Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Jews in Christchurch?

When one thinks of the far reaches of the globe, New Zealand should obviously come to mind. What people may not know is that over 6,800 Jews live in New Zealand today, mostly in Auckland and Wellington (a synagogue in Wellington frequently participates in NJOP programs such as READ HEBREW AMERICA AND CANADA and SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA.

In the early 1800s, pioneering British Jews were among the whalers, missionaries and traders who explored New Zealand. No records exist of Jews in New Zealand before 1831, when Abraham Hort Senior envisioned New Zealand as a potential Jewish community for indigent Jewish Anglos and oppressed Eastern European Jews. In 1843, he arrived from London to Wellington, where, with the assent and support of the British Chief Rabbinate, he established a Jewish community. He partnered with David Isaacs, who was able to serve as mohel (practitioner of ritual circumcision), shochet (practitioner of ritual slaughter) and chazzan (cantor). In letters serialized in London’s Jewish newspapers, Mr. Hort Senior described the difficulty of maintaining a Jewish community in Wellington, complaining of the futility of maintaining a minyan (prayer quorum) and keeping Jewish shops closed on Shabbat.

Many of the Jews who came to New Zealand for the Australian gold rushes of the mid 1840s, soon left to mine for gold in California. Those who remained, were rewarded by the 1861 discovery of gold in rural New Zealand, shifting the demographics away from the more urban centers of Wellington and Auckland. Twenty years later, immigration restrictions were enacted, preventing anyone other than citizens of the British Crown from entering New Zealand. These laws remained in force even after the Holocaust, preventing most Jews from immigrating. On July 27, 1950, corresponding to the 13th of Av, New Zealand recognized the State of Israel. Some argue that New Zealand’s support for the Jewish state may have also been motivated by their desire to encourage the Holocaust refugees to go to Israel rather than New Zealand.

More recently, Jews from Israel, South Africa and the Former Soviet Union have made their homes in New Zealand. During a devastating earthquake in 2011, a Chabad House in Christchurch was destroyed, and was rebuilt with the support of international funding. This year, the Jewish community of Wellington celebrates its 175th anniversary, predating the first session of New Zealand’s parliament by a decade.




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