About Us

The Wellington Progressive Jewish Congregation was formerly known as the Wellington Liberal Jewish Congregation. Aspects of our services may be familiar to congregants accustomed to Reform, Reconstructionist, Liberal and Jewish Humanist services.The Congregation was established in 1959 and 2009 marked the 50 year jubilee.

The Wellington Progressive Jewish Congregation (Temple Sinai) is affiliated to the Union for Progressive Judaism-Australia, New Zealand and Asia, and a number of other local and international organisations.

Our congregation adheres to a set of values that are central to the way we operate. As a forward-thinking organisation, we have set strategic targets to keep temple operations focused on the needs of our members.

In this section of the web site, you can also find out more about Progressive Judaism, and our wider Jewish community in Wellington and New Zealand.

A useful site showing aspects of Jews in New Zealand can be seen in “Explore Te Ara: The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand“.

You might also be interested in some of the on-line resources in the Links section of the site.

If you are an overseas reader interested in the possibility of immigration to New Zealand, useful information can be obtained at www.immigration.govt.nz and www.wellington.govt.nz/move. An indication of jobs available can be found at http://www.workandincome.govt.nz/community/assisting-migrants-and-refugees.html

See also Settlement Support NZ

Strategic Goals

Temple Sinai’s strategic targets for accomplishment are:

1. To have a pool of members committed, trained and able to ensure long-term continuity of leadership.

2. Finance adequate to meet existing and developing needs of a vibrant and growing congregation and premises that will meet the needs for services, the Beit Midrash, continuing education, functions and events.

3. To meet the needs of members and to expand the membership base.

4. Affirmation of Progressive Judaism as a complete practice of Judaism here, in the wider diaspora and in Israel.

5. Strength of membership and assurance of adequate finance to enable the Congregation to be served long-term by suitable Rabbis.

Our Values

The following values statement underpins all the operations of our Congregation:

The Congregation is committed to the principles and practices of Progressive Judaism in which we assert the belief in one God, the unity of the Jewish people and the vital role of the State of Israel in modern Jewish life.

In addition to the central premise above, the Congregation is also committed to the values of –

  • inclusiveness, by which is meant welcoming participation as appropriate of Members and friends
  • non-discrimination between women and men
  • Jewish education as a life-long process
  • the use of appropriate rituals and procedures in ways which treat people with dignity and respect
  • Jewish pluralism which allows for many different perspectives, and
  • the value and dignity of other religions, ethnic groups, cultures and beliefs

History of Temple Sinai

The first progressive Jewish Congregation in New Zealand was formed in 1956 in Auckland. A very conservative Orthodox Congregation had been at the centre of the Jewish Community in Wellington for decades. The community itself was very secular, and the great majority had long forsaken strict orthodox observance. Furthermore the community had lost many members, some through inter-marriage, and others through disillusion with lack of change in the ritual, which had become more and more irrelevant. The Rabbis would not even discuss conversion or change. To make matters worse the orthodox congregation had become involved in a very public court case when it tried to dismiss its then Rabbi.

This was the scene when the Auckland president decided to test the interest by holding a public meeting to be addressed by student Rabbi John Levi, a young Melbourne born student in his last year before ordination. He contacted Karo Emanuel, who, together with his son David and daughter-in-law Susanne set about arranging the meeting. Two other liberal families joined in the organisation – Ted and Margaret Kranz, and Bill & Valerie Minn, all active members of London liberal congregations. A notice went to all the Wellington Jewish community advising that a meeting would be held in the Wellington Jewish Social Club on Monday, August 10, 1959

The aims and objects of this first meeting were “To unite Liberal-minded and progressive Jews in the city of Wellington and its surrounding territory: to encourage the formation of schools of instruction for the young, to stimulate and encourage the Study Of Judaism with a view to the fuller adoption of religious practice and belief without changing the fundamental principles of Judaism and their application to modern life; and to awaken an active interest in those Jews who, for one reason or another, now fail to participate in Jewish Religious Life.”

