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York Street Synagogue, Sydney

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Sydney's burgeoning Hebrew congregation quickly outgrew the rented premises at Bridge Street. A circular was sent to members of the congregation in 1839, and the proposal to raise funds for a new synagogue quickly gained momentum. The Sydney Hebrew Congregation purchased a small block of land on York Street, not far from the present location of the Sydney Town Hall.

The foundation stone for the Sydney Synagogue was laid on 19 April 1842, and work commenced on an attractive building designed by James Hume in the Egyptian style. Two Tasmanian synagogues that remain standing today – one in Hobart and the other in Launceston – were designed in a similar style to that of the York Street building. The Sydney Synagogue continued to offer a full range of services to its congregation throughout the construction phase of its new premises.

About this item: 

The first synagogue in Sydney was built on York street, near Sydney Town Hall. The synagogue was designed in an Egyptian style by James Humes and seated around 500 people. It was consecrated on April 2, 1844. Music for the ceremony was arranged by the Australian composer, Isaac Nathan. According to the census of 1846 there were six hundred and three members of the Jewish community living in Sydney.

Synagogue, York St from Drawings in Sydney, [ca. 1840-1850] View collection item detail
Digital ID: 
c031520020
Synagogue, York Street, Sydney, 1870 / [attributed to Charles Pickering]
1870
Pickering, Charles Percy, 1825-1908
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Digital ID: 
a089099
Plan of York Street Synagogue, 1842	 Printed Voice of Jacob [Sydney ed.], 24 June 1842, p. 11
About this item: 

Printed. Voice of Jacob [Sydney ed.], 24 June 1842, p. 11

Plan of York Street Synagogue, 1842
1842
Digital ID: 
q296_05_4
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George St looking north, showing Jewish Synagogue, Police Offices, the Markets, old Burial Ground, now the site of the Town Hall, 1842 / John Rae
1842
Rae, John, 1813-1900
DG SV* / Sp Coll / Rae / 7
Digital ID: 
a928368
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The Sydney Synagogue was consecrated on 2 April 1844. Music for the service was specially written by noted composers J. H. Anderson and Isaac Nathan. The Australian hoped the new synagogue would 'long be a distinguishing ornament of Sydney'. The York Street building served Sydney’s Jewish community for 35 years. A split in 1859 saw part of the congregation break away to form a new congregation based in Macquarie Street. The split lasted almost 20 years, until the two congregations reunited to establish Sydney’s iconic Great Synagogue in 1878. 

Circular to the Members of the Faith of Israel, 1839

This is a key document in the foundation of the York Street Synagogue, the first permanent house of worship for Sydney's Jewish community. It states the Sydney Hebrew congregation's intentions to build a synagogue, school and residence, and to pay the regular expenses of a 'Minister of the Mosaic Religion'. The names of all those who have subscribed to the building fund are listed, along with details of how much money had been collected thus far. Finally, the document contained an appeal for further funding from members of the Jewish community, so that the dream of establishing and sustaining a synagogue could be realised.

The State Library's copy of the circular is from the Percy J. Marks Collection of Judaica. Samuel Benjamin, a merchant of Sydney and Goulburn who was on the building committee, was the grandfather of Percy Marks. It is thought that Samuel Benjamin owned this copy of the circular, and that Benjamin may have been responsible for the drawings on the back of the document.

Transcript: 

 (CIRCULAR.)

TO THE MEMBERS OF THE FAITH OF ISRAEL.

"How goodly it is for Brethren to dwell together in unity." PSALMS.
"He shall build an house for my for my name, and he shall be my son, and I will be his father, and I will establish the throne of his Kingdom over Israel for ever."
"Now my Son, the Eternal be with thee and prosper thee, and build the House of the Eternal thy God, as he hath said of thee." CHRON. II., Chap. xxii, and 10 and 11.
"I have surely built thee an house to dwell in, a settled place for thee to abide in for ever." KINGS I., Chap. xiii.

WITH sincere and heartfelt gratification, we have to announce to the Members of the Faith of Israel, that we, the united few, now residing in the Colony of New South Wales, have, in love to the Eternal God, the GOD OF ABRAHAM, ISAAC, and JACOB, resolved to raise up a Sacred Edifice for the worship of his holy name; and it is with the like heartfelt gratification that we have to announce, that towards the commencing and completion of this goodly work, the resident Members in New South Wales of our community have come forward and given, (as their free will offerings) an amount of money already approaching nearly to Three Thousand Pounds, and they confidently anticipate, from the devoted veneration which every Israelite has for his Ancient Faith, that those who reside, whether far or near, will on hearing of this, our work, gladly and promptly respond to the sacred call, and give their utmost aid, and join heart and hand, so as to enable the increasing congregation of this newly inhabited portion of the world, to raise an edifice that shall render honor to Him, as enjoined from the beginning, to our ancestors.

