Jews first came to Pacific islands nation of New Zealand in the 19th century. Today, the Jewish population of New Zealand stands at approximately 7,500.
- Early Development
- Present-Day Community
- Notable New Zealand Jews
- Relations with Israel
- Jewish Community Contacts
The development of the Jewish population in New
Zealand began in the early decades of the 19th century. Jewish traders arrived
in the 1830s, quickly establishing themselves throughout industry and
commerce. Jews played a prominent role in the development of the country,
most notably in trade with Australia and Britain. Before New Zealand
became a British Colony in 1840, the Jewish population consisted of
fewer than 30 people.
In 1840, David Nathan, along with about a dozen other
Jewish storekeepers and traders, founded the Auckland Jewish community
in northern New Zealand. The congregation met to worship together as
they conducted services and various other religious functions. On October
31, 1841, Nathan wed Rosetta Aarons in Kororareka, making history as
the first Jewish marriage in New Zealand.
The second major hub of New Zealand Jewish life in
the 1800s was just south in Wellington. Very similar to Auckland, Wellington
originally attracted traders. The first Jew to arrive was Abraham Hort,
Jr. in 1840. He was followed by Abraham Hort, Sr. in 1843, who went
to New Zealand hoping to found a community and promote planned immigration
to relieve Jewish poverty in England. He founded the Wellington Hebrew
Congregation in 1843 and, on January 7, the first Jewish service was
held in Wellington.
In the 1860s, as gold was discovered in Otago and Westland,
the Jewish population spread throughout New Zealand. While Auckland
and Wellington still accounted for the majority of New Zealand's Jewish
population, communities were established in Dunedin, Christchurch, Hokitika,
Timaru, Nelson, and Hastings. In 1861, 326 Jews lived in New Zealand.
By 1867, that number nearly quadrupled to 1,262 comprising 0.6% of the
After having prayed in private homes for a number of
years, the title deeds for the first Synagogue on The Terrace were received
in 1868 and the Beth El Synagogue of Wellington was consecrated in 1870.
Similarly, the Auckland Jews had been in a small building and, on November
9, 1885, the Auckland Synagogue was opened.
In the 20th century, Jewish immigrants arrived primarily
from the former U.S.S.R and South Africa. Due to an extremely
restrictive government policy on immigration, only a small number of
Jewish refugees from persecution in Russia and Eastern Europe were admitted.
As a result, very few Jews fleeing Nazi
Germany found refuge in New Zealand around the time of World
Today, the Jewish population, estimated at around 7,500, makes up less than a quarter of one percent out of
the total New Zealand population of 4.2 million. The majority of New Zealand's Jews reside in Auckland and Wellington on the North Island, though a significant number - some estimate at around 1,000 - live in Christchurch and other cities on the South Island. Immigration has led to four main groups:
older families who came from the United
Kingdom in the 1800s, lineage of European refugees from the 1930s
and 1940s, families who emigrated from Britain in the 1950s, and recent
immigrants from South Africa,
Israel and the former Soviet Union.
Synagogues continue to be considered the center of Jewish communities in New Zealand.
Auckland and Wellington each have two congregations, one Orthodox
and the other Liberal Progressive. Congregations meet in Christchurch
and Dunedin as well.
The first, and only, Chabad house in New Zealand was established by Israeli Rabbi Shmuel Koppel and was located in downtown Christchurch to help serve the local Jewish population as well as the growing number of Israeli tourists that flock to the country. In February 2011, the Chabad house was destroyed by an earthquake that struck near the center of Christchurch and which killed nearly 200 people, including 3 Israelis. On January 13, 2012, a newly rebuilt Chabad house was dedicated in the same cirty with an inaugural Shabbat meal. Rabbi Koppel plans to keep all the services he offered in the old house running.
In the 1920s, the New Zealand Jewish Times became the
first national monthly Jewish journal. Today, there is one monthly journal,
the New Zealand Jewish Chronicle. There is also the Chadashot,
the Auckland Zionist magazine. Several
Jewish organizations are present in modern day New Zealand. The New Zealand Jewish Council serves as the representative of the community to the government, working to safeguard the interests of the community. The Community Security Group, a subdivision of the Council, works with the New Zealand Police to protect the Jewish community from anti-Semitic offenses and threats. The Australasian
Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) serves to unite Jewish Students
throughout Australasia through promotion of Jewish identity. International
B'nai B'rith lodges have been set up in Wellington (1960) and Auckland
(1961). In 1971, Kadimah College was founded as a Jewish Day School
Notable New Zealand Jews
Prime Minister John Key
Over time, the Jews of New Zealand have made an array
of contributions to culture, literature, medicine, journalism and politics.
