The following article by Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple appeared as a chapter in, The Jewish Emigrant from Britain 1700-2000: Essays in memory of Lloyd P Gartner, published by the Jewish Historical Society of England Israel Branch, 2013.
Until quite recently, Australia and New Zealand were regarded, and regarded themselves, as embodiments of Britain abroad. They were offshoots of Empire, outposts of British nationality, culture and ethos. Most Australians and New Zealanders were of British origin, however one defines it. In 1891 — more than a century after the First Fleet reached Sydney harbour in January 1788 — only five per cent of the Australian population was of non-British descent. Ten years later, the figure had declined to two per cent. Most Australians had English roots: Britain was the Mother Country, English was the language they spoke, and the history of Britain’s kings and queens was taught in their schools. British men and women were the immigrants they preferred, and they dreamt of “establishing a new branch of John Bull & Co.” There was, of course, an antipodean tinge as well — the Australian accent and idiom; the flora, fauna, sun-baked plains and drenching rains; the lesser degree of social snobbery; and the anti-Asian immigration policy — but people still talked about cricket, crumpets and Christmas puddings.
The “Colonial cringe” was alive and well. Today there is an anti-Colonial cringe. Australians (and, for that matter, New Zealanders) squirm when they hear rhetoric like this call by the president of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation in 1914: “The Union Jack of Old England, wherever it flies, has always been a symbol of peace, of security, of freedom, of justice… When you come to read of the way our gallant comrades at the front are fighting our cause, it makes your blood tingle with pride that you are Britishers…”
Following the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, Britain could no longer transport its criminal elements across the Atlantic and diverted them to Australia, a large and almost empty continent. Filling it was (and is) a constant concern. The Aborigines were confined to the edge of society and the Europeans tried to eradicate aboriginal culture. White people were the desired population. In the early decades, migration fluctuated between the involuntary (convict) and the voluntary (free settler) arrivals. The first Jews to arrive were convicts transported to Botany Bay, New South Wales, for what a later age would consider petty offences (usually the result of indigence), those guilty of violent crimes being executed. Altogether, up to 1,000 Jews (some originating in Britain, others having lived there for a time) were sent to eastern Australia, including Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), during the period of transportation (1788-1839); later, a handful of Jewish convicts arrived in Western Australia. Clive Kessler observes: “The strange ‘job-lot’ of Jews who ‘fetched up’ here were a motley lot”.
Some ex-convicts (perhaps 10 per cent) found their way back to the Mother Country, where they presumably kept their generally harsh antipodean experience to themselves. The majority, however, learned to make do in their new surroundings. Some even prospered as auctioneers, innkeepers, drapers and dealers. Others became major landowners and pastoralists. Among the Jewish convicts was John Harris, Australia’s first policeman, transported in 1788 for stealing silver spoons. There was no secret in Australia about how the convicts got there, although the 1845 report of the Sydney Synagogue connived at a narrative that did not tell outright falsehoods, but took liberties with the truth; not until the late twentieth century would their convict origins be acknowledged. Less than one per cent of Australians today have convict antecedents, and the percentage among Jews is even lower, but having a convict on the family tree is almost a form of inverted aristocracy.
The early Jewish arrivals — up to sixteen of the First Fleet convicts — probably recognised one another from the haunts of London’s East End. They had a degree of literacy but were far from well-read. Their vocabulary was mostly limited to street English, in which Cockney and Yiddish accents were combined, and (apart from a few Sephardim) they all knew Yiddish. Few could read Hebrew: some knew a b’rachah or two and, perhaps, the first line of the Shema. It is doubtful whether their families ever belonged to synagogues, since congregational membership was exclusive and expensive. Nor had most of them been to school, since poor Jewish parents wanted their children to hawk pencils and oranges rather than gain book learning. In England they had become used to a tough life; on the convict ships, and once they landed in Australia, sheer survival was their first priority. They were often good-naturedly helpful to each other, in line with what Clive Kessler terms “the Colonial do-it-yourself, ‘we’re in this together’ ethos”.
Among the small group of Jewish women transportees was Esther Abrahams, a teenage girl who later became the unofficial First Lady of the Colony. In the 1820s, free settlers, including some Jews, began arriving from Britain in search of economic opportunity. Philip Joseph Cohen, a 25-year-old Londoner, appeared in 1828 with letters from Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschell authorising him to perform marriages. The 1845 report states that Cohen registered his credentials with the New South Wales Colonial Secretary, but no trace of these documents has been found. Cohen’s house in George Street, Sydney, was used for services. This was not the first organised Jewish worship in the Colony, since Joseph Marcus, a former yeshivah student, had held the earliest sporadic gatherings for prayer around 1817.
One of the first free settlers was Barnett Levey (1798–1837), who arrived in 1821 to join his emancipist brother Solomon. He built the Theatre Royal in Sydney (1833), Australia’s first real theatre, after trying other schemes ranging from a lending library to banknotes backed by Indian rupees. Solomon Levey had been transported for stealing a chest of tea and reached New South Wales in 1815; by 1817 he was a hawker of confectionery. He married a rich girl and became a highly successful importer with business links all over the Pacific region, but lost his fortune in an abortive scheme to settle Western Australia.
The free settlers came from a higher socio-economic group than most of the convicts. The free settler movement was a generally middle-class phenomenon, and some of its leading members belonged to the interlinked prominent families of Anglo-Jewry known as “the Cousinhood”. One notable example was Joseph Barrow Montefiore (1803–1893), a cousin of Sir Moses Montefiore. Born in London, he was the youngest son of Eliezer and Judith Montefiore. In 1826, at a cost of ₤1,500, he had bought a seat on the London Stock Exchange and become one of the twelve “Jew brokers” in the City. After arriving in Sydney with his wife and two children in 1830, he invested in the wool trade and mining, also acquiring extensive landed property by 1838. Together with his elder brother, Jacob Montefiore (1801–1895), he established JB Montefiore & Co. and helped to found the Bank of Australasia. It was at the suggestion of Sir Moses Montefiore that Jacob was one of the eleven commissioners appointed by King William IV to plan a convict-free colony in South Australia. When Australia’s first Jewish congregation (forerunner of Sydney’s Great Synagogue) was established in 1832, Joseph Montefiore served as its first president, his name being a guarantee of Jewish respectability. The economic boom burst in 1840, however, and his firm went bankrupt. He returned to London but was soon back in business (with his nephew) as an importer and shipping agent in South Australia, where he became a leader of the Adelaide Jewish community. Eliezer Levi Montefiore, also prominent in communal affairs, was one of the country’s leading artists. Altogether, the Montefiores made a historic contribution to the development of Australia; and it is hardly surprising that there is a township called Montefiores in New South Wales and a Montefiore Hill overlooking the city of Adelaide.
British echoes could be found in the names of Australian cities and states (Adelaide, Brighton, Canterbury, Liverpool, Melbourne, Newcastle, Perth; Queensland and Victoria) as well as streets (Elizabeth, George, Pitt, Sussex, William, etc.). Recollections of London also hovered around some Jewish businesses. Thus, David and Solomon Benjamin established Cheapside House in Collins Street, Melbourne. David Benjamin was one of a number of Jews who made money in the Antipodes and returned to England, where Willesden Jewish Cemetery has several tombstones displaying both Australian and London addresses.
Among the Jews who ran inns in country districts were Nathan and Phoebe Mandelson. Though born in Warsaw, Nathan had lived and married in England, where he was a pastrycook specialising in mandelbrot (almond bread), which explains why he dropped his Polish name and became Mandelson. They were leading citizens in Goulburn and remained prominent in the town’s small Jewish community. Lewis Jones, a pencil-maker from Bethnal Green in London, was transported for seven years for stealing a gentleman’s handkerchief. He eventually ran the Salutation Hotel in Goulburn and then the Criterion Hotel in Albury, where he became a magistrate and mayor. The story of these Jewish convicts and early settlers, together with their effort to preserve some measure of religious life in Australia, has been told in a number of recent works.
