History of the Chevra

The Chevra Kadisha was formed in 1906 and proudly commemorated 100 years of service to the Auckland Jewish community in 2006. The background and history of the Chevra including some of the important milestones follow.


Preparation of the dead for burial and the supervision of the burial arrangements were from early times undertaken by a group of people who formed themselves into a fraternity, general called Chevra Kadisha (Holy Society or Holy Brotherhood).

Jewish historians trace the origins of the Chevra Kadisha back to the 4th Century CE. It is generally thought though that the first Chevra Kadisha as it currently stands, was formed in Prague in 1564 but it was not until 1573 that rules and procedures were set.

Since respect and acts of charity shown to the dying and to the dead were regarded by Jews of all ages as the highest forms of human service, the members of the Chevra Kadisha have always been highly respected in Jewish communities.

Duties of the Chevra Kadisha

There are three key tasks of the Chevra Kadisha; organising funerals, providing relief and benevolence. These functions are fulfilled by an organising committee, men’s and ladies committees and a Trust Board.

Funerals are the main function of the Chevra. Calls are received on someone passing away and members of the Chevra meet with the deceased’s family and arrange the funeral, in conjunction with the Funeral Director.

Members of the men’s or ladies committee then prepare the deceased for burial and look after them until the funeral. To perform the “Tahara”, to guard and pay respect to the dead and to accompany them to the Beth Almin (House of Eternity) are duties which apply to all alike, but only a few have accepted this sacred responsibility.

The Chevra console the bereaved family and answer any questions they may have, as well as guiding them through their grieving period, conducting the funeral and burying the deceased.

The relief and benevolence service given to members of the Chevra assists those who are sick, need looking after and in cases of hardship, try and provide assistance in the best possible way.

The key role of the Chevra Kadisha Trust Board is to look after the finances of the Society by investing wisely. At times the Chevra assists the Jewish Youth Groups, Kadimah and the AHC

Nov 1830
Joseph Barrow Montefiore (aged 27 years) was the first-known Jewish person to arrive in New Zealand. He landed at Kawhia on the West Coast from Sydney but returned to Australia 18 months later.
New Zealand’s first Jewish settler, John Israel Montefiore, arrived at the Bay of Islands. 
David Nathan and John Montefiore applied for an acre of land on the corner of Karangahape Road and Symonds Street on the outskirts of the town for a Jewish Cemetery.
24 Nov1843 
Land was granted and the cemetery officially opened.
The first Jewish burial in New Zealand took place at the newly opened cemetery: six-month-old Catherine Nathan (daughter of David and Rosetta Nathan).
Official national total Jewish Population placed at 61 people.
Jewish population nationally had grown to 188, the majority had settled in Auckland.
Gold Rush: the Jewish population grew rapidly to 3216 people.
First Minister arrives in Auckland Reverend Moses Elkin.  He was also able to perform Shichita – kosher killing.
Auckland Hebrew School opens with 53 children attending from 14 families.
First recorded reference in the AHC committee minutes to organized burials. Burial sub-committee: Messrs B. Levy and A. Asher appointed.
Sir Julius Vogel elected first Jewish Prime Minister of New Zealand.
Sir Julius Vogel re-elected for a second term as Prime Minister.
Mr J. Boylan offered to draw a plan of the Karangahape burial ground showing all graves.
Gold Rush over – sharp exodus of people. Jewish population drops to 1424.
Rabbi Goldstein’s era begins.
Foundation stone set for new Synagogue on the corner of Princes Street.
9 Nov 1885   
Princes Street shul opening – dedication ceremony
Prayer house at Waikumete (old area) is built. It stood there till 1992.
15 Jun 1887  
First burial at newly-dedicated Waikumete Cemetery Jewish area of Mr F.H. Lewisson.
Sir Arthur Myers becomes Mayor of Auckland
12 Feb 1906
Chevra Kadisha formally established
First Chevra Kadisha president – Jacob Ziman
Second Chevra Kadisha president – Luis Marks

From the minutes of the Hebrew Aid Society: “A discussion arose as to the value of guarantors during the currency of the war.  The feeling of the meeting showed that it would be unfair to call upon guarantors at the present moment.

An emergency fund was to be established by this Society for the purpose of assisting guarantors when applicants for loans have defaulted.  The fund is to be available for other purposes where considered necessary.

