community, was founded in 1947. In the years since, 19 other Jewish day schools have been established in Australia. There are ten such schools in Melbourne. Others include the Adass Israel School, Yeshiva College and Beth Rivkah Ladies' College, representing Chassidic or strictly Orthodox Judaism, Leibler-Yavneh College, connected with the Mizrachi movement (modern Orthodox/Zionist), The King David School, established by the Progressive (Liberal) stream, Bialik College, a Zionist school, and Sholem Aleichem College, emphasising Yiddish language and culture.

In Sydney there are six Jewish day schools. Moriah War Memorial College, the largest, has over 1,500 students and is a traditional community school, located in Sydney's eastern suburbs. Masada College (enrolment - approximately 800 pupils) located on the North Shore and Mount Sinai College, are also traditional schools. Yeshiva Girls' High School and Yeshiva College (for boys) are strictly Orthodox, while The Emmanuel School represents Progressive Jewry. 

There are also Jewish day schools in Perth (approx. 850 pupils), Adelaide (for elementary grades only), Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Additionally, there are numerous Jewish Sunday Schools (part-time Jewish education for Jewish students who attend non-Jewish schools) and many Jewish youth movements, representing a wide range of religious and secular movements in the community.

There are numerous Jewish courses available at many of Australia's universities and at some Colleges of Advanced Education. 

Shalom College, a residential house at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, provides kosher facilities. There is a large and well-established Australasian Union of Jewish Students as well as Jewish student bodies at most universities and other tertiary institutions.

The Chassidic movement maintains a rabbinical training institution in Melbourne. And there are kollelim in both Melbourne and Sydney.

Jewish Media: Press, Publications, Radio

There is a national English-language weekly newspaper, The Australian Jewish News, serving the Australian Jewish community. There are also several other Jewish publications, including AIJAC, which carries news of the Middle East and surveys extreme right ­ and left-wing anti-Semitism, and the Melbourne Chronicle, a Yiddish-interest literary magazine which is published several times a year.

Most synagogues and Jewish societies publish regular journals. There are several hours of weekly Jewish broadcasting on the 'ethnic' radio stations in Sydney and Melbourne which carry Jewish-interest broadcasts in English, Hebrew and Yiddish. These programs are advertised in the press. Local Jewish internet sites also abound.

* * * * * * * * *

New Zealand Jewry
Information condensed from the New Zealand Jewish Archives,

A Diverse, Yet Unified Community

The two major centers of New Zealand Jewry are Auckland and Wellington. Jews began to arrive in New Zealand in the early decades of the 19th century. Many were active in commerce with Australia and the United Kingdom. As settlement spread across the islands and immigration increased due to the discovery of gold on South Island, synagogues were established in Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, Christchurch, Hokitika, Timaru, Nelson, and Hastings. In the 20th century, the community was bolstered by Jews who joined the flow of immigrants from Britain. The New Zealand Jewish Council represents the Jewish community. At present there are six synagogues in New Zealand, two in Auckland (Orthodox and Liberal), two in Wellington (Orthodox and Liberal), and one each in Christchurch (Orthodox) and Dunedin (Liberal). Both Auckland and Wellington have communal centers that offer educational and cultural facilities. There are also two Jewish old-age homes. Kosher food is available. Auckland and Wellington each have a Jewish day school, although the school in Wellington offers classes only at the primary level. Israel and New Zealand have full diplomatic relations. Since 1948, 443 Jews from New Zealand have emigrated to Israel. New Zealand's general population is 3,602,000. The Jewish population stands at 5,000.

Because it is so far from the rest of world Jewry, the New Zealand community must continually face the challenge of Jewish continuity. Jewish identity is diverse, yet connected with world Jewry, despite the many challenges facing such a small and remote population. Jews encountered no official discrimination and Jewish merchants have been among the leading citizens in the main centers. It is probably only in their places of worship that people such as two learly and two recent mayors of Auckland would be identified as other than British. In the 1870s, Jewish treasurer and later prime minister Sir Julius Vogel borrowed money from London contacts such as the Rothchilds to finance New Zealand's great leap forward, bringing in 100,000 immigrants from Europe to develop the country's road and rail. Last century, Jews tended to come from Britain, this century from Europe, many simply identified by their country of origin. This led to problems with Jews incarcerated by Nazis in New Zealand during WWII. Since then, synagogues and gravestones have been subject to defacing, but this is sporadic and unrepresentative.


New Zealand history involves Jewish participation from early settlement times. Jewish traders were recorded as early as 1829, and these were probably sealers and whalers. There were a number of Jewish shareholders in the New Zealand Company which was set up by Edward Gibbon Wakefield in London, England to settle the country, the most prominent one being Director Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, Baronet (the first Jew given a knighthood).

