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    Hobart Synagogue: 175 years young

    The following article by Yossi Aron and Rabbi Raymond Apple originally appeared in The Australian Jewish News on 19 June 2020.

    Hobart Hebrew Congregation

    Hobart Synagogue was consecrated on July 4, 1845. It’s the oldest Jewish place of worship still in use in Australia.

    The synagogue is controlled by the Hobart Hebrew Congregation, which was founded in 1842 and has had an unbroken existence since. As a formal organisation, the congregation became an incorporated body by an act of the Tasmanian Parliament in 1958. It is one of only two Jewish religious communities in Australia to embrace both Orthodox and Progressive members, and to offer services for both.

    Unfortunately the Hobart Synagogue’s 175th anniversary events planned for July 3-5 will not occur due to COVID-19 and its associated restrictions on travel and public events. It is hoped that a commemorative event for what is clearly a milestone in Australian and Tasmanian history, can be rescheduled for a later date.

    In the interim however, given all the fascinating personalities and stories that have been a part of the community, the congregation is reaching out to descendants of past members to share some of their stories. (For details of stories already in or to contribute go to www.hobartsynagogue.org/descendant-stories).

    In advance of the actual anniversary date, Rabbi Raymond Apple sent the following congratulatory message:

    “Hobart was the scene of my first sermon.

    “As a student in Melbourne I started a correspondence school for Jewish children all over Australia. Hobart and Launceston were part of the pupil network which functioned under the aegis of the Melbourne-based United Jewish Education Board.

    “The president of the Hobart Hebrew Congregation, Hans Jacob, asked me to come to Hobart for the High Holy Days to conduct the services and meet my students. Despite my then poor acquaintance with liturgical procedures, I said yes and was in Hobart by Erev Rosh Hashanah.

    “I spent part of the day interviewing a non-Jew who wished to convert to Judaism and who admired how Jews looked after each other. I referred the person to the Melbourne Beth Din and have no idea what resulted.

    “That evening I gave a sermon in the Hobart Synagogue and was taken aback to see people standing up and sitting down while I was speaking, not realising how hard the seats were and being so disconcerted that my sermon came to a hasty end.

    “So much history has taken place in the Hobart Synagogue. On the 150th anniversary I told some of the story. I applaud the efforts of the devotees like Pnina and David Clark who keep Judaism going in Tasmania, though I was unhappy to see the Orthodox/Liberal squabbles, which is why I suggested the formation of a Tasmanian Jewish Community Council and urged that every Jewish practice be accommodated.

    “Hobart people tell me it is hard to be Jewish in Tasmania. Yes, it is hard, but as history has shown, it is not impossible. Chabad have also begun to show what is possible there.

    “On entering a synagogue we recite the words from the Torah first uttered by Bilam (that will be read in shules on the Shabbat following the anniversary): Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov, mishkenotecha Yisrael – ‘How good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel’ (Bamidbar 24:5).

    “The sages say that the tents of Jacob are the houses of study; the dwelling places are the synagogues. The tents come before the dwelling places, the houses of study before the synagogues, the acquisition of knowledge before the practice of worship.

    “Jews should pray, but even more they should know. We should take every occasion to celebrate our faith in our synagogues; but even more should we look for opportunities to enlarge our Jewish knowledge.

    “175 years of prayer in the Hobart Synagogue clearly warrants a party, but I suspect that the historic building has not adequately focused the Jewish presence on Jewish ideas and self-understanding. That is why on the morning after the 150th anniversary service I gave a shi’ur, because that is what should happen in a synagogue.

    “With all my heart I say mazal tov on the synagogue’s birthday: I hope God will bless Hobart with many more years and that the synagogue will rededicate itself to many more years of Jewish learning, living and loyalty.”

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