On Friday night 11 August, 60 Jews from as far afield as Perth and Gold Coast gathered to bring in the Shabbat. This was the first Shabbat service in the old Broken Hill Synagogue since the Ark Congregation of Melbourne visit of March 2018.
The Synagogue on Wolfram St built in 1910 was active until its closure in 1962. Following the decline of the once vibrant Broken Hill Jewish community, the Synagogue was sold to the Broken Hill Historical Society in 1990 and became The Synagogue of The Outback Museum and home of the Society in 1991.
Professor Leon Mann of Melbourne, who was born in Broken Hill, had long wanted to recognise the five religious leaders who were Ministers in the old Synagogue and spiritual leaders of the Jewish community. He also wanted to recognise the Synagogue trustees Alwyn Edelman and Harold Griff and the leaders of the Broken Hill Historical Society who had the foresight and vision to negotiate the transfer from Synagogue to Synagogue-Museum. His idea, accepted by the Society, was to install two benches in the Synagogue forecourt, one dedicated to the ministers and one for the protectors of the Synagogue.
On Sunday morning over 100 people gathered for the Bench naming ceremony. Hon Ron Hoenig, Minister for Local Government NSW, who received an aliyah in Shule on Shabbat morning and a Mayor’s Reception in the afternoon, spoke at the Ceremony together with Mayor Tom Kennedy, Professor Suzanne Rutland and the Museum’s tireless co-ordinator, Margaret Price. The two benches were dedicated by Ross Mawby, a past President of the Broken Historical Society, and by Leon Mann.
As part of the ceremony, Dr Danny Mann-Segal of Melbourne, whose father was born In Broken Hill, recited Shecheyanu and his wife Leeba blew the Shofar.
The Broken Hill Community Voices led by Robyn Sanderson sung a medley of Broken Hill and Jewish songs concluding with the National Anthem and Hatikvah.
In the true spirit of interfaith friendship, the Shabbat kiddush and the reception following the Bench naming Ceremony were held in the Salvation Army Hall across the road from the Synagogue.
On Saturday afternoon, the visitors took a guided walk along iconic Argent Street led by Leon Mann and Les White of the Historical Society, learning about the store owners whose families came to Broken Hill from the Ukraine, Russia, and Lithuania in the 1890s-1910s and became leaders of the community.
On Sunday afternoon, the visitors gathered in the small Jewish section of the Broken Hill Cemetery for a moving consecration of the headstone of Simcha Shnukal (1876-1931) attended by his grand-daughter Anna. For some it was their first opportunity to place a stone on the graves of family members. Maurie and Vera Hasen brought nameplates for the 11 unmarked Jewish graves in the cemetery.
Broken Hill, far from Australia’s regional towns and capital cities, has the most remote Synagogue-Museum in the world. However, the Synagogue and the Jewish community established in the 1880s are not forgotten.
Note that the AJHS has recently digitised the book Jews of the Outback: The Centenary of the Broken Hill Synagogue (1910-2010).
– Peter Philippsohn OAM