100 years at Broken Hill Shul – First Shabbat in 50 years

November 29, 2010 by Suzanne Rutland
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Over two hundred members of the Jewish community gathered in Broken Hill over the weekend to celebrate the centenary of the laying of the foundation stone of the mining town’s synagogue.

Howard Goldenberg and Richard Lew blow the Shofar

They came from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra, and even from Netanya, Israel. The beautiful old synagogue, which has been lovingly restored by the Broken Hill Historical Society, was filled to the rafters for the first Shabbat services held there in almost fifty years. The rain bucketed down and it was freezing cold, but that stopped no-one. The evening service was conducted by Richard Lew, whose wife, Ruth, is a descendant of the well-known Broken Hill Griff family and the morning service by Howard Goldenberg, who works in Broken Hill. Professor Leon Mann delivered the sermon with Ruth Lew reading the Prayer for Israel, Professor Suzanne Rutland – whose son is Captain Benjamin Rutland – the prayer for the IDF, and Margaret Price of the Broken Hill Historical Society the prayer for the Commonwealth of Australia. On Saturday afternoon, the synagogue was yet again filled to capacity as visitors came to view the exhibition prepared by Margaret Price and Professor Rutland, assisted by Bruce Tindall of the Broken Hill Art Gallery. The Salvation Army Hall was a meeting-point for families – with some families enjoying a first-ever reunion.  The exhibition was funded through a grant from the Royal Australian Historical Society.

The history of the opening

Plans made for walks through the Broken Hill Jewish cemetery on the Saturday morning went awash because of the pouring rain, but luckily the weather was kinder on the Sunday morning. Tours every half hour – the area is tiny – were led by Professor Mann and Robyn Dryen, a descendent of the well-known Dryen family. The first burial was in 1892, the young son of Rebecca and Isaac Joseph, and the first with a headstone in 1895, of Lewis (Louis) Dias, who was killed in the mine by a runaway cart.

Ross Mawby and Professor Leon Mann

The book, Jews of the Outback, was launched at the Broken Hill Art Gallery, by Professor Colin Tatz. He spoke to the challenges of survivalism and fragmentation, of migration and assimilation – key elements of the Jewish experience, which he noted were so well illustrated by the history of the Jews of Broken Hill. He complimented the four authors, Rutland, Mann, Price and Kate Mannix, on the book. The launch took place surrounded by the magnificent artworks of Hanna Kay of the Maitland Jewish cemetery, the other small New South Wales Jewish community where the cemetery and synagogue are the only reminders of its past history.  The event was chaired by John Shone, who works on environmental projects and has just relocated to Broken Hill.

In the afternoon the actual celebration event was held at the synagogue. It began with a welcome to country and traditional smoking ceremony by an indigenous Australian, followed by the playing of the didgeridoo by Anthony Haywood. Robyn Dryen, a descendant of the Dryen family, spoke in the name of all the descendants of the city’s Jewish community followed by Professor Mann, who was born in Broken Hill in 1937. The president of the Broken Hill Historical Society, Ross Mawby, addressed the gathering, as did the city’s mayor, Wincen Cuy. The Broken Hill Community singers included some Jewish favourites, Havenu Shalom Aleichem and Hava Nagilah, which they had practised for months, and the crowd enthusiastically joined in.  There was then a re-enactment of the original ceremony, with Sam Moshinsky Professor Mann and Howard Goldenberg from Melbourne, Colin Tatz from Sydney, playing key roles. The one female role was taken by a local resident, Ellen Francis. Members of the Krantz, Dryen and Edelman families placed corn, symbol of plenty, poured wine, symbol of joy, salt, preservation and oil, peace, as was done in the original ceremony. The young journalist of the Barrier Daily Truth, played the role of the Truth’s journalist in 1910.

The ceremony finished with the blowing of the shofar and was followed by the mayor’s reception at the Broken Hill Art Gallery. As the Barrier Daily Truth reported, organiser Margaret Price said: ‘never in my wildest dreams did I think this many would come’.


3 Responses to “100 years at Broken Hill Shul – First Shabbat in 50 years”
  1. Kate Mannix says:

    Forgot to mention that I am a Masters student working under Associate Professor Suzanne Rutland, and with her a co-author of Jews of the Outback: The Centenary of Jewish Life in Broken Hill (Hybrid Press).

  2. Kate Mannix says:

    Many thanks to Dr Howse for his story – might I invite any readers with reminiscences, stories or information about Jewish life in Broken Hill to be in touch with me for ongoing research into this fascinating topic –
    my email address is katemannix@ozemail.com.au

    All information will be treated confidentially and no information will be published without agreement.

  3. Harald Griff married a gentile woman in Broken Hill.Certain people in town took a coffin with his name through the city and buried it in the cemetery.Verified by my grandmother Mary Bermingham,of 308 Bromide St. .,She lived next to Joseph Keenan,onetime King of Broken Hill,president of the Barrier Industrial council.I was born in the B.H. and District Hospital in 1941.

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