In October, 1960, whilst conducting the Kol Nidrei service at the Adelaide Synagogue, Rabbi Lazarus Morris Goldman collapsed and died of a heart attack. Throughout Australian Jewry he had been a well-known and well-loved figure for so long that it was hard to believe, that he was only 52. But in those 52 years much colourful experience had been accumulated and a book that he was preparing, “The Diary of a Rabbi,” would have been a fascinating piece of writing.
It would certainly have given pride of place to his work with children. He had begun his career as a teacher. After studying at the Yeshivah Etz Chaim in London he had come out to Australia at the age of 21 to be headmaster of the St Kilda Hebrew School, transferring two years later to the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation as assistant minister. He later became principal of the United Jewish Education Board, under whose auspices I received my early Hebrew education. In the classroom it was evident that he was a born teacher, able to put over a subject clearly and gifted with the ability to establish an immediate bond of friendship with his pupils. I well remember him joining in the fun at extra-mural activities like the annual Hebrew School picnic, the model Seder, the, Chanukah party and the rest, spreading human warmth everywhere.
His book would have dealt at length with his long period of war service. He enlisted at the outbreak of the Second World War and served in the Middle East, the north of Australia, New Guinea, the South-West Pacific and elsewhere for six-and-a-half years, ministering to Jewish servicemen of many nations with tremendous energy and zest. His tenacity was unrivalled. No obstacle could stand in the way of his making and keeping up contact with the Jewish servicemen and women. His popularity among the forces was unrivalled and he wore himself out in their service.
During the War he obtained semichah in the Holy Land. It was somehow fitting, for the love of Zion was always one of his burning passions. When others were wavering in the tense years preceding 1948, he was unequivocal in his advocacy of Zionism, and on this as on other subjects on which he felt deeply and strongly he was consistently outspoken, even though he knew his forceful candour would not always bring him popularity. Through his efforts, thousands of pounds of revenue were brought to Zionist causes.
After the war he enrolled in the new Semitic Studies department at Melbourne University and eventually gained a Master’s degree for a pioneering thesis in the field of Australian Jewish history. He published several important works, the result of thorough research: a history of the Jews of Victoria in the nineteenth century, a history of New Zealand Jewry, and a monograph on the early Jewish settlers in Victoria and their problems. These were to be followed by a full history of Australian Jewry, but this he was not destined to complete. He left several unpublished works, including one in Hebrew on Moses Montefiore and several stories and short studies.
His “Diary of a Rabbi” would, I suppose, have had to be reticent concerning his and his wife’s many quiet acts of hospitality and kindness, but it would have been obvious that this was a man who enjoyed the company of others and was staunchly loyal to friends. Not only adult congregants, but especially young people, and I was one of them, came to him with a variety of problems and worries, and found in him a sympathetic listener and a shrewd guide.
Life was not easy for Rabbi Goldman. He had more than his share of bitter disappointments. He could not take the line of least resistance when he felt that justice and truth demanded that he speak out. He could not stand humbug, nor could he tolerate Jews who gave less than full-throated allegiance to their people in times of crisis, and certainly his 52 years covered some of the most critical in the whole of recorded Jewish history. All this embroiled him in communal controversy, and took an inexorable toll on his health.
If there is any consolation in the very early age at which he died, it is that he as a soldier would have thought it fitting to die with his boots on, in the midst of serving God and man. His strong, forceful personality and deep Jewish loyalty had served God and man well.
This article was originally published in 1978.