Legal historians have not yet decided how far acceptance of British law in the Antipodes brought with it the “established” status of the Church of England. Although it was felt in both Britain and Australia that the new Colony was “a Christian country”, there were years of argument as to whether Roman Catholics and Nonconformists were “Christian” enough for this purpose. It was certainly an issue with regard to the Jewish community, expressing itself for and against the proposition that Jews should share in the provision of State aid to religion. However, even those who agreed with religious rights for Jews drew the line at Muslims. Eventually, State aid was abolished and the various religious denominations had to find their own funding.
The second and later generations of Jewish convicts were somewhat better educated than those who arrived on the First Fleet. Some had even been pupils at the Jews’ Free School in London, established in 1818 upon rather rudimentary earlier foundations. There were, of course, more male than female convicts: some men had left their wives and families in Britain, creating a range of problems for the chief rabbi and communal charities. In some instances, wives and children found their way to Australia, where their arrival could also create problems, especially when the transported husband had taken a mistress. Nearly all the men who chose a wife in Australia married gentile women, and today there may be up to a million Australians with some Jewish ancestry.
Aaron Levy, a dayyan (judge) of the London Beth Din, made the long journey to New South Wales in 1830 to arrange a gett (religious divorce) for a woman in London. Towards the end of his five-month stay, he arranged the giyyur (conversion to Judaism) of Mary Connelly, the gentile wife of John Moses, a pastrycook. Most non-Jewish wives did not embrace Judaism, however, thus creating halachic (Jewish legal) problems when their children could not automatically be circumcised in a b’rit milah ceremony. In order to provide Jewish marriage partners and prevent an increase in Jewish prostitution on the streets of London, a scheme was devised to send organised groups of Jewish girls to Australia, led by Caroline Chisholm (“a second Moses in a bonnet and shawl”), but the initiative petered out. There were Jewish emigration societies that encouraged Jews to leave Britain for the Antipodes, but Jewish charities in Australia complained at times of economic hardship. “Benevolent and pious parties” raised funds to provide Jewish emigrants with kosher meat during the voyage.
In the mid-nineteenth century, huge gold strikes — particularly in Victoria — brought large numbers of prospectors, Jews and non-Jews, from all over Europe and even from America. They, too, could be regarded as free settlers, since they came on their own initiative and paid their own fares. They included Sigmund Hoffnung, a Polish-born Jew who had lived in England (where his father was a chazan) and who established a famous warehouse in Sydney.
One of the English Jews who landed in Australia during the gold rush era was Charles Dyte, an auctioneer, whose grandfather had saved the life of King George III. Dyte first made his name in 1854 as a champion of miners’ rights during the “Eureka Stockade” revolt on the Ballarat goldfields. He later served as the town’s mayor, as president of the Ballarat Hebrew Congregation and as a member of the Victoria legislative assembly (1864-71). Some Jewish prospectors did strike gold, but Saphir, an emissary from Jerusalem, wrote in his travel book (Even Sappir, 1866-74) that the Jews were more inclined to be merchants supplying the miners’ needs than diggers searching for the precious metal. Nathan Marcus Adler, Britain’s chief rabbi, must have been pleasantly surprised to receive a gold Kiddush cup, a gift from the Jews of the Victoria Colony.
There was a constant stream of Jewish immigrants, both individuals and families, who were sometimes helped along by emigration societies and government aid. At one stage, a bounty was paid to anyone who landed migrants in Australia. (The “Ten Pound Poms” was a notable scheme after World War II.) Generally speaking, it was felt that “a better life” awaited them in the Antipodes. Grey and damp British weather could hardly compete with the lure of a brighter, fresher climate at the other end of the world. Australia might be far distant, and the journey there long and tiring, but there was an obvious advantage in going to a country where the language and culture were familiar. Business people also saw the opportunities that an Imperial trade circuit had to offer. While such Jewish families planted relatives all over the English-speaking world, others were only concerned to dispatch their black sheep as far away as possible. The most notorious convict to reach Australia was probably Isaac (“Ikey”) Solomon, reputedly the character on whom Dickens’ Fagin (in Oliver Twist) was based. He settled in Tasmania, where the Hobart synagogue (built in 1843) is the British Commonwealth’s oldest surviving Jewish place of worship outside the United Kingdom.
A mystery surrounds the arrival of Isaac Nathan (c. 1790–1864), an Anglo-Jewish composer who had set his friend Lord Byron’s Hebrew Melodies to music in 1815. It was evidently the result of a financial setback, “caused mainly by debts incurred while on a secret mission on behalf of King William IV”. Nathan was a man of about 50 when he resumed his musical career in Sydney as Australia’s first professional composer. He organised concerts, devised the musical programme for the York Street Synagogue’s consecration (1844) and wrote works including Don Juan of Austria (1847), the first opera composed and produced in Australia. He also wrote songs using traditional Jewish motifs. Sir Charles Mackerras, the eminent conductor, was one of his descendants.
Public and Jewish Communal Life
During and even after the Victorian era, most prominent Australian Jews were British by birth. Some rose to the fore in commerce and Freemasonry, others in politics and the legal profession. Born in London, Samuel Cohen (1812–1861) left for Australia in 1834, entered commerce and founded an important Jewish dynasty in Sydney. His son, George Judah Cohen (1842–1937), known as “the Wizard of Finance”, served as president of Sydney’s Great Synagogue, as did his grandson, Sir Samuel Sydney Cohen (1869–1948). His great-grandson, Major-General Paul Cullen (1909–2007), was a highly decorated World War II commander. Brought from London as a child, Sir Benjamin Benjamin (1836–1903) went into banking, served as lord mayor of Melbourne and became president of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation. News that he had been awarded a knighthood reached him during a Sabbath morning service in 1889. Jews promoted Australia’s commercial development throughout the nineteenth century. Even those who (like Moritz Michaelis and Philip Blashki) had only spent a few years in England did not regard themselves as “foreigners” ― although few of them lost their foreign accent.
In the 1850s, while Britain was still debating full emancipation and a Jew’s right to take his seat in the House of Commons, Jews were already sitting in Australian legislatures. Some people had maintained that Jews should be excluded from Colonial parliaments unless they took an oath “on the true faith of a Christian”, but most Australians were fair-minded and opposed such religious discrimination. The high offices and honours bestowed on Australian Jews were not only a tribute to their ability and good citizenship, but also an indication of the respect in which they were held.
An outstanding example was Sir Saul Samuel (1820–1900), whose widowed mother had brought him from London to New South Wales in 1832. By 1841, he had acquired 190,000 acres of land on the Macquarie River, but the discovery of gold ten years later persuaded him to invest in mining and industry. Samuel achieved many breakthroughs in New South Wales as the first Jew to become a magistrate (1846), the first to serve in the legislative council (1854) and the first to be appointed a minister of the Crown (1860). During his political career (1854–1880), he served three times as colonial treasurer and three times as postmaster-general. Also active in Jewish communal affairs, Samuel laid the Great Synagogue’s foundation stone in 1875 and was later its president. Between 1880 and 1897, he devoted his financial acumen to the Colonial government’s service as agent-general in London, negotiating loans, fostering immigration and promoting Australian interests in general. Knighted in 1882, he was created a baronet in 1898.
