Book: Jewish lives in NZ - A History

By Graeme Barrow

This is a worthy history, and a well- deserved tribute to a community whose contributions in so many fields - commerce, politics, culture and the professions among them - have always been huge.

As in every country to which the Jewish diaspora has taken them, these people have always punched above their weight.

The Jewish presence in New Zealand is barely noticeable , and it is thought there are barely more than 20,000 Jewish people living here.

The first settlers arrived in the 1840s, and it did not take long for them to make their mark, especially in business.

But their contributions have always been diverse, reflecting the Jewish reverence for education, culture, hard work, thrift, and generosity.

Take music. Not only was there a succession of fine Jewish instrumentalists and singers, but the community was responsible for bringing world-class classical music and musicians to a country which was ignorant of both.

Jascha Heifetz (still regarded by many experts as the greatest violinist of all time) came to New Zealand in 1921.

He was then just 20, and had only the year before made his international debut in London. Many other world-renowned artists followed - Fritz Kreisler, Cherkassy, Isaac Stern, Solomon and Yehudi Menuhin among them.

The Jewish community was also responsible for the first performance in New Zealand of a fully staged opera - La Fille du Regiment, by Donizetti - staged by the English Opera Troupe.

In later years, in popular music, the very colourful Harry Miller - an "entertainment manager" here and in Australia - first signed the Howard Morrison quartet, and brought to Australasia such musical greats as Louis Armstrong and Sammy Davis Jr and rock greats, the Rolling Stones.

The range of Jewish achievements is too exhaustive to cover them all, but note that Auckland has had six Jewish mayors, and in business there are many household names - Myers, Nathans, Fishers, Paykels, Hallensteins, et al.

The book does give greater coverage to the founding fathers than to present high achievers. Huge contributors and philanthropists like Sir David Levene and Sir Douglas Myers are not given much space. Noel Robinson, knighted the year before last for services to South Auckland, is not mentioned at all.


Title: Jewish Lives in New Zealand - A History

Editors: Leonard Bell and Diana Morrow

Publisher: Random House, $55

- Hamilton News

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