The fund created to be at the disposal and under the entire control of the managing board in power from year to year. The fund to be raised by increasing the membership subscription or in any other manner approved by the majority at the annual meeting. Includes votes for and against.”

12 Oct 1915

From the minutes of the Hebrew Aid Society: “A meeting was called for the purpose of appointing two members to act with the Board of Management of the Synagogue to arrange a function to raise in aid of Displaced Jews in Russia and Poland.”

15 Mar 1916
From the minutes of the Hebrew Aid Society: “A meeting was called for Wednesday March 15 but the number present (9) being less than the number required for a quorum (10) the meeting lapsed.”
18 Sep 1916
From the minutes of the Hebrew Aid Society: “It was resolved that the committee recommend that the sum of ₤240 be invested in Government bonds with currency of five years repayable at ₤300.”
Chief Rabbi Sir Joseph H. Hertz visits New Zealand.
Reverend Astor arrives in Dunedin as an Army Chaplain
14 Dec 1926
From the minutes of the Hebrew Aid Society: “The Hon. Secretary gave a short review of the activities of the Society since its establishment 21 years before. He pointed out the differences which had to be met by those who pioneered the Society and showed how considerable assistance had been give to co-religionist during that period. Upon the motion the Chairman a vote of thanks was passed to the Secretary for his interesting review.  The President and members expressed great satisfaction in the nature of work being done by the Society.”
21 Jul 1929
Certificate of Purchase for a plot of Waikumete Cemetery (picture that can be included)
18 Aug 1929 
The Hon Secretary gave a short overture of how the Society came to be established and how it had been quietly built up in spite of many difficulties. Members expressed their appreciation of the remarks made. 
Alexander Astor settles in Auckland. Where he will lead the community for the next 40 years.
Rabbi Goldstein retires. Rabbi Goldstein funeral (picture and articles)
Sir Ernest Davis becomes Mayor of Auckland
Jun 1936
Chevra initiate scheme to assist relocation of Jewish refugees to Auckland.
Aug 1934
  Sub-committee formed to handle entire matzo trade account.
Aug 1934 
Notice of AGM and Social and Dance.
Aug 1937 
Matzo order form.
Unanimously agreed to build new Tahara House as 1940 Centennial memorial.
May 1938
Sterling Silver crown breastplate and pointer dedicated on Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Goldstein.
Dec 1938
Plans tabled for new Tahara House. Mr A.N. Goldwater Architect received ₤48 for preparing sketch plans.
Sep 1939
Chevra President warns German Jewish refugees in Auckland against congregating on street or meeting in their homes in large numbers.
1940 – 1949
Feb 1940
Plans for Tahara House amended to reduce cost by ₤300.
Apr 1940
Record profit from sale of Matzo – ₤63.
Jun 1940
Tahara House project postponed for six months due to the gravity of the situation in Europe.
Jul 1941
Chevra considers purchase of land for future cemetery due to situation at Waikumete Cemetery.
Aug 1941 
Chevra President reports on “misery of Jews in Europe” and entire communities being wiped out. “The only hope”, he said “was Palestine”.
Dec 1941  
Secretary instructed to purchase a strong padlock with hasp etc, for Chapel convenience at Waikumete.
18 Dec 1941 

Mr. HE Myers moved “That for the period of the war and for six months afterwards the affairs of the Auckland Hebrew Aid Society be administered by a joint Committee consisting of representatives of the Society.”

HE Myers went on to become Auckland’s first Jewish centenarian.

Aug 1942
Auckland Chevra Kadisha and Auckland Hebrew Aid Society merged to become the Auckland Chevra Kadisha and Benevolent Society.        
17 Feb 1943

Correspondence: From Jewish Social Club soliciting a donation towards the Special Appeal for new premises. Auckland Hebrew Congregation requesting two representatives to attend a special meeting to discuss a cable received from London Executive of W.I.Z.O requesting a drive for funds for Youth Aliyah, and reply advising that Messrs L Marks and H Robinson would represent the Society.

Mr and Mrs David Nathan conveying sympathy on wounding of son Lawrence and reply thanking Society for sympathy.

