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    The Victorian Jewish community, 1900-1910

    Paper by Rabbi Raymond Apple read before the Victorian Branch of the Australian Jewish Historical Society, 9 March, 1955. (Subsequently published in the Journal and Proceedings of the Society, Vol. IV, Part II, 1955.)

    Old map of Victoria StateThe great Dr Arnold once said of history that there were two things we ought to learn from it – “one, that we are not in ourselves superior to our fathers; another, that we are shamefully and monstrously inferior to them, if we do not advance beyond them.”

    My aim in this paper is to present some of what the people who were our fathers, literally or metaphorically, achieved in the years from 1900 to 1910. The Jewish community in those days was as lively an entity as it is today; but I am not going to say more than that in comparison of the two periods, ours and theirs.

    I leave it to the members of this Society, and to the historian of the future, to judge whether we Jews of today have, in fact, in Thomas Arnold’s words, advanced beyond our fathers.

    I shall have quite a lot to say about some of the foundations that were laid, and some of the communal efforts carried on, between 1900 and 1910. This paper is, therefore, an attempt to follow up the researches of Rabbi LM Goldman on the Victorian Jewish community in the nineteenth century.

    The period 1900 to 1910 is one that brings recorded Jewish history here nearer to our own time, and it is a decade that is clearly well within living memory of many people. Many of the names and incidents I mention will be familiar to members of this Society. I would like it to be borne in mind that in describing such a period it is necessary to use restraint and no little tact, and it is often difficult to discuss happenings of so recent a period in a correct, unbiased perspective.

    In this first decade of the century, Victoria’s population was about one and a quarter millions. There were about six thousand Jews. They represented some half of one per cent of the total population -something the same proportion that Jews form here today. It is interesting to note, however, that the Jewish population, which is recorded by the Story of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation as being 5,907 in 1901, was, in fact, smaller than it had been ten years previously, when there had been about 6,459 Jews in Victoria.[l]

    This decrease of about five hundred is certainly no evidence of any real decline in the community, as the land boom of the 1880’s had brought several hundred Jews to Victoria, and the acute depression which followed the boom caused many to leave Victoria for New South Wales, and probably also for Western Australia, where the gold fever was bringing new prosperity, which was marked, just as it had been in Victoria forty years previously, by the establishment or consolidation of Jewish communities in Fremantle, Perth, Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie.

    The Jews in Victoria were generally well settled and well adjusted, and keenly interested, as always, in shule politics and in the welfare of their less fortunate brethren all over the world. The cost of living was, of course, much cheaper than today – you could buy a pound of tea for 1/6, and Snider’s Matzoth sold in 1907 at 5d. a pound.


    There were Jewish communities, as well as in Melbourne, in Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong. Ballarat and Geelong have both been the subjects of past papers read to this Society, Geelong Jewry being dealt with by Dr Isidor Solomon, and Ballarat by that doyen of historians, Mr Nathan F Spielvogel.

    To the best of my knowledge, Bendigo has not yet been surveyed for the Society. That city’s Jewish community has had an interesting, pathetic, and only too common story, which I know has been related, at least up to the end of the nineteenth century, by Rabbi Goldman. The picture of Bendigo congregation in the 1900’s is of a small community making a valiant attempt at survival, but gradually dying out.

    The congregation had a Minister for some years in the person of the Rev. Jacob D Goldstein (who had been trained in Ballarat). After Goldstein’s death in July, 1904, the Minister for a few months was the Rev. Isaac Amber Bernstein. Mr Bernstein was born in Ballarat in 1869, and even today he still returns to his native city to conduct the High Holy Day services. When he was in Bendigo, there was little scope, due largely to the diminishing size of the congregation, and he left in early 1906 to go to Christchurch, New Zealand. Bendigo Synagogue was dying out, although contemporary papers seem to indicate there still being some provision for kashrut.

    After Mr Bernstein’s departure, there were very few Bar-Mitzvahs, and the infrequent marriages and funerals were probably conducted by the Rev. Benzion Lenzer of Ballarat. High Holy Day services were generally led by L Matenson, who had a Hebrew school in Carlton. The leaders of the dying community appear to have been the Hon. J Sternberg, MLC, who at the end of the decade was President of the Synagogue, and H Fryberg, who around the same time was Treasurer.[2] There is now no Synagogue or organised Jewish community left in Bendigo, although I believe there are about a dozen Jews there, all having settled in the last ten years or so.[3]

    The position at Geelong in the 1900’s was not so pessimistic.[4] The congregation was small, but intensely interested in its Jewishness. Kashrut was in existence. The Rev. Joel Falk was Minister from 1893 to 1896, and later, from about 1907 to 1917, he led the High Holy Day services. He later became a reader in the St. Kilda Synagogue. Stalwarts of the congregation included Messrs. Morris Jacobs, senr., who was President from 1887 until he died in 1927, aged 102; Henry Isaac Crawcour, a solicitor, who was at different times Secretary and President; Samuel Michael; Alderman Julius Solomon, JP; and Cr. Solomon Jacobs, JP, Mayor of Geelong in 1901 and on several later occasions. Solomon Jacobs was the son of Morris Jacobs.[5] The Geelong community is still active, and last year (1954) the congregation celebrated its centenary.

    A much more turbulent community was Ballarat.[6] The strong congregation there was led by the Rev. Israel Morris Goldreich for 37 years, until his death at the age of 71 in 1905. Goldreich, who lives on in his appearance in many of the stories of old Bal1arat written by Mr Nathan Spielvogel, was truly beloved by the Ballarat congregation, and was a strong force making for the unity which was shattered three years after his death. Goldreich had formerly been with the East Melbourne, Hobart, and Macquarie Street (Sydney) congregations. He was eminent in Masonic circles, and had a reputation as a staunch civic representative of his people.

