Dunedinís Hebrew Hood

The bottom of New Zealandís South Island is not the first place that springs to mind when you think of Jews, but Dunedin has been home to some familiar and not-so-familiar Jewish names. In the 1800s, Bendix Hallenstein moved from Germany to Dunedin. Finding it hard to source quality menswear from overseas, he set up what was to become the national chain that now bears his name. Unfortunately his original ďItís good to be a JewĒ slogan was not the most successful marketing tool, and eventually ďItís good to be a guyĒ was coined to help sell nose-slimming outfits.

Not only astute businessmen succeeded in Otago. Ethel Benjamin was born to a Jewish family, and after attending Otago University became New Zealandís first female lawyer. At the same time, Emily Siedeberg, who was born to a Jewish father, was the first female graduate of Otago University Medical School. To this day, Jewish students help to make up the cohort of doctors and lawyers graduating from the University. Someone has to uphold the stereotypes!

Jewish life is not all sex, drugs, and Torah scrolls! In addition to the traditional kosher dietary guidelines and the requirement to wear a kippah on your head, Judaism also advocates for ďtikun olamĒ: fixing the world. Charity is encouraged, and increasingly environmentalism is seen as an ideal expression of our shared responsibility to repair the planet. Judaism also has a high regard for human life. The Talmud (rabbinic analysis of the Hebrew Bible) states that to save one life is as if one had saved the entire world. Now thatís value for money! These principles serve as a guide to Jewish life, and highlight similarities between Judaism and other world religions.

The Jewish holiday of Purim is characterised by the tradition of dressing up and getting so drunk that you cannot tell good from evil, in a festival reminiscent of Dunedinís iconic Hyde Street Keg Party. It could even be said that the scarfie fondness for setting furniture on fire is similar to Hanukkah, a celebration of the miracle that occurred when one dayís oil supply fuelled the candles in a Jerusalem temple for eight days. Perhaps I have exaggerated Judaismís influence on scarfie culture, but the Jewish legacy is very apparent in Dunedin, from the founder of the local newspaper to notable community members. A small Jewish community remains here, using the southernmost synagogue in the world, and a Jewish studentsí group on campus was recently established. So the next time you see a Jew, be sure to say ďHeey brooo!Ē

Matthew Shrimpton
Jewish Students Association

Jewish students or students with questions are encouraged to contact jewishstudentsotago@gmail.com
This article first appeared in Issue 22, 2012.
Posted 5:17pm Sunday 2nd September 2012 by Matthew Shrimpton.