Sir Julian Emanuel Salomons (1836–1909) was born in Edgbaston, Birmingham, and went to Australia at the age of 16. After working as the congregational secretary in Sydney, he studied law and was admitted to the bar in London and New South Wales (1861). Gifted with a keen intellect and unbounded energy, he became solicitor-general (1869-71), vice-president of the NSW executive council (1887-89) and agent-general in London (1899-1900). Salomons had also been appointed chief justice in 1886, but resigned before taking the oath of office. A keen supporter of religious education, he was awarded a knighthood in 1891. Though born in New South Wales, Henry Emanuel Cohen (1840–1912) was the son of Anglo-Jewish immigrants. Having qualified as a barrister in London, he was the first Jew in the British Dominions to serve as a Supreme Court judge (1896–1911). Sir Daniel Levy (1872–1937), a Londoner by birth, came to Sydney in 1880 and, as a young man, was active in Jewish affairs. The New South Wales Parliament, to which he was first elected in 1901, did not sit on Yom Kippur in 1917 because John J Cohen (the Speaker) and Daniel Levy (the Deputy Speaker) were both observant Jews. Levy went on to serve four times as Speaker between 1919 and 1937, but never attained higher office. A regular worshipper at the Great Synagogue, he was knighted in 1929.
It has been claimed that some Jews had cultural motivations for their emigration to the Antipodes, hoping to bring English literature, theatre, music and even sartorial standards to a new and presumably receptive part of the world. This may be something of an exaggeration, yet the fact that there were Australians interested in cultural matters is undeniable: Australian names can often be found in the lists of subscribers to Old World publications such as the London Jewish Chronicle and works on Jewish history, literature and religion. Like the businessmen seeking new markets, other newcomers were intent on creating an audience for writers, journalists, musicians, artists, teachers and preachers. For many years, however, Australia had little to show in the way of Jewish scholarship and there was scarcely an echo of intellectual movements such as Haskalah and Jüdische Wissenschaft, a likely reflection of British pragmatism and disinterest in cultural matters. Asher Hymen Hart, a rare scholar of the early period, brought a Judaic library to Melbourne but lost it in a fire.
The authority of Britain’s chief rabbi in Australia was axiomatic in those early days. The 1845 report states: “As British Jews, it is necessary we should not throw off the connexion (sic) which binds us to our Mother Country, and that having no spiritual guide of our own, we should place ourselves under the protection of the Chief Rabbi of England”. Very few of the “ministerial” immigrants could boast of much rabbinic learning, and when the need for a halachic (Jewish legal) decision arose, it was almost invariably referred to the “ecclesiastical authorities” (Beth Din) in London. Minhag Anglia, “the British usage”, was a product of the Adler dynasty, leaving its mark on the prayer book, synagogue services and approved attire. Ministers wore “canonicals” (birettas, robes and white bands) in synagogue, clerical collars (and sometimes even bishops’ gaiters) outside. Wardens attended Sabbath and festival services wearing top hats, morning coats and striped trousers.
Most of the Jewish “clergy” were British by birth and had received their ministerial diploma at Jews’ College, London. Rev. Alexander Barnard Davis (1828–1913) in Sydney and his son-in-law, Rabbi Joseph Abrahams (1855–1938), in Melbourne felt that moving to Australia would advance them professionally, enabling them to grow in ways not open to them “back home”. Those who became household names in Australia, such as Rabbi David Isaac Freedman of Perth (1874–1939) and Rev. Jacob Danglow of Melbourne (1880–1962), might never have enjoyed such fame in Britain.
As minister of what would become Sydney’s Great Synagogue (1862–1903), Alexander Davis introduced the first confirmation services for girls and the first mixed choirs in any congregation in the British Empire. Taking his cue from the Jewish establishment, he opposed Zionism and misjudged the importance of Jewish immigration from Russia in the 1890s. When he assumed his post at the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation in 1883, Joseph Abrahams was a lonely figure in his time ― the first Australian minister to possess both a doctorate and a rabbinical diploma (s’michah) from the Berlin (“Hildesheimer”) Rabbinical Seminary. Having made an unsuccessful bid to succeed Hermann Adler as Britain’s chief rabbi in 1911, he remained in Melbourne until his retirement in 1919. Francis Lyon Cohen (1862–1934) had studied music, officiated in Dublin and London, married the daughter of the London Great Synagogue’s cantor-composer (Marcus Hast) and obtained his rabbinical diploma before arriving in Sydney (1905) to spend the rest of his life there as chief minister of the Great Synagogue. His “compromising Orthodoxy” antagonised more observant Jews; his aloof manner alienated “foreign” immigrants; and his fierce opposition to the Zionist movement hindered its growth in New South Wales. Francis Cohen is now chiefly remembered for his Jewish liturgical writings, particularly as co-editor of The Voice of Prayer and Praise (1899).
Born in Budapest, Hungary, David Isaac Freedman came to England as a small child and, like most of his colleagues, was educated at Jews’ College and London University. From 1897, he served as minister of the Perth Hebrew Congregation in Western Australia, also distinguishing himself as an educator, freemason, and World War I chaplain to the forces. Unlike many of his colleagues, however, Freedman was not only a devoted Zionist but a warning voice against the rise of Nazism in Germany and antisemitic propaganda in Australia during the 1930s.
Jacob Danglow, a Londoner by birth and education, served as minister of the St. Kilda Hebrew Congregation in Melbourne (1905-57) and as senior Jewish chaplain to the Australian Army during World War II. An Anglo-Jewish preacher of the old school, with no claim to halachic expertise, he was widely perceived as a dignified representative of the Jewish faith. That evidently induced Chief Rabbi JH Hertz to grant Danglow an honorary s’michah, changing his title from “Reverend” to “Rabbi” in 1934. He fiercely attacked Christian missions to the Jews, efforts to ban shechitah (kosher slaughter) and antisemitic agitation; but his sense of loyalty to King and Country (for which he was nicknamed “Anglo-Danglow”) brought him into conflict with supporters of the Zionist struggle in Palestine, greatly reducing his influence in later years.
A sea change in the Australian rabbinate was evident after World War I. Every inch an English gentleman, Sir Israel Brodie (1895– 1979) was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and educated at Balliol College, Oxford, as well as Jews’ College. As senior minister of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation (1923-37), he parted company with the old guard Jewish “clergy” through his regular study of the Talmud, fluent Yiddish and presidency of the Australian Zionist Federation. “A dignified man of great presence, he was regarded as a mellifluous preacher”. His return to Britain, widely regretted in Australia, marked the beginning of a new career which eventually led to his appointment as Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth in 1948. An unapologetic Zionist, Brodie faced difficult times during the last days of the British Mandate in Palestine, while the “Jacobs Affair” of the 1960s overshadowed his last years. Knighted after his retirement in 1965, he was the first chief rabbi to be so honoured.
Though born in Russia, Harry Mordecai Freedman (1901–1982) had grown up in London and studied at the Etz Chaim Yeshivah before obtaining his rabbinical diploma at Jews’ College and a doctorate at London University. He succeeded Israel Brodie as rabbi of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation (1938-47), later serving as rabbi of Bensonhurst Yeshivah, a teacher at Yeshiva University in New York (1950-56), and as senior rabbi of the Central (Bondi) Synagogue in Sydney until his retirement (1965). Freedman was an internationally renowned Hebrew scholar and an enthusiastic supporter of the Mizrachi (Religious Zionist) movement. In Melbourne he helped to establish a Jewish day school, Mount Scopus Memorial College, and a Semitic Studies department at the university. For London’s Soncino Press, he translated eight volumes of the Babylonian Talmud (1935-48) and 10 volumes of the Midrash Rabbah (with Maurice Simon, 1939). He also wrote English commentaries on the Bible, translated several volumes of the Talmudic Encyclopedia and served as a member of the new JPSA Bible’s advisory committee.
