History of Kadimah

The “Kadimah” was founded on the 26th December 1911 and was first located at 59 Bourke Street, just down from the Victorian Parliament in central Melbourne.* The founders were predominantly recently arrived immigrants, Jews from Eastern Europe and Russia, and the inaugural “Kadimah” Committee and its first 80 members led by President Yehushe Rochlin chose to launch this secular, cultural initiative “davke” on Boxing Day.  This fact perhaps illustrates both their confidence in and deference to the “arumike svive”/“environment”.  It was after all, 60 years prior to the launch of “Multiculturalism” as a national cultural policy.

The five and a half thousand or so Jews, of predominantly Anglo-Germanic background, who lived in Melbourne at the time of the founding of the “Kadimah”, were hardly welcoming of their new brethren from overseas.  After all, most of these “Folks Yidn”, folk Jews, were escaping the turmoil of the “old world” and the failed revolution of 1905.  As “latest arrivals” they threatened and embarrassed the previously settled and more established “Melburnians of Hebraic persuasion”.  Right from the start of the founding of the “Kadimah”, the disparate member factions began wrangling over languages and character of the new institution.  English and Hebrew were at first the preferred languages of the majority of members and Yiddish was still looked down upon by many.  And so, it was not surprising that the Hebraic-Yiddish name “Kadimah” (”Progress-Forward”) was chosen by the founding committee.

Just prior to WWI as the membership rose steadily, reaching more than 200 members, the “Kadimah” decided to move to larger premises.** In 1915 it was relocated at 313 Drummond Street Carlton, where the cheap rents were attracting the new migrants in greater numbers.  At the end of “the War to end all Wars” came a lull which saw “Kadimah"’s activities almost cease completely.  Then in 1919 an ensuing struggle amongst the membership, essentially a battle between the leftist supporters of the 1917 Russian Revolution and Zionist supporters of the 1917 Belfour Declaration, led to the “Kadimah” being absorbed by the pro-Zionist “Hatchia” organization.

When one of the shining lights of the East European Yiddish literary renaissance, Perets Hirshbayn arrived for a series of lectures in 1921, he was welcomed like a movie star and proved to be a harbinger of a new, dynamic, Yiddish dominated era.  In 1926 the “Kadimah” broke away from ”Hatchia”, again forming an independent organisation.  By 1933, as Hitler came to power in Germany, marking the beginning of the end for Eastern European Jewry, the “Kadimah” blossomed into a fully fledged cultural centre and built a new, enlarged premises at 836 Lygon Street Carlton.  The new building also contained a 400 seat capacity theatre hall and library.  Boldly renamed the “Jewish Cultural Centre and National Library “Kadimah”, its numerous activities included lectures, recitals, concerts, debates, plays and a youth committee was formed to coordinate special activities aimed at the growing number of younger members.

With the worsening situation in Europe and the arrival of such Jewish luminaries as the writer, poet Melekh Ravich and the pedagogue Josef Giligich, the “Kadimah” published the first ever Yiddish book in Australia.  This was “Der Oystralisher Almanach”/”The Australian Almanach” which appeared in 1937.  A year later the pioneer Yiddish writer Pinkhas Goldhar published his excellent “Dertzaylungen fun Oystralye/Stories from Australia” and a Yiddish weekly, “Di Oystralishe Yiddishe Nayes/Australian Jewish News” appeared under his editorship in 1939(?).  As news of the looming disaster in Europe began to emerge, the Melbourne Jewish community rallied, beginning with a “Kadimah” initiated protest against the Nuremburg Racial Laws.  And as one tragedy followed another, the “Kadimah” continued its cultural activities interspersed with further rallies, protests and solidarity meetings. 

