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Photo ©Kew Hebrew Congregation, Victoria

JEWISH AUSTRALIA/NEW ZEALAND: A HISTORICAL OVERVIEW

We are deeply grateful for the information for this page gleaned from the following sources:



Rimona Kedem Window
Photo ©Melbourne Hebrew Congregation

Photo ©Kew Hebrew Congregation, Victoria

The Jewish presence in Australia developed from 1788 when Jewish convicts numbered among the first European settlers, some having been ostrasized and cast from Europe because of their faith. 1817 was the date of the first minyan and burial society. Some 150 Jews lived in New South Wales and Tasmania, according to the 1828 census. Discovery of gold in the 1850s brought a new wave of immigrants, and the increase of pogroms and persecution in Eastern Europe brought Jewish refugees from 1891 to 1911. Following WWII, Holocaust survivors fled to Australia.

Australia's first synagogue was constructed in 1844 in Sydney. Communities were established in Hobart (1845) and Launceston (1846) (both on Tasmania), Melbourne (1841), and Adelaide (1848). Other small communities that developed during the gold boom -- Forbes, Goulburn, Maitland, Tamworth, Bendigo, Geelong, Kalgoorlie, Toowoomba, and Launceston -- largely disappeared by the 1960s. Today's 100,000 Jews of Australia are located largely in Melbourne and Sydney, but the two communities have differences. Melbourne's Jews are mostly Polish with some Russians, while Sydney's are largely Hungarian. Australia's synagogues are, for the most part, Orthodox, though reform (progressive) congregations are present as well.

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.

Beginnings

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 came in 1816. Among them were expelled convicts as well as free settlers looking for improvement of their living conditions. They were later joined by fortune seekers mainly from continential Europe following the discovery of gold in 1851.

The first Jewish religious society in Australia, a burial society, began in 1817 and the first Jewish religious service took place at about the same time. With the first organized congregation in Sydney in the 1830s, and the first synagogue, Beth Tephilah, established in 1837, Sydney and several towns in New South Wales had developed organized Jewish communities by mid-century.

19th Century

There were 5,486 Jews in Australia in 1861 and 15,239 by 1901. Most were English speakers from England (rather than Eastern Europe) and many were merchants or traders, although virtually all occupations were to be found among these early Jewish settlers. Until the 1930s, only Orthodox congregations existed in Australia, following the Anglo-Orthodox tradition of British Jewry. A Jewish day school system did not exist until the 1940s, when the arrival of some 8,000 Central and East European refugees inspired the creation of new Jewish institutions, a Jewish day school system included.

19th Century

There were 5,486 Jews in Australia in 1861 and 15,239 by 1901. Most were English speakers from England (rather than Eastern Europe) and many were merchants or traders, although virtually all occupations were to be found among these early Jewish settlers. Until the 1930s, only Orthodox congregations existed in Australia, following the Anglo-Orthodox tradition of British Jewry. A Jewish day school system did not exist until the 1940s, when the arrival of some 8,000 Central and East European refugees inspired the creation of new Jewish institutions, a Jewish day school system included.

Post-War Immigration and Community Growth

Aproximately 35,000 East European survivors of the Holocaust took refuge in Australia. 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 from their British cousins in outlook, language, and social class. Most spoke Yiddish, Polish, German or Hungarian. Unlike the largely non-Zionist Australian Jews of British heritage, their European cousins were staunch supporters of the establishment of the state of Israel. In years to follow, substantial numbers of Sephardic Jews, especially from Egypt, and Jews of Southern Africa and the former Soviet Union settled particularly in Adelaide. As a result, the Australian Jewish community and its institutions grew dramatically. Australian synagogues increased from about a dozen in the 30s to more than 80 today, representing Sephardic and Chassidic Orthodox, modern orthodox, and Progressive Judaism. Jewish day schools today number some twenty. More than two-thirds of Melbourne's primary Jewish school children and 50% of Melbourney's secondary school children attend a Jewish day school. 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.