The Question of Identity
Although a nationalist movement, fostered by The Bulletin magazine and by no means devoid of antisemitism, had made its appearance at the end of the nineteenth century, Australia remained proudly and firmly part of the British Empire. Even Jewish refugees from Germany and later from Eastern Europe quickly adopted British patriotic attitudes and watchwords. As the twentieth century unfolded, however, there were several critical periods in which a tug of war developed between loyalty to the Mother Country and to Klal Yisra’el, highlighting the occasional ambiguity of living in two worlds. These episodes included:
1. The arrival of refugees from the pogroms, which led to questions being asked about the manners and mores of these newcomers. Would “uncultured and uncultivated” Russian Jews undermine the social integration of their established co-religionists?
2. The emergence of political Zionism after 1895 followed by the issue of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which some feared might inspire charges of dual loyalty. Would Zionism compromise one’s British patriotism, and would that explain why Rabbi Francis Lyon Cohen showed no enthusiasm for the Balfour Declaration?
3. Events such as the Wailing Wall riots in 1929 and the White Paper of 1939 which provoked disputes over a “good” British Jew’s right to criticise British government policy. Rabbi Ephraim M Levy, president of the Australian Zionist Federation, doubted whether a Jew could ever be a complete Englishman, a view rejected by Sir Samuel Cohen and others of the communal gentry.
4. The literary polemics between Sir Isaac Isaacs and Professor Julius Stone in the 1940s, when two axes emerged ― the anti-Zionist camp of Sir Isaac Isaacs (Australia’s former Chief Justice and Governor-General), Rabbi Jacob Danglow and Sir Archie Michaelis (later Speaker of the Victorian parliament) in opposition to the Zionist camp with which most of the Jewish community and its leaders were identified. A later consequence was the debate as to whether Jews should support the British government’s draconian treatment of so-called Jewish “terrorists” in Palestine.
5. The arrival of refugees from Nazi persecution in the 1930s and 1940s raised another question: Would newcomers speaking a foreign language in public jeopardise the security of the old-established community?
6. After the outbreak of World War II, 2,000 Jewish refugees classified as “enemy aliens” were transported from England to Australia on board the Dunera. The harsh treatment endured by these internees highlighted Australian Jewish disillusionment with the British government. In point of fact, some of the “Dunera Boys” would eventually make great contributions to Australian science, culture and commerce.
7. Public opinion was in more recent years divided over the issue of Britain’s monarch remaining Australia’s head of state. There was no Jewish aspect to this controversy, because Australians were not of one mind. A side issue is the wording of the Prayer for the Queen and the Royal Family, which the present writer first Australianised and later amended still further to take account of aboriginal culture and spirituality.
The principle of multiculturalism was accepted at the end of the twentieth century, though not without some discontent. Australians now allow newcomers to combine Australian identity with a range of ethnic languages and cultural traditions. One can be a Greek Australian, a Muslim Australian, and certainly a Jewish Australian. Delicate issues remain, such as how far to go in permitting ethnic mores in areas such as marriage, divorce and burial customs. Other groups, including the Muslims, consult and work with the Jewish community, which is recognised as the pioneer of Australian multiculturalism.
No longer do Australians regard their primary identity as British, nor are they worried that their passports no longer classify them as British subjects. They reserve the term “Pom” or “Pommy” for Britishers and often make fun of Pommy pretensions. Yet institutions (and legal and political principles such as representative government and the common law) imported from Britain remain at the bedrock of Australian life. Minhag Anglia still survives in many areas of Jewish life, including community government. Boards of Deputies on the British model still prevail, although the terminology has changed to “Community Council” here and there. Australian synagogues, often styled “Hebrew Congregation” in the British fashion, have boards of management and until recently used terms such as “minister” and “warden”. The community continues to refer to “the” chief rabbi, although Britain’s chief rabbi has no legal authority in Australia.
Personal factors intensified the association with the British chief rabbinate when Israel Brodie, formerly of Melbourne, assumed office as Chief Rabbi of Great Britain in 1948. However, his successors’ hold in Australia has weakened because of loosened ties with the Mother Country and the diversification of Australian Judaism, following the growth of strict Orthodoxy on the one hand and Reform on the other. The expansion of Chabad/Lubavich has not undermined links with “the” chief rabbi, since the present incumbent, Lord Sacks, is known to be an admirer of this Chasidic movement and its late Rebbe.
In 1952, Rabbi Brodie was criticised for encouraging emigration to the Dominions instead of to Israel. Responding in an address at the Stoke Newington Synagogue, North London, on 27 July 1952, he denied that he opposed aliyah but said, “We ought to be realistic [and] to recognise that the majority of our people are content to continue living in the free communities of the Dispersion”. He added that British Jews could bring “spiritual and communal contributions to the growing and vigorous communities of the Dominions”.
Poms (including Jews) haven’t always acclimatised themselves to Australian life. Some went back home after finding that things “down under” were by no means what they expected. Not everyone could afford the fare back to Britain, however, so they stayed and made do in Australia. Standard complaints are that the climate is too harsh; the locals are too brash; and it’s hard to find the right job, the right school for one’s children or even the right synagogue, although there are shules that started out as “British” congregations.
Most Poms came in search of “a better life” and found it, some creating one of their own. Many spheres of Australian culture were enriched by immigrants from Britain. In law, for example, Abram Landa (1902–1989), a native of Belfast, practised as a solicitor, represented Bondi in the NSW Legislative Assembly (1930-65), served as a Government minister and was later agent-general in London (1965-70). He and Max Freilich had a decisive influence on Dr Herbert Evatt, the Labour Party leader and a founder of the United Nations Organisation, who helped to secure a majority UN vote for the Partition resolution that led to Israeli independence. Born in London, Maurice Ashkanasy (1901–1971) also came to Australia as a child, but went on to become a barrister and a QC. As a World War II army officer, he led an audacious escape from Japanese-occupied Singapore. He was elected chairman of the Victorian bar council and was active in communal affairs, serving as founder-president of the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies and (five times) as president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
Julius Stone (1907–1985), born in Leeds and educated at Oxford, had a brilliant career as an academic lawyer. After teaching at Harvard, he served as head of the law faculty at the University of Auckland, New Zealand (1938) before becoming Challis Professor of Jurisprudence and International Law at the University of Sydney (1942-72). During that time (1968-70), he was the first academic director and head of the Truman Centre for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. A world authority on jurisprudence and international law (on which he published over 30 volumes), and an inspiring colleague and teacher, Julius Stone was also a combative Zionist whose fierce debate with Sir Isaac Isaacs appeared as a pamphlet entitled Stand Up and Be Counted! (1944). In later years he wrote legal works about the Eichmann Trial, Soviet Jewry and Israel’s right to settle the land in Judea and Samaria. Gordon Samuels (1923–2007), left London for Australia in 1949 and became president of the New South Wales Court of Appeal, chancellor of the University of NSW (1976-94) and, finally, Governor of his State (1996-2001).
Education, literature, science, and the arts were all strengthened by Jewish immigrants from Britain, some of whom had health problems. Jack Michael Myers (1882–1932), for example, was a 30-year-old solicitor and journalist when he came from London to Sydney in search of a warm climate. The son of Asher Myers, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, he had worked for the Morning Post and now became prominent in financial journalism. Though not involved in communal affairs, Myers took an interest in Jewish scholarship and wrote a popular illustrated book, The History of the Jewish People… since Bible Times, one volume of which appeared in London with a preface by Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler (1909). The next two volumes were published in Australia, and all three in a complete edition (1930). Suffering from arthritis, the author did not live to bring out a planned fourth volume of his opus. Lizzie Hands, an artist and feminist, drew portraits in pencil or charcoal (one depicting Samuel Landman, general secretary of the Zionist Organisation) and also painted miniatures. A champion of Jewish women’s rights in Britain during the 1920s and 1930s, she wrote tracts on issues ranging from “votes for women” in synagogue elections to the plight of agunot (“chained women”) who could not obtain a religious divorce. For medical reasons, she settled in New
Zealand, then moved to Australia around 1955 and died of cancer in Sydney a year later, bequeathing a considerable sum to UNESCO.
