11 April 2015

Melbourne Hebrew Congregation and ANZAC Day memorials: 1915-2015

Although Melbourne was not planned out as a city until 1835, by 1841 there were already enough Jews to organise a religious quorum. The first organised Jewish congregation was soon established, based on a half acre site of land in Bourke St, right in the heart of the Central Business District. The synagogue’s own home page noted that in those early times, the synagogue was in a very convenient location. Ships coming from Europe came up the Yarra River as near as Elizabeth Street and the goods including textiles and clothing were delivered to many traders in both Elizabeth and Queen Streets, close to the synagogue precinct.

In December 1850, the new separated colony of Victoria broke away from NSW. In July 1851, gold was discovered in Central Victoria, in the gold field towns of Ballarat and Bendigo. And the demand for Jewish facilities grew even further with the arrival in Melbourne of 300 Jewish fam­il­ies from London and the Posen district of Prussia, all before 1855. The Melbourne Hebrew Congregation had to grow, and grow rapid­ly. Not surprisingly, this congregation modelled itself on the religious traditions of the Great Synagogue in Dukes Place Aldgate in London.

poster for the ANZAC Day memorial service
1915-2015

Eventually a better location and a bigger block were necessary. The foundation stone of the St Kilda Road building, designed by Melbourne architect and prominent member of the congregation, Nahum Barnet, was laid in April 1929. Barnet's plan was in line with that of overseas synagogues of the period, especially the classical Corinthian portico and stunning copper-clad dome. The interior was special because of its semi-circular seating for men on the ground floor and semi circular ladies' gallery on the first floor. The stained glass windows were a highlight.

This new Melbourne Synagogue in Toorak Rd was completed in 1930. Jewish communities in Europe were facing tragic times before and during WW2 and if anyone survived, they would want to come to the New World. By 1946 for the first time the congregation had a full membership; tens of thousands of European Jewish migrants were arriving.


classical facade 
Melbourne Hebrew Congregation
StKilda Rd Melbourne


85 years later, this grand synagogue is holding an event to commemorate the centenary of ANZAC Day. The 25th April marks the anniversary of the first major, and in some ways the most catastrophic military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during WW1.

An essay-writing competition for year 9 and 10 students from six country schools was organised well before ANZAC day this year. To compete, the students had to research and write about the experience of an ex-servicemen from their own community. Winners from each school will be hosted in Melbourne for six days in a series of events that will expose them to the extraordinary contribution made by Australians across the nation in general, and to Jewish partic­ipation in WWI in particular.

Now is a perfect time for the event; it has largely funded from the Melbourne Ports WW1 Grants Fund to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli. And the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation synagogue is the perfect site for the event since it has strong links with Australia's history; two governors-general were former members, Sir Isaac Isaacs and Sir Zelman Cowen, and there was a close affil­iation with Sir John Monash, regarded by many as Australia's greatest wartime general. Sir John Monash will be at the heart of this secular event, but so will many other soldiers. Attendees who lost relatives in World War I will also be given the opportunity to announce their names and honour their war dead. In addition, there will be a recitation of The Ode by the president of the Victorian Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women, and a keynote address by Sir John Monash's descendant, Major General Jeffrey Rosenfeld.


semi circular seating for men (ground floor) and women (1st floor)
Melbourne Hebrew Congregation
StKilda Rd Melbourne

Students will be brought from their country schools to visit the Jewish Museum of Australia. This will give them the opportunity to: under­stand the Jewish community of 1914-18, especially Sir John Monash, tour the haunting Shrine of Remembrance, be shown through the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation synagogue, hear the synagogue's memorial service. And on Anzac Day itself, they will attend the dawn service.









6 comments:

Deb said...

Perfect site for a huge memorial event. My parents were married there.

Andrew said...

A synagogue very close to my heart, and sight. I very much like the design of the poster.

Hels said...

Deb

Perfect, yes! The 1929-30 architecture is stunning and the interior decorative elements are impressive (ark, bimah, windows etc). Plus the location is perfect - it is close to the shrine, which was also built in the late 1920s.

Hels said...

Andrew

I took one look at the photo at the top of your blog and KNEW you would identify with the site.

Did you have anyone connected to WW1? If you did (or even if you didn't) you may want to contact the synagogue, via the poster, for details.

Andrew said...

Not as far as I know. You started me thinking and I don't think any antecedent of mine fought in any war. My father did his 'Nasho' training at Pucka, and that was it. My partner once woke from a dream that the dome of the 'Gog had swelled and was right outside our window. Gosh, I remember the security fuss when the Israeli PM visited a few years ago. I'll see how I feel, but I may don the paper cap and attend the event. Maybe I finish work too late. I'll see.

Hels said...

Andrew

my dad was a soldier towards the end of WW2 but he came home a pacifist. When my brother faced conscription for Vietnam in 1969, I think dad would have stopped him, had his birth date been drawn out of the barrel. [It was not}.