Focus on Jewish Kiwis’ Histories

March 19, 2012 by Miriam Bell
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A “rich treasure trove” of stories about Jewish New Zealanders has been attracting both public and media attention since its recent launch, by Dame Lesley Max, in Auckland. 

Di Morrow and Leonard Bell

“Jewish Lives in New Zealand: A History”, edited by Leonard Bell and Di Morrow, is a landmark book which fixes the spotlight on a group of New Zealanders who have punched well above their weight.

Kiwis of Jewish descent – both secular and religiously observant – have played vital roles in all aspects of New Zealand society throughout its history.

But, until now, their contribution to history has been largely untold and unrecognised.

“Jewish Lives in New Zealand” tells the stories of an impressive roll call of people, across many fields of endeavour (including politics, business, academia, journalism, medicine, science, arts and culture), linked by their Jewish heritage.

Co-editor, Leonard Bell, says awareness of Jewish historical experience, family, advanced education and commitment to high culture were prime constituents of their Jewishness.

“The book is full of life. In fact, it’s a book to Life. Fundamental to Jewish thinking is that life is fragile. You only get one chance at it, so get on with it. The book is a testament to this ethos.

“Something that runs deep through Jewish history is the primary emphasis placed on education and high culture – regarded as prime values of being human,” he continues.

“Jews believe that scholarship, learning and the arts are just as important as any other aspect of life. They are not things that are elitist or to be enjoyed exclusively by the affluent.”

Bell says the intriguing – but not immediately obvious – links and connections, which emerge through out the book, show the multiple involvements of people with Jewish descent both individually and cumulatively, and across the generations.

“The book gives readers a sense that, by and large, Jewish culture in New Zealand is one of religious, ideological and cultural tolerance, and that it is this which enabled both the early immigrants and future generations to be embraced by, and flourish in, this ‘New World’ in the South Pacific.”

“Jewish Lives in New Zealand” features writing by a team of experts who each provide a chapter exploring their own specialist subject.

Music, the visual arts, writing, academia, education, the media, enterprise, medicine, and “cultural entrepreneurs” (including restauranteurs) are covered, and there is also a chapter on antisemitism in New Zealand.

The book was funded by Gerrard and Marti Friedlander and the Friedlander Trust, and published by Random House New Zealand.


3 Responses to “Focus on Jewish Kiwis’ Histories”
  1. Julia says:

    As an ex kiwi and having had family belong to the Auckland Hebrew Congregation, How can I obtain a copy of this book? Or is it being sold in Wellington.
    Please advise… My single name was Julia Harris and the grand daughter of Sarah Harris from Auckland and Wellington.

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