Remembering Sir Julius Vogel

July 5, 2016 by J-Wire Staff
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Former Sydney Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence  has commemorated the life of Sir Julius Vogel, premier of New Zealand in the 1870s.

Sir Julius Vogel returned to London in 1888 where he is buried in Willesden cemetery.
Rabbi Lawrence currently is the spiritual leader of the Finchley United Synagogue in London. He has served as Rabbi at the Auckland Hebrew Congregation in New Zealand and the Great Synagogue in Sydney.
The commemoration was attended by New Zealand’s High Commissioner to New Zealand Sir Alexander Lockwood Smith.
Sir Julius Vogel

Sir Julius Vogel

In his address, Rabbi Lawrence said: “The Lyttleton Times in February 1885 states “A speech from Sir Julius Vogel is always refreshing. He takes the world in such a practical, hopeful and enterprising spirit”. It describes him as a man of just, liberal views.

Sir Julius Vogel was committed to building the infrastructure of New Zealand. He championed immigration, developing railways, roads and bridges. He pioneered the postal service. He was ambitious for international trade and through his connections forged a number of valuable contracts. Ahead of his time, not only did he envisage the women’s vote and universal suffrage, he was a champion of the rights of the peoples of the colonies and dominions to greater autonomy. He was also a very early advocate against deforestation and the destruction of millions of acres of beautiful flora and its unique wildlife. Goldman’s history of the Jews on New Zealand calls Vogel, “a prophet in his own country – a man ahead of his time.”

Sir Julius Vogel is remembered as “someone who won friendship easily”, “a good mixer amongst all classes, he spoke each man’s language… he was a good companion, imperturbably polite and good-tempered.” Though outwardly calm, he was full of fight and fire… He could cloud an issue in a mist of words, soothe and placate a tempestuous crowd or an adversary, but with the stroke of a few pithy phrases could strike down an unruly enemy.”

Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence

Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence

He suffered from a slight defect in hearing, enabling him to be conveniently deaf when the occasion demanded it!

Here, in Willesden cemetery, he lies alongside the same Rothschilds, who invested in his projects. Here, also, lies Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler, who intervened in the closing years of the 19th Century to reassure nervous New Zealanders that an inundation of Dunedin and Christchurch by ultra-Orthodox Sabbath Observant Jews fleeing Russian pogroms was most unlikely. The correspondence is interesting; the locals were happy to have refugee artisans but wrote “ultra-orthodox is objectionable as Sabbath is not kept.” Religion was no barrier but the newcomers would not be able to integrate… with the secular Jews who were already there!

In my synagogue in Auckland, we were proud of the contribution made to New Zealand by our congregation’s patriarch, David Nathan; by Auckland Mayor, Sir Dove Meyer; by the ground-breaking work in understanding Maori Health needs by psychiatrist Dr Laurie Gluckman, whose son, Sir Peter Gluckman, is the current Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor.

Last week and this in our Synagogues we have read of the leaders of Israel in the wilderness. Those who represented their tribes in the building and dedication of the Tabernacle and those, who were sent ahead by Moses to scope out the Promised Land. The Hebrew word for leader or premier is Nasi. It has many connotations. In one form (noseh) it is to bear a burden. A leader must carry his or her people and provide support for those who are needy.

It is also to carry the burden of sin. A leader does not duck from responsibility or shrug off the past. A leader must address history and its realities in moving a nation forwards.

But Nasi is not just to bear a load. It is to raise up. The leader should be or become a person of distinction, someone to whom we look up – a person of high regard. Moreover, the task of a leader is to elevate and improve; to raise up the nation. Typically, a leader should be roeh et hanolad – someone who has a vision for the future; who can anticipate what lies ahead. To lead requires position, requires mission and requires vision.

These, are all attributes which apply to Sir Julius Vogel; in every respect a Nasi, a leader and a Premier.’


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