Review by Rabbi Raymond Apple published in the Journal of the Australian Jewish Historical Society in June 2013, Vol. XXI, Part 2.
Lloyd Gartner, in whose memory this book has been published, was professor of Modern Jewish History at Tel Aviv University. His magnum opus, The Jewish Immigrant in England 1870-1914, now in its third edition, is still the standard work on the subject. This tribute to him reverses the theme. Instead of focusing on Jews who came to Britain, it looks at Jews who left. Five emigration movements are discussed: to North America, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa and Rhodesia, Russia and the Soviet Union, and Palestine and Israel.
Jewish immigrants played a major role in all these lands, which as far as Australia and New Zealand are concerned is no news to readers of this review. There are colourful pen-portraits of these pioneers, some of whom founded massive commercial enterprises. The motivation for their migration was generally not persecution but a spirit of adventure. The most surprising destination is Russia and the USSR. In its case we are dealing with Jews from Eastern Europe who tried life in Britain and decided to go back to “the heim (homeland)”, even though “the heim” was never easy. Strange phenomena resulted, even in terms of family surnames. In England in my time at the Hampstead Synagogue I had a congregant called Solomon London, whose family went from Eastern Europe to London, back to Eastern Europe where they were known as Londoners, and then to Britain again – leading to Mr London who lived in London.
British immigrants to English-speaking countries were part of the formation of the local ethos. They brought with them the English language and British principles such as the Westminster system of government. The historic ties with the monarchy lingered, as did, for the Jews, the religious links with the chief rabbinate. The break with Britain took different forms and different lengths of time so that Sir Winston Churchill declared that the British and the Americans were two nations divided by a common language.
In pre-State Palestine and now Israel, Jews from. Britain helped create the newly emerging society in the Yishuv. Some, like Viscount Edwin Samuel, built up the civil service – not that they succeeded in implanting civility amongst the locals. Others, like Abba Eban, were treated with reserve because their accent was too British. Israelis today tend to lump all English speakers together as Americans. They cannot recognise the contrasts between English-speaking countries; those who do acknowledge the existence of Britain are still resentful of British Mandatory policies.
The chapter on the Antipodes is written by me. It proves that from the Gold Rushes onwards Australian Jewry had a much less significant British strain than is generally thought. Immigration brought Jews from many other places. Though there were times when official policies urged British migration, recent migration waves have been largely Holocaust survivors, Sephardim, Israelis, South Africans and Russians. Some cities used to have a divide between the “Australians” (probably best delineated linguistically as native English speakers) and the “Yidden”. Few of the Brits achieved the commercial eminence of the postwar arrivals, though Australia remains a rather British country with British-type institutions, which are replicated in the Jewish community, for example in “British” terminology like Boards of Deputies and synagogue ministers. Despite the monarchical thinking in some quarters, few Australians – and even fewer Jews – today feel part of Britain. 16% of recent immigrants are from UK: amongst Jews the figure is lower. Contemporary Australian Jewry has no formal ties with the British chief rabbinate, though they enjoy visits from the chief rabbi of Britain.
New Zealand is possibly more “British”’ than Australia, and British Jews are more visible on the New Zealand scene, but here too the emotional feeling for “home” has evaporated.
Professor Gartner was the founder and chairman of the Israel Branch of the Jewish Historical Society of England. His successor as chairman, Dr Gabriel Sivan, is the editor of the book, which provides a stimulating insight into an important segment of world Jewry. It is to be hoped that it will sell well and be read in the Antipodes.