    Goldreich’s successor was the Rev. Benzion Lenzer, brother of the Rev. Jacob Lenzer of East Melbourne. Benzion Lenzer had previously been Shochet in Perth, and came to Ballarat in 1902 to assist the Rev. IM Goldreich.[7] Benzion Lenzer introduced in the 1900’s a Jewish Literary and Debating Society in Ballarat, and was an enthusiastic Zionist.[7a] He was in Ballarat until 1921, when he became Minister of the Newtown Synagogue (Sydney). In 1908 an open dispute broke out between two sections of the Ballarat community, one faction, consisting mostly of Russian refugees who were in the main fruit hawkers, condemning the Minister and Board of Management as not being sufficiently Orthodox.[8] The result was the formation of a breakaway Minyan, which, calling itself the Central Hebrew Congregation, held its first services on Rosh HaShanah, 1908. Mark Rosenthal was president of this congregation, HS Simmons was treasurer, and S Spielvogel secretary. The Rev. MM Levy was appointed Minister. Mr Nathan Spielvogel, in one of his articles in our Society’s Journal, describes Mr Levy as “a bright young man.”[9]

    The new Minyan rented a shop in Victoria Street, a Hebrew school was commenced with apparently as many as thirty pupils, and the erection of a permanent Synagogue was mooted. There were at the time no more than thirty or forty Jewish families in the district! The feud between the factions was patched up after four years, with the return in 1912 of the breakaway section to the main congregation.


    We now come to discussing the Melbourne community in these years, and this will be done under broad headings of communal activity – Synagogues, Zionism. etc.


    Much of the source material for this period comes from issues of The Jewish Herald, which was first issued on 12 December, 1879. It was published from an office in Alfred Place, off Collins Street, and its editor from its inception to 1904 was the Rev. Elias Blaubaum, Minister of the St. Kilda Hebrew Congregation. [10]

    Perusal of issues of his day shows with what distinction he edited the communal organ. He came here in 1873 from Germany, with no knowledge at all of the English language. In fact, his first sermons were delivered in German – which was little hardship to many of his congregants, who were themselves German Jews.

    After only a few years here, he founded and edited a journal with a comprehensive cover of news from all over Australia, New Zealand, and the world; with scholarly and yet not abstruse articles; and with masterly editorials, written in impeccable but not pompous English.[11]

    Mr Blaubaum died in 1904, and was succeeded as Editor by Moses Moses, MA, LLB, the Superintendent of the United Jewish Education Board. Moses was editor until his death in 1919. In these years the technical format of the paper was still Victorian, with closely-printed columns and few illustrations; although with the later years of the decade there came gradual improvement and modernisation in appearance.


    Let us consider some of the affairs Jews of those days were interested in. One topic of conversation was always shule politics. There were in Melbourne at the time three main Synagogues – Melbourne, East Melbourne, and St. Kilda.

    At the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation in Bourke Street, one of the main internal bones of contention was, as ever, finance. In 1900 the Synagogue was mortgaged for £6,500.[12] In 1902 urgent repairs were needed to the Synagogue buildings, but these were deferred for lack of finance until 1905. In that year the Synagogue was closed and the repairs effected. In the meantime, services took place in the old Synagogue at the rear of the Bourke Street property. This was the original Synagogue building, erected in 1847 and superseded by the larger Synagogue in 1854, after which it was used for the Melbourne Hebrew School rooms, and for overflow services when necessary. It was later used as a gymnasium for Jewish clubs, and its last use was for services held between the demolition of the main Bourke Street Synagogue in April, 1929, and the opening of the Toorak Road building on 25 May, 1930.

    The Minister at Bourke Street in the 1900’s was Rabbi Dr Joseph Abrahams, MA, PhD. Dr Abrahams, who had held office since 1883, was a scholar of no mean order, and a profound thinker. In his early manhood he had been offered the opportunity to train to be Haham – head of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogues in England. He was the brother of the famous Dr Israel Abrahams, of Jews’ College and Cambridge.[13]

    Rabbi Abrahams’ views were deep, but shrewd. He was never afraid to speak his mind. What is more, when he was outspoken people listened and took note. On one occasion in 1900, when the garden and fence of the Montefiore Homes needed attention, Moss Marks,[14] the then Treasurer of the Philanthropic Society, suggested raising the necessary funds from a ball or a euchre party. Dr Abrahams did not mind a ball, but objected to a euchre party. “There is,” he said, “quite sufficient gambling amongst the community.”[15]

    Dr Abrahams was the centre of a great controversy in 1903. More than one reason has been advanced for this. There had been some sort of conflict with the lay leaders over the question of admitting proselytes. There seemed also to be some inability in Dr Abrahams to work harmoniously with the Rev. SM Solomon, Assistant Minister of the congregation. When both matters came to a crisis, Dr Abrahams, in September, 1903, resigned his position.[16] A deputation of Past Presidents of the Synagogue waited on him to try to induce him to withdraw his resignation. After two months of uncertainty, their efforts were successful. But, at this juncture, the Rev. SM Solomon resigned as second reader, although he retained the post of Synagogue Secretary. After a brief interval, the Rev. Joel Falk was appointed second reader in his stead.[17]

    This arrangement lasted until 1906, when the congregation was again in financial strife. In December, 1906, a meeting of the congregation, in the interests of economy, dispensed with Mr Falk’s services and agreed that the Secretary should be reinstated as second reader.[18]

    At the second oldest congregation, East Melbourne, affairs during these years were much less tempestuous. The Minister there was the Rev. Jacob Lenzer, who had been with the congregation since 1888. Lenzer had an artistic style and a rich voice, and was a cantor in the best traditions of chazanut. He was a very popular Minister, without whom, I am told, no communal function was ever considered complete. He was an eminent Freemason, the Worshipful Master of the Lodge of Australia Felix (1908) and Grand Chaplain of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria (1910). His congregation, regarded as the most Orthodox in Victoria, was led by men who, time after time, showed their loyalty when the congregation was in financial difficulty. One such was Mendel Cohen, who was on the Board of Management almost uninterruptedly from 1875 for 34 years, becoming Treasurer in 1885, and President, for the first of many terms, in 1890. Cohen, a jeweller and pawnbroker in Russell Street, died in 1909.

