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The History of the Jews in New Zealand


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The composition of Jewish communities in Europe before the Second World War ensured the preservation of historical documents and data of most of the communities concerned. Apart from the fact that in the twentieth century nearly all the continental European communities were financially supported and controlled by the State, which demanded documentation of records, there were also sufficient numbers of Jews interested in their great historical past and concerned with Israel's future destiny, to make it certain that the deeds of those who strove for Israel's glory and good name, and the struggles of the Jewish masses, would not go unrecorded. The fortunate and happy position of the Jews in both America and England, where Jews have lived in freedom and upon terms of equality with their neighbours for three centuries, has also inspired numerous writers and research workers to inscribe upon the tablets of history the names of those who have contributed towards the welfare of their country or their people. Both the tercentenary celebrations held to commemorate the coming of the Jews to the United States of America and the tercentenary celebrations held to mark the return of the Jews to England were accompanied by the publication of numerous articles and books describing the part that Jews had taken in the advancement of England and America in the establishment and maintenance of their Jewish communities and activities. Time and numbers had created a Jewish pride in their past and in their lot.

Because of the distance of the Jews in Australia and New Zealand from large Jewish centres abroad, and because both of those countries have not entirely emerged from their pioneering stages, their Jewish communities have not as yet developed a strong historical pride in their endeavours and strivings. It will surely come with time. Their story is worthy of recapitulation. They have many splendid men and women whose efforts for their country and community and whose spirit of modesty and sacrifice should be recounted to the generations to come and should be preserved for them. New Zealand Jewry possesses a remarkable record. Nowhere else in the world have Jews, in proportion to their numbers, taken such a prominent part in local, municipal and public affairs as the Jews have done in New Zealand. Nevertheless, a danger existed that their endeavours would not be written down. The Jewish communities in Australasia are not developing at a speedy rate. Communities have flourished and have disappeared almost without trace. It would be a pity for all these traces to be forgotten. Besides the loss to the general history of Australasia, it would also break a link in the "golden chain" of Jewish history which goes back to the dawn of man.

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I have therefore taken it upon myself as a lover of Jewish ideals, and an ardent admirer of Australian and New Zealand colonial life, to make a start in arousing public interest in the beginnings of Jewish endeavour in Australasia, in the strivings of the Jews to maintain their faith and identity and in their contribution towards the progress of these two great countries. My first book, The Jews in Victoria in the Nineteenth Century, has received the support of the public to such an extent that it gave me the necessary encouragement to contemplate the writing of another historical book on British colonial Jewry. I was able to fulfil this dream when awarded the first Sir Robert Waley Cohen Travelling Scholarship. The award was established by the Jewish Memorial Council in memory of the late Sir Robert Waley Cohen, one of the most prominent Jewish lay leaders in Britain in the twentieth century. His genius and leadership gave strength to Jewish institutions in England. The eminence in which the United Synagogue, the office of the Chief Rabbi and the Board of Deputies of British Jews stand today in Britain is in a great measure due to his guidance and brilliance. He gave encouragement to the Anglo-Jewish ministry, and the Jewish Memorial Council, to mark his long and inspiring association with them, has instituted an annual travelling scholarship to be given to a Jewish minister of a congregation in the British Commonwealth who had served in his community for at least five years. The winning of this scholarship enabled me to travel to New Zealand to further my research. The result is presented in the text.

My appreciation is extended to the Jewish Memorial Council for its foresight in establishing a scholarship of such a nature as gives constant encouragement to the Anglo-Jewish ministry; to the Selection Board of the Jewish Memorial Council for choosing to present me with the first award; and to my dear friends David J. Benjamin and Tovia Shahar for their ready expert advice and for their perusal and correction of the manuscript.

L. M. Goldman
Melbourne, June 1957
Sivan 5717