Focus of Jewish life

THIS week’s story from the Vincent Local History Centre looks at the now-demolished Brisbane Street Synagogue that was once the centre of Jewish life in WA. The LHC is also hoping to find photographs and any information about another demolished synagogue on Palmerston Street run by the Perth Jewish Association. 

THE Brisbane Street Synagogue stood on Brisbane Street in Perth from 1897 until it was demolished in the 1980s. It was home to the Perth Hebrew Congregation for almost 80 years, before they moved north to their present home in Menora in the 1970s.

The Perth Hebrew Congregation formed in 1892 at a time when gold discoveries were attracting more immigrants to Western Australia. 

While there had been small Jewish communities in Fremantle and the Goldfields from earlier colonial times, at the turn of the 20th century Perth became the focus of Jewish life in Western Australia with the Brisbane Street Synagogue at its core.  

The synagogue was built on land granted by the Lands Department on an acre block just east of the corner of William and Brisbane Streets, near the Perth Mosque. 

Buildings on the site, which ran between Brisbane Street and Robinson Avenue, consisted of a brick and stone synagogue that could accommodate 300 worshippers, the manse, a community hall (Prince’s Hall) and five semi-detached cottages at the southern end of the block.

With its circular tower and large rose window, the synagogue was a distinct landmark building in the area.  

Rabbi David Isaac Freedman, Western Australia’s first ordained Hebrew minister, led the congregation from 1897 to 1939. 

He served as Jewish chaplain to the Australian forces during WWI, and after the war he continued to serve the community developing ancillary agencies and the religious school that was attached to the congregation.

The Perth Hebrew School was originally located in the Prince’s Hall at the rear of the synagogue.

Dances

The Prince’s Hall, which had a stage, kitchen and adjoining rooms, also served as a communal centre for public meetings and social functions.  

Mount Lawley resident Ivan Bercove, whose parents were active members of the congregation of the Brisbane Street Synagogue, recalls dances and community events held in the Prince’s Hall: 

“My father used to organise things. He knew people that ran circuses. He used to get a few artists to come to the Prince’s Hall and he would run a night there with a tight rope walker or a dancer for the people to come and watch.

“He also ran a dance there to make the kids dance so they could get to know one another and hopefully marry one another.

“He did quite a lot of things for the Jewish community … he was very good at looking after new immigrants that came [to Perth]. 

“His parents had done the same thing and it was instilled in him to try and help people.” (Interview with Ivan Bercove, COV Local History Collection, OH292) 

In 1974, the Perth Hebrew Congregation moved to a new and larger synagogue in Menora which was closer to residential areas that were home to more Jewish families.

But the former Brisbane Street Synagogue lives on in the memories of community members, some of which have been shared with the Vincent Local History Centre which holds several photographs of the interior and exterior of the Brisbane Street Synagogue prior to its demolition in the mid-1970s. 

To view the images visit: https://cityofvincent.imagegallery.me/

If anyone has photographs of the Brisbane Street Synagogue, or the Prince’s Hall which served as a community centre behind the former synagogue, please contact the Vincent Local History Centre. 

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