Friday, June 18, 2010

The Christchurcher Rebbe

When people hear that I’m from New Zealand, one of the most common questions that I get is whether I’m from Christchurch (I’m Not), and whether there is a Rov of Christchurch.

Christchurch is the biggest city in the South Island of New Zealand and has a small shul which has been operating for over a hundred years, in spite of the small size of the local Jewish Community. (I was only once there for a Shabbat, in the 90s, that Shabbat there was an exceptionally large crowd of maybe 13 people, since then the community has gotten much smaller).

In recent years there is a Chabadnik who has set up shop in Christchurch and caters mainly to Israeli tourists travelling the South Island.

Anyway, there is a story about one of the first rabbonim who went to New Zealand  back in the 1870s, who wrote to his parents in Eretz Yisrael that he had been appointed “Minister of Christchurch” – they sat Shiva for him.

I just found the story online, as documented in “The History of the Jews in New Zealand (Chapter XIV)”

By 1870, the gold-rush on the West Coast had ended. Miners and their followers came back in droves to Christchurch, the first town they would touch in the east. Jews of Hokitika returned also, bringing with them their minister, the Rev. Isaac Zachariah. The Canterbury Hebrew Congregation immediately appointed him as its minister and Shohet, although he could not speak English well. A Baghdadi, Sephardi Jew, he had lived and studied in Jerusalem and liked nothing better than when, in the privacy of his own home, he could eat his oriental food and dress in the comfort of his oriental garb. When he wrote to his parents that he had accepted a post as a minister in Christchurch they ceased corresponding with him. They thought he had "shmud" himself and had converted to the Christian Church. Even on explanation they regarded his appointment with suspicion which he only dispelled when on a visit to the Holy Land.

1 comment:

bbdovid said...

Mendy and I are good friends, and we struggled with the concept of the name of the city especially being associated with his work against HIT.

We came up with the concept of 'Chabad of Canterbury' for respect of the entire region and to lose the ambiguity of Chabad of Chch.

How about calling him the Rebbe of Canterbury as CHCH (pronounced Tzitzih) leaves a mind full of other religions.