    In 1903, Mendel Cohen was presented by A Harris, JP, the then President, with an illuminated address from the congregation in recognition of his services.[19] This honour was also accorded by the East Melbourne congregation in these years to, among others, Mr and Mrs Isaac Altson and Mr and Mrs BH Altson.[20]

    At St. Kilda congregation, the Rev. Elias Blaubaum, who has been mentioned above, was Minister.[21] He must have wielded rather a powerful influence on communal thought in his triple capacity as Minister, member of the Beth Din, and Editor. He died after a serious illness on 21 April, 1904. He had been the first Minister of the St. Kilda Hebrew Congregation, and had held office for nearly 31 years.

    A memorial service took place in the St. Kilda Synagogue on 3 June, 1904, conducted by the Revs. Dr J Abrahams, J Lenzer and IM Goldreich, and Joel Fredman and Abraham Feuerman. The latter two gentlemen were both officials of the St. Kilda Congregation for many years, and they accepted the burden of the whole of the congregational work for over a year until a new minister could take over.[22]

    The St. Kilda Synagogue, at this time situated on a different site in Charnwood Grove, underwent in 1904 structural alterations designed by Mr Nahum Barnet, a prominent architect.[23] For the purpose of these alterations a sum of £500 had been bequeathed to the congregation by Moritz Michaelis, principal founder of the congregation, who died in November, 1902. Michaelis had been the first President of the St. Kilda Synagogue, and had laid the foundation stone of the original building.[24]

    To return to saying something of the St. Kilda Minister, at the end of 1904 FD Michaelis and Meyer Zeltner were in London, and these two gentlemen, members of the Congregation’s Board of Management, recommended that a new Minister be appointed in the person of the Rev. Jacob Danglow, then aged 24, a senior student at Jews’ College and President of the Jews’ College Union Society.

    Mr (now Rabbi) Danglow arrived in Melbourne on 15 September, 1905 – fifty years ago this year – and it is obvious from reading different accounts, and from the opinions of people who remember Rabbi Danglow’s early years here, that he infused new life into the community.

    People soon realised that a force had come among them. Early accounts, which we today can so well corroborate, speak of his unboasting character and his tireless energy. This Society would do well to celebrate Rabbi Danglow’s jubilee year of activity in Australia by inviting him to address a future meeting on the subject of his reminiscences.

    Rabbi Danglow’s name will be mentioned shortly with regard to several organisations he had a hand in founding. It is worthy of note that, at the end of 1908, Rabbi Danglow was first appointed a Chaplain to the Citizen Military Forces. He is today the Senior Jewish Chaplain for the Commonwealth, and for his services to Jewry and Australia has been awarded the decorations of VD and OBE.

    In addition to the three metropolitan congregations, all through the decade we are discussing the new arrivals of our people held services in Carlton and elsewhere in little minyanim. These minyanim, a notable one of which was at No. 6 Grattan Street, and was held by JE Stone and the Rev. Moses Saunders (the senior Melbourne Shochet of the day),[26] later grew into the Woolf Davis Chevra, the Carlton United Hebrew Congregation, and the North Carlton Beth Hamedrash.


    This was a decade that saw quite a lot of agitation for some framework for co-operation between the three main Melbourne congregations, and even between all Synagogues in Australia.

    Back in 1898, a meeting of delegates from Melbourne, East Melbourne and St. Kilda had resolved: “That a Board … be formed for the purpose of adopting joint action in connection with such communal matters as may be agreed upon.”[26]

    The Hon. Nathaniel Levi, mention of whom will be made later, wished to extend the scheme to found a United Synagogue, on English lines, but the time was not yet ripe, and all that was achieved was some form of loose consultation.

    In 1901, the Commonwealth celebrations in Sydney were attended by Rabbi Dr Abrahams as a guest of the New South Wales Government; inspired by the federal idea and by the Melbourne Rabbi’s presence, the Sydney Great Synagogue suggested periodic conferences of ministers and lay representatives of the various congregations in Australia.

    The Story of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation records that that congregation notified that “it was willing to fall in with their view,” but goes on to say that “once again, the proposal remained only an expression.”[27] The St. Kilda Congregation’s Annual Report for 1901 ascribes the abandonment of the project to the members of the local Beth Din declining to attend an inaugural meeting.[28,29] There the matter has since remained, except for the recent formation of the Congregational Committee of the Board of Deputies.


    The main communal problems of the 1900’s which needed united action included kashrut, the ever-recurring problem of the admission of proselytes, and the formation of a united burial society. Of these, kashrut was placed on a much more satisfactory footing than previously when the Melbourne United Shechita Board was formed, consisting of representatives of the Melbourne, East Melbourne and St. Kilda Synagogues.

    I noticed in a 1903 Jewish Herald an interesting paragraph referring to kashrut in Melbourne. The paragraph reads:-

    A visit on Saturday evening to one of the Kosher butcher shops, say that in Little Collins Street, shows that there is still much demand for Kosher meat, and people from the far outlying districts do not mind the extra trouble in coming to town for their regular supply and to have their poultry killed in the prescribed way.[30]

    Another problem needing concerted action was that of proselytes. There had been, in the 1890’s, a Board for the Admission of Proselytes, with representatives of both the Beth Din and the lay leaders, but this had ceased activity by 1899. The 1900’s dawned as a decade of crisis. In 1903 there were, it seems, quite a number of people wishing to be accepted into the Jewish faith, and some arrangement had to be arrived at which would satisfy both the conscience of the Ministers and the wishes of the community. The problem, as stated above, was partly responsible for Dr Abraham’s resignation in that year.

