A Standard for the People was launched in the Wellington synagogue on 29th March 1995. The book commemorates the 150th anniversary of the founding of a Jewish community in New Zealand's capital city.The book launch itself was a unique event, in many ways the highlight of the year and the culmination of 150th anniversary celebrations which began in January 1993. It included a re-enactment of the departure from England of the community's founder, Mr Abraham Hort, who was authorised by the then Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, Solomon Herschell, to establish a Jewish congregation in Wellington. Speeches were given in the synagogue by the Rabbi (Laurence Brown), the president of the congregation (Dan Lewis), the publisher (Quentin Wilson, of Hazard Press), and Ian Fraser, a distinguished New Zealand television interviewer and personality.
The editor of the book, Dr Stephen Levine, was presented with a 150th anniversary medal, and copy number 1 of the book, before giving a speech in which he introduced all the contributors (of articles and photographs) who were present on the night.
Messages of Appreciation
Messages of appreciation were received in the days and weeks that followed. A sampling conveys their tone: "Last night's function was the most wonderful occasion I've had the pleasure to attend at the Community Centre. The whole evening was a great success.""Last evening's magnificent occasion was magical."
"It was a privilege to be there on such an historic occasion, and what a good evening it was - everyone I spoke to said so, and everyone looked very happy."
The book itself, of course, also attracted praise and admiration. A sample of comments received from members of the congregation shows this as well:
"a fascinating and caring book ... I had no idea it would be such a huge production."
"... a model of excellence ...[reflecting] care, skill and professionalism ..."
"a splendid publication ... It is a remarkable achievement." "a truly magnificent job ... truly a labour of love, so well compiled, and the publication a credit to all concerned."
As ex-Wellingtonians overseas began to receive their copies, some of them too wrote in with enthusiasm and delight:
"I thought all my chanukahs had come at once ... I am enjoying it and it is really quite moving... so many individual imaginative touches..."
"It arrived in the mail yesterday and I want to tell you how impressed I am!!"
"The book is both moving and amazingly comprehensive, including the index... many hours of fascinating reading."
"a magnificent labour of love..."
"I am most impressed with the enormous care and effort that went into the volume: the care of proof-reading, and accuracy of index; the superb design and fine printing; and the fascinating folk history that has emerged. It is a distinguished commemoration of the past of a small but vital Jewish community, and I am indeed proud to have been permitted to contribute to it."
"Please find enclosed [donation] to help meet the costs of publishing A Standard for the People. It has more than come up to our expectations."
"[an] outstanding work ... It will give me much pleasure to read everything, which will take me a very long time!"
"Congratulations on the masterly production of 'THE BOOK.' So far it has been one mammoth expedition down memory lane and I have only delved into a few of the chapters. My children and grandchildren have found it fascinating too so I can see I'll have to mention it in my will or even order another copy..."
"I am writing to congratulate [all] on a wonderful job... The book is certainly most fascinating, but because of its bulk I am unable to put it on the shelves of my library, but have to be content to leave it on the coffee table!"
"Of course it has not been possible yet to read the entire book, but dipping into it from time to time has been a most enjoyable exercise... high praise ... for this wonderful production! ... congratulations on a superb effort."
"Yasher Koach to you on the publishing of 'A Standard for the People'. I'm sure it will contribute to our understanding of the greatness of our people whereever they are found."
From the Lottery Environment and Heritage Programme of the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board - which provided a grant to assist with publication - came an acknowledgment: "Thank you for supplying a copy of [this] impressive publication."
Even before the book was officially launched, there was considerable media coverage - interviews on radio, stories in community and daily newspapers.The weekly City Voice, under the headline "Wellington Jews remembered", wrote that "Chapters range from historical overviews to very personal family portraits. One fascinating chapter traces what happened to the 18 Welilngton Jews who took part in the Gallipoli campaign... The local Jewish community has contributed to all aspects of Wellington life. And the book reflects that."
Contact ran a story (with photograph) headlined "Past commemorated"; the Cook Strait News headlined its feature "Startling book uncovers vast history" and included a colour photograph of the book on its front page.
Following the launch the New Zealand Jewish Chronicle ran a front-page story, with a banner headline "Levine's Labour of Love" complete with full-page photograph (taken in the synagogue) of the editor with the book. The Chronicle ran its account of the release of the book as "Book Launch Triumph", describing the evening as a "highly successful launch."
Over the May - July period additional press coverage has taken place, both in New Zealand and overseas. The Evening Post, under "Jewish community celebrates", ran a review aimed at the wider, non-Jewish community which noted "important contributions by the local Jewish community to what it is that makes up this city.
"It's impossible to live in Wellington without being aware of that important Jewish contribution, but it isn't easy to get inside its meaning by growing to know it. This book will go a long way to assisting those who want to do so...
The reviewer saw the book as having been "woven around a series of themes... a source book which outsiders can read piecemeal over a period."
He concluded: "If they take the trouble they'll end up knowing much more about one of the significant aspects of our city than they did at the outset.
"Should you take the trouble? Of course you should. Understanding the influences which determine the culture of the place where you live is one of the pleasures of living there, and here you have a great big book to help you to do that. The rest of New Zealand should be so lucky."
From the Christchurch Press came a review describing the book as a "Kaleidoscope of Wellington Jewish history." The reviewer noted that the book was "lavishly illustrated with early New Zealand paintings and family photographs."
Describing the book as "a fascinating narrative account ... about commitment, service and sacrifice", he summed his view of the book up right in a few words: "It is a triumphant production and a credit to the now 1500 members of the Wellington community."
Victoria University's weekly NEWS VUW also ran a feature (complete with a photograph of Rabbi Van Staveren holding a Torah scroll) about our congregation's book. The reviewer, describing the work as a 'lavishly produced book', wrote: "Since [the 1840s] Jews have remained a small but significant part of Wellington life. Their contribution has now been chronicled in a new book, A Standard for the People..."
The Sydney edition of the Australian Jewish News headlined its review of the book, "Handsome testament to a proud community."
The story went on to say: "A HANDSOME 500-page volume marking the sesquicentenary of the Wellington Jewish community has been published. A Standard for the People: The 150th Anniversary of the Wellington Hebrew Congregation 1843-1993 is a proud testament to a community which has never exceeded 2000 members at any one time, yet has had a profound impact both within New Zealand and abroad.
"The glossy-covered book - with a reproduction of an oil painting of the old Wellington Synagogue on the front - has been limited to 1250 copies...
"The book is a comprehensive chronicle of Wellington Jewry, recalling its historical beginnings, such as the establishment of the first synagogue, day school and cemetery and the holding of the first batmitzvah, youth camps and Zionist conference. Many prominent families and individuals are profiled, with a large number of articles contributed by current or former Wellington Jews who have made their mark in various fields."
Dr Anthony Joseph, President of the Jewish Historical Society of England, was quoted on radio, and in the press, in the following terms:
"In my visit to Wellington, the highlight was seeing the newly published history of the Wellington Hebrew Congregation, A Standard for the People. The book has been crafted by so many people and so beautifully produced, the editor Dr Stephen Levine can be justifiably proud of it."
Dr Joseph's wife, Judith, has since reviewed the book for an American Jewish journal. Here are some extracts from her review:
"This is, perhaps, the ultimate in 'How To Do It' books: in this case, how to arrive in a place, group together, establish a community and institute all the necessary infrastructure for the fabric of a Jewish community with traditional and religious values, and to grow and come to the 150 year anniversary still strong and healthy.
"This is not for bedtime reading, or a relaxed dainty read by the fireside. This is for serious browsing at a table, a strong table: the tome weights some 7 lb. or approximately 3.5 kilo. But the weight reflects the whole experience. An inviting modern print on the cover is of a delightful painting by New Zealand artist Don Binney, of the old Wellington Synagogue. The houses pictured behind a dune, in front of which is the Synagogue, seem to be outward looking and fresh; above flies a white dove.
"Hazard are the publishers, but there is nothing haphazard about the production. Within the pages we see comments and reflections from all sections of the Wellington Community - those who are from early families, biographies and autobiographies, photographs and a small gallery of reproduction paintings of Wellington through the years.
"This is a skilful blend of who came and why, how the refugees from Europe arrived as well as the Shaliach who visited and the one who went abroad.
"Dr Stephen Levine has put Wellington squarely on the map.
"From this book maybe we can learn something of how to cope with being a small community: first be some 300 miles away from the nearest Jewish community, be in the southernmost eastern tip of the north island of two islands set 1000 miles from anywhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
"In the early years this was not an inviting place to visit, let alone to dwell. But people did come, and some retraced their steps several times between New Zealand and Europe before settling permanently. With the incentive of a great distance from other countries coupled with the distance between this isolated place and the other Jewish communities - Auckland to the north, Dunedin and Christchurch in the lower of part of the South island - there comes a sense of independence and self-reliance.
"Yes, the clergy have to be imported, but one in particular stayed more than 50 years, Rabbi Herman Van Staveren. Rabbi Van Staveren, known as VS, worked indefatigably on the community's behalf, active in all areas of communal and social affairs as well as running a tight ship, with traditional religious Judaism being inculcated into the psyches of the young and their parents. The community thrived.
"This is a book full of vignettes and cameos, not to be rushed, to be savoured. Full of names and places, much activity and happiness, and if there is mention of sadness in the telling of the lives as lived in places prior to their coming to Wellington, one gains the impression that life was and is good in New Zealand.
"In case there is a feeling that this review is too fulsome, it is to be noted that the contributions to this volume were sought, as it was to be a community project.
"The overall feeling when finally setting down the book is one of exhaustion and wonderment. Exhaustion, through wading through such detailed memories and views; wonderment, that such a wealth of data should have been stored and maintained through the years.
"The genealogies, the lifestyles, the sheer grit of it all, is worth the price. Being a limited edition there may be few to purchase, but perhaps major libraries will have copies for reference if not for loan."
Success of A Standard for the People
Since its launch the book has been purchased by university libraries in New Zealand, Israel and the United States; by museums; and by public libraries.In addition to copies presented to Israeli institutions - Yad Vashem, the Museum of the Diaspora - and to the Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, in England, a copy (inscribed by the editor 'with profound humility') has also been given to 'the Rebbe's Library' - in Brooklyn, New York, brought to the library by a member of the international Lubavitch movement.
The congregation's president has observed of the book: 'Here is a book in which we can all take pride and from which we can all learn a great deal. As a Jewish book, and one which can teach us about our Jewish heritage and also about the historical experience of our own community and congregation, this work of ours, A Standard for the People, has much to teach us and has much for us to cherish.'
We hope that the celebration of this book can continue, and that the circle of people celebrating can grow to include all those with a connection to our community and with a love of Jewish learning and Jewish values.
Wellington, October 1995