BB Wellington’s 51st Anniversary
Actually, it’s BB Wellington’s 51st Anniversary. Today I’m going to tell you a little of our early history.
1960 ushered in Wellington’s BB Lodge 2293. It’s founders were middleaged men, many were victims of Nazi persecution and had been members of mainly German and Austrian Lodges and still believed in the ideals of BB. The initiators (of BB Wgton), Alfred Kohn & Max Fried were newcomers to the country.
The First President, Jerusalem born Maurice Pitt, educator, historian and archivist, was editor of the NZ Jewish Chronicle? date and headmaster of the Wellington congregation’s Hebrew School. His son Michael, today is Vice-President of the Wellington Unit.
BB Wgton started off as a very exclusive gentlemen’s club. There were 36 founding members. Right from the beginning there was much concern over the character and calibre of prospective new members. To quote from the minutes of the first Council (committee} meeting- “a prolonged discussion on the policy and limitation of new admissions took place”.
The application form used at that time was rigorous – the form required both the sponsor and the seconder to provide separate information on: the applicant’s state of health, his financial position, his business morals, his professional or business reputation. They were also obliged to furnish details of his personal life, cultural activities and the names of any brethren whom the candidate socialised with. If the committee then had any objections to particular applicants, the nature of these were also noted in the minutes!. And yes, some candidates were rejected! Can you imagine what today’s privacy laws would have to say about all this?
In general though, possible members were discussed in committee and those found suitable were then approached to apply. (If the applicant passed first muster he had to then attend a formal interview where the committee quizzed him on his relationships. The applicant had to provide assurances of his future observance of good conduct). As if this stiff screening process wasn’t enough, to further maintain it’s exclusiveness, and remember this is was a mere year after BB Wellington’s formation, Council resolved to limit the growth of BB’s membership go a just 50% of it’s then current strength! How times have changed.
Council meetings were held at the President’s home ( as indeed they are today) or at his office.
In 1961, the year the Auckland Lodge commenced, 18 more members were initiated in Wellington.
The minute book from early 60’s shows that even then, there was much concern over erratic attendances at meetings. A resolution was passed where any Brother failing to attend 3 consecutive meetings had to have a pretty good reason otherwise he would forfeit his membership. Also, the minutes state that in the interest of harmony and brotherly love, no conflicts between brothers/were to be tolerated and so a resolution was passed that “—where an applicant feels he is unable to suppress his grudges he is expected to not sign the application form ”
Two members’ meeting were held each month. The closed meeting was a very formal affair – It was all evening suits and full formal ritual, although, none of our older members are able to recall just what actually happened at them!! The second monthly meeting was an open event with invited speakers.
People clamoured to join B’nai B’rith. The heads of most of the Jewish organisations quickly became members. The annual initiation dinner and AGM was a very salubrious, prestigious affair which all the wives were most eager to attend.
In 1963 B’nai B’rith Youth was formed with 27 members but it did not survive for long.
Over the following years The W gton Lodge devoted effort to a wide range of benevolent and social activities. Outstanding anti-defamation work was discretely carried out be a small number of members under the leadership of Jack Meltzer. B’nai B’rith was leading the field in NZ in this activity, which was later taken over by the NZ Jewish Council and its regional bodies. Of course, the newly created Jewish Council had the full support of the Lodge and had access to the backup network provided by B’nai B’rith’s AntiDefamation Commission in Australia.
Big changes were in the wind.
By 1980, the Wellington Jewish Community Centre had been opened. The size of the Wgton Jewish Community was at its peak. Following the example of many of the lodges in Australia, it was decided in 1980 to establish Unit 5187 to replace the Wellington Lodge .- 108 joined up, and at last, after years of persuasion by Australia Lodges, women agreed to be included. At the same time, the Jewish Young Marrieds became Unit Chazon (Unit 5188) and 116 members were signed up.
It was a grand, momentous occasion for B’nai B’rith. In the new Wellington Shule President Jim Van Praag conducted an initiation ceremony for over 200 new members, covering both units. A significant highlight in B ‘nai B’rith’s history. Today Jim, in his 4ih year of BB membership, is still on Wellington Unit’s Council.
The newly established Wellington Unit continued the work of the former lodge working for projects in Israel, supporting Unit Chazon and opening its meetings to the wider community to hear a range stimulating guest speakers, and in many ways forming a bridge between Wellington’s 2 Jewish congregations. As has always been the case, and continues today, benevolence activities were extended to the wider Wellington community.
However the 1980’s saw the beginnings of migration of the younger generation in particular, (to Australia). With the numbers sadly depleted, in 1988 Unit Chazon was dissolved, with the remaining members joining Wellington Unit.
More recent years have seen B’nai B’rith active in Holocaust education, extensive efforts to facilitate immigration and subsequent settlement of ex-Soviet Jews, while continuing the unit’s cultural and social programme. Today, every year in Wellington B’nai B’rith is a partner in the commemoration of Yorn Ha Shoah and UN Holocaust Remembrance Day. Particular support is given to Jewish cultural education and youth leadership programmes.
Our Wellington Unit always, and still today, has fostered a harmonious family-like atmosphere We socialize with each other, visit our sick and support each other through our various personal and family crises as well as celebrating each other’s triumphs.
In Wellington BB is proud to contribute to the cultural and social life of the Wellington Jewish community and to provide and to provide an important link with, and that extra bit of strength to B’nai B’rith International enabling it to speak on behalf of Jews around the world.