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A soon as the first settler in Christchurch Louis Edward Nathan could muster a sufficient number of Jews he founded the Canterbury Hebrew Congregation. It did not seem right the name Christchurch in the name of a synagogue. Mark Marks acted as first officiating minister and received a government grant for both a cemetery as well as a synagogue. the congregaation built a wooden edifice on a block of land between Worcester and Gloucester Streets where the next synagogue was also built in 1881.
In 1865 the heads of about thirty-five families attended the annual general meeting of the Canterbury Hebrew Congregation. By 1870 the gold rush on the West Coast had ended and the Jews of Hokitika came to Christchurch bringing with them their minister the Reverend Isaac Zachariah.
In 1875 a respected Jew Judah Myers who had established a career as a crockery merchant in Motueka (out of Nelson) shifted to Wellington. His son Michael ( 1873 to 1950) latter attained th highest judicial post in the country becoming Chief Justice of New Zealand. The Wellington community then appointed Benjamin Aaron Selig as Reader and Shochet (trained ritual animal slaughterer) but his but his connection with the community was severed in 1866 and Jacob Frankel came up from Dunedin and it was his enthusiasm and zeal that was instrumental in the building of the first Synagogue Beth El (House of G-d). Thee first three incumbents (the Rev. A.S. Levy, the Rev A. Myers of Hobart, and Benjamin Levy) did not remain long. It was not until Joseph E. Nathan went to London in 1878 did the community appoint another. The Rev. Herman Van Staveren (1849-1930) was selected and what a choice that was as this distinguished gentleman served the congregation with distinction for over fifty years. His wife gave birth to four sons and nine daughters. The government selected him as the first chairman of the Wellington Hospital Board and he topped the polls annually. He helped found the Wellington Jewish Philanthropic Society and Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society) and started the Hebrew School. In 1930 the Wellington Hebrew Congregation also engaged the Reverend Chananiah Pitkowski as assistant and Chochet. Unfortunately both these gentlemen died withtin a fortnight of each other early in 1930 and soon after Rabbi Soloman Katz, who had previously served the Auckland community was engaged.
In the late 1920's the old wooden building on The Terrace was becoming too small for the growing congregation of the Capital City of Wellington and it was decided to rebuild in brick on the same site. The building was consecrated in 1929. Between Between 1959 and 1966 a building fund was set up to provide better facilities, but in 1963 the Ministry of Works indicated they would require the site on The Terrace for motorway development. Then property was acquired a little at a time and then planning proceeded at the present spot at 74 to 80 Webb Street and in 1974 the foundation stone of the Wellington Jewish Community Centre was laid by Rabbi Abraham Rosenfeld. Shortly after The Deckston Trust built a Kosher Home for the aged and infirm in the Hutt Valley. Later was integrated with Te Hopai which is situated at the back of the Wellington Hospital. Unfortunately due to a severe decrease in the number of people desiring Kosher facilities at this facility the Jewish Care of the Aged decided later to close the care there for Jewish folk.
The Wellington Jewish Community Centre at 80 Webb Street contains the synagogue Beth El, secretaries Office, Kosher Kitchen and Dining Room, Myers community Hall, Moriah Kindergarten , New Zealand Holocaust Centre, NZ Jewish Archives, Rabbi's Office, Mikva, Kosher Co-Op shop, Van Staveren library room, Hebrew School rooms,and basement car park. It also provides the facilities for the meeting of the various Jewish groups such as The Board of Management, Bnei Akiva Care of the Aged and Bnei Brith Lodge and etc.
In 1864 the Auckland congregation under the leadership of David Nathan and the members of the Keesing family appointed their first minister the Rev. Moses Elkin who gave ten year's service. The next choice of spiritual leader was the Rev. Samuel Aaron Goldstein who with dignity and scholarship served the Auckland Hebrew Congregation for over fifty years. He was assisted until 1931 by Rabbi Solomon Katz and then by Rabbi Alexander Astor. The second synagogue was situated in Princes Street and the third and existing Beth Yisroel in Grey Street. This same centrally located building incorporates a smaller shul, The Synagogue shop, Alexander Astor Hall, Hebrew school rooms, a library, and Deli. Nowadays Kadima Kindergarten and School give excellent service to the education needs of Auckland Jewry and Shalom Court provides care for the elderly and infirm.
New Zealand Jews have a strong commitment to Israel and is considered to have given the most immigrants to that country pro-rata to its population than any other country in the world.
In 1959 Rabbi John Levi came over to Wellington from Melbourne to investigate the starting of a new Liberal congregation. A number of existing Jews in the Capital were interested and soon after the Temple Sinai was formed. In 1997 the members decided to now become known as the Wellington Progressive Jewish Congregation. They meet at 147 Ghuznee Street. In Auckland Beth Shalom is situated at 180 Manakau Road, Epsom.
Despite its small numbers NZ Jewry (approximately 5000 with the majority in Auckland and Wellington) has always given a strong commitment to non-Jewish causes, which continues to this day. There has been prominent activity in industry and commerce, in the arts and journalism, local and central politics, and in law and accountancy.
Initially the first flush of immigrants came mainly from the United Kingdom, and then prior and after the two World Wars from Europe. In the 1970's and 80's when the Soviet Union relaxed the restrictions several hundred families were brought out to Wellington by H.I.A.S. Recently some Israeli's and a number of South Africans have settled in New Zealand.
Michael Clements 2015.