Behind the Headlines the Jews of New Zealand
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Behind the Headlines the Jews of New Zealand

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— Educational standards at Auckland’s small Jewish elementary school are so high that non-Jewish parents compete to enroll their children in it. Thus, while its cuisine is kosher and the character of an important part of its curriculum is Jewish, two-thirds of both pupils and teachers are non-Jewish.

Founded in 1965 as a kindergarten, Kadim (Forward) College is partly supported by New Zealand tax revenue like other schools with a religious base. Public funds are provided on condition children of other faiths are allowed to enroll. Of the 120 children now in its four elementary grades and kindergarten, only 40 are Jewish. Of the six teachers, only two are Jewish. They teach Hebrew and Jewish liturgy. The principal also is non-Jewish.

All the children and faculty are required to bring only kosher food to school for lunch. Us-usally, the meals are vegetarian or dairy. While non-Jewish children are exempt from religious services and education, some join in Jewish prayers after lunch but only with permission of their parents. Jewish children are required to participate in the religious program. In keeping with the British tradition of school uniforms, all the children wear blue and gray clothing that bear the Mogen Dovid, the school’s insignia.


Ernest Markham, the New Zealand Zionist Federation’s president, told this reporter that most of the non-Jewish pupils are from the middle and upper middle income Protestant families who live mainly in Auckland’s suburbs. Their parents are attracted to the relatively small classes and quality of education compared with the public schools.

“It is exhilarating,” Markham said, “to hear Christian children — some of Chinese and Indian parents — chatting completely naturally with Jewish children — in Hebrew!”

Practically all of Auckland’s Jewish children, including those of Soviet families, attend the Hebrew Sunday schools — Orthodox and Liberal. One Soviet family that arrived in Auckland last November on a Thursday had its children in Hebrew School on the following Sunday. Two children in this Soviet family had Stars of David sewn on their clothing when they arrived in Auckland.


The earliest Jewish settlers come to the beautiful Bay of Islands to the north of Auckland and to Dunedin, the Scottish-style city far to the south towards the Antarctic Ocean. Among the Bay of Islands’ first settlers in the 1840s was the Sephardic Nathan family which founded a commercal company that still bears the family name. Lawrence Nathan was for a score of years the president of Auckland Hebrew Congregation, New Zealand’s most Orthodox.

During the gold rush period in the 1870s, Dunedin had the largest Jewish congregation in New Zealand. A large synagogue served the community until the population dwindled with the fading of the gold-based economy in the area. The original synagogue was demolished and the land on which it stood was sold. From these proceeds, a small synagogue was built that now serves the community’s six families. However, this group is enhanced by Jewish students from other communities who study at the medical school in Dunedin. Many New Zealand university students spend a year in study in Israel.

A large Star of David outlined against a circular stained window characterizes the magnificent Gothic style stone synagogue in Christchurch. The Canterbury Hebrew Congregation laid its cornerstone in 1881–just a century ago. Jews were in Christchurch in 1865 when the city was first coming into existence. It had 35 families during the gold rush. Now it has perhaps 100 souls.

The Goldsmith brothers — Jack and Sydney — are the present leaders. Its Sunday school has eight children. Tillie Williams, who is active in the Jewish Welfare Society of Christchurch, observed that two Soviet Jewish families, in which the mothers are sisters, help maintain the community.


Intermarriage and assimilation have eroded much of the community’s Jewish character. Christchurch’s telephone directory lists nine Cohens and 12 Levys but the listings proved misleading as indices to Jewry. One Mrs. Cohen who responded to this reporter’s phone call thought she was the butt of a joke. “You’re putting me on,” she said. “Nobody here is Jewish.” Another Mrs. Cohen said her husband had been Jewish but he was not involved in the community. Several calls went unanswered. It was only on the sixth call that a non-Jewish Cohen put the reporter in touch with Mrs. Williams.

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