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The History of the Jews in New Zealand

Chapter XXIX — Zionism

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Chapter XXIX

Outweighing all other social activities, working for the various Zionist societies and appeals occupied a goodly portion of the leisure hours of the community. At first supplementing the social clubs, Zionist work gradually prevailed over all other communal activities. The suppressed indignation at the persecution of Jews in different parts of the world and the horror of German atrocities, welded New Zealand Jewry into a unanimity to share in the burden of saving the remnant of the Jewish people and to endeavour to give to the under-privileged members of their faith the same freedom as was enjoyed in New Zealand. The democratic liberty of New Zealand convinced its Jews that no other than a similar system would suffice their downtrodden brethren. Guided by inspired and able leadership, New Zealand Jewry accepted the morally imposed responsibility, and responded sincerely, with its heart and soul, to the many demands made upon it. In proportion to its members, it made equal sacrifices to Jewries in other parts of the globe. No other denomination in the country had so many calls made upon its generosity as the Jews.

Zionism started modestly. At the end of 1903, Auckland formed a small Zionist Society about the same time as Wellington established its Zionist Social Club. When Theodore Herzl died in the following year, he was mourned from the synagogue pulpits, the Dunedin Congregation also passing a resolution recognizing his work for the Jewish cause and making a spontaneous collection for his widow and family. The first of the new type of Israeli emissaries came out to New Zealand in 1905 in the person of Samuel Goldreich, the Life President of the South African Zionist Federation. His addresses inspired the formation of the Wellington Zionist League, and F. E. Baume, K.C., M.P., to accept the presidency of the Auckland Zionist Society. Dr W. Heinemann founded the Dunedin Zionist Society. Little activity took place in the movement before the First World War, but it received encouragement when Rabbi Goldstein of Auckland accepted the position of President of the local branch in 1912, a post which he retained for over twenty years. It also marked the beginning of the placement of Jewish National Fund boxes in private homes. Today there is hardly a Jewish house which is not adorned with a blue and white box. The Fund, which is world wide, owes its popularity to its small demands, its non-political nature page 206 and its primary object of purchasing and redeeming the soil for the Jewish people. A secondary object, the re-afforestation of the country, attracts donors to plant trees for the modest sum of a few shillings on any specially happy private occasion. For those who wish to mark a happy occasion by the donation of a larger amount, the Jewish National Fund provides inscriptions in special books housed in Jerusalem, recording the donors' participation in the building up of the Holy Land. To be inscribed in the Golden Book, the Sefer Hamedinah, the Sefer Barmitzvah or the Sefer Hayeled is considered an honour. In New Zealand a Happy Day Thought Fund emphasized the idea. J.N.F. commissioners, with assisting committees in the four larger New Zealand cities, administer the Fund. Voluntary workers collect the money in the J.N.F. boxes twice each year.

Britain's promise through the Balfour Declaration to establish a Jewish National Home for the Jews in Palestine, quickened Zionist sentiments. When the allies captured Jerusalem in the First World War, General Sir Francis Wingate sent a cable to the Governor-General of New Zealand concerning the privations of the Jewish colonists in Palestine. The Jewish communities responded with a substantial sum for their relief. All the communities supported the London Board of Deputies in their representations to the New Zealand Government to vote for provision for special protection for minorities, especially those in Russia, Poland and Roumania, in the Peace Treaty made at Versailles. They also asked for support of the Jewish Delegation at the Peace Conference, and the New Zealand delegates, the Rt Hon. W. F. Massey and the Rt Hon. Sir Joseph Ward, did champion the Jewish cause. When the Peace Conference endorsed the Balfour Declaration, New Zealand Jewry held special services in the synagogues. An Auckland solicitor, Louis Phillips, serving overseas in the New Zealand forces, deserved, as a stalwart Zionist, the honour of being New Zealand's first delegate at the International Zionist Conference. When he returned home he toured the country lecturing on the Zionist movement, and received the promise of the communities to support the cause.

