“Kosher Kiwis”

In an edited extract from Jewish Lives in New Zealand (Ed Len Bell and Diana Morrow), published in the Culture section of the Sunday Star Times, Feb 26, a brief overview of Jewishness in NZ is offered. They write:

Jews have always been a tiny minority in New Zealand, probably never forming more than about 0.5 per cent of the population: so few that foreigners and visitors have expressed surprise on discovering there was any Jewish presence here at all. Other than a small number of synagogues and community centres, public signs of Jewish history are scarce unless you look closely.” (F4)

The practice of Judaism has generally had little visibility in mainstream New Zealand society…. Yet, in a variety of ways, people of Jewish descent have had an impact on New Zealand society and culture out of all proportion to their numbers.” (F4)

Among other examples, they note that: “Perhaps the widest impact has been on our daily bread. Dr Ernst Reizenstein, a refugee from Nazism, revolutionised the quality and varity of breads baked here from 1941 by introducing European-style wholegrain varieties, in particular Vogel’s, in the early 1950s.” (F4)

“A 2005 book, New Zealand’s Top 100 History-makers, includes one person of Jewish birth, Julius Vogel (1835-1899), the influential newspaperman and politician who held the position of premier three times in the 1870s. Vogel is not identified as Jewish in the book, while the most authoratitive academic biography of him pays rudimentary attention to his Jewishness, as if it were of little consequence in his public life. / General histories of New Zealand barely mention Jews and Jewishness.” (F4)

They explain that: “Jews first landed in New Zealand in pre-colonial years when the non-Maori population was no more than a few hundred. Most were traders… or entrepreneurs checking out commercial possibilities….” (F4)

“In the colonial period in particular, an imbalance between the numbers of males and females meant intermarriage, especially between Jewish men and European and Maori women, was commonplace, with names such as Asher, Yates and Black soon prominent among Maori. Identifications between Maori and Jews in the pre-colonial and colonial periods were frequently strong. Various Maori groups in the 19th century also felt strong affinities with the exiled Jews of the Old Testament… [including] Te Ua Haumene, … the Ringatu church in its early years […and its] leader, Te Kooti… The first Christian missionary in New Zealnd, Samuel Marsden, thought Maori were Semites on the basis of their trading and bargaining skills, a correlation that later could take on an anti-Semitic tinge.” (F4) “In the mid-20th century, too,” (F4) they continue, “there could be strong mutual intensities of feeling and sympathy between Jewish refugees from Nazism and Maori with whom they became involved. The (mistaken) belief that Maori were one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, entertained both by some early colonists as well as later theorists of Maori origins, was firmly put to rest by the British historian Tudor Parfitt…. On the other hand, more accurately and aptly, parallels between Jewish and Maori cultures are recognised, for instance, in the historical experiences of loss and social marginalisation, the centrality of historical memory and lineage, as well as the importance of community rituals in maintaining collective and individual distinctiveness in societies hostile of indifferent to them. There was never any official, government-directed discrimination against Jews here. In strong contrast to all the European countries from which they had come, their participation in civic, government and educational affairs was never blocked.” (F5) Nor was it ever truly celebrated, as the authors go on to discuss…

They go on to explain that many Jewish immigrants also arrived before and after WWII as a result of Nazism, but received mixed welcome, with the infamous Truth newspaper providing “a conspicuous voice of misinformation and scaremongering.” (F5) Consequent immigration is also described, from other, predominantly (?) English-speaking countries… before the authors ask: “Have Jewish lives in New Zealand been relatively overlooked because outwardly most people of Jewish descent appeared and behaved much the same as their peer groups here, even if inwardly and personally thinking and feeling differently? The coexistence of similarity and difference that marks most Jewish lives in modern societies is not widely recognised in New Zealand.” (F5)

Ref: ‘Kosher Kiwis’ Sunday Star Times Feb 26th, 2012, pp. F4-F5

other books mentioned include: The History of the Jews in New Zealand (1958), by Lazarus Goldman.

Jews are News, by David Cohen

The Lost Tribes of Israel: The History of a Myth (2002), by Tudor Parfitt

NB also: the interview with Leonard Bell on Radio National: http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/saturday/20120310




About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
This entry was posted in Literate Identities, Mono- Bi- and Multi-culturalism, Pakeha learners and education and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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