The most notable figure is London-born Julius Vogel (1835-1899). Vogel
moved to New Zealand in 1861 after various failures in the Australian
gold mines. By 1873, he was elected prime minister. In 1875, he was
knighted. He was energetic and persuasive and has often been compared
Disraeli. Sir Arthus Myers was minister of munitions in World War
I. In almost every city in New Zealand a Jew has been honored as its
chief magistrate. Notable journalists include Vogel, Fred Pirani, Mark
Cohen, Phineas Selig and Benjamin Farjeon the poet and novelist. Noteworthy
in medicine include Sir Louis Barnett (surgery), Alfred Bernstein (chest
diseases), and Bernard Myers (medical services). Joseph Nathan of Wellington
established the Glaxo pharmaceutical company.
In November 2008, John Key - born to Austrian-Jewish immigrant mother - was elected as the 38th Prime Minister of New Zealand. Though he was not raised Jewish and currently considers himself Anglican, Key recognizes his Jewish roots, even to the point of granting his first official interview as Prime Minister to the Israeli newspaper Yediot. His mother narrowly escaped from the Holocaust and his government has shown sympathy and friendship towards Israel. Key won his third term as Prime Minister on September 21 2014, winning 61 out of 121 seats in the Parliament.
The New Zealand Jewish Archives, located in Wellington, was founded in 1980 for the purpose of collecting and managing thousands of documents, memorabilia, photographs and Judaica depicting the life of the New Zealand Jewish community. Notable celebrations and major exhibits occurred in 1990, as a century-celebration of the first Jewish service (1890) and in 1993, as the 150th anniversary of the New Zealand Jewish community (1843).
Relations with Israel
Zealand has a long history of support for Israel beginning
with support for the Partition
Plan in 1947.
Since then, most Kiwi governments have
been generally supportive of Israel. The
diplomatic relationship between New Zealand
and Israel has deteriorated, however,
in recent years. After 53 years of full
diplomatic relations, the Israeli Embassy
in Wellington was closed in 2002. At one
time there were four missions in the South
Pacific area in Canberra, Sydney, Wellington
and Suva in Fiji. Presently, only Canberra
remains open, which is now responsible
for New Zealand-Israeli Relations.
2004, two Jewish Agency officials were
detained for more than an hour at Auckland
Airport. One of them reported that he had
been told by a customs agent, we
are treating all you Israelis the same
you are nothing but drug dealers and
spies.” The closure of the Embassy
in Wellington is due to $5.4 million in cost-cuts
by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, but it is
difficult to pinpoint the cause to weakened
relations.. Speculation has been made that
as trade with Arab countries is a major player
in industry in New Zealand, foreign policy
may be effected. In June 2004, the New Zealand
Government openly criticized Israels
policy of bulldozing Palestinian homes and
donated $534,000 to aid homeless Palestinians.
A bigger scandal emerged
in mid-2004, which led to a more serious
deterioration in the relationship. Two suspected Mossad agents
were jailed for three months and paid a $35,000
fine for trying on false grounds to obtain
a New Zealand passport. High-level visits
between the two countries were subsequently
cancelled, visa restrictions imposed for
Israeli officials, and an expected visit
to New Zealand by Israeli president Moshe
Katsav was cancelled. More than a year
later, Israel apologized and New Zealand Prime
Minister Helen Clark announced that it was
resume friendly diplomatic relations with
A co-production treaty was signed between New Zealand and Israel in early March 2016, between Wellington, New Zealand Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Maggie Barry, and Israeli Ambassador Yosef Livne. The treaty allows Israeli and New Zealand filmmakers increased access to funding and incentives for cooperation, and extends to film, animation, television, and digital productions. The treaty was inspired by a 2015 film called “Atomic Falafel,” which was a commercial success and featured an Israeli director working with a New Zealand production crew.
The growing Jewish community in New Zealand has not
been adversely affected by the strains with Israel. Anti-Semitic attacks
remain infrequent with few reports of anti-Jewish vandalism or violence.
For the most part, anti-Semitism has been due to influence from abroad
and has appeared particularly in periods of economic depression. Still, while the number of anti-Semitic attacks remain low, New Zealand is no longer perceived as anti-Semitism free and safe as it once was.
Jewish Community Contacts
Auckland Hebrew Congregation
108 Greys Avenue
80 Webb Street
215 Tuam Street
Chabad of Otago
186A George Street
Beth Shalom Synagogue
180 Manukau Road, Epsom 3
Zealand Jewish Archives
Wellington Jewish Community Centre
80 Webb Street
Wellington and New Zealand Regional Jewish Council
54 Central Terrace 5
80 Webb Street
Dixon Street Delicatessen
13 Collingwood Street
147 Ghuznee Street
Sources: Encyclopedia Judaica;
Michael Zaidner, Jewish
Travel Guide 2000. Vallentine Mitchell & Co. 2000;
World Jewish Congress- Jewish
Communities of the World- New Zealand;
JTA, (June 26, 2005);
The Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary
Anti-Semitism and Racism, Annual Report 2005, New Zealand;
Photo of Wellington synagogue
courtesy of Beth-El Synagogue;
“A year after quake, new Chabad House opens in New Zealand,” Jerusalem Post, (January 17, 2012);
“Israel, New Zealand Sign Film Co-production Agreement,” Haaretz (March 3, 2016);