Louis Phillips's lectures paved the way for the magnetic Israel Cohen to win the hearts of the people when he came out on behalf of the Palestine Restoration Fund. His campaign started the first of the long stream of appeals in which prominent non-Jewish politicians took part, and at which large sums were asked for and received. At Wellington, the Mayor presided, and the Acting Governor-General, Sir Robert Stout, and the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. W. F. Massey spoke. Sir Michael Myers and the Hon. Mark Cohen also addressed the meeting. Tramcars carried advertisements proclaiming the event. In Auckland, the Mayor presided over the meeting, and Colonel C. E. R. Mackesy, the first New Zealand soldier to enter Jerusalem in Allenby's campaign, spoke in favour of the cause. The meeting was described page 207 as "the most enthusiastic held in the eighty years' history of the Jewish community in Auckland". Israel Cohen stated years later that enthusiasm for Zionism in New Zealand was not equalled anywhere with such friendly notice in the Press. The campaign resulted in a collection of over £21,500.

Between the two world wars, the more prominent of the official emissaries included Madame Bella Pevsner, who formed the Young Judean Society, and David A. Brown of Detroit, a renowned American social worker, philanthropist and businessman devoted to the Zionist movement. In 1927, Dr Alexander Goldstein thrilled New Zealand audiences with his oratory. In a leader, the Wellington Dominion stated: "Many people are saying today that they often heard of the faith which moved mountains but they never met anyone who had it until they heard Dr Alexander Goldstein discourse on the Zionist Palestine projects and the ideal by which these projects are inspired ...." The Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. J. G. Coates, received him and expressed sincere sympathy with the Jewish cause for a Jewish National Home. After Dr Goldstein returned to England from a world tour he said at a lecture at Jews' College, "If I were asked which was the best Jewish community in the world from the Zionist point of view, I would say New Zealand." He later added, "If there is a roll of honour in the world for communities, the first place in that roll of honour belongs to Auckland."

Mrs Henrietta Irwell of the London branch of the Women's International Zionist Organization soon followed Dr Goldstein. Dr Benzion Shein proved to be a popular emissary, coming out to New Zealand in 1933 and 1939, preceded on the last occasion by talented Mrs Ariel Bension (later Mrs Samuel Wynn) who consolidated the W.I.Z.O. movement in the country.

During the Second World War, David Ben Gurion, the leader of the Jewish Agency and future Prime Minister of Israel, had to return to Palestine from America via New Zealand. When he arrived at Auckland the community tendered him a reception which the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. Peter Fraser, attended. The latter often spoke in favour of Palestine on his frequent visits to Jewish functions.

From the close of the Second World War onwards, an unceasing stream of brilliant talent has visited New Zealand on behalf of the Zionist and Israeli semi-governmental organizations to seek assistance for its superhuman task, and at the same time inspiring the communities with a messanic message.. The more eminent amongst them included Professor W. Fischel, campaigning for the Hebrew University, Dr Samuel Shocken, the head of the Shocken Press, Dr Michael Traub, impressive Mrs Archibald Silverman, from the United States of America, Dr Samuel Sambursky, for the Hebrew University, Mrs Irma Lindheim, an American living on an Israeli kibbutz and once a President of Hadassah, Rabbi Max Schenk, President of the Zionist Federation of Australia and New Zealand, capable Bernard Cherrick, page 208 Jack Brass, who was later shot down over Bulgaria, Mrs Kate Gluckman from South Africa, Mrs Malcah Weinberg-Schalit for the W.I.Z.O., M. Edelbaum, dynamic Rabbi Louis Rabinowitz, Chief Rabbi of Johannesburg, South Africa, learned Moshe Medzini, former editor of Ha'aretz, Berl Locker, the Jewish Agency politician, rustic Captain Simeon Hacohen, Captain H. Bemer from Canada, picturesque, attractive, word-spinning Ya'acov Zerubavel, who fascinated audiences although he spoke only in Yiddish and Hebrew, and popular Benzion Shein, who visited New Zealand for the third time.

