Until 1942, the NSW Jewish Advisory Board (founded in 1932 and comprising representatives of synagogues only) acted as the spokesperson for the Jewish community. In February 1942, with World War II on Australia’s doorstep and European Jewry in peril, the Advisory Board invited other congregational bodies to form a Public Relations Committee, which in turn established the Bureau of Jewish Affairs, whose main aim was to combat growing antisemitism.
In March 1942, an Open Letter to the Jews of New South Wales was issued over the signatures of 18 men, who urged:
“Today, we are confronted with the fact that in Sydney there does not exist a Jewish community in the true sense of the word. The control and administration of our people is concentrated in the hands of a few. There is a failure to admit to their councils’ representatives from among those Jews for whom they claim to speak. There has been an infusion of many fresh forces. Should not they, too, be harnessed to add fresh grist to the Jewish mill? The establishment of a democratically elected Jewish body, based on universal Jewish franchise, is the only means of awakening our people to the responsibilities and obligations that face them.”
The Open Letter created a furore in the community. It was a revolt against the established order. In May 1942 the Advisory Board called a meeting with the representatives of the 18 signatories and communicated with every Jewish organisation in Sydney with a view to widening the representation on the Advisory Board.
It took another two years before a representative gathering of delegates of synagogues and communal organisations in June 1944 adopted the constitution of the first Board of Deputies. This provided for “full democratic representation under existing conditions”. Preparations commenced for the first election. This took another seven months. By then, the number of affiliated organisations had dropped from 40 to 23 with 5,182 members registered.
Finally, after years of agitation, discussion and preparation, the first meeting of the Board of Deputies took place on 29 July, 1945. The Bureau of Jewish Affairs was disbanded and its activities taken over by the Public Relations Sub-Committee of the newly constituted organisation.
(This summary by Yehuda Feher based on The Origin and Development of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, by Dr G F Bergman, Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal & Proceedings Vol VI, Part 8, 1970).
Note: In 1949 the Board of Deputies agreed to change the Constitution to allow 25 per cent of representatives to be elected by universal franchise, and in 1955 the proposal of 50 per cent elected by the general franchise was adopted.
Saul Symonds * 1945 – 1952
Horace B Newman * 1952 – 1955
Gerald De Vahl Davis* 1955 – 1957
Horace B Newman * 1957 – 1967
Gerald Y Falk OBE * 1967 – 1969
Harry S Goldstein OBE * 1969 – 1973
Maurice Allen * 1973 – 1975
Sidney Muller AM * 1975 – 1978
Robert M Goot AM 1978 – 1982
Leslie Caplan AM * 1982 – 1985
Graham De Vahl Davis AM * 1985 – 1989
Gerry Levy AM * 1989 – 1992
Michael Marx AM 1992 – 1996
Peter Wertheim AM 1996 – 2000
Stephen Rothman AM 2000 – 2004
David D Knoll AM 2004 – 2008
Robin F Margo 2008 – 2010
Yair Miller OAM 2010 – 2014
Jeremy Spinak * 2014 – 2018