    No happy solution presented itself, however, and it was not until two years later that all Victorian congregations sent representatives to Bourke Street for the purpose of considering re-formation of a Proselytes’ Board. In June, 1905, they established a “Guerim and Gueros” Board, comprising two representatives from each of Melbourne, East Melbourne, St. Kilda and Ballarat congregations, and one from each of Bendigo and Geelong. The Board lasted till 1910.[31]

    Apart from the movement to form this Board, another important matter was agitation from different quarters to form a united Chevra Kadisha, or Jewish Burial Society. As early as September, 1900, the East Melbourne Hebrew Congregation had proposed establishing a Chevra Kadisha, and wrote to the St. Kilda Congregation in the matter. St. Kilda replied, however, that it was their intention to establish such a society locally, and the proposal was then apparently dropped by its initiators.[32] Joseph Waxman, Philip Blashki and others tried throughout the decade to get people interested, and finally, in 1909, the Melbourne Chevra Kadisha came into being, its initial officers being: Philip Blashki, JP, President; Vice-Presidents, Joseph Waxman and Isaac Altson; Hon. Treasurer, S Rothberg; and Hon. Secretary, Dr J Leon Jona. Rabbi Danglow moved the resolution which brought the Chevra Kadisha into existence.


    The moves to federate the congregations were widened and extended by a movement, started in 1906, which aimed at establishing a Board of Deputies of the Jews of Victoria. In that year, correspondence in the Jewish Herald, as well as personal opinion, reflected the need for an official and properly accredited body for the community.

    The scheme was for the various congregations, through their representatives, to constitute the Board, and the movement was supported by most communal leaders, both lay and ministers, especial support coming from the Rev. Jacob Danglow. The proposal seems, however, to have met some opposition, particularly among leaders of the East Melbourne Hebrew Congregation. Nothing came of the scheme at the time. But an interesting sidelight on the idea, as well as an indication of the people most actively associated with it, comes from a letter of appreciation sent in October, 1906, to Mr BA Levinson, MA, LLB, by the prime movers. I think it is useful to quote the letter, in part at least:-

    It is to the great interest you (Mr Levinson) have taken in the project, and the pains and skill you have expended in investigating its details and in devising a constitution for its practical realization that is principally due the bringing of the idea before the Jewish community in a concrete form. Although recent events have shown that public opinion in that community is, on the average, not yet ripe for the adoption of the proposal, we are nevertheless convinced that your labours have not been thrown away, and that the suggestion, once promulgated, will slowly but surely germinate and bear fruit at some future time, when wider and sounder views shall prevail among our congregations.[33]

    The letter is signed by Joseph Abrahams, Jacob Danglow, P Blashki, BH Altson, Louis S Benjamin, Louis P Jacobs, A Kozminsky, Bernard Marks, Edward J Michaelis, and M Moses.

    The scheme did not wholly go by the board, for there came eventually after the First World War the formation of the Victorian Jewish Advisory Board, which is now the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies.


    I would like now to say something of the facilities available for Jewish education in the 1900’s. As well as some congregational Hebrew and Sabbath schools, the United Jewish Education Board, founded in 1895, was functioning, and there were a couple of private teachers holding classes in Carlton. These two were L Matenson and Joseph Barkman, father of the late Miss Frances Barkman. Both of these teachers imparted a Zionist flavour with their teaching. There was a state of standing rivalry between their respective pupils – something which some members of the community will still remember.

    For some years there was also, I believe, some sort of a Hebrew school run by the Rev. Solomon M Solomon, of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation, who had taught at the Melbourne Hebrew School, the Jewish day school, during its last years.

    At St. Kilda, the congregation conducted the St. Kilda Hebrew and Sabbath Schools,[34] of which the Headmaster was Joel Fredman. He was for very many years not only Headmaster, but also Secretary, Choirmaster, and Second Reader of the St. Kilda Congregation. The Principal of the St. Kilda Hebrew and Sabbath Schools ,vas the Rev. Elias Blaubaum, and later the Rev. Jacob Danglow.

    The biggest educational institution at the time, just as today, was the United Jewish Education Board. This Board had been set up in 1895 to assume control of Hebrew education after the closing of our first day school, the Melbourne Hebrew School. The Board’s first President was the late Sir Isaac Isaacs. In 1899 it had a total of 373 children on the rolls.[35] Its main teaching centre was the Old Model School in Spring Street, where it had classes on Sunday mornings and weekday afternoons. Other centres included Scotch College, where a teacher came twice a week to instruct four Jewish pupils; and a school named the University High School, where there were ten Jews. This school was not the present Government-run University High School, but a private school of the same name.

    In 1905, with the closing of the Model School and the opening of the Melbourne Continuation School – the jubilee of which, incidentally, the Melbourne High School is celebrating this year – the Hebrew classes were transferred to Rathdown Street State School, Carlton.[36]

    The complete list of centres in 1905 was as follows : Rathdown Street, Faraday Street, Lithgow Street, Lee Street, West Melbourne, South Melbourne, and South Yarra, and there were altogether 252 pupils on the roll.[37]

    The Education Board had a general meeting at the East Melbourne Synagogue on 19 November, 1907, and passed a very interesting resolution, which reads: “That, in the opinion of the united Jewish Education Board, it is desirable to extend its usefulness by adding English instruction to its subjects.” It is, however, doubtful whether the resolution was ever put into effect.

    Presidents of the Board at this time included the Revs. Dr J Abrahams, J Lenzer, and E Blaubaum (who was in office at the time of his death), and the Hon. Nathaniel Levi. Levi accepted the Presidency in 1905 chiefly to attempt to put into operation his schemes for the re-establishment of a Jewish day school in Melbourne. In April, 1903, at the Education Board’s annual meeting, he had declared that he was still hopeful of seeing a Jewish college established in Melbourne.[38] He said he had an absolute promise of £5,000 towards it, and if he could en lid the sympathy of others, and got what he required, the scheme could be successfully carried into effect. However, nothing concrete came of his endeavours in this direction. The Melbourne Hebrew School, closed in 1895, was by that time a memory, and the community apparently did not desire its re-establishment.