Other Jews landed in Australia as refugees from Nazi Germany who had nowhere else to go. Felix Werder (Bischofswerder; 1922–2012), the son of a Berlin musician, studied fine arts and architecture in London before he and his father were transported to Australia on board the Dunera in 1940. After spending the rest of the war as an internee, Werder settled in Melbourne, taught music and wrote various compositions, including seven operas, for which he received a number of awards.
In the post-war era, two British immigrants, Louis Klein and his cousin Sidney Sinclair, established leading commercial ventures such as Anthony Squires, the men’s tailoring firm. Both were dynamic leaders of the Jewish community and received government recognition for their services to Australian business. Allan Rein became eminent in publishing, Joe Loufer in Qantas Airways and other concerns. The Richmond family, nearly all of whom entered the medical profession, made a significant contribution to the advancement of health services. Alan David Crown (1932–2010), destined to become one of Australian Jewry’s foremost intellectuals, was born and educated in Leeds. After his national service in the British Army, he worked as a schoolmaster, moved to Australia and joined the Semitics department of Sydney University in 1962. There he attained a professorship, gaining respect as a Hebraist and Bible scholar, and became a world authority on the Samaritans and the Dead Sea Scrolls. He also spent long periods of time at the Oxford Centre for Post-Graduate Hebrew and Jewish Studies, founded the Archive of Australian Judaica at Sydney University and headed Mandelbaum House on its campus.
A number of British rabbis became leading public figures in Australia, but just how “British” did they have to be? True, Dr Shalom Coleman of Perth, “who changed the face of Judaism in Western Australia,” was born in Liverpool, trained at Jews’ College and held posts in South Africa before moving to Australia in 1961, but his father had arrived in England from Russia. Some earlier, highly anglicised ministers (notably Jacob Danglow) were also first-generation Britishers, yet “Englishry” was by no means the exclusive possession of English-born rabbis, as three examples will show. Abraham Tobias Boas (1842–1923), a Dutch Jew born and educated in Amsterdam, only spent five years in England before serving as “rabbi” of the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation (1870-1918). There he became a popular member of the clergy and a well-known authority on Shakespeare. What distinguished Israel Porush (1907–1991) from other Australian rabbis was not his “Hildesheimer” s’michah or his German doctorate but the fact that he was born and yeshivah-trained in Jerusalem. After serving as the Finchley Synagogue’s rabbi in London (1934-40), he left for Australia to become chief minister of the Great Synagogue in Sydney (1940-72). His English sermons and readings were delivered with only the trace of an accent and he was, for over 50 years, “the uncrowned Chief Rabbi of Australian Jewry.” Born in Berlin, Herman Max Sanger (1909–1980) had gained his doctorate and rabbinical diploma in Germany before arriving in Melbourne, where he served for many years (1936-74) as rabbi of Temple Beth Israel, St. Kilda, and as the leading spokesman of Progressive Judaism in Australia. An outspoken Zionist, he had a superb command of English, which [like Rabbi Porush] he spoke with a slight European accent.
The “Englishness” of Jews prominent in other fields of activity will also spring to mind. Both Sir Isaac Isaacs, who attained the highest offices of State, and Sir John Monash, commander-in-chief of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in World War I, were quintessentially British in loyalty and outlook, yet they were born in Australia of immigrant parents. A more recent and no less striking case is that of Sir Zelman Cowen (1919–2011), born in Melbourne, whose grandparents had immigrated from Tsarist Russia. A distinguished law professor, he rose to become Governor-General of Australia (1977-82) and Provost of Oriel College, Oxford (1982-90). While intensely British, he was also a fervent Zionist and a devout Liberal Jew. Going further back in time, Nathaniel Levi (1830–1908) and Ephraim Laman Zox (1837–1899), two Jewish parliamentarians and communal leaders in Victoria, both came from Liverpool; yet others, British to their bootstraps, never set foot in the United Kingdom. This was evidently no problem when an English-born rabbi, Francis Lyon Cohen, declaimed “We British Jews” from his pulpit or when Jacob Danglow extolled “freedom under the British flag”. Their assumption, no doubt shared by their congregants, was that living in a British country made one British ― which was in fact the legal position, at least until 1948.
Gilbert and Sullivan once suggested, tongue in cheek, that people could actually choose to be British because they considered it the most desirable option:
For he himself has said it,
And it’s greatly to his credit,
That he is an Englishman!
For he might have been a Roosian,
A French, or Turk, or Proosian,
Or perhaps Itali-an!
But in spite of all temptations
To belong to other nations,
He remains an Englishman! 
How large was the Anglo-Jewish component of Australian Jewry? Whatever its size, the refugee influx from 1933 onwards clearly changed the mix. It has been asserted that the Anglo-Jewish strain dominated for 150 years and that non-British elements were absorbed without changing the nature of the community. Charles A Price negates this view:
In 1851, before the gold rush started, British Jews made up 90 per cent of the Jewish population of Australia, but… during the gold rushes so many European Jews, particularly Germans, came into the country that ten years later British Jews and their children made up no more than half the Jewish population; and… from then onwards non-British immigration always exceeded British, more than counterbalancing natural increase on the part of the British element. By 1911, United Kingdom-born persons comprised only 18 per cent of the total Jewish male population and less than 40 per cent of the overseas-born population. By 1954, they made up less than 15 per cent of the overseas-born population… The extent and duration of Anglo-Jewish leadership in Australia has been exaggerated… Persons from elsewhere also attained positions of leadership and were able to influence the course of events.
Those “persons from elsewhere” had already become evident in the 1850s, and the great commercial houses established by Jews thereafter ― e.g., Myers, founded by Russian-born Sidney (Simcha) Baevski) ― were controlled by Jewish immigrants from all over continental Europe. The Slutzkins, Patkins, Wynns, Smorgons, Finks and Scheinbergs are further examples. Jewish names on the Australian “rich” list, such as Frank Lowy and Sir Peter Abeles, are almost all “persons from elsewhere” who came to Australia with nothing and made vast fortunes. Lowy and men like Richard Pratt and Harry Triguboff became great philanthropists whose generosity was of great benefit to their adopted country, as well as to Israel and local Jewish causes.
Today there is very little Jewish immigration from Britain. The main sources are now South Africa, Israel, the USA and the former Soviet Union. Less than four per cent of Australian Jews are from Britain, although the figure is about eight per cent in the over-65 age group. There are altogether about 130,000 Jews in Australia, representing an upward correction of the census figures, and around one million Australians (4.5 per cent) have some Jewish ancestry. Australian Jews all speak English, but they are not an “English” community. Their “Englishness,” insofar as it ever existed, was more an echo of the Australian corporate ethos than an expression of the actual statistics. During the last half century, any divide within the community was between “foreign” and “Australian” Jews, but that has largely disappeared and the community is increasingly “Australian”, though far from homogeneous. Children who attend Jewish schools in Australia ― about 70 per cent of the Jewish school-age population ― study regional (not British) history. They know nothing about Whitechapel, Willesden or Woolwich and are only aware of Wembley and Wimbledon because these places have some connection with sport.
Geographical proximity often leads to Australia and New Zealand being spoken of in one breath. They certainly have much in common, and there may be some validity in treating New Zealand as Australia’s smaller sibling, but they are independent countries and far from identical. Among the things that distinguish New Zealand from Australia is that even though European settlement there began 50 years later than in Australia, its immigration history is of much earlier date, since the islands were first settled by Polynesians over 1,000 years ago. English convicts were brought to Australia in 1788, when Europeans began hunting whales in the South Pacific, but it was not until 1840 that New Zealand became a British Colony after a treaty was signed with the Maoris.