The passenger lists of the N.Z. Company's first four ships which anchored in the harbour (near the city now known as Wellington) between 22nd January and 28th February 1840 revealed the names of some Jews on the barque "Oriental". These included Abraham Hort, Soloman Levy and Benjamin Levy. From then on a small number of Jews arrived by their own choice. The first Jewish marriage in Wellington was consecrated on 1st June 1842. The Bolton Street Cemetery, which was opened in 1843, contains the graves of a number of Wellington pioneer Jews.

Also in 1843 the grand patriarch and recognized founder of the Wellington Jewish community, Abraham Hort Senior arrived with his wife and four daughters. He had come with the sanction of the Chief Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, London. Abraham Hort brought with him in a religious capacity one David Isaacs who acted as a Shochet, Mohel and Chazan. This man also played an important part in the other Jewish Communities of Nelson and Dunedin. On 7th January 1843 the first Jewish service was held in Wellington and a little later a Brit Milah was held with a full Minyan.

Meanwhile, the Government of New South Wales (Australia) appointed a Captain William Hobson as Lieutenant - Governor of New Zealand. Within a few days of landing in New Zealand (at Kororareka, further up in the North Island in the Bay of Islands), he had arranged for the Maori chiefs to meet with him. In a document known as The Treaty of Waitangi (February 6th 1840), the Chiefs added their marks to the document to cede sovereign rights to Her Majesty Queen Victoria of England. However Hobson soon abandoned this settlement in favour of a spot on the Waitemata Harbour which he named Auckland (now New Zealand's largest city).

Settlement at Auckland and Wellington

A number of Jews prudently then hastened to Auckland and started in business. Among them was David Nathan who set up a store joining those belonging to Joel Polack, John Montefiore, David Keesing and Israel Joseph. Nathan returned to Kororareka to settle some of his affairs and while there, on Sunday 31st October 1841, took part in the first Jewish marriage service held in New Zealand by getting married to Rosetta Aarons.

Most of the early settlers in Wellington and Auckland were traders of some kind or other and a number achieved prominence as they worked to help the two young towns develop. David Nathan soon established Jewish worship in Auckland and also helped acquire a cemetery. In 1848, out of a total population at that time of just over 16,000, there were 61 Jews in New Zealand of whom 33 resided in Auckland and 28 in Wellington.

Nathaniel Levin, who had established the firm of Levin and Company on Wellington's Lambton Quay, was one of the first to send wool from New Zealand. His son William Hort Levin was prominent in the commercial affairs of early Wellington, and the town of Levin, (about one hour's drive on the main road north) is named after him. A number of early Jews in both places were well known owners of hotels, and others were in the auctioneer business. Sir Julius Vogel (1835-1899), whose economic genius and daring Public works policy of the 1870's sped up the development of New Zealand, was twice Premier. The third daughter of Abraham Hort, Margaret, married Sir Francis Dillon Bell, and one of their sons Francis Henry Dillon Bell, became one of New Zealand's most famous statesmen, becoming Mayor of Wellington and Prime Minister for a time. Asher Asher, Charles Davis, Henry Keesing and David Nathan served as commisssioners on the original Auckland Harbour Board. In Wellington Hort was instrumental in the formation of the Wellington Fire Brigade. The first Mayor of Auckland was Philip Phillips.

Synagogues and Schools

After having prayed in private homes for a number of years the title deeds for the first Synagogue on The Terrace were received in 1868 and the Beth El Synagogue of Wellington was consecrated in 1870. Similarly the Auckland Jews had been in a small building and on 9th November 1885 the ceremony of opening the Auckland Synagogue was held.

A new era began for the South Island when gold was discovered in commercial quantities in 1861 and Jews followed this news. Prior to this the settlements of the provinces of Otago and Canterbury were mainly pastoral. A few years later further gold was discovered on the West Coast and in Nelson. Among the Scots at Dunedin only five families ventured to live there: Woolf Harris, George Casper, Hyam Nathan, Joseph Fogel and Adolf Bing. In 1862 there were sufficient Jews to warrant the establishment of a formal congregation, and the Dunedin Jewish Congregation was born. Soon after that they procured a cemetery and sought to engage a minister. They engaged none other than David M. Isaacs whom Hort over twenty years previously had brought with him from England. In 1868 a synagogue was built in Dunedin on the corner of Moray Place and View Street. This most southern Jewish congregation in the world sold this first building and then built an imposing edifice in Morah Place opposite. One of their most famous sons was David Theomin whose stately home "Olveston" was left to the nation by his daughter Dorothy when she died in 1966.

