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COMMUNITY HISTROY 1840 - THE BEGINNINGS
Historically, it has been a long struggle to develop a representative body in Victoria. The early synagogue was, in fact, "the community" when Jews first settled in the Colony of Victoria in the mid-ninteenth century. In 1840, the first "minyan" was held at the shop of David and Solomon Benjamin, Collins Street, Melbourne. This was the beginning of the Victorian Jewish community as we know it today.
1848 - THE FIRST SYNAGOGUE
A synagogue was consecrated in the heart of the City Melbourne in Bourke Street, named the "Melbourne Hebrew Congregation". This provided a home for communal activities and a school and the Rabbi played a key role as a leader of the community. Tasks included prayers, teacher, shochet, preforming marriages, circumcisions and burials, among other duties.
1855 - THE GOLD RUSH
With the discovery of gold around Ballarat and Bendigo in 1851, other small Jewish communities began to emerge in rural Victoria. By 1855, Ballarat Hebrew Congregation, a wooden building holding 200 people, became the focal point for Jews settling in the Ballarat area and, one year later, the Sandhurst Synagogue (now Bendigo) ws built.
1859 - POPULATION GROWTH
As a result of the Gold Rush, the Jewish population of Victoria increased from 364 in 1851 to 2,903 in 1861. This provided the critical mass for the development of new religious institutions, schools and other services. In 1859, a synagogue, largely catering for the needs of the more orthodox Eastern European Jews opened in Stephen Street (now Exhibition Street). In 1877, it moved to Abert Street, East Melbourne where it still stands today.
1860 - GEELONG SYNAGOGUE
New rural centres of Jewish life came into existence. A synagogue was established in Geelong.
1864 - BETH DIN
In respect to matters pertaining to the interpretation of Jewish law, the role of the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire in London was crucial. It is interesting to note that, in 1864, the first Beth Din ("House of Judgment") in Australia was formed in Victoria with permission of the Chief Rabbi.
1872 - ST.KILDA SYNAGOGUE
New urban centres of Jewish life also developed and, as Jews began to move into the St.Kilda area, the St.Kilda Hebrew Congregation was established, largely by German-born Jews.
1880's - CHEVROT TEFILLA
A number of semi-formal orthodox prayer groups, Chevrot Tefilla, sprang up in the city in the early years and then in Carlton in the early 1880's. However, it was the three large congregations (Melbourne, East Melbourne and St.Kilda) that would dominate the community until the 1930's. Very charismatic Rabbis, held in high esteem both within and outside the community, spoke on behalf of the Jews of Victoria and led the community.
1911 - KADIMAH AND CARLTON UNITED HC
Demographic changes in the community were beginning to occur following the pograms in Russia between 1891 and 1913. A trickle of non-English speaking migrants began arriving from Poland and Russia. This led to two initiatives. In 1911, the first secular Jewish organisation, the "Kadimah" - with a focus on Yiddish culture, was established in Carlton. Also the Carlton United Hebrew Congregation was formed in 1912. This was to lead to new challenges to the leadership of the community over the next few decades.
1921 - MELBOURNE JEWISH ADVISORY BOARD
All attempts to establish some form of inter-congregational roof body, like the British Board of Deputies, were unsuccessful in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. This development had to wait until 1921, following the visit of the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire. He convinced the establishment that it was to the advantage of the Jewish community to set up a roof body. Thus the first communal body, the Melbourne Jewish Advisory Board (MJAB), was formed.
However, this new Advisory Board was created out of the representation of the three major synagogues and it was dominated by the Anglo and German-born settlers and their offspring. These dominant groups were unable to come to terms with and accept the emergence of secular institutions such as the Yiddish-speaking smaller orthodox groups and cultural organisations such as the Kadimah.
WWII - WORLD WAR II
The Second World War broke out in 1939, and the arrival of thousands of Jewish refugees, just prior to the War and after 1945, was to change the nature and complexity of the community right through to the present day.
1947 - VICTORIAN JEWISH BOARD OF DEPUTIES
By 1944, the VJAB became a foundation member of the newly established Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ). In 1947, the VJAB had expanded to eighteen constituents and changed its name to the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies (VJBD), adopting the British nomenclature. Immigration policy and the establishment of Mt.Scopus War Memorial College were the main items on the agenda at that time.
1988 - JEWISH COMMUNITY COUNCIL OF VICTORIA
Forty one years later, in 1988, the VJBD was renamed the Jewish Community Council of Victoria and today, with more than forty affiliated organisations, most involved Jews accept it as the representative mouthpiece of the Jewish community of Victoria.