Two Jewish entrepreneurs had landed earlier on business trips: Solomon Levey in the 1820s and Joseph Barrow Montefiore on an eight-month trading visit in 1830 (sailing in his own barque from New South Wales). Impressed by the scenic beauty of the land, he called it not only “a perfect paradise” but also “the Britain of the South”. The analogy was widely acclaimed, but it was not the only reason for limiting immigration, as far as possible, to people from the Mother Country. There was a stage when endeavours to attract Scottish migrants gave Scottish mores and, indeed, the Presbyterian religion, a special degree of influence, especially in the South Island.
Pioneers and Notabilities
The first Jewish settler in New Zealand was evidently Joel Samuel Polack (1807–1882), a London-born artist, trader and adventurer, who arrived in 1831. He opened a ship-chandler’s store and New Zealand’s first commercial brewery at Kororareka (now Russell), North Island, spent months at a time in Sydney, Australia, and recorded his travels throughout New Zealand. He also befriended the Maoris and learned to speak their language. In 1838, after explosives in his store blew up, Polack returned to London and appeared before a select committee of the House of Lords, urging the government to promote colonisation. The second of two books that he wrote, Manners and Customs of the New Zealanders (London, 1840), contained drawings by the author and valuable information about the country’s pre-colonial history. After a further sojourn in New Zealand, Polack left for California around 1850 and died years later in San Francisco.
Another pioneer, David Nathan (1816–1886), came from London via Sydney in 1840. He and his cousin, Israel Joseph, opened a store in Auckland, bought land and established what would become the oldest and most diversified wholesale business in New Zealand. A year after his arrival, Nathan married Rosetta Aarons, a young widow, who had brought a blank ketubbah (marriage contract) with her from Hobart, Tasmania, hoping to find a husband in New Zealand. This first chuppah in the land was conducted by Israel Joseph. In time, David Nathan became a business magnate, a civic leader and a founder of Auckland’s Jewish community. Services were held in his warehouse for over a decade before the first synagogue premises were leased in 1855. He served as its president and lived to see the opening of a purpose-built synagogue in 1885. The Nathans became a powerful dynasty, leading the congregation for half a century after the founder’s death; and although the business is no longer under family control, it still bears their (Lion Nathan) name.
Members of the Hort family played a similar role as founders of the Wellington community. Along with Solomon and Benjamin Levy, two carpenter brothers, Abraham Hort, Jr. arrived on board the Oriental early in 1840, to be followed by his own brother Alfred in 1842. The Hort brothers set up as merchants and shipowners in Apia and Tahiti. Abraham Hort, Sr. (1799–1869), a prominent member of the London Jewish community, landed in 1843, bringing his wife, five daughters and young David Isaacs, a trained shochet, mohel and chazan. His aim was to promote Jewish settlement in New Zealand so as to relieve pressure on the communal charities in Britain. This hope was not fulfilled because of strenuous opposition within the Colony. However, Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschell had also authorised him to establish a Jewish community there, which led to the founding of Wellington’s Hebrew Congregation in 1843. Unfortunately, as Hort’s letters to the Jewish Chronicle and the Voice of Jacob revealed, maintaining religious standards in the fledgling community proved difficult and he returned to London in 1859. Through his daughter Margaret, who abandoned Judaism, he was the grandfather of Sir Francis Henry Dillon Bell, the first locally born prime minister of New Zealand (1925).
Economic problems, intermarriage and geographical isolation took their toll of New Zealand’s minute Jewish community, which numbered little more than 300 in 1861. Some early settlers moved to Australia when gold was first struck there in the 1840s; others left for the United States during the California gold rush of 1849-50. Those who remained could not have anticipated the gold rushes in New Zealand, from 1861 onwards, that brought a new wave of Anglo-Jewish immigrants (as well as some German Jews) to Otago and other locations in the South Island. By 1867, the Colony’s Jewish population had quadrupled, numbering 1,262. Considering that brutal expansionist measures by the government had provoked the Maori Wars (1860-70), this was a notable development.
One of the London-born Jews whose failure to strike it rich in the Australian gold fields led them to New Zealand was Joseph Edward Nathan (1835–1912). After settling in Wellington in 1857, he built up a flourishing import-export business and held office in various commercial enterprises. Glaxo Laboratories, which he founded and managed (1873-1912), became a leading manufacturer of pharmaceutical products in Britain. Nathan also headed Wellington’s Jewish community for over 40 years and, although he returned to London in 1900, his family remained prominent in New Zealand. Benjamin Leopold Farjeon (1838–1903) was a youth of 17 when he sailed from England to Australia. By 1863, however, he was editor and part-owner of the Otago Daily Times and a member the newly established congregation in Dunedin. After his return to London in 1868, Farjeon published a series of novels; the first and best-known of these was Grif (1870), a story of life in Australia.
The most eminent Jew in New Zealand was undoubtedly Sir Julius Vogel (1835–1899). Born in London, where he studied chemistry and metallurgy at the Royal School of Mines, he migrated to Australia in 1852 and from Melbourne to Dunedin in 1861. There he became a journalist, founded the Otago Daily Times and (with Farjeon as manager) edited this first New Zealand daily until he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1863. Vogel served as colonial treasurer, postmaster-general and twice as prime minister (1873-75 and 1876), the first professing Jew to attain that office in the British Empire. He worked for reconciliation with the Maoris and permitting women to vote, but is chiefly remembered for his “Great Public Works” scheme, which brought New Zealand an infrastructure of roads and railways under central government control. Knighted in 1875, he served as agent-general in London (1876-81) and, after a new but unhappy term as colonial treasurer, returned to Britain in 1888. His remaining years were spent in London, where he was buried in the Willesden Jewish cemetery.
Three major problems facing the Jewish community were a shortage of trained ministers, widespread neglect of traditional observance, and intermarriage. Those employed as synagogue readers (chazanim) and factotums, having to survive on inadequate pay and submit to the whims of their employers, rarely stayed for more than a few years. David Isaacs, who had migrated with Hort Sr. from England, left Wellington for Dunedin and then Nelson during the 1860s, but eventually returned to London. Benjamin Aaron Selig, his successor in Wellington, decided to move elsewhere in 1866. Despite the exhortations of its ministers, the Dunedin community had little regard for Sabbath observance or kashrut, even defying the authority of Britain’s Chief Rabbinate by limiting the Sabbath morning service to one hour. David E Theomin, the son of a Bristol minister and an observant layman, was unable to stem the tide. When asked for advice by Jewish emigration authorities in London, the Dunedin congregation sent a negative reply: “ultra-Orthodox is objectionable [here] as the Sabbath is not kept”.
To remedy the situation, Chief Rabbis NM Adler and JH Hertz recommended a number of candidates for ministerial posts in New Zealand. Like their counterparts in Australia, these religious leaders were graduates of Jews’ College (though not always of English birth). Samuel Aaron Goldstein (1852–1935), born and educated in London, received a ministerial certificate at the age of 22. After various appointments in England and Australia, he served as rabbi of the Auckland Hebrew Congregation for over half a century (1880-1934). Despite his wide cultural interests and prominence in civic affairs, Goldstein was a fearless Orthodox rabbi who denounced profanation of the Sabbath and excluded anyone who “married out” from his congregation. Loyalty to the “British realm” went hand in hand with his presidency of the Auckland Zionist Society; and in recognition of his 50 years of devoted service, the title of Morenu (our Teacher) was conferred on him by Dr Hertz, Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, in 1928.