As soon as the first settler in Christchurch, Louis Edward Nathan could muster a sufficient number of Jews he founded the Canterbury Hebrew Congregation. It did not seem right to include the name Christchurch in the name of a synagogue. Mark Marks acted as first officiating minister and, receiving a government grant for both a cemetery as well as a synagogue, the congregation built a wooden edifice on a block of land between Worcester and Gloucester Streets on the site where the next synagogue was also built in 1881. In 1865 about thirty-five heads of families attended the general meeting of the Canterbury Hebrew Congregation. By 1870 the gold rush on the West Coast had ended and the Jews of Hokitika came to Christchurch bringing with them their minister the Rev. Isaac Zachariah.

In 1875 a respected Jew Judah Myers who had established a career as a crockery merchant in Motueka, (out of Nelson), shifted to Wellington. His son Michael (1873-1950) later attained the highest judicial post in the country becoming Chief Justice of New Zealand. The Wellington community then appointed in 1862 Benjamin Aaron Selig as Reader and Shochet , but his connection with the community was severed in 1866 and Jacob Frankel came up from Dunedin and it was his enthusiasm and zeal that was instrumental in the building of the first Synagogue. The first three incumbents (the Rev. A.S. Levy, the Rev A. Myers of Hobart and Benjamin Levy) did not remain long. It was not until Joseph E. Nathan went to London in 1876 that the community appointed another. The Rev. Herman Van Staveren (1849-1930) was selected and this distinguished gentleman served the congregation with distinction for over fifty years. His wife gave birth to four sons and nine daughters. The Government selected him as the first chairman of the Wellington Hospital Board and he topped the polls annually in the Hospital Board elections. He helped found the Jewish Philanthropic Society and Chevra Kadisha and started the Hebrew School.

In the late 1920's the old wooden building was becoming too small for the growing congregation in the capital city and so it was decided to rebuild it in brick on the same sight. This building was consecrated in September 1929. Between 1959 and 1966 a building fund was inaugurated to provide better facilities, but in 1963 the Ministry of Works indicated that they would require the site on The Terrace for motorway development. Then property was acquired a little at a time, and planning proceeded on the present spot at 74 - 80 Webb Street. In 1974, Rabbi Abraham Rosenfeld laid the foundation stone of the Jewish Community Centre (which also then incorporated the Jewish Social Club). The Deckston Home, which is currently situated in the Hutt Valley, is a Kosher home for the frail elderly. It is managed by the Wellington Jewish Care of the Aged Society, which is expanding its role to provide support to elderly Jewish people in their own homes.

In 1864 the Auckland congregation under the leadership of David Nathan and the members of the Keesing family appointed their first minister the Rev Moses Elkin who gave gave ten years service. The next choice of spiritual leader was the Rev. Samuel Aaron Goldstein who, with dignity and scholarship, served for over 50 years as Minister of the Auckland Hebrew Congregation. The second synagogue was situated in Princes Street and the third (and existing) Beth Yisroel in Grey Street. This same centrally located building incorporates another smaller shul, Auckland Hebrew Congregation office, the Synagogue Guild shop, Alexander Astor Hall, Hebrew school rooms, a library and Bnei Akiva rooms. Nowadays, Kadima Kindergarten and College give excellent service to the education needs of Auckland's Jewish children, and Shalom Court provides care for the elderly.

Diverse Interests

New Zealand has a strong commitment to Israel and is considered to have given the most emigrants to that country in proportion to its population than any other country in the world.

In 1959 Rabbi John Levi came over to Wellington from Melbourne to investigate the possibility of starting a new Liberal congregation. A number of Jews in the Capital were interested and, soon after, Temple Sinai was started. In 1997 the members agreed to rename the Congregation the Wellington Progressive Jewish Congregation Inc. which still meets at 147 Ghuznee Street. Auckland's Progressive Temple, Beth Shalom, is situated at 180 Manukau Road, Epsom, Auckland.

Despite its small numbers New Zealand Jewry has always given a strong commitment to non-Jewish causes which continues to this day. There has been prominent activity in industry and commerce, in the arts and journalism, local and central politics and in law and accountancy. City Mayors have included Sir Dove-Meyer Robinson (Auckland), Mr Ian Lawrence (Wellington) and Eve Poole (Invercargill). Initially the first flush of immigrants came mainly from the United Kingdom and, prior and after the two World Wars, from Europe. In the 1970's and 80's, when the Russian Government relaxed restrictions, several hundred families were brought to New Zealand. Recently some Israelis and a considerable number of South Africans have settled in New Zealand. The total Jewish population of New Zealand is estimated at around 5,000 (at the time of this writing) with most being in Auckland and Wellington.

With special thanks to