I just spent a delightful Shabbat in the bottom corner of the world in New Zealand. To be in such a unique community was truly an education.
My adventure started on a weekday night when I went looking for the only kosher eatery. The Greys Ave Deli was closed for the night, but I bumped into the Rabbi’s wife, Shiri. Shiri was preparing for an “Ironman” competition (her husband Natan was preparing for the Auckland 1/2 marathon). Immediately, I was invited for all the Shabbat meals. Rabbi Natan and Shiri Friedler are a delightful Israeli couple in their thirties who have just started a four-year contract at the Auckland Hebrew Congregation (AHC) Auckland’s only Orthodox Synagogue and Community Centre (http://ahc.org.nz/). They are there with their three boys.
After meeting random Israeli backpackers in the local “Starbucks,” participating in a deep conversation about theology with them and attending the only weekday Minyan in New Zealand at the local Bet Chabad, and getting to hike and kayak in and around Waiheke Island, I arrived at the beautiful Auckland Synagogue for Kabalat Shabbat.
AHC Synagogue. Photo: T. Book (c), 2014
There was a Shabbaton of the local Kadimah primary school. It is the only Jewish school (K-8) in NZ (http://www.kadimah.school.nz/) Recently it has become a state-integrated school and as a result a significant minority of the students are not Jewish. It was fascinating to witness the inter-ethnic crowd of children belting out the Shabbat songs with such joy and enthusiasm. The Friday night service led by both the young Rabbi and Bnei Akiva Shaliach was a happy affair.
Kadimah School. Photo: T. Book (c), 2014
Small communities in isolated locations really need to be warm, accepting, open and tolerant, and to focus on what we Jews have in common in order to thrive and have a future.
Far away New Zealand to Israelis has always been the ideal “Israel-Opposite.” There are many reasons NZ attracts so many Israelis for their post-army trek: The stunning nature, the warm friendly locals and the fact that it is NOT surrounded by malevolent neighbours and constantly having to keep up its guard in a seemingly endless fight for its survival.
Yet even in the pristine corner of the world evil rears its ugly head. I was walking around Auckland checking out the “Jewish sites;” Synagogue, Raul Wallenberg tree, Shoah exhibition etc. when I arrived at the old Jewish cemetery. To my shock I saw that many stones were covered with graffiti swastikas.
Old Jewish Cemetery Auckland. Photo: T. Book (c), 2014
I was told that once the teenage perpetrators had been caught the local Jewish community took it upon themselves to invite these teens to their houses for Shabbat in order for them to meet and understand Jews and Judaism first hand. This unique method of battling intolerance and hatred by embracing the offenders and reaching out with warmth to educate them on the lofty principals of Judaism that, among other things, puts so much emphasis on family and community I found to be indicative of the very special place I found myself.