Perth’s Rabbi Dr Shalom Coleman celebrates his 103rd birthday

December 9, 2021 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Perth’s Rabbi Dr Shalom Coleman has celebrated his 103rd birthday.

Eli Rabinowitz, Rabbi Dr Shalom Coleman, Professor Sonny Gubbay and Dr Norm Hoffman

A large crowd made up of congregants from each of Perth’s synagogues, packed the Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat Chanukah services at Dianella Mizrachi, let by Rabbi Justice Marcus Solomon where Rabbi Coleman stole the show with his beautiful rendition of the maftir and haftorah, followed by an inspiring address to the congregation.

Rabbi Raymond Apple writes:

Born into an orthodox family in Liverpool on 5 December 1918, he was both a student and a man of action from his youth. At the University of Liverpool, he gained a BA degree with honours, plus a Bachelor of Letters in Hebrew and Ancient Semitic Languages and Egyptology. His education was interrupted by World War II when he served with the Royal Air Force as a wireless operator/air gunner on missions in France and Western Europe, and in 1944 he was recruiting officer in England for the Jewish Brigade Group. He returned to university in 1945 as a tutor, review writer and librarian.   At Jews’ College, he gained rabbinic ordination in 1955.  He also undertook postgraduate studies in Semitic languages at Pembroke College, Cambridge.

In 1947, at the suggestion of the then Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Dr Louis Rabinowitz, he went to the Potchefstroom Hebrew Congregation in the Transvaal and then served the Bloemfontein Hebrew Congregation in the Orange Free State from 1949-1960.  Whilst in South Africa, he gained an MA at the University of Pretoria and a PhD at the University of the Orange Free State for a thesis entitled “Hosea Concepts in Midrash and Talmud”.

He was chairman of the Adult Education Council (English Section) of the Orange Free State and vice-president of the Victoria League, and introduced essay and oratory contests for schools. As a military chaplain, he was active in the ex-service movement and was awarded the Certificate of Comradeship, the highest award of the MOTHS (Memorable Order of Tin Hats). He edited a Jewish community journal called “HaShomer” and an anniversary volume for the 150th anniversary of the Orange Free State.

In 1961 he came to Sydney as rabbi of the South Head Synagogue. He was a member of the Sydney Beth Din, vice-president of the NSW Board of Jewish Education and director of the David J. Benjamin Institute of Jewish Studies, for whom he edited three volumes of proceedings. He established a seminary for the training of Hebrew teachers. He lectured at the University of Sydney and wrote a thesis entitled “Malachi in Midrashic Analysis” for a DLitt.

In 1964 he received the Robert Waley Cohen Scholarship of the Jewish Memorial Council, using it for research into adult education in South-East Asia, Israel and the USA. In 1965 he became rabbi of the Perth Hebrew Congregation in Western Australia.  He held office until retirement in 1985.

He determined to turn Perth into a Makom Torah. He obtained land as a gift in trust from the State Government for a new synagogue, youth centre and minister’s residence in an area where the Jewish community lived in Mount Lawley, replacing the original downtown Shule.   At that time few members were Shom’rei Shabbat. Further initiatives led to a kosher food centre in the Synagogue grounds; a mikveh; a genizah  for the burial of outworn holy books and appurtenances; a Hebrew Academy where high school students met daily, and extra classes four days a week at a nearby state school.

He taught for the Department of Adult Education of the University of WA and served on the Senate of Murdoch University. He was an honorary professor at Maimonides College in Canada, led educational tours to Israel for non-Jewish clergy and teachers, lectured to religious groups, schools and service organisations, and wrote booklets so people of all faiths could understand Jews and Judaism. Talks with the Minister of Education led to a Committee of National Consciousness in Schools, which he chaired; the Minister called his work “invaluable”.

Known as “the rabbi who never stops”, he was a member of the Karrakatta and Pinarroo Valley Cemetery Boards and wrote two histories for them to mark the State’s 150th anniversary in 1979 and the Australian Bicentenary in 1988. He was a member of the Perth Dental Hospital Board and chaired the Senior Appointments Committee and then the Board. The North Perth Dental Clinic is now known as the Shalom Coleman Dental Clinic.

A Rotarian since 1962, first in Sydney and then in Perth, he was President 1985/86 and Governor 1993/9, representative of the World President in 1995, and representative of WA Rotary at the UN Presidential Conference in San Francisco in 1995. He was coordinator of the District Ethics and Community Service Committees and chaired the Bangladesh Cyclone Warning Project, which saved the lives of 40,000 residents of the chief fishing port of Bangladesh. He received a certificate of appreciation as District Secretary of Probus Centre, South Pacific. He has spoken at conferences all over the world and is a patron of the Family Association of WA. He has been a vice-president of Save the Children Fund since 1967.

He was a foundation member of the Perth Round Table and their first lecturer. He is still an honorary military chaplain and was on the executive of the Returned Services League and edited their “Listening Post” from 1989-91. He holds a high rank in Freemasonry. He is honorary rabbi at the Maurice Zeffertt Centre for the Aged and was made a Governor of the Perth Aged Home Society in 2004. After several years as president of the Australian and New Zealand rabbinate, his colleagues made him honorary life president. Several times he went to NZ as interim rabbi for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. He shines in the pulpit and is a fine chazzan.  He has received awards from the Queen and the Australian Government. The University of WA gave him an honorary LLD in April 2000.  He is still, despite his age, a prolific speaker and writer; travels widely and his services are in constant demand.

In 1942 he married Bessie Anna Daviat, who died in 1982.   He has a son in Melbourne, a daughter in the USA, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He married Elena Doktorovich in 1987; she died in 1997.

Small in stature, Rabbi Coleman is a giant in energy, enterprise and enthusiasm, and is one of Australia’s best-known figures. Largely thanks to him, Judaism is strong in Perth, with five synagogues, a Chabad House, a Jewish school, a fine kashrut system, and many shi’urim; his own Talmud shi’ur is legendary. No longer is it a struggle to be Jewish in Western Australia.

Rabbi Raymond Apple circa 2011

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