Jewish Journal

Call of the Kiwi

Worried about your Jewish future? New Zealand wants you.

by Henry Benjamin

Posted on Mar. 6, 2003 at 7:00 pm

Jews in distress are being encouraged to seek out a trouble-free environment way, way down under -- in New Zealand.

With Jewish communities in Argentina and South Africa seen as potential pools of immigrants, the Orthodox community in Auckland and the local B'nai B'rith both have launched campaigns hoping to bring more Jews to New Zealand.

The Orthodox community, through a group known as the Auckland Jewish Immigration Organization (AJI), has produced a Web site in English and Spanish promoting the city's lifestyle and outlining the steps immigrants must take to meet New Zealand citizenship requirements. The organization was set up two and a half years ago to encourage immigration that would bolster the flagging membership of the Auckland Hebrew Congregation.

A large number of Jews, mostly from the United Kingdom, made a new home for themselves in this quiet, peaceful country after World War II. However, many of their well-educated and highly trained children left to find careers overseas after New Zealand suffered an economic decline in the 1980s.

About 7,000 Jews live today in New Zealand, which has a population of 4 million -- and almost full employment. Most live in Auckland, the country's largest city.

AJI Chairman Stan Rose, 61, said that the 150-year-old congregation is seeking new members to fill its seats. The AJI hopes to raise some $5.75 million to build a new synagogue, a day school and a community center.

"The Web site has resulted in us getting e-mails every day from interested would-be migrants. We have had about 85 inquiries from Israel, with others mainly from Argentina, South Africa, Brazil and Chile," Rose said. "We want to double our congregation, but because we are Orthodox, we can only help those who qualify to join the shul. We want to see a rebirth of our congregation by introducing much-needed new blood, and we are now experiencing a steady stream of newcomers."

The AJI hopes to double its current membership of 1,100.

The B'nai B'rith in Auckland also has been canvassing for immigrants, without regard to religious level or location. They, too, offer personalized assistance and advice.

B'nai B'rith started its campaign four years ago, advertising regularly in the major Johannesburg and Cape Town newspapers and maintaining a highly detailed Web site.

Treasurer Leon Chapman, 71, who emigrated from South Africa four years ago, said it is relatively easy for skilled and professional immigrants to be accepted by the New Zealand government, though professionals have to pass exams to receive local certifications.

"We have to compete with Sydney, Melbourne and Toronto, among other cities, but the Web site has produced many inquiries from across the globe, including South Africa, Israel, Turkey, Argentina and Brazil," Chapman said. "We get about five inquiries each day, and constantly have potential new families visiting for a look-see."

B'nai B'rith sends immigration consultants from New Zealand to South Africa several times a year to advise potential immigrants. Those interested also can access detailed information on lifestyle and the cost of living in Auckland on B'nai B'rith's Web site.

Since the campaign began, 10 families have come directly through B'nai B'rith's services, with another 30 due to arrive later this year.

Another 300 families have arrived from South Africa -- but it is difficult to gauge whether the promotions effected their decisions.

"Immigration is a long process, and we are just starting to see the results. Many have used our facilities and initial help but have arrived independently," Chapman said. "Moving here is just like crossing the road for South Africans. The lifestyle is very similar, but with no crime affecting the community."

"The number of anti-Semitic incidents in New Zealand is so minute, we don't bother keeping records." noted David Zvartz, the Wellington-based president of the New Zealand Jewish Council.

The Auckland Jewish Immigration Organization can be found on the Web at www.aji.org.nz .

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