But before we conclude this, our brief to our Brethren in Faith, we will direct their attention to the objects which we have in contemplation, and which we are desirous to carry forward and into effect, with as little delay as possible:-

1. – The Building of a Synagogue, which shall (in after, and we pray at no distant time,) accommodate, with comfort and with ease, a Congregation, at the least, of Five Hundred Persons at their daily service.
2. – That the Edifice shall be an elegant and stately one, with Offices and School House attached, and a suitable Dwelling for a Minister of the Mosaic Religion.
3. – The Internal Fittings to correspond with the Building.
4. – That at least three (Sepher Toras) “Scrolls of the Law,” to be deposited in the Ark, be obtained with their necessary appendages.
5. – That provision be made, for the maintaining with right dignity and independence, the Minister.
6. – That for the purpose of furthering to the ends of, and the advancement of our Holy Religion, amongst our Youthful Members, that a competent Master be engaged to instruct them in the Mosaic Religion, and in the ordinary and most approved courses of English Education.
And lastly. – That this contemplated work of our hands, should neither be slack or stop. We, in conclusion, appeal to, and earnestly entreat, that our Brethren will, with the utmost speed, forward to us their contributions, through the medium of our Treasurer, for the time being, or to any other individual Member of our congregation, they residing in the town of Sydney. The names may be selected for that purpose, from the enclosed list of Contributors.

We remain with prayers for your welfare and happiness,
THE MEMBERS OF THE FAITH OF ISRAEL
(IN THE COLONY OF NEW SOUTH WALES.)

Circular to the Members of the Faith of Israel.
1839
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Digital ID: 
a3556001
Transcript: 

At a Special General Meeting, held in the Sydney Synagogue Chambers, on SUNDAY, 15th September, MR. ISAAC SIMMONS, President of the Sydney Synagogue, in the Chair;

It was unanimously resolved–

That a subscription be entered into for the erection of a New Synagogue; and the following Gentlemen were appointed to act as Officers and Committee to carry the same into effect, under the denomination of “The Building Committee:”–

Chairman. 
MR. ABRAHAM POLACK.
Treasurer.
MR. ISAAC SIMMONS.
Honorary Secretary.
MR. GEORGE MOSS.
Solicitor.
MR. D. POOLE.
Committee.
MR. ABRAHAM ELIAS
MR. MOSES JOSEPH.
MR. VAIBEN SOLOMON
MR. JOHN LAZAR.
MR. SAMUEL BENJAMIN.

List of Subscribers to the projected New Synagogue:

[subscriptions expressed in pounds, shillings and pence]
Mr. A. Polack    150/0/0
Mrs. A. Polack      75/0/0
Miss Sarah Polack            75/0/0 
Master Solomon Polack    50/0/0
Master Isaac Polack     50/0/0 
Mr. Isaac Simmons   100/0/0
Mrs. Simmons        25/0/0
Master James Simmons    10/0/0
Master Barnett Simmons     10/0/0
Mr. Moses Joseph     75/0/0
Mrs. Moses Joseph     25/0/0
Master Hyam Joseph     25/0/0
Mr. Joseph Joseph, senior    20/0/0
Mrs. Joseph Joseph     20/0/0
Mr. Lewis Joseph       5/0/0
Mr. Vaiben Solomon   100/0/0
Mrs. Vaiben Solomon     10/0/0
Master David Solomon       5/0/0
Master Abraham Solomon      5/0/0
Master Saul Solomon       5/0/0
Master Moses Solomon      5/0/0
Master Edward Solomon      5/0/0
Miss Elizabeth Solomon      5/0/0
Mr. S. M. Solomon     25/0/0
Mrs. S. M. Solomon       5/0/0
Miss Elizabeth Solomon      5/0/0
Mrs. Judah Solomon     10/0/0
Mr. Isaac Solomon, Adelaide    10/0/0
Mr. Emanuel Solomon, Adelaide   20/0/0
Mr. Phillip Solomon     20/0/0
Mrs. Phillip Solomon       5/0/0
Mr. Abraham Moses     25/0/0
Mrs. Abraham Moses       5/0/0
Master Jacob Moses       5/0/0
Miss Julia Moses       5/0/0
Mr. Joseph Moses, senior    20/0/0
Mr. Isaac Moses      20/0/0
Mrs. Isaac Moses       5/0/0
Mr. Samuel Benjamin     25/0/0
Mrs. Samuel Benjamin       5/0/0
Mr. E. Phillips      20/0/0 
Mrs. E. Phillips        5/0/0
Mr. John Jacobs and Daughter   30/0/0
Mr. John Isaacs      26/5/0
Mrs. John Isaacs     15/0/0
Mr. C. Zadock      10/0/0
Mr. Abraham Elias     50/0/0
Mr. Hyam Elias, Parramatta    10/0/0
Mr. David Newton     10/0/0 
Mr. Simon Lear      15/0/0
Mr. George M. Moss     15/0/0
Mr. Joseph Simmons       20/0/0
Mr. Israel Solomons      20/0/0
Mr. John Solomon     25/0/0
Mr. John Lazar      21/0/0
Mrs. John Lazar        5/0/0
Mr. Moses Rochats, of Windsor   10/0/0
Mr. Lewis Cohen     10/0/0
Mr. Joseph Hyams       5/0/0
Mr. Lewis Barnett     20/0/0
Mr. A. Moses, George-street      5/0/0
Mr. S. H. Benjamin     10/0/0
Mr. Israel Myers      20/0/0
Mr. Solomon Folk     10/0/0
Mrs. Solomon Folk       5/0/0
Mr. Raphael Benjamin      10/0/0
Mrs. Raphael Benjamin       5/0/0
Mr. Emanuel Myers       5/0/0
Mr. James Simeon       6/0/0
Mr. B. A. Phillips and Family    15/0/0
Mr. A. Cohen      15/0/0
Mr. H. J. Cohen      21/0/0
Mr. Michael Cashmere     7/10/0
Mr. Bertram Nathan       5/0/0
Mr. Joseph Fonseco       5/0/0
Mr. Samuel Cohen, Maitland    10/0/0
Mr. Isaac Solomon, of Launceston   10/0/0
Mr. David Moses and Son, of London, per Mr. S. Benjamin 10/0/0
Mr. Phillip Joseph     20/0/0
Mr. Henry Moses, of London, per Mr. Moses Joseph 10/0/0
Mr. Abraham Levy     10/0/0
Mr. John Barnett      10/0/0
Master Lewis Barnett       5/0/0
Mr. Joseph Aarons      50/0/0
Mrs. Joseph Aarons      10/0/0
Miss Sarah Aarons       5/0/0
Miss Rebecca Aarons       5/0/0
Miss Louisa Aarons       5/0/0
Mr. Henry Aarons        5/0/0
Mr. Joseph Aarons        5/0/0
Mr. Samuel Lyons     50/0/0
Mr. Edward Lee and Family    21/0/0
Mr. Samuel Solomon      15/0/0
Mrs. Samuel Solomon        5/0/0
Master Lewis Solomon       5/0/0
Master Benjamin Solomon      5/0/0
Master William Solomon      5/0/0
Mr. Solomon Phillips, Parramatta   10/0/0
Mrs. Solomon Phillips       5/0/0
Mrs. R. Phillips            5/0/0
Mr. Abraham Lyons     25/0/0
Mr. Saul Lyons      25/0/0
Mr. Samuel Emanuel     20/0/0
Mrs. Samuel Emanuel       5/0/0
Mr. Samuel Levy, Maitland    10/0/0
Mr. Solomon Davis       5/0/0
Mr. Phillip Joseph Cohen, Maitland    20/0/0
Mr. Simeon J. Cohen, Black Creek    20/0/0
Mr. A. H. Hart, of Windsor    10/0/0
Mr. Isaac Hart, of Goulburn      5/0/0
Mr. A. Abrahams     25/0/0
Mrs. Abrahams      10/0/0
Miss Sarah Abrahams       5/0/0
Miss Caroline Abrahams      5/0/0
Miss Rachael Abrahams      5/0/0
Mr. J. Abrahams        5/0/0
Mr. P. D. Van Millingen       5/0/0
Mr. S. J. Raphael       5/0/0
Mr. Abraham Levy, George-street     5/0/0
Mr. Elias Elias      21/0/0
Mr. John Sullivan       5/0/0
Mr. Phillip Hart        5/0/0
Mrs. Hart         5/0/0
Miss Emilia Abrahams       5/0/0
Miss Rachael Abrahams      5/0/0
Mr. Hyam Jacobs       5/0/0
Mr. Joseph Levy, Berrima      5/0/0
Mrs. Rebecca Levy     10/0/0
Mr. Michael Cohen, Campbell Town      5/0/0
Mr. Michael Hyams, Wollongong    10/0/0
Mr. D. Poole      50/0/0

Printed by S. B. DOWSETT, “Australian” Office.

Circular to the Members of the Faith of Israel.
1839
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Digital ID: 
a3556002
Circular to the Members of the Faith of Israel.
1839
Digital ID: 
a3556003
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Marriage contract

In 1842, Mrs Hannah Polack, her 17-year-old daughter Miss Sarah Polack, and two sons were returning from a trip to England when they made the acquaintance of George Baron Goodman, a fellow passenger on the Eden. The shipboard meeting between Sarah and George quickly blossomed into a romance. On landing in Sydney, however, the couple struck opposition from Sarah's father, well-known Sydney emancipist auctioneer Abraham Polack. 