Photo ©Kew Hebrew Congregation, Victoria

St. Kilda Synagogue, Melbourne

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 world, with an enrollment of some 2,000. In the Sydney Jewish community, some 60% of primary students and 40% for secondary students attend Jewish day schools.

Jewish organizations, clubs and societies include women's, sporting, political, cultural, and veterans' activities. B'nai B'rith - the first Australian branch of which was founded in 1945 - plays an important role, as do numerous societies of Holocaust survivors, former anti-Nazi resistance fighters, and Yiddish cultural activities such as those offered by the Kadimah Jewish Cultural Centre and National Library. Jewish museums and Holocaust Museums and resource centers supplement the Australian Jewish Historical Society with its branches in Sydney and Melbourne and extensive exhibits of Jewish-Australian history.

In addition to organizations that support Israel or assist Australia-Israel friendship and trade, the Jewish community has a long-established and esteemed welfare and relief system providing assistance for newly-arrived immigrants in need, for children and teenagers in financial or emotional difficulty, and for the handicapped and the aged. A wide variety of other Jewish welfare organizations and living communities exist throughout Australia.

Australian Jewish Population Summary

Most of Australia's approximately 100,000 Jewish residents live in Melbourne and Sydney. Western Australia is home to some 8,000 Jews. There are, however, Jewish communities in all major cities in Australia. The Melbourne community of some 50,000 is primarily of Polish background and tends to be more conservative, while the Sydney community with its Hungarian and German Jews, tends to be more liberal. 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 populated with Jewish interest shops, kosher restaurants and cafés, butcher shops, and numerous Chassidic residents. A second belt of the remaining 25% of the Jewish community resides in north-eastern Melbourne, with synagogues and community centres in Doncaster and Kew. Before WWII, Carlton, north of the city centre, was heavily populated with Jews, but Jewish population there has declined in more recently. A distinctive feature of Melbourne is the amount of Yiddish still spoken by the Jewish community. Yiddish is the preferred language of many of the older residents, with a Yiddish school and Yiddish theatre there.

By contrast, the Jewish community of Sydney is more spread out. The traditional center of Jewish life is in the eastern bay and beach suburbs from Double Bay through Woollahra to Bondi, which is home to 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.

While there are no distinctively Jewish presence in other Australian cities, 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.

Synagogues in Australia

There are currently some 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 population, but in both cities there are synagogues of architectural and historical importance in the city centers, such as 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. Kosher products, comprehensive lists of which are published in booklet form by Melbourne's Mizrachi Organization and by the Sydney Beth Din, are widely available. Most Australian Jews would define themselves as traditional. There have been unsuccessful attempts in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane to establish Conservative congregations. Reconstructionist Judaism is not yet present, though Progressive (Reform) congregations are present in most major cities.

Sydney's Great Synagogue
Photo courtesy of amyisrael

Australia's Longest-Standing Synagogue
reprinted from Old 'Shul" Ties, by Mark Schulman, Jerusalem Post,
©2000 Jerusalem Post
http://www.jpost.com/Editions/2000/10/05/JewishWorld/JewishWorld.13331.html

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.

Hobart Synagogue

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

New Zealand Jewry
Information below ©New Zealand Jewish Archives, condensed from the New Zealand Jewish Archives, http://www.nzjewisharchives.org/

A Diverse, Yet Unified Community

The two major centers of New Zealand Jewry are Auckland and Wellington, where Jews began to arrive 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. During the 19th century, Jews arrived largely from Britain, while during the 20th century they came largely from Europe. Many were simply identified by their country of origin; problems arose as a result of Jews incarcerated with Nazis within the internment camp administered by the New Zealand army. In more recent years, synagogues and gravestones on occasion have been subject to defacing, but this behavior is sporadic and unrepresentative of the population.

Beginnings

New Zealand's history includes 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, Hartog (Henry) 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, Hartog (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 years in which private homes served as communal and worship locations, 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 Hebrew Congregation 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 the Dunedin Synagogue was built 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 as well as the 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 Israel 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.



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