Jun 1944
Centennial memorial Tahara House fund recommenced.
Owing to war, all American matzos were prohibited.
15 Aug 1951
Surplus matzos and matzo meal left was sold at 1/6 per pound to anyone interested.
12 Sep 1951
Cable sent to London for the forthcoming wedding of Rabbi Astor’s daughter. Rabbi Astor was presented with some kosher wine for his local celebration as a gift from the Auckland Chevra Kadisha and Benevolent Society.
17 Oct 1951
Application for Building Permit for the new Tahara House.
Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie visits New Zealand.
18 Aug 1952 
AGM at the Overseas League Rooms, 3rd Floor, Queen’s Arcade: “At the conclusion of the meeting you are most cordially invited to join a social gathering and dance, for which a band has been engaged. Light Supper will be served and card tables will be available.”
21 Aug 1953
Erection of the Memorial Chapel, Tahara House Karangahape Road.
1954 – 1961 
Third Chevra Kadisha President  – Emanuel Baume
2 Feb 1954
Matzo from England had arrived on the SS Brisbane.
16 Apr 1955  

The President reported that 905 lbs of matzo was still in stock. The Jewish Club was approached to assist with storage in the club rooms.

The President also reported that the matzo and meal received from Rakusens was in a very bad condition. It had weevils in it and the meal was bad. Payment was deferred. It was decided to import only American products next year.

23 Aug 1956
The 50th Annual General Meeting was held in the Goldstein Communal Hall, Bowen Ave.
Sir Dove Myer Robinson becomes Mayor of Auckland (holds office until 1965).
1960 - 1969
1961 – 1967
Fourth Chevra Kadisha President  – Harry Robinson
16 Feb 1961
Mr Stern introduced the subject of a Jewish old peoples’ home.
Apr 1962 
Chief Rabbi visits New Zealand and meets with Auckland Chevra Kadisha.
18 Jul 1962
Rabbi Astor suggested the Chevra look at forming a Kosher Butcher Shop.
20 Mar 1963  
Rabbi Astor tabled a quote for a new Sefer Torah and noted in his opinion that only one was worth considering at ₤850.
17 Feb 1965
Rabbi Newman vouched for the quality of the Sefer Torah.
18 May 1966
Mr Burns raised the subject of a lack of lady members of the committee and it was decided to include in the next report a request for more lady members.
1967 – 1973
Fifth Chevra Kadisha President – Eric Pizer
New Synagogue in Greys Ave is dedicated
25 Feb 1968  
Siyum and presentation of new Sefer Torah at the Synagogue. Afterwards a reception was held at the Ellen Melville Memorial Hall
1968  – 1980 

Sir Dove Myer Robinson becomes Mayor of Auckland for a second term.

Women encouraged to visit cemetery by the Rabbi. Initially there was some hesitation about this amongst the community.

Rabbi Astor retires and makes Aliyah to Israel
1973 – 1988
Sixth Chevra Kadisha President – Percy Bookman
New area is dedicated at Waikumete Cemetery.
1980 – 1983
Colin Kay becomes Mayor of Auckland
Darryl Stone retires as Secretary Treasurer after 30 years
Rabbi Astor is laid to rest at Waikumete Cemetery.
Notice of motion: “That the subscription rate for members of the Society be increased to $5 for ladies and $10 for gentlemen” was open for discussion.
Chevra Kadisha 7th President elected – Israel (Sonny) Beder.
7 May 1989
Consecration of the headstone for the Late Rabbi Astor
Application had been lodged with the Waitakere City Council for a building permit for a new chapel at Waikumete.


1990 to 1999
The Chairman made mention of a dedication ceremony to be held on 18 March 1990. After discussion with the Rabbi the name of the building is to be Beth Olam.
The eternal light for Waikumete has been supplied by Mr P. Bookman. A new supply of kippot has been supplied by Mr A. Triester.
Mr Erdos to be asked to supply umbrellas for use at Waikumete.
The fence at Waikumete old area was replaced with a low hedge. This has the approval of the Rabbi and appears to satisfy the Chinese community.
Prayer House moved from the old area at Waikumete Cemetary to Oratia
11 Sep 1994
Holocaust Memorial was dedicated on 11 September . Approx 200 people attended.
Basin at the Beit Olam was installed.
Chief Rabbi Sacks visits New Zealand


2000 to present
Installation of Sir Woolf Fisher olive walk begins.
Centenary Celebrations including a Gala Dinner with the Governor General, Sir Anand Satyanand GNZM QSO, as guest of Honour
2013 Malcolm Silverman elected as 8th President
2017 Brian Bookman elected as 9th President