For over fifty years Rabbi Jacob Danglow occupied the same Melbourne pulpit, and he was one of Australia’s best-known religious leaders. Always a strikingly handsome man, even in old age he retained his military bearing; no-one could be in any doubt but that this was an officer and a gentleman as well as a rabbi.
Born in London in 1880, he was educated at Jews’ College and at London University. A few years after his arrival in Australia in 1905 he gained the MA degree of Melbourne University.
His first and only pulpit was the St Kilda Hebrew Congregation, which he served from 1905 to 1957. This was a prestigious, congenial, establishment congregation, counting many of the gentry of the Melbourne Jewish community amongst its membership.
Danglow’s Edwardian Englishness, palpable patriotism and ambassadorial talent brought him their unstinting affection and respect, though towards the end of his career there were times when he was somewhat out of touch with the changing movements and ideologies in Jewish life, especially political Zionism and the day school movement.
In his early decades in Melbourne he pioneered the Chevra Kadisha and a range of other communal organisations, especially those concerned with youth – particularly JYPA (the Jewish Young People’s Association). But his parish was always Australia-wide. He became a well-known figure in public causes of many types, and his innate dignity, sound judgement and wide contacts made him a highly effective Jewish spokesman.
He became a personal friend of national leaders ranging from Archbishop Mannix to Prime Minister Alfred Deakin. He conducted the state funerals of Sir John Monash and Sir Isaac Isaacs; with Isaacs he had had a long and close association, and the two often exchanged views on Biblical and theological subjects.
He commenced his long association with the Commonwealth Military Forces in 1908, when he was commissioned as a chaplain. In World War I he served on the censorship staff before being posted to the ALF. In 1942 he was promoted to Senior Jewish Chaplain, and throughout the Second World War was engaged in chaplaincy duties both in Australia and New Guinea. He also acted as a voluntary chaplain to the RAAF.
In 1948 he was sent on a special military mission to Japan to report on the morale of the occupation troops. By now he was almost 70 but no-one would have thought of retiring him. His vigour, bearing and aura seemed to be eternal.
During the war he was often away from his St Kilda pulpit and the chazan, Rev Ephraim Kowadlo, would give the congregation the latest news of “our revered Rabbi”. It was a good phrase: for that is what Danglow was, for Jews and Australians generally – the “revered rabbi”.
When he died on 21 May, 1962, the Chaplains-General Conference paid this tribute to him:
“In each generation there are those who stand out in any company, choice spirits whose gifts of heart and mind attract confidence, trust and deep affection. Jacob Danglow was such a man.
“His warm-hearted humanity, his rich culture and his unswerving devotion to life’s highest ideals brought him into close personal association with a great company of people and identified him noble for the common good.”
In his lifetime Rabbi Danglow received the honours of CMG and OBE, as well as the Volunteer Decoration. Forty years after his death he is still spoken of with deep respect and his name is widely honoured.
This article originally appeared in March 2002.