Herman van Staveren (1849–1930), the son of a Dutch rabbi, completed his rabbinical studies in London and sailed to New Zealand with his wife and daughter in 1877. There he served for 53 year as the Wellington Hebrew Congregation’s minister, receiving the title of Morenu in 1929. While his congregation (200 in 1878) grew to number over 1,400 by 1925, Van Staveren’s tasks ranged from conducting services, running a Hebrew school and promoting the formation of a burial society to acting as the community’s shochet, mohel and dues collector. His involvement in civic affairs ― working for local charities and hospitals as well belonging to the Rotary Club and Masonic lodges ― made him a highly regarded figure in Wellington.
Born in Helsinki, Finland, Alexander Astor (1900–1988) was the son of a Russian talmudist. Only a few months old when his parents brought him to London, Astor was to all intents and purposes an English Jew. After attending the Guildhall School of Music and studying for the ministry at Etz Chaim Yeshivah and Jews’ College, he met visiting representatives of the Dunedin congregation (including the merchant David Theomin), who chose him as their rabbi in 1925. Since there was considerable prejudice against foreigners in New Zealand, they persuaded him to anglicise his surname from Ostroff to Astor. He served for five years in Dunedin before moving to Auckland as the aged Rabbi Goldstein’s assistant (1931) and eventual successor. An impressive speaker blessed with a fine cantorial voice, Astor strove to maintain Orthodox practice in a community remote from the centres of Jewish life and culture. As the first non-Christian chaplain to the New Zealand armed forces, he visited troops in Egypt and the Yishuv in Palestine (1945). Astor was also a staunch Zionist and, having served as Auckland’s rabbi for 40 years, he retired to Israel in 1971, but fell ill on a return visit to New Zealand (1980) and had to spend his last years there.
Rabbi and teachers no longer remain in office for such a long period of time. One notable example was Abraham Rosenfeld (1914–1984), the Jerusalem-born rabbi and chazan of London’s Finchley Synagogue, who published annotated editions of the Selichot service and Kinnot for Tishah B’Av with his own English translation. He served as the Wellington congregation’s rabbi (1971-78) and then left for Israel. On the whole, New Zealand Jews remained faithful to Minhag Anglia with its easy-going Orthodoxy, although some smaller congregations (e.g., Dunedin) have shifted their allegiance to the Liberal movement.
Immigrants and Emigrants
Until fairly recently, there was little non-British Jewish immigration. Histories of New Zealand Jewry abound in English names and, as in Australia, they include members of the Montefiore and other prominent Anglo-Jewish families, although anglicised surnames were often adopted by “foreign” Jews. Struggling to maintain a white Christian identity, the government opposed Asian (and East European) immigration and, from 1881, virtually restricted themselves to people from the United Kingdom. However, some Jewish refugees did manage to gain admission from Tsarist Russia. Later, during the 1930s, Nazi propaganda created a wave of xenophobia and antisemitism that infected business circles, the press, universities, the medical profession and even the government. Rabbi Astor made strenuous efforts to have entry permits granted to Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe, but it is estimated that less than 850 were admitted to New Zealand between 1936 and 1945.
The Jewish community grew slowly during the post-war years through immigration from Britain, Hungary (after 1956), the former Soviet Union, South Africa and Israel. Government policy has been relaxed to some extent, but immigrants are still not accepted in large numbers. While the community seeks new Jewish immigrants, their integration is not so easy because the heavy social and financial burden rests upon a small Jewish population. Although South African Jews, attracted by New Zealand’s similar English culture, boosted the size of Auckland’s Jewish community (to over 3,000 by 2004), some of these newcomers eventually moved to Australia.
This process of migrating back and forth is nothing new. Born in the gold mining town of Hokitika (1869), John Goulston moved to Sydney, where he became a leading Freemason and president of the Great Synagogue in 1924. He was a brother-in-law of Rabbi Jacob Danglow and many of his descendants were eminent physicians. Dr Albert E Jones, born in Dunedin, settled in Melbourne, developed an extensive commercial law practice and became president of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation in 1926. He was both a Freemason and a follower of Ze’ev Jabotinsky. On the other hand, as we have seen, there were Anglo-Jewish immigrants who went first to Australia and only later to New Zealand. Clearly, not all of them were success stories. A number of young people from the Norwood Orphanage in London were encouraged to leave for New Zealand, but hated it there. Many immigrants were out of luck, some barely made a living, others drifted from Judaism and there was constant intermarriage.
In recent times, the movement has changed direction with younger New Zealanders heading for Australia ― or making aliyah and settling in Israel ― in order to become part of a larger, more intense Jewish community.
The 2006 population census indicates that there are about 8,500 Jews living in New Zealand. Their wide-ranging contributions are out of all proportion to their small numbers. Ethel Benjamin (1875–1943), born to Anglo-Jewish parents in Dunedin, was New Zealand’s first woman lawyer (1897) and the first to appear as counsel in any court of the British Empire. Emily Siedeberg (1873–1968), the country’s first woman physician, had a German Jewish father and an Irish Quaker mother. Sir Louis Barnett (1865–1946), an Otago University professor and a pioneer in X-ray research, was the first New Zealander to become an FRCS (Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons). Sir Arthur Myers (1867–1926), a devout Jew, was mayor of Auckland (1905-9), entered parliament and joined the cabinet, serving as minister of munitions and supplies during World War I (1915-19). Sir Michael Myers (1873–1950), a lawyer and KC who had been president of the Wellington Hebrew Congregation, served as chief justice of New Zealand (1929-46) and acting Governor-General on a number of occasions.
A sense of civic and communal responsibility characterises the Jews of New Zealand, but their family’s land of origin carries less weight than their own good citizenship. Publicity material for a new book declares:
The roll call for New Zealanders of Jewish descent is impressive – John Barnett, Vincent Ward, Marti Friedlander, Sir Peter Gluckman, Dove-Myer Robinson, John Goldwater, Frank Hofmann, and, stretching right back into New Zealand’s history, eminent founding families such as the Myers, Nathans, Fishers, Paykels and Hallensteins. They are people who have given – and continue to give – so much to New Zealand society, across many fields of endeavour: politics, business, academia, journalism, medicine, science, arts and culture.
Some of the names mentioned here are of particular interest. Sir Woolf Fisher (1912–1975), a leading industrialist, headed the renowned Fisher and Paykel firm that manufactures household electrical goods. These include the world’s first dishwasher geared to kashrut requirements. John Barnett, “New Zealand’s Steven Spielberg,” founded South Pacific Pictures and has become the nation’s most successful film and television producer. Vincent Ward has also made his name as a film director. Sir Peter Gluckman is a renowned medical researcher in brain cell activity and other fields.
In municipal affairs, Sir Dove-Myer Robinson (1901–1989), a colourful, independent and far-sighted politician was born in Sheffield, England. Affectionately known as “Robbie,” he became Auckland’s longest-serving mayor (1959-1965, 1968-1980). Despite his traditional family background, he was an atheist. Colin Kay, his successor as mayor (1980–1983), was an Orthodox Jew and a former athletics champion. Though raised as an Anglican, John Key (elected to office in 2008) had a refugee mother and was the third prime minister of Jewish descent.
New Zealanders retain a warm feeling for the “mother country” and New Zealand Jews still recite prayers for the welfare of the Royal Family and their own government. As we have seen in relation to Australia, defining the “Englishness” of a Jew is problematic. What are the criteria ― the fact that someone was born in the UK or raised there; or, in a wider application, that he or she was born to British parents in a Commonwealth country? Would holding a British passport suffice? The parents of Sir Arthur Myers were German immigrants, Sir Woolf Fisher’s father came from Latvia and Sir Thomas Eichelbaum, New Zealand’s chief justice (1989-99), was born in Königsberg, East Prussia. That made no difference to Buckingham Palace and they all received knighthoods. It is not one’s origin that matters, but his or her social integration and contribution to society. “Jewishness” may also play a part here, but that is an entirely different question.
