Building Faith

Today’s article is a little bit different. I have a mate that is Jewish and he challenged me to find out about the history of the Jewish people in the Toowoomba area. Not one to pike on a challenge I said I’d give it a go and see what information I could dig up. The Australian 2011 Census has only 51 people listed as identifying as belonging to the Judaism belief, so not a lot to go on from that. The Queensland Jewish population settled in some of the most remote areas during the late 1800s with a significant number of families living in Toowoomba and forming a congregation large enough for a synagogue.

In 1875 the members of the Hebrew community in Toowoomba raised funds to build, what was reportedly, the first synagogue in Queensland. From the pieces of information I found, the synagogue was built on the corner of Neil and Margaret Streets and under the foundation stone a sealed bottle was placed as part of the dedication ceremony. Within the bottle was “current coins of the realm”, the latest copy of the London Jewish Chronicle, the Melbourne Dialectic, Toowoomba Chronicle, Darling Downs Gazette and a parchment scroll with the following inscription:

 “The Foundations Stone of the Beth Yisrael Synagogue was laid by Samuel Benjamin Esq., on Tuesday the 3rd day of August, m.5635, in the 39th year of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, His Excellency William Wellington Cairns, Esq. being Governor of Queensland. Committee – Samuel Benjamin, Esq., Henry Spiro, Esq., and Joseph Benjamin, Esq. Architect – Willoughby Powell, Esq. Contractor – Richard Godsall, Esq. Ferdinand Nathan Simonsin, Esq. Secretary”

Image: Toowoomba Synagogue Drawing Source: www.trove.nla.gov.au

Image: Toowoomba Synagogue Drawing
Source: http://www.trove.nla.gov.au

The Toowoomba Jewish community however proved to be transitory and over the following years families tended to leave as soon as they could afford to settle elsewhere. By 1888 it was reported that few families remained in the area and that the synagogue no longer maintained a duly qualified minister, with services being conducted by private members of the community instead. By the mid 1960s the synagogue was gone and only one Jewish family remained in Toowoomba.  Nothing appears to remain of the old building, but I did stumble across this drawing in the Australian Town and Country Journal 25 September 1875 (you have www.Trove.nla.gov.au to thank for this).

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