Like the Afghans, the Jews in Broken Hill represent part of the rich cultural diversity that made such a massive contribution to the city’s history.
While they developed a thriving community and were among the city’s early ‘movers and shakers’, dwindling numbers and the loss of their permanent Rabbi ultimately led to the closure of the Synagogue.
An embryonic Jewish community formed as early as the late 1800s. Bringing a strong sense of tradition, they came to Broken Hill like many others to participate in the mining boom that promised so much. Though they embraced life as broken Hill and Australian citizens, they also wished to remain Jewish in their new home and they valued customs and rituals.
By 1900 they held organised religious services and ritual observances. In 1905 they appointed a Rabbi. Though they started the building process in 1900, by 1910 they had finally established their Synagogue.
The Jewish community reached its height in the 1930s. They were well integrated into the broader community and like many groups in Broken Hill they overcame isolation and the tyranny of distance by maintaining and strengthening their cultural bonds.
The Jewish congregation supported the Synagogue by attending and participating through taking leadership and service roles, supporting the Rabbi and bringing in new members, subscriptions, gifts and donations.
The congregation included the ‘machers’ of Broken Hill, a Yiddish term for ‘big shots’ or people that make things happen. A prominent ‘macher’ was Frank Griff who ran a furniture/hardware store and import business. He was a generous benefactor to the town as was his son Harold.
The Rabbi’s were the spiritual leaders of the Jewish community and occupied the residence attached to the Synagogue. The most notable were the first, Rev Mandelbaum and the last Rev Berman.
The Jewish community began to decline in the early 1940s. Many Jews left Broken Hill, some joining the armed forces and others left for larger centres, in some cases to undertake war work. In 1944 rev Berman left for Adelaide leaving the community without its spiritual leadership. The Synagogue congregation dwindled in the 1950s and early 1960s resulting in the closure in 1962.
The declining Synagogue was saved by the Broken Hill Historical Society in 1990, and subsequently turned into a museum which has successfully preserved the history of Broken Hill's vibrant Jewish community.