It almost seemed as though he were eternal. Movements and personalities came and went; he, a tall, handsome, awe-inspiring figure appeared to outlast them all. Rabbi Danglow was the Minister of the St Kilda Hebrew Congregation, Melbourne, but the whole of humanity was his parish, and he became one of the best-known public figures in Australia with a name that was respected far and wide.
Jacob Danglow was born in London in 1880. Entering Jews’ College in the ’90’s, he had a brilliant scholastic career. He was president of the Jews’ College Union Society and introduced boxing into the College, knowing the importance of a healthy body to contain an active mind. He loved to describe his student days – how, for instance, he would go to College on a ha’penny horse-drawn bus, and the varied ways in which he had to make ends meet.
When the St Kilda Synagogue sent representatives to London in 1904 to find a Minister, the tall, dark and handsome Jacob Danglow was recommended to them by Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler, and he arrived in Australia in September, 1905.
The first years of Danglow’s ministry showed the Melbourne community that a new force had come amongst them. He had the energy and the initiative to bring into being a number of important communal organisations, ranging from the Jewish Young People’s Association to the Melbourne Chevra Kadisha, and at the same time he continued his studies and took academic degrees at Melbourne University.
The First World War broke out while Rabbi and Mrs Danglow were on their way back to Australia from holiday in England; later in the war he returned to Europe as Jewish chaplain to the Australian forces. (He had held a commission in the Australian army since 1908.) His senior chaplain wrote of him: “Somebody, referring to his handsome appearance and intellectual ability, jokingly referred to him as ‘the Rolls-Royce parson’, but I have known him on occasion travel in a Ford and frequently ride hard on shanks’ pony in his peregrinations for the purpose of helping the boys.”
As the years went by, Danglow became more and more firmly entrenched in the love of his congregation and of the community. He was in the best sense of the word an ambassador for Jewry. It was said of him, “He was regarded by many people as the man in whose hands could be placed the entire responsibility, if necessary, for the Jewish community in military, vice-regal, church, rotarian, masonic, political and ordinary civic affairs. For he was liked and respected everywhere”.
Even that is not the whole story. His other public activities included work for deaf children, the Red Cross, the Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, hospitals and many other institutions. In 1929 he was awarded the VD decoration, in 1950 the OBE and in 1956 the CMG.
In 1942 he was made Senior Hebrew Chaplain, and during the Second World War, though he was over 60, he went on active service. In post-War years he carried out several special missions to Japan and elsewhere for Australian army headquarters, and on his periodic visits to the UK he was treated as a VJP by the War Office.
After his death in 1962, the Australian chaplains-general stated in a resolution of condolence: “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… We salute him as a good soldier”.
It was in his Synagogue, so representative of the Anglo-Jewish tradition, that I was brought up. Week by week I listened to his addresses from the pulpit, and I must have gained from him many things which influenced my approach to my task and my faith, for sometimes I smile at finding myself doing things the way I remember Rabbi Danglow doing them when I was a boy. I certainly recall how he was almost the only member of the rabbinical profession who, unsoured by bitterness or frustration, wholeheartedly encouraged me to enter the Ministry.
A man of wisdom and tolerance, he was never a headline-seeker, but at times he felt impelled to state a forceful (though still tactfully-expressed) point of view. On many occasions he served as the spokesman of Jewry to the outside world when the continuance of Shechitah was at stake. Within the Jewish community his views sometimes occasioned controversy. For many years, for instance, he was an opponent of political Zionism and of the Jewish day school movement, but eventually there came to him a deeper understanding of the outlook of those whom he had opposed, and he was able to admit with all dignity that he had been wrong.
As a preacher, his manner of speaking was as eloquent as his words themselves: for his quiet, gentlemanly sincerity showed clearly that here was a man who spoke the truth in his heart and with his lips; he spoke a polished English in rounded sentences that told of an ordered mind and a power of clear thinking. Many years ago, Col. J Waley-Cohen wrote in the “Jewish Chronicle” that Rabbi Danglow had succeeded more nearly in reaching the ideal for a minister “than almost any other Jewish Minister I have had the pleasure of meeting”.
He was a personal friend of many of the great of his day, and at the same time extended his wisdom, patience and humour to the most humble of his fellow-men. He came to be regarded as a synthesis of all that was best in Jewish and in British culture.
He might disagree with another man’s views, but would never stoop to petty politics or fanatic bigotry. He was proud to admit that more than once he held the cross before a dying Christian soldier when no other chaplain was available.
It was fitting that when he died he was given a full military funeral, and that amongst the many tributes to his memory, Sir Robert Menzies stated: “I knew Rabbi Danglow very well and admired him very much. He made an outstanding contribution to our community life”.
This article was originally published in 1978.