Synonymous with the early development of St Kilda Synagogue stood the figure of Reverend Elias Blaubaum, a truly remarkable man who engineered the early religious life of the St Kilda Hebrew Congregation to a place of prominence within the Australian Jewish Community.
Elias Blaubaum was born in the township of Kassell a small town in what is now Germany in 1849. The city, including the surrounding district, was believed to contain not more than 2000 Jews. Young Elias Blaubaum developed an excellent knowledge of Talmud and also became a Shochet. By the age of 23 he was teaching in the local Yeshiva and acting as Chazan in the synagogue, although he never gained Smicha.
It was in 1872 when Isaac Hallenstein, a prime mover for the establishment of a Synagogue and Cheder in the St Kilda Junction area of Melbourne, first met Elias Blaumbaum. Isaac Hallenstein,a German by birth, re-visited Germany for business reasons and, at the same time, to ascertain if a spiritual leader capable of both conducting Services and delivering child religious education could be appointed at a minimal cost. Isaac Hallenstein was most impressed with Rev. Blaubaum and his willingness to leave Germany to accept the challenge on offer at St Kilda. Hallenstein arranged for Rev. Blaubaum to travel to London to meet Rabbi Dr Adler, the then Chief Rabbi of the British Emoire whose task it was to satisfy himself, and thus the first functional Board of the St Kilda Synagogue, that young Rev. Blaubaum was an acceptable candidate.
Subsequent to receiving Adler’s concurrence, a contract was prepared for Rev. Blaubaum for an initial three year term, which was extended many years over. In fact Rev. Blaubaum stayed at St Kilda for the rest of his life.
What had been overlooked was the fact that Rev. Blaubaum was unable to speak, read or write in English, and Board policy stated that sermons be conducted in English. In the six week sailing period from Germany to Australia, Rev. Blaubaum, mastered a working knowledge of the language and within several months of arriving in Australia, Rev. Blaubaum was able to deliver his first weekly Shabbat sermon in English.
If any year in the life of Rev. Blaubaum was regarded as the most significant, it would have to be 1879, when at the age of 30 he was able to influence a consortium of six Jewish businessmen to provide the funds for the establishment of the Jewish Herald. Rev. Blaubaum was to become editor of that newspaper which remained under his editorship until his death in 1904. This was a remarkable feat for a man, who only six years previously, could not speak English, let alone write it. The Jewish Herald provided Rev. Blaubaum with the vehicle he needed to express his and in many cases the Australian Jewish communities’ views on a variety of topics.
In 1880 Rev. Blaubaum introduced into the St Kilda Symagogue a female quartet as ancillary to the services and an annual ceremony for the confirmation of girls. Although some historians have use the term Bat Mitzvah, Rev. Blaubaum’s wording was “confirmation”.
Rev. Blaubaum started as a Hebrew and religious teacher. He became a member of the Melbourne Branch of the Anglo-Jewish Association, was an instrumental founder of the Montefiore Homes for the Aged and Infirmed in 1885, was active in
Rev. Blaubaum arrived in Melbourne as a 24 year old and undertook a tremendous task. Raising five children and left a widower in 1892 at age 43. From the turn of the century until his death in 1904 he was plagued by ill health. In tribute to the founding Minister of our Congregation, one must appreciate Reverend Elias Rev. Blaubaum was a man of perception and vision.
Excerpt from article by John Cohen in The Chronicle December 1997