    Among the earliest of our communal organisations was the group of philanthropic societies which received no small support from the community, and to which I would like now to refer briefly.

    There was, first, the Melbourne Jewish Philanthropic Society, which ran, as it still does, the Montefiore Homes for the Aged; then there were the Melbourne Jewish Aid Society, granting interest-free loans; the Jewish Orphan and Neglected Children’s Aid Society; and the Melbourne Jewish Mutual Aid Society (now the Melbourne Jewish Friendly Society).

    Women’s organisations included the Melbourne Hebrew Ladies’ Benevolent Society and the Melbourne Jewish Women’s Guild.

    As always, Jews were active in the philanthropic efforts of the general community. Some examples are the frequent donations to charity given by Joseph Kronheimer, whose liberality also benefited the United Jewish Education Board, and whose estate still makes periodic grants to Jewish and other charities. The principals of most Jewish firms, such as Michaelis, Hallenstein & Co., were also generous givers to all appeals.[39]

    The names of many of the non-philanthropic organisations of the community at the time have long been forgotten. For example, there was a Melbourne Jewish Literary and Debating Society, which ceased in the early years of the century, and which was succeeded in a similar field by the Maccabean Union, founded in 1906. In this, the moving force was the Rev. Jacob Danglow. This Union met regularly, usually in the St. Kilda Synagogue rooms, to discuss Jewish and other cultural subjects.

    In Carlton, there existed at No. 6 Grattan Street a Jewish Club and Library, which was probably the predecessor of the present Kadimah. Jewish social clubs existed in abundance in this decade. There was the Jewish Lyric Club, established in Carlton in November, 1908, with the aim of producing Jewish opera and comedy in Melbourne. Its first president was L Loffmann, its treasurer A. Rosenthal, and its hon. secretary A Goldstein.[40]

    In the same year, 1908, the Jewish Montefiore Club was formed. This was a social club with rooms in Nicholson Street, near the Exhibition Building, and these rooms were regularly used for receptions and other simchot. The Montefiore Club’s leaders included Sol. M Lyons and L Hyams.

    Senior to both of these clubs was the Jewish Social Club of Melbourne, founded in December, 1903, under the presidency of Cr. Moses Alexander. One of this Club’s notable features was its Annual Jewish Cricket Match.

    In 1909 a Jewish boys’ athletic club was formed, under the name of the Emu Athletic Club. The only name I have been able to discover is that of the hon. secretary, who was P Levoi.[41]

    Another social club came into being in 1910, when the Melbourne Jewish Harmony Club was organised. This club advertised in the Jewish press that its club room at 189 Lonsdale Street would be available for Jewish functions, and that Minyan was available every evening for those desiring to say Kaddish.


    There were also organisations that aimed at assisting oppressed European Jews – a very appropriate object in the first decade of the century, which was a decade of particularly fierce pogroms in Russia.

    The Anglo-Jewish Association (led by Isaac Jacobs) was noted for its willingness to relieve, where possible, the lot of our less fortunate brethren abroad. Isaac Jacobs went abroad in 1907-8. He came back incensed at the persecutions and fired with enthusiasm for the Zangwill movement, the Jewish Territorial Organisation (known as ITO). This organisation aimed at settling oppressed Jews from Eastern Europe in suitable unoccupied areas in other countries.

    Jacobs had tried to arrange for a number of Russian Jewish farmers to come to Australia – perhaps to the Northern Territory – but he had met with little definite success.[42] On his return to Melbourne, he urged formation of a local branch of ITO, and an inaugural meeting on 30 April, 1908, elected as president of the branch Joseph Kronheimer; vice-president, Isaac Jacobs; treasurer, P Perlstein; hon. secretary, BA Levinson; and committee, the Rev. Jacob Danglow, Moss Marks, Max Hirsch, Meyer Zeltner and FD Michaelis.[43]

    The efforts to bring Jewish farmers here did bear fruit in 1913 with the formation, on the initiative of Dr MA Schalit and Isaac Jacobs and Abraham Kozminsky, of the first Jewish agricultural settlement in Australia, situated at Shepparton; and, some fifteen years later, with the establishment at Berwick of a similar settlement, under the auspices of the Australian Jewish Land Settlement Trust.

    I should mention, with regard to assistance to Russian Jews, that in June, 1903, the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Sir Samuel Gillott, presided over a meeting at the Melbourne Town Hall to inaugurate a relief fund, which raised over £600.[44] A similar fund, started in 1906 by the St. Kilda Hebrew Congregation, raised more than £2,000.[45]


    Isaac Jacobs, whom I have just mentioned, was also very actively interested in another Jewish movement – the agitation for some reform in Judaism. Whenever he could, he urged modification of the ritual and introduction of Sunday services, and throughout the decade the Jewish Herald regularly published long letters from him, often taking up two or more whole pages of the paper, advocating reform.[46]

    Reform was, in fact, his hobby-horse. Some prominent communal workers supported him. Among them were S Leon, Reuben Moss, Nahum Barnet, A Benjamin, H Levinson, Angel Ellis, Alfred Hart and Bernard Levy, and these people held a meeting in December, 1902, to discuss ways and means of “introducing more reverential and devotional feelings by worshippers at Divine Service.” The result was a protracted Press controversy. Its only practical outcome seems to be a decision of the St. Kilda Congregation in August, 1903, arrived at after conferences between the Minister and Board of Management, with the effect of introducing several alterations, none contrary to Din, to that Synagogue’s services. The prescribed prayers would be said in Hebrew, but before and after the statutory services additional prayers were to be recited in English.[47] Isaac Jacobs was still not satisfied, and, due to his agitation, the question flared up repeatedly in the Jewish Herald’s columns right through the decade.[48] It was, however, not until 1930 that a Liberal Synagogue came into being.


