Walt Secord pays a visit to historic Hobart shul

April 25, 2021 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel deputy chair and Shadow Treasurer Walt Secord recently visited and attended services at the Hobart Synagogue – Australia’s oldest synagogue.

Walt Secord tries out the convicts’ seating

Walt Secord was given a guided tour of the Hobart Synagogue, consecrated on July 4, 1845.

The first Jews arrived in the early 1800s as convicts and at one point almost half of the congregation were convicts or former convicts.

“It was like stepping back into time,” Mr Secord said.

“The synagogue had the usual features like a women’s section upstairs and the bimah in the centre, but it was unusual in that it had separate numbered pews for convict worshippers in the sanctuary.

Our guide advised that the convicts were counted for minyan purposes, but they were not granted aliyah during the convict era.”

Among the many other artifacts in the shule was one of the 1,564 Torah scrolls seized by the Nazis from desecrated synagogues in then-Czechoslovakia that had been in trust in England. It is on permanent loan to the congregation.

Today, the synagogue offers both Orthodox and Progressive services as well as the study and celebration of festivals and lifecycle events. The congregation is affiliated with the Union for Progressive Judaism.

The synagogue is located in 59 Argyle Street in Hobart and is classified by the National Trust. It is said to be an example of the Egyptian revival style of synagogue architecture

Mr Secord also thanked Hobart Congregation president Mr Jeff Schneider for facilitating the visit.

“On a personal note, to my surprise and delight, Mr Schneider sent me a copy of an article which I wrote as a young journalist at the Australian Jewish News in December 1990 about the congregation. I actually remember writing the piece and interviewing the then-president Tom Schlesinger. It was about the community voting to formally join the Reform movement and deciding to share the location with the Orthodox movement.”

The 2016 census recorded 248 Jews in Tasmania; most of them live in Hobart, however, the figure may be slightly higher as some Jews do not self-identify.

 

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