All hell broke loose. The orthodox community first attacked the club for agreeing to allow the Clubrooms to be used, so the meeting was changed to the Savage Club. The press were fascinated. Judaism was news due to the court case against the orthodox Rabbi, so there was huge publicity about the new congregation, which was just as well as there was no money for advertising.

The Evening Post headline on the 13th August read “Near Pandemonium At Jew’s Meeting on Liberal Movement” and so there was. An unexpected 150 people attended, and many, led by well known identity, Saul Goldsmith, came to object loudly and strongly. Through it all Rabbi Levi remained calm, and in control, and the result was that nearly 50 people joined the new congregation there and then.

The first service was held in historic Wakefield House, attended by 60 people. The Auckland congregation had donated 20 prayer books, and Rabbi Levi led the congregation after a short instruction on music etc.

A meeting was now called to formally form a congregation. There was a great deal of ill feeling from the orthodox community, and pressure was put on Jews not to attend. However a group of 40 people turned up, and elected the first Board, led by Mr J. Travis. A board of 16 members was elected. At that very first meeting it was decided that services must be held each Sabbath morning, and each first and third Friday of each month, and that full services would be held for the forthcoming High Holidays. A real challenge for such a small group. At this meeting two lay readers were appointed — Ted Kranz and Paul Ketko.

It was also at this meeting that two members, Karo Emanuel and Sam Mishkin donated 50 pounds each to get the finances off the ground.

It is from this small beginning that the Temple Sinai congregation has grown to become such a strong and vital organisation.

An immense amount of work went into the early months. A regular venue for services was found at 101 Vivian Street. Typed services were copied on old fashion machines for use until Prayer Books arrived from America, phonetic hymn books were run off, and a portable ark complete with a golden Mogen David and velvet lining and curtains were constructed. Basic decisions about men wearing hats and tallith were made, often after lengthy discussion. Plans were made to start a Religious School in February. A building fund was also started.

Support was also pouring in from overseas, assisted by many letters written all over the world by Ted Kranz. A Sefer Torah was donated by the American Sisterhoods, and books of all sorts started arrived from UK and USA. A bulletin, to be written for decades by Karo Emanuel was also started, and this became one of the most interesting bulletins anywhere in the world. Thus it was that Ted Kranz and Karo Emanuel held the early group together. One on the religious side, as Ted became a virtual lay Rabbi, while Karo ran the organisation and publicity.

A Women’s Guild under the presidency of Susanne Emanuel was formed in October, and was soon deep into fund raising, and especially organising jumble sales. Membership fees were set at pounds 4-4-0 per member.

Within a year the congregation found a Temple site in Ghuznee Street, Wellington, and the old house was soon being remodelled into a small synagogue. The Congregation still worships at this site, though numerous alterations and additions have since been made. Most of the work was done by volunteers, as was all the congregational work, and this has always been one of the strengths of Temple Sinai.

Regular visits from Australian Rabbis were of immense importance, and quite often American Rabbis also came on visits. All helped chart the forward movement of the group. Ted Kranz operated as a Rabbi, not only conducting the weekly services, with help from an increasingly competent group of lay readers, but also weddings, funerals, barmitzvahs, naming ceremonies etc, as well as helping with the school .

Alex Tarjan, an Hungarian trained cantor joined that first year, so, slowly, the singing improved. It became obvious that Temple Sinai was here to stay, although it took decades before relationships with the orthodox community improved.

In 1995 the Temple was, at last, able to appoint a full-time Rabbi on a long-term contract. Rabbi Dr Michael Abraham, from Norwalk, Connecticut commenced as Rabbi of Temple Sinai in July 1995. By choice, the congregation continues its strong tradition of strong lay involvement in services. However, the appointment of Rabbi Abraham has enabled the Temple community to expand its activities in both adult and child education and to strengthen its social, pastoral and religious activities in ways it had previously not been able to do. The Rabbi also makes a significant contribution to the development of effective working relationships with the orthodox congregation and with other religious groups in and around Wellington.

Contributed by David Emanuel