Besides other lesser luminaries who came out to New Zealand for major Zionist and Israeli organizations, another stream visited the country for private Israeli institutions, such as orphanages, old-aged homes and Yeshi-voth, as well as for political parties such as the Mizrahi. They, too, did not leave New Zealand empty-handed.

The ever-waxing support for the Zionist movement, both in principle and in practice, created a busy social life for the Jewish community, who conducted their Zionist affairs on efficient, organized lines. The Zionist Societies in Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Hamilton, Palmerston North and Gisborne have, from 1943 onwards, held a Dominion Conference almost annually. The New Zealand Zionist Council is affiliated to the Zionist Federation of Australia and New Zealand, which sends delegates to the World Zionist Conference. John Nathan represented New Zealand at the Conference in 1951. After Israel Cohen's mission, the women in the four larger centres combined into the New Zealand Women's Zionist Society for Infant Welfare in Palestine, which endeavoured to introduce the Plunket method into children's welfare service in the Holy Land. Later the Society expanded and included all women's Zionist work in its programme. It affiliated to the Women's International Zionist Organization, of which the New Zealand body is a branch, having sub-branches in even the smallest of the New Zealand communities. The New Zealand W.I.Z.O. meets from time to time in conference. In the larger centres a Junior W.I.Z.O. has been formed for Jewish girls. In addition, the youth are now organized under the Habonim as a result of the amalgamation of the Habonim and the Zionist Youth League, the latter itself an amalgamation of the Auckland Judean Youth and the Wellington Maccabeans. Branches of the Friends of the Hebrew University have also been formed in the four larger centres to assist scholarship in Israel.

Apart from meetings and the raising of funds, the Zionist movement through the women's organizations arranged an "Eastern Garden Fair" in 1921 and "In a Persian Garden" in 1926, fairs held in Auckland to raise funds to send Plunket nurses to Palestine. The energy and ability of Mrs David L. Nathan, the President of the Women's Zionist Society, assured success for the ventures. She received the co-operation of the Postal Department page 209 which agreed to frank letters with a stamp advertising the carnivals. Tram-cars and picture theatres also advertised the events. In conjunction with the New Zealand Palestine Plunket Nurse Fund, the movement sent Misses E. Ashberry and E. Hyams to Palestine to introduce the Plunket system, and later opened three mother craft centres in Jaffa and Tel-Aviv. Mr and Mrs David L. Nathan donated one New Zealand Infant Welfare and Mothercraft Training Centre, which the wife of Dr Edward G. Joseph, a former President of the Wellington Zionist Society, opened in 1929. The Plunket system introduced by New Zealand made a definite contribution to the extraordinary record held by the young country of Israel, which boasts one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world.

A feature of the fairs was the interest Zionism aroused amongst non-Jews. In Gisborne, a group held a "Boston Tea" in aid of the Plunket Nurse Fund for Palestine. Sir Truby King, the Director of Child Welfare in New Zealand, watched the work with deep sympathy, and at the first Women's Dominion Conference, the meeting inscribed him in the Golden Book. The Christadelphians have maintained their interest in the Zionist movement, and often made substantial donations towards its various funds. At a memorial banquet held in Wellington commemorating the first anniversary of Israel's independence, the movement inscribed the Government of New Zealand in the Golden Book for its support in the creation of Israel at the United Nations. When the Prime Minister received a Golden Book Inscription for his unswerving support of Zionism over the years, he said, "There has been a long argument as to whether the Balfour Declaration when it used the term 'Home' meant 'Home'. To me there could be no 'Home' unless the people concerned were masters and mistresses in their own 'Home'." The Mayor accepted a Golden Book Certificate on behalf of the City of Wellington to mark the centenary of Wellington Jewry and the happy association of the Jews with the city. He recalled the early Jewish pioneers of Wellington.

