From the humble beginnings of a small community of early settler families, to today’s hub of Jewish activity, the Auckland Hebrew Congregation has always been central to Jewish life in Auckland.
Since 1864, the Auckland Hebrew Congregation has been Auckland's Orthodox Synagogue and Community Centre. Currently, the community comprises nearly 400 families and welcomes hundreds of visitors each year. The Auckland Hebrew Congregation has a main centre in Greys Avenue which houses two synagogues, a Mikveh, a Holocaust memorial in the courtyard, a community and Rabbi’s office, New Zealand’s only Jewish deli, the B’nei Akiva youth movement, the Kadimah School, and a satellite minyan at the Stiebel in the eastern suburbs to cater for families living there.
While community members range from traditional to modern orthodox, the community proudly defines itself as orthodox and strongly values orthodox spiritual leadership. From 1864, orthodox Rabbis have been the spiritual leaders of the Auckland Hebrew Congregation. The first appointed Rabbi was the Rev. Moses Elkin, followed consecutively by the Rev. Samuel Aaron Goldstein, Rabbis Astor, Mandel, Honig, Genende, Lawrence, Engel, Kaplan, Zaichyk and today the community enjoys the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Samuel Altschul, who was appointed in 2011.
Community milestones have included the opening of the award winning Greys Avenue centre in 1967 (for which local architect and congregant John Goldwater was recognised by the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1995) the establishment of the Kosher Kiwi Licencing Authority of New Zealand, the founding of the country’s first Jewish day school, Kadimah, and more recently the opening of New Zealand’s only Jewish café and deli.
Jewish immigration has seen the Auckland Hebrew Congregation continue to be a ‘melting pot’ of Jewish people from all over the world. The 1930s saw around 1,000 congregants escaping the rise of Nazism. The 1950s saw a wave of new congregants who fled the Hungarian uprising. The 1980s and 1990s saw an influx from the former Soviet Union. More recently, the congregation has seen more congregants arriving from South Africa, Israel, and all over the world.
For 150 years, the Auckland Hebrew Congregations has been providing spiritual guidance, Jewish continuity and a sense of community for the Jews of Auckland. This has been achieved through the passion, dedication and hard work of congregants who not only served the Auckland Hebrew Congregation, but proudly contributed to the wider New Zealand community in politics, business, community, social justice, sport, arts and culture, philanthropy and academia. The Auckland Hebrew Congregation may be one of the world’s smaller Jewish communities, but it has a proud history and an exciting future ahead.
Image header (above): Photo © Jono David / HaChayim HaYehudim Jewish Photo Library. Beit Yisrael Synagogue, Auckland Hebrew Congregation.