1. Charles A Price, Jewish Settlers in Australia (Canberra: Australian National University, 1964), passim.
2. Richard White, Inventing Australia: Images and Identity 1688-1980 (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1981), p. 112.
3. Joseph Aron and Judy Arndt, The Enduring Remnant: The First 150 Years of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation, 1841-1991 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1992), p. 210.
4. Email to the author, 9 July 2012; Kessler is emeritus professor of sociology at New South Wales University.
5. Raymond Apple, “The 1845 Report Re-Visited”: Presidential Address to the Australian Jewish Historical Society, 6 December 1989, in AJHS Journal, vol. 11 (1992), pp. 633 ff.
6. Email to the author, 9 July, 2012.
7. On Australian Jewish history as a whole, see Encyclopaedia Judaica
(Jerusalem: Keter, 1972; hereafter EJ), 3:877-887; Suzanne D Rutland, Edge of the Diaspora: 200 Years of Jewish Settlement in Australia (second ed., Sydney: Brandl & Schlesinger, 2001); idem, The Jews in Australia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); Hilary Rubinstein, Chosen: The Jews in Australia (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1987); Michael Blakeney, Australia and the Jewish Refugees, 1933-1948 (Sydney: Croom Helm, 1985); Raymond Apple, The Jewish Way: Jews and Judaism in Australia (third ed., Sydney: The Great Synagogue, 2002). See also Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora: Origins, Experiences and Culture, ed. M Avrum Ehrlich (2008), vol. 1, pp. 521-531.
8. EJ 15:1087.
9. See EJ 12:269-70; 2:259; 15:564.
10. Rabbi John S Levi and George FJ Bergman, Australian Genesis: Jewish Convicts and Settlers, 1788–1850 (first ed., Adelaide: Rigby, 1974; second ed., Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2002); John S Levi, These are the Names: Jewish Lives in Australia, 1788–1850 (Melbourne: Miegunyah, 2006); Lysbeth Cohen, Beginning with Esther: Jewish Women in New South Wales from 1788 (Sydney: Myers & James, 1987). See also note 11 below.
11. For details, see Jeremy I Pfeffer, ‘From One End of the Earth to the Other’: The London Bet Din. 1805–1855, and the Jewish Convicts transported to Australia (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2008), esp. pp. 309-314.
12. Marise L Cohen, “Caroline Chisholm and Jewish Immigration”, AJHS Journal, vol. 2 (1944), pp. 67-77.
13. EJ 4:138, 13:808.
14. There was a parallel development in the California and Klondike goldfields; see the chapter on North America in this volume.
15. Pfeffer, op. cit., p. 57. Solomon is the “hero” of The First Fagin, a docudrama filmed in Australia (2012) by Alan Rosenthal, emeritus professor of communications at the Hebrew University.
16. EJ 12:852-3.
17. Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 3 (Melbourne University Publishing, 1969; hereafter ADB).
18. EJ 14:802; ADB, vol. 6 (1976).
19. EJ 14:698; ADB, vol. 6 (1976).
20. EJ 10:1510; ADB, vol. 10 (1986).
21. Adam Mendelsohn, “Tongue Ties: The Emergence of the Anglophone Jewish Diaspora in the Mid-Nineteenth Century”, American Jewish History, vol. 93 (2007).
22. For a detailed treatment of this vexed issue, see Raymond Apple, “Mixed choirs in Jewish worship”, Eshkolot: Essays in memory of Rabbi Ronald Lubofsky (Melbourne: Hybrid Publishers, 2002).
23. EJ 5:1368; ADB, vol. 4 (1972).
24. EJ 2:162; ADB, vol. 7 (1979).
25. EJ 5:670; ADB, vol. 8 (1981).
26. ADB, vol. 8 (1981).
27. EJ 5:1274; ADB, vol. 8 (1981); John S Levi, Rabbi Jacob Danglow: “The Uncrowned Monarch” of Australia’s Jews (Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 1995).
28. EJ 4:1393-4; Raymond Apple, Kovno and Oxford: Israel Brodie and his rabbinical career, Rabbi LA Falk Memorial Lecture, The Great Synagogue, Sydney (2008).
29. ADB, vol. 17 (2007).
30. See below.
31. “Pom” may derive from “pomegranate” or the French word pomme (apple), alluding to a Britisher’s pink and white complexion, which contrasts with an Aussie’s tanned features.
32. However, some congregations remain within his “jurisdiction” in New Zealand.
33. Israel Brodie, The Strength of My Heart (London: privately published, 1969),
34. EJ 15:413-4; ADB, vol. 18 (2012).
35. EJ 4:1152; ADB, vol. 7 (1979).
36. EJ Decennial Book 1973-82 (Jerusalem: Keter, 1982), p. 513; Decennial Book 1983-92 (1996), p. 111.
37. ADB, vol. 16 (2002).
38. EJ 5:1024-5. Sir Zelman published a biography of his predecessor, Sir Isaac Isaacs (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1967 and 1979), the first Australian-born Jewish Governor-General.
39. WS Gilbert, HMS Pinafore, Act 2: in The Savoy Operas (London: Macmillan, 1926, and later reprints), p. 95.
40. Quoted from Jewish Settlers in Australia (1964); see note 1 above.
41. Emails to the author from Rabbi John S Levi, Melbourne, 17 June 2012; and from Rabbi Dr Jeffrey Cohen, Sydney, 21 June 2012.
42. Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 46 (1896); EJ 13:706-7. On the parallel activities of Nathaniel Isaacs in Natal, see this volume’s Southern Africa chapter.
43. EJ 12:849-850. Detailed biographies of some prominent New Zealand Jews appear in Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, an online English and Māori reference work in progress since 2005 (http://www.teara.govt.nz).
44. EJ 8:1008; 12:1128.
45. For the Jewish historical background, see Lazarus M Goldman, The History of the Jews in New Zealand (Wellington: Reed, 1958); EJ 12:1127-1130; Ann Beaglehole, A Small Price to Pay: Refugees from Hitler in New Zealand, 1936-46 (Wellington: Allen & Unwin, 1988); Ann Beaglehole and Hal Levine, Far From the Promised Land? Being Jewish in New Zealand (Wellington: Pacific/GP, 1995); Ann Gluckman, ed., Identity and Involvement: Auckland Jewry, Past and Present (Palmerston North: Dunmore, 1990); Stephen Levine, ed., A Standard for the People: The 150th Anniversary of the Wellington Hebrew Congregation, 1843-1993 (Christchurch: Hazard, 1995); idem, The New Zealand Jewish Community (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington, 1999); Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora (2008), vol. 1, pp. 534-545; Leonard Bell and Diana Morrow, eds., Jewish Lives in New Zealand: A History (Random House, 2012).
46. EJ 12:853.
47. EJ 6:1185-6.
48. Randal M Burdon, The Life and Times of Sir Julius Vogel (Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1948); EJ 16:203; ADB, vol. 6 (1976).
49. Whereas the first Jewish settlers in Australasia were transported convicts from England, the first Jews to settle in Finland were ex-Cantonists ― boy “soldiers of Nicholas” who had been dragged from their homes and made to serve for up to 25 years in the Tsarist army before their release (see EJ 5:130-133).
50. EJ Decennial Book 1973-82, p. 291.
51. See note 44 above.
52. EJ 4:250.
53. EJ 12:722.
54. EJ 12:72
55. Jewish Lives in New Zealand (2012), listed in Note 44.
56. EJ 6:1331.
57. His father, Edward Barnett, came from Manchester and was a mastermind in British counter-intelligence during World War II.