    Another auspicious movement begun in this decade was organised Zionist activity. Theodor Herzl had aroused the Jews of the world to enthusiasm with his writings and by means of his speeches and political activity, and Zionism began to be heard of even in faraway Australia.[48a]

    But there was, here as elsewhere, much opposition. At the beginning of the decade, the Jewish Herald stated in an editorial: “Except in making speeches the Zionists have not so far met with any success, nor have they impressed those outside the circle that they are likely to meet with success. The whole idea is Utopian and nothing more.”[49]

    The Victorian Zionist League was founded in 1902 or 1903 with the aim of altering this impression. I think it is quite appropriate and interesting to list some of this League’s early stalwarts. They include the Hon. Nathaniel Levi, Abraham Kozminsky, Nahum Barnet, Uscher Richardson, Marks Herman, Isaac Barnet, JP, and Barnett Sniders. The Rev. SM Solomon was the Secretary. There is another name I must mention – the revered Lazar Slutzkin, whose philanthropy here and in Eretz Yisra’el was a household word.

    In those days, Zionist finance was not counted in the thousands of pounds of today. The leaders were very happy to be given shillings, and even pence, and the Jewish Herald recorded from time to time a list of donations of one shilling. Enthusiasm spread to the country, and a meeting was convened in Ballarat in 1903 to discuss the movement. Benzion Lenzer was a prime mover, and he spoke long and earnestly in an effort to gain support for Zionism, but most speakers were uncertain whether it was wise to form a Zionist Society or not.[50] In the end, no society was formed, but those individuals interested gave their support to the Victorian Zionist League in Melbourne.

    In 1906, the Melbourne Ladies’ Branch of the International Zionist Organisation was formed. The ladies were led by, among others, Mesdames BH Altson, L Benjamin, S Moss and Marks Herman, and Misses Frances Barkman and Phoebe Myers. This ladies’ group reported in 1909 a very successful year’s work, in which £10 had been sent to the JNF and £10 to the Orphan Fund, £5 being in hand.[51]

    In 1907 the Zionists formed a Juvenile League, which held a bazaar at the Protestant Hall on 25 July, 1907, raising over £80 in aid of children orphaned in the Russian pogroms. This bazaar was opened by Mr Justice Isaacs.[52]

    In time, new names became prominent in the VZL. Some were BH Altson (President, 1908), Joseph Levi, JP (President, 1910), Cr. HF Barnet (Vice-President, 1910), and D Rosenberg, who succeeded the Rev. SM Solomon as Hon. Secretary in 1910.

    At this time the world Zionist movement was centred at Cologne, and in 1907 a letter came to Melbourne from the Zionist Central Bureau there, suggesting that the Australasian Zionist Societies form themselves into an Australasian Zionist Federation.[53] A meeting of the VZL approved formation of the Federation, but nothing seems to have been achieved until many years later, when Rabbi Israel Brodie and others succeeded in establishing the present Zionist Federation of Australia and New Zealand.


    No account of this community during the 1900’s would be complete without some reference to individual Jews who distinguished themselves in public life during this period. The record of such people is a worthy one, and one of which our community can rightly feel proud. Names such as Benjamin Benjamin, Nathaniel Levi and Isaac Isaacs spring to mind.

    The Hon. Sir Benjamin Benjamin, Kt., JP, died on 7 March, 1905.[54] He had been the second Jew in Australia to receive a knighthood.[54a] Born in 1834, he was the son of Moses Benjamin and a relative of the founders of the Melbourne Synagogue. Benjamin Benjamin arrived in Victoria in 1843, aged nine years, and was educated at an academy conducted by one Rev. WH Jarrett. He became a partner with his father and brother Elias in M Benjamin & Sons, merchants and importers, and in 1864 he joined Edward Cohen in conducting a tea importing and general commission agency.

    He was with Cohen until 1878, when, aged 44, he retired from business and devoted the rest of his life to public service. In 1870 he was elected to the Melbourne City Council as representative for Albert Ward; he became an Alderman in 1881, and was Mayor of Melbourne from 1887 to 1889. He was a member of the Legislative Council from 1889 to 1892. He acted as a Commissioner for the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition in 1888, and it was in recognition of his services and hospitalities for this exhibition that he was knighted.

    Sir Benjamin had many active philanthropic interests, among them the Hospital Sunday Fund and the Jewish communal charities. He was many times President of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation – from 1868 to 1875, 1879 to 1880, and 1885 to 1891, a total of fourteen terms! He was one of Jewry’s finest representatives.

    Another very well known name was that of the Hon. Nathaniel Levi,[55] who, born in 1830, was the first Jew to be returned to the Victorian Parliament. He was elected as the Member for Maryborough district in 1860, subsequently being elected for East Melbourne, and later to the Legislative Council for the North Yarra Province.

    Levi had left England at the end of 1853, and had quite an adventure on the way, involving shipwreck and marooning – unfortunately time does not permit me to say anything of it at the moment. His political and commercial activities were extensive, and it is not my intention to try to evaluate them tonight. It is more useful for me to mention that he was, like Sir Benjamin Benjamin, also very active in the Jewish community. He was the President of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation from 1880 to 1882 and from 1904 to 1905. The Story of the Hebrew Congregation records that when, in 1904, Levi was the congregation’s President, Henry Cohen, the Treasurer, deputised for him in the Synagogue. Levi had explained that “owing to his not riding on the Sabbath he would not be present in the Melbourne Synagogue.”[56]

    I have already referred to Levi’s efforts in connection with federating the Melbourne congregations, to his advocacy of a day school, and to his Zionist activity. Another of his energetic efforts was his persuasion of the Melbourne City Council in 1905 to preserve the old Jewish Cemetery in Peel Street, West Melbourne, which, it had been proposed, should be absorbed into the new vegetable markets.[57] Levi arranged for the Jews of Melbourne to draw up a petition on the subject, and it was also proposed to start a fund to keep the graves in the old cemetery in order. These efforts were for some time successful. But now the Victoria Markets occupy the site of the old cemeteries, and the graves have been transferred to the General Cemetery in Carlton.

    These, then, were some aspects of the life of the Hon, Nathaniel Levi, a man whose interests were as positive as they were ubiquitous.

    I must mention, too, the man who later became the Right Hon, Sir Isaac Alfred Isaacs, Chief Justice of the Australian High Court and first Australian-born Governor-General of the Commonwealth.[58] At this time he was plain Mr Isaacs. He married Daisy Jacobs, daughter of Isaac Jacobs, of whom we have already heard something, and Lady Isaacs is today still alive at an advanced age in Sydney.

    Isaac Isaacs was, from 1892 to 1901, member for Bogong in the Victorian Parliament, and was Attorney- General from 1894-9 and from 1900 to 1901. In 1901 he was elected to the first Federal Parliament as Member for Indi, and he became Federal Attorney-General in 1905. He was appointed in 1906 to the High Court of Australia.

    In a congratulatory sermon to Mr Justice Isaacs, preached on 15 October, 1906, the Rev. Jacob Lenzer declared: “Given the opportunity, the Jew can progress to the highest position in the land, as has the honourable gentleman under notice, from the State School bench to the High Court Bench.”

    It is not for me, at the moment, to evaluate Sir Isaac Isaacs’ work as a High Court Judge over a period of 25 years. Suffice it to say that he was one of the framers of our Commonwealth Constitution, and he was one of its most lucid exponents. In an article I wrote about him some three years ago, I quoted this sentence of his: “I say reverently, all honour to those great men who, with such prescience, placed such a noble legacy in the hands of our future generations…”[59] In the ranks of those great men, Sir Isaac Isaacs himself assuredly stands.

    John Monash is another name which was prominent at this time.[60] His brilliance as student, lawyer and engineer needs no description on my part. His achievement is very well known. In 1904, when he was a Major, and Officer Commanding the CMF at North Melbourne, Monash was decorated at Victoria Barracks with the Volunteer Decoration. This, as subsequent events proved, was only a start in the outstanding career of service to his country that unfolded in the years to come.[61]

    Other names I must mention include Philip Blashki, JP, founder of the well-known Blashki family and a magistrate in the District Court. Blashki was another active philanthropist and communal leader, as was Joseph Waxman, an auctioneer, who was prominent in most communal bodies and was a member of the Brunswick Council.

    Then there was S Leon, Victorian Crown Prosecutor; PD Phillips, barrister and Shakespearean scholar. (I possess Mr Phillips’ own typescript copy of one of the many fine Shakespearean addresses he delivered over a long period.) I have mentioned Joseph Kronheimer, the philanthropist. He, by the way, was presented by the community with an illuminated address to mark his eightieth birthday in July, 1906.[62] Another leader was Alderman Jacob Marks, President of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation from 1897 to 1901 and 1907 to 1908 – it was his efforts that were largely responsible for the establishment of a mikvah at the City Baths in Swanston Street.

    One could go on for a long time to mention the outstanding figures in Melbourne Jewry during the decade. It is a matter for some pride that there were so many, and that they were active both in the Jewish and the general community.

    Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen: I have tried to present to you a picture -a picture of a decade in the life of an always active and ever interesting community. I have traced the state of the provincial communities; I have discussed affairs in the Melbourne Synagogues; I have mentioned the movements to federate the Synagogues, to introduce Liberalism, to popularise Zionism; the beginnnings of the Board of Deputies movement have been referred to; education and the communal organisations have been discussed; and, lastly, I have touched on some prominent personalities.

    I have thus given you some facts about men and women and incidents and movements. But facts on their own are harmless. It is what we do with them that counts. I leave it to you whether we, members of the Victorian Jewish community in the year 1955, have learned anything from the facts of the early days and formative years of our community.

    I will only suggest that, if we have maintained a community that is positive in outlook, rich in structural substance, and never intolerant of new ideas and new movements for no other reason than that they are new – if we have done these things, then we have really built on the foundations laid and strengthened by our fathers in the first decade of this century and in every decade.



    JOURNALS (“J.”)

    1. The Jewish Herald, Melbourne.
    2. Journal of the Australian Jewish Historical Society, Sydney.
    3. The Argus, Melbourne.


    4. The Story of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation, 1841-1941. Melbourne, 1941.
    5. The Sephardim of England, by AM Hyamson. London, 1951.
    6. “The Jewish Press of Australia, Past and Present,” by Percy J Marks: A paper read before the Jewish Literary and Debating Society, Sydney. Privately printed, 1913.
    7. Sands & McDougall’s Directory of Victoria, 1909.
    8. The History of St. Kilda, from its First Settlement to a City and After, 1840-1930, edited by John Butler Cooper. Melbourne, 1931. Containing on pp. 356-359 a history of the St. Kilda Hebrew Congregation, prepared by Rabbi J Danglow.


    9. St. Kilda Hebrew Congregation Annual Reports.
    10. Melbourne Hebrew Congregation Annual Reports.


    1. 4B, p. 27.
    2. 7B, p. 2325 (list of Hebrew Congregations in Victoria).
    3. Another leading Bendigo Jew “as the late Dan. Lazarus, who once represented Bendigo in the Victorian Legislative Council. He bequeathed a large sum of money for the benefit of the local Jewish poor, and founded the Dinah and Barnet Lazarus Trust.
    4. 2J, Vol. 2: Paper by Mr Isidor Solomon, “Geelong Jewry,” p. 332 et seq., especially pp. 341-2. In 1904, an L. Freedman was the Hon. Reader at Geelong (10R, 1904).
    5. Solomon Jacobs was Mayor again in 1928, 1929 and 1930. He died in 19J2. His son, Cr. Morris Jacobs, was Mayor of Geelong in 1952-3 and 1953-4.
    6. 2J, Vol. 1: Paper by Mr Nathan F Spielvogel – “The Ministers of the Ballarat Congregation,” p. 93 et seq.
    7. Ibid.
    7a, 2J, Vol. 3, p. 171.
    8. 2J, Vol. 2: Paper by Mr Nathan F Spielvogel: “Ballarat Hebrew Congregation,” p. 350 et seq., esp. p. 356. At the time of the dispute, Cr. Abraham Levy, JP, a Mayor of Ballarat, was President of the Congregation, J Marks was Treasurer, and A Casper was Secretary.
    9. 2J, Vol. 2, p. 356.
    10. See issues of the Jewish Herald, 1900-1910. The paper was printed and published by Alex McKinley & Co.
    11. 6B, pp. 12-13 : “The Herald has always been distinguished for its literary merit.”
    12 1J, 14/9/1900; 3B, p. 30; 10R, 1901.
    13. 5B, pp. 340, 357, 360-1.
    14. Moss Marks was later President of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation from 1905 to 1906.
    15 1J, 3/8/1900.
    16. 10R, 1904.
    17. A further result of the crisis was the resignation in March, 1904, of the entire Board of Management of the Congregation, led by the President, Cr. Moses Alexander (10R, 1904). Moses Alexander later became Mayor of Richmond (1906) (10R, 1906).
    18. In September, 1908, the Congregation celebrated Rabbi Dr Abrahams’ completion of 25 years as its Minister, and presented him with a testimonial address and a purse of sovereigns (10R, 1909).
    19. 1J, 13/2/1903.
    20. 1J, 21/2/1908. Mr and Mrs Isaac Altson (formerly Altschul) were the parents of BH Altson.
    21. 8B, pp. 356-9.
    22. Further mention of Joel Fredman occurs later in this paper. Abraham Feuerman had, previous to his appointment as Shochet, Collector, etc., at St. Kilda, been with the Ballarat Congregation as assistant to the Rev. IM Goldreich (2J, Vol. 2, p. 355).
    23. The old St. Kilda Synagogue was consecrated on 29 September, 1872, superseded by the present Synagogue consecrated on 13th March, 1927, and demolished in 1941.
    24. The inscription on Moritz Michaelis’ grave reads, when translated into English: “Here is buried Moses, the son of Reuben. In peace and uprightness he walked all his days; to the poor and needy his hand was at all times open; and when he died people lamented after him. Alas! brother. Alas! Master!”
    25. JE Stone was the son-in-law of Woolf Davis, who had quarrelled with the East Melbourne Congregation in the 1880’s and had opened a chevra in Drummond Street, which, after his death, was carried on by JE Stone. Moses Saunders had been in the last years of the nineteenth century the Shochet and Second Reader in the Bourke Street Synagogue. He died in 1908, aged 65 (10R, 1909).
    26. 4B, pp. 27-8.
    27. 4B, pp. 29-30; 10R, 1901. See also 1J, 26/10/1900.
    28. 9R, 1901.
    29. 10R, 1905, 1906, etc.
    30. 1J, 10/4/1903.
    31. 10R, 1905, 1908, 1910.
    32. 9R, 1900; 10R, 1900.
    33. This letter appears in full in 1J, 2/11/1906. Mr Levinson had been Hon. Secretary of the Provisional Committee.
    34. The St. Kilda Hebrew and Sabbath Schools were founded in February, 1874.
    35. 1J, 2/3/1900.
    36. 1J, 13/1/1905.
    37. 1J, 5/5/1905.
    38. 1J, 8/5/1903.
    39. At a function in 1900, tribute was paid by the well-known QC, JL Purves, and by the Lieutenant-Governor (Sir John Madden), to the fine record of the Jewish community in its support for all charitable institutions (1J, 6/7/1900).
    40. 1J, 16/11/1908.
    41. 1J, 25/6/1909.
    42. IJ, 20/3/1908.
    43. 1J, 15/5/1908.
    44. 1J, 5/6/1903. This meeting was a public meeting of sympathy with the Jews in the Kishinev massacres.
    45. 9R, 1906.
    46. 1J, 28/9/1900, 13/3/1903, 30/1/1903.
    47. 1J, 17/7/1903, 14/8/1903. Isaac Jacobs had placed before the Board of Management a petition signed by 30 residents of St. Kilda.
    48. Similar modifications were made in the Melbourne Synagogue in 1910.
    48a. In 2J, Vol. 3, p. 165, there appears a paper by Mr MZ Forbes on “Early Zionism in Sydney, 1900-1920,” which contains some interesting material for comparison.
    49. 1J, 12/10/1900.
    50. 1J, 8/5/1903. A correspondent, “Benzion” (probably Benzion Lenzer), wrote in 1J, 22/5/1903, that “if a voting had taken place the amendment (‘that we form a Zionist Society in Ballarat’) would have been carried with a vast majority and a Zionist Society would have been formed there and then.” Benzion Lenzer had convened the meeting, and he claimed there was a good attendance.
    51. IJ, 27/4/1909.
    52. 1J, 4/8/1907.
    53. IJ, ;l2/2/1907, 3/5/1907.
    54. 3B, p. 27; 1J, March issues, 1905; etc.
    54a. Sir Saul Samuel was the first.
    55. Sources of information on the Hon. Nathaniel Levi include several volumes on Victorian life in the late 1800’s, but for the purpose of this paper the most useful source is the Jewish Herald.
    56. 4B, p. 30.
    57. 1J, 5/9/1905.
    58. 2J, Vol. 2: Obituary, pp. 502-507.
    59. 3J, 4/1/1952.
    60.2J, Vol. 2: Article by Col. AW Hyman, “General Sir John Monash,” p. 20.
    61. 1J, 10/8/1904.
    62. 1J, 13/7/1906.

    NB I am grateful to several people, including Rabbi J Danglow and Mr Nathan F Spielvogel, for personal reminiscences and other information on the subject of this paper.

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