The Rt Hon. Peter Fraser, on a number of occasions, addressed the Zionist Dominion Conference and Jewish meetings, where he expressed the view in favour of the United Nations division of the Holy Land. Otherwise, he said, the United Nations would be bankrupt. In Wellington and Auckland non-Jewish pro-Palestine committees supported New Zealand's official attitude. They had been formed to give expression of interest in, and sympathy with, a Jewish National Home, and to obtain moral support for implementation of the Balfour Declaration. Prominent members of the clergy and the university, as well as politicians, belonged to it. Canon C. W. Chandler frequently spoke favourably about the justice of the Jewish cause, and the joy he experienced at the birth of the Jewish State. A Golden Book Inscripton stated that he received it for the championship of just dealings with all peoples. Many Gentiles joined in the protests which the New Zealand page 210 Zionist Organization made from time to time against the injustice meted out to the Jews in connection with the Holy Land. They protested against the Arab massacres, the prevention of Jews' migrating to their "Home", and the denial of defence materials to guard against Arab aggression.

New Zealand Jewry celebrated the declaration of Israel's independence with Thanksgiving Services, and when the Consul-General of Israel, Mr Y. H. Levin, arrived in the country, it tendered him a moving welcome. With pride, they also greeted Mr Joseph I. Linton, the first Israel Minister to Australia and New Zealand, and later His Excellency, Mr Mordechai Nurock, the Israeli Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Australia and New Zealand. These ambassadors for Israel not only represented their country diplomatically They were messengers of goodwill, bearing the spirit of the Bible from the land of the Holy Book. They also sought trade between the two countnes. Dr S. Hirsch, of the Agricultural Faculty of the Hebrew University, and Mr Eliahu Lipovelski, of the Farmers' Federation of Israel, spent many months in New Zealand investigating the breeding, rearing and the purchase of the country's cattle.

Another responsibility which the New Zealand Zionist movement has accepted is the partial care of the youth. Besides the clubs conducted by the Habonim, annual summer camps for juniors and seniors are held in suitable surroundings and food is supplied in accordance with the dietary laws. They are very popular and splendidly managed. The movement has also collected a Jewish library for general use. To train youth leaders, it has arranged with Israel for a number of young people to spend a year or two in the Holy Land. In return, the scholarship winners are expected to spend two years amongst the children and youth clubs as leaders and organizers when they come back to New Zealand.

The enthusiasm of the Zionist movement in New Zealand is due in great measure to the unremitting and inspiring leadership of Mrs David L. Nathan of Auckland. For many years Isaac Gotlieb led the movement in Wellington, but unfortunately, to the sorrow of New Zealand, he and his wife, his daughter Denise and his sister and brother-in-law, Mr and Mrs Samuel Triester, were all killed in 1951 when the aeroplane in which they were travelling to Israel was struck by lightning when about to land at Rome Airport.

A number of New Zealanders, moved by the history of their people and its struggle for emancipation, have idealistically decided to settle and live in the land of Israel. Some have descended from well-established pioneer families. Most were in comfortable and secure positions. They believed they would fulfil their life's ideal, as well as retain their religious affiliations, by assisting in the building up of the new Israel and in the rehabilitation of the thousands of the persecuted who have assembled there from the four page 211 coiners of the earth. Amongst the first to leave for Israel was Dr Edward G. Joseph, a grandson of the pioneer Wellingtonian, Jacob Joseph. He has become famous in the Holy Land and beloved for his skill, his bravery in besieged Jerusalem during the Arab attacks and his Hebrew malapropisms. His home became a popular rendezvous for New Zealand soldiers during the Second World War. Amongst others who have, for idealistic reasons, departed for Israel, have been Mr John Nathan, a great grandson of the Kororareka and Auckland pioneer, David Nathan, and Mrs David L. Nathan herself, the devoted Zionist leader.

The New Zealand Zionists believe that their task will not be completed until the downtrodden remnant of their people, especially those living in Arab countries, are rescued, rehabilitated and firmly settled upon Israel's soil. At all times, it is hoped, bonds of friendship will tie New Zealand and Israel. For Jews, Israel is the symbol of world peace. Its people are imbued with a noble spirit of democracy and a fervent desire to fulfil the Biblical ideal of the brotherhood of all mankind. New Zealand Jewry is also hopeful that Israel will soon provide it with some of its cultural and spiritual needs— "That the Law will go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem."