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City’s Jewish history inspires

Saturday, 10th March, 2018

Rabbi Schneur Reti-Waks at the old synagogue in Wolfram Street that was built in 1910. The young rabbi is leading a party of the faithful on a tour of Broken Hill and tonight he will read from Torah (the Jewish Bible) at the synagogue, something that has not been done since it closed in 1962. PICTURE: Craig Brealey Rabbi Schneur Reti-Waks at the old synagogue in Wolfram Street that was built in 1910. The young rabbi is leading a party of the faithful on a tour of Broken Hill and tonight he will read from Torah (the Jewish Bible) at the synagogue, something that has not been done since it closed in 1962. PICTURE: Craig Brealey

When Rabbi Shneur Reti-Waks heard about Broken Hill’s Jewish history he said he felt inspired to visit the city, and it’s a feeling that is now shared throughout Australia’s Jewish community.

Rabbi Reti-Waks is leading a party of about 50 men and women of the faith on a four-day tour that began on Thursday. 

Among the earliest settlers in the booming Silver City were Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe.

Most of them came from the Ukraine and Lithuania and many set up as shopkeepers. In the first big mine strike of 1892, the Jewish shop owners gave credit to the struggling miners whom the mine owners were trying to starve into submission.

The city never forgot this favour and, later, ministers in the Christian churches urged their parishioners to give money to an appeal to build a synagogue in the city. (It now houses the Broken Hill Historical Society).

This, according to the Orthodox Jewish Ark Centre in Hawthorn, Melbourne, where Rabbi Reti-Waks teaches, was “an event unheard-of in Christian Jewish relations.”

Rabbi Reti-Waks’ forebears came from the Ukraine, as had many of Broken Hill’s Jewish people.

“My Jewish education would have been the same sort of education that they had back in the old country,” he said. “I feel a particular affinity with those refugees, who fled the pogroms.

“But instead of the usual story, of going to Europe or America, they came to Australia, which is such a young country, and then to Broken Hill!”   

The isolation and the shared struggle of people back then engendered courage, resilience and friendship among the followers of all faiths, the rabbi said. 

“It’s universality; one of the things essential to religion is to be good human beings, full stop. 

“We came to Broken Hill to be inspired.”

Rabbi Reti-Waks said everyone was invited to join the visitors on any of their excursions this weekend.

Today, being the Jewish Sabbath, a service will be held in the synagogue at 10am and a walking tour of old Jewish businesses and homes will be conducted at 4.30pm.

Tomorrow it’s morning prayers at 8am on the Line of Lode and a hymn in memory of the miners who lost their lives at work, among them a Jewish mine worker. 

A trip to Silverton will follow at 10.30am and a tour of the Broken Hill cemetery at 2pm,  where memorial prayers will be offered. At 5pm talks about the history of the Jewish community in Australia and Broken Hill will be presented in the Council Chambers.

The Return to Broken Hill tour will be rounded off with a farewell “fancy dress” dinner party at the Salvation Army Citadel where the visitors are staying.

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