Polack's first objection was the difference in age between Sarah and her much older suitor. A pillar of the local Jewish community, Polack was also a staunch observer of the sabbath, while Goodman often worked at his photography business on Saturdays.

Sarah and George soon sought the assistance of Joel Samuel Polack, Abraham's business partner and brother, who was able to secure a 'special licence' for them to marry without  Sarah's father's consent. 

It seems, however, that Abraham relented - probably on condition that the couple married under Jewish rights - as the wedding ceremony eventually took place at the Polack family home on 4 January 1843.

This traditional Jewish wedding contract, or 'ketubbah', was drawn up for the signature of the groom and witnessed by the bride's uncle. The ketubbah is written on parchment in Hebrew with fine calligraphy and decorative scroll-like borders. It notes that a dowry of 100 pieces of silver was to be paid to the groom for the hand of Miss Sarah Polack, which was matched by the groom to make a total bride price of 200 silver 'zuzim' (a biblical currency amount). George Goodman, identified in the contract as Mr Gershon, had anglisied his name sometime prior to his arrival in Sydney.

Transcript: 

Sydney New South Wales
Mazel Tov

On the 4th day of June [sic. ] [January] following Sabbath, 1843 of the creation of the world according to the manner in which we count here in Sydney, have R. Gershon son of Abraham, said to this virgin, Sarah daughter of Abraham, Be my wife according to the laws of Moses and Israel and I will work honour and feed and support you in the custom of Jewish men who work honour feed and support their wives faithfully. I will give you the settlement of virgins, 200 silver zuzim, which is due you according to Torah Law, as well as your food, clothing, necessities of life and conjugal need. Miss Sarah daughter of Abraham agreed and became his wife. This dowry that she brought from her father’s house whether in silver, gold, jewellery, clothing, home furnishings or bedding, Mr Gershon accepts as 100 silver pieces. And the bridegroom Mr Gershon agreed and of his own accord added and [sic] additional 100 silver pieces – the entire amount is 200 silver pieces. Mr Gershon, the bridegroom, made this declaration; The obligation of this ketubbah, this dowry and this additional amount, I accept upon myself and my heirs after me. It can be paid for the entire best part of the property and possessions that I own under all the Heavens. And the obligation of this marriage contract, this dowry, and the additional amount was accepted by Mr Gershon the bridegroom according to the strictest usage of all the marriage contracts and additional amounts according to the ordinances of our Sages, of blessed memory; it shall not be a mere speculation or a sample document.

We have made a kinyan from Mr Gershon son of Abraham to Miss Sarah daughter of Abraham, this virgin, regarding everything written and stated above, with an article that is fit for such a kinyan.

And everything is valid and confirmed. Rabbi performing the ceremony – Jacob son of Kohen Meir.
Groom – George Goodman
Witness – Joel Samuel Polack

(Literal translation from the Hebrew by George Gilbert, USA)

Sarah Goodman papers, 1836-1843
1836-1843
Goodman, Sarah
Digital ID: 
a8389005
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[Collection of lithographs and sketches, 1853-1874] / by S.T. Gill
1853-1874
S.T. Gill
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Digital ID: 
a1833014

Samuel Elyard and the Jews of Sydney

Samuel Elyard (1817-1910) is remembered as a fine landscape painter. He had studied under Conrad Martens and John Skinner Prout, and in the late nineteenth century produced many very attractive views of the Shoalhaven River district. In the 1850s, he almost caused the downfall of the Jewish community in Sydney.

A staunch Protestant, Elyard suffered from delusions that had him believe he was variously prince of Israel, king of Australia, president of the Australian republic and the incarnation of the prophet Elijah. He worked obsessively towards both bringing about the fall of Catholicism and converting the Jews of Australia to Christianity. Elyard imported Hebrew type from England, enabling him to add Hebrew phrases to the documents he printed. He produced several petitions, some of which appear below, asking permission to preach in various churches, and especially in the Sydney (York Street) Synagogue. For reasons that are yet to be uncovered, Sydney's rabbi, the Reverend Herman Hoezel, and his wife Minnie signed several copies of Elyard's petition. In signing, both stipulated that their approval was granted only in relation to the Old Testament, and not to the New Testament. Nevertheless, their signing of Elyard's petitions created a sensation in Sydney's Jewish community. Before long, the services of Reverend Hoelzel - whose recruitment as Sydney's first official rabbi had taken several years - were terminated under much controversy.

Settling in the Shoalhaven district of New South Wales, Elyard developed into a brilliant artist. Right to the last, he retained his obsessions with converting Jews to Christianity. Aged well into his 80s, Elyard published his pamphlet Letters to a Jewess in 1897. Paradoxically, in 1910 - the year of his death - Samuel Elyard wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald, suggesting that the University of Sydney employ a professor to specialise in Hebrew language and culture.

Australian Jewish community and culture is made possible through a partnership with the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce.