Rabbi Ariel Tal
Creating Jewish Infrastructure in Wellington, New Zealand!
What would it take to keep our families in Wellington and to attract new families to our beautiful city and wonderful community? One of the answers is creating a Jewish infrastructure. If you ask Jewish families, especially traditional or religious families, what they would be looking for in a Jewish community, they would probably mention five main structural elements:
Accessible Kosher food (And ideally at least one Kosher deli or eatery)
Jewish education for the kids
There are other aspects to a Jewish community, such as Torah classes for adults, Halachic advice, a local Rabbi and Rebbitzin, and community events. However, why are the first five elements the most critical? Let’s dive deeper into each one.
Mikveh. According to Jewish law, building a Mikveh is more important than building a Shul. It also merits, in some extreme circumstances, selling a Torah scroll in order to build a Mikveh! The Mikveh is a staple of raising and growing the Jewish family, and relationships between husband and wife. Family purity and the Jewish way of intimacy supersedes even prayers on Yom Kippur! There was a Halachic question brought to Rabbi Avraham Itzchak HaKohen Kook, former Chief Rabbi of Israel, from a community in the South Island of New Zealand in the early 20th Century, asking a series of questions about laws of the Shul, Torah scroll and the fact that they didn’t have a Mikveh. Rav Kook without hesitating, emphatically stated that building a Mikveh should be their number one priority and all other Halachic questions were secondary. (The Responsa is in the NZ Archives, and showed to me by Michael Clements). Jewish families need a Mikveh to ensure that intimacy can happen and the alternative of “dipping in the sea” is not only less attractive, but sometimes prohibitive of families setting up their home in that city. Mikveh is always the number one priority for any Jewish community, in Israel or the Diaspora!
Eruv. The laws of Shabbat prohibit one from carrying from a home or building to the street or vice versa. This is one of the 39 categories of “creative work” that one is prohibited to do on Shabbat, and in some cases is even a Biblical prohibition. If a mother has a young baby they cannot push the baby in a pram or even carry it (except in some circumstances). One cannot carry keys, bags, water bottles or any item from a private domain to the street or park or from the outside to a buidling. This makes life very restrictive in communities such as ours. As an example, one time there was a kid in Wellington who didn’t want to wear their shoes back from Central Park to the WJCC one Shabbat afternoon, and the adults couldn’t carry it for them. Building an Eruv is a very well known Halachic exception that creates an entire section of the city as one domain, enabling everyone to carry within that sectioned off area. The Eruv makes Shabbat observance easier and allows families, especially with young children or who need to push family members who may be disabled, to walk freely on Shabbat to a friend’s house, Shul or the park. This is usually the second thing that families look for in combination with finding a location that is within walking distance to their local Jewish community.
Kosher Food & Eateries. This one is pretty obvious! Jews anywhere, whether living or visiting in that location, require Kosher food. New Zealand has an abundance of Kosher food available due to efforts of Kosher Kiwi and the many foods we have Kosher from the Australian Kashrut agencies, as well as imported Kosher products from the US, UK and around the world. The Kosher Co Op gives us the opportuity to sell Kosher meat, cheese and specialty products to the local Jewish community and visitors alike, which is a crucial element for creating sustainable Jewish life in Wellington! The one element we do not have yet is a Kosher eatery, and given the right marketing model and clientelle, this a project that is achievable in future years.
Jewish Education for Kids. “What about my kids’ future?” is a very common question for families who relocate and a serious consideration for families to either stay in their community or relocate to a new Jewish community. Jewish schools may or may not be the answer to this question, as there are alternative methods of empowering the next generation in their Judaism and Jewish knowledge. In our community we have a thriving Orot program and are rolling out a young engagement program as well, thanks to the support of the WJCC Board and Ben Sedley, our Educational Director. We may no longer have the Moriah School, but we have the human resources and leadership to continue to develop a strong Jewish educational backbone for the kids of Wellington.
A Shul. Another obvious choice. The WJCC (Formerly WHC) is 177 years young and continues to provide all the major functions of any Jewish community from minyanim to Torah reading, selling Chametz, and Yizkor services. Although many communities around the world have three daily Minyanim a day, our community can always strive to increase its services, especially if there is more demand for Minyanim from both existing and new community members.
We have already raised the money for our new Mikveh, which is the cornerstone for building any Jewish community. When fundraising for the Mikveh, I told donors that despite the fact that we have an existing Mikveh, we are creating the Jewish infrastructure necessary to grow the community, and that was the major selling point for many donors, who believed in our vision of the community.
We are well on the way to building these five major cornerstones for Wellington's Jewish infrastructure, to ensure sustainable Jewish life for years to come. Wellington was voted the coolest little capital of the world by "Lonely Planet", and we definitely have the coolest little Jewish community in the world, and are setting up the community to expand from 2,000 people hopefully to 5,000 people in the coming years. There is so much to like about Wellington, and we welcome new families and individuals to join our unique Jewish community. For other Jewish communities looking to fortify themselves, you can use this 5 stage blueprint as a guide for building the Jewish infrastructure that will draw more families to your respective community and/or city. So, what are you waiting for? If you're considering moving to New Zealand - Wellington is a prime destination, and the Wellington Jewish Community Centre is looking forward to welcome you!