Appeals, petitions, fund raising and attempts to speed up the immigration process now became the prime concern of the “Kadimah” and the community as a whole.  Whilst the war in Europe raged and ravaged Jewish life there, the local ideological battles also continued.  A local spat over a 1944 “Jewish Board of Deputies” resolution, supporting the declaration of a “Jewish Commonwealth in Palestine”, nearly split the “Kadimah” asunder.  In 1945 as news of the full extent of the Jewish tragedy in Europe unfolded the “Kadimah” held the first Warsaw Ghetto Commemoration and in 1948 joyously celebrated the establishment of the Jewish State in Israel.  Following the 1948 new immigration policy, the immediate post war trickle of Jewish refugees to Australia turned into a torrent of newcomers.  Many of these new arrivals were Holocaust survivors and those returned from the Soviet Union, making Melbourne the second highest per capita home of such survivors after Israel.

The “Kadimah” soon became the focal point of the cultural and intellectual life of the growing Jewish community, concentrated around the inner Melbourne suburbs of Carlton and Brunswick.  By 1950 the “Kadimah” had 1000 members and a paid librarian had to be engaged to cope with the growing demand for books, magazines and newspapers.  A year later yet another schism threatened the future of the institution.  The leftist youth section was at odds with the “Kadimah” committee.  Yet indicatively, both the leftist Bundist-SKIF and centrist Zionist-Habonim youth movements were allowed to use the “Kadimah” premises for their respective meetings.  The 1953 protest rallies against the Soviet Union’s persecution of Jews, the Doctors’ Plot and the Slonsky Show Trials, galvanised the community around the “Kadimah”.  The few surviving prominent actors and artists, such as Yakov Weislitz and Rokhl Holtzer, who were amongst the immigrants to find refuge in Melbourne, now built on an earlier, more amateurish local Yiddish theatre tradition.  They established a new ensemble and later renamed it the “Dovid Herman Teater by der Kadimah” after the famous director of the Vilno Troupe.  This began a rich era of theatrical productions of a high calibre.  By 1953 they were staging five separate productions a year and the “Kadimah” membership had reached 1300.

Melbourne’s reputation as an important centre of Yiddish and Jewish life soon spread around the world and so did the “Kadimah”'s cultural and theatrical achievements.  From  the early 1950’s till the present day a steady stream of well known performers, directors and lecturers began regular visits to these distant shores, especially once flying became a common and affordable means of travel.  Amongst such prominent guests of the “Kadimah” were Mandl Man, Yankev Pat, Avrom Sutzkever, Shimon Dzigan, Zygmunt and Rosa Turkow, Jankev Malkin, Sidor Belarski, Ida Kaminska, Josef Shayn, Prof Eliezer Naks, Dinah Halpern, Josef Rotboym, Leah Kenig, Tzvi Shtolper, Rabbi Dr Heshl Klepfish, S Berkowicz, Shmuel Rudensky, Shmuel Segal, Shmuel Atzmon, Wolf  Tambur, Melekh Frydman, Nekhama Lifshitz, Yehuda Elberg, Prof Eugene Orenstein, Prof Dov Noy, Prof Gershon Winer, Prof Moskowicz, Prof Avrom Novershtern, Michael Alpert, Adam Gruzman, Rafael Goldwaser, Shane Baker.

These visiting luminaries unfailingly packed out the auditorium of the “Kadimah” and their guest presentations and performances were augmented all year round by an impressive array of local talent, artists, actors, lecturers, writers and poets, Avrahm Kahn, Dr Mark Varshtendik, Lova Frydman, Bono Wiener, Avraham Cykiert and others.  Many of the local writers and poets also published their work in the “Kadimah”’s literary journal “Di Melburne Bletter/The Melbourne Chronicle”.  The Yiddish section, has been since its inception edited by writer-broadcaster Moishe Ajzenbud and the English, by a number of writer-editors, Ron Abel 1975 - 1977, Serge Liberman 1977-1984 & 1991-1996, Yvonne Fein 1984-1990, Zoi Juvris 1992-2001, Alex Dafner 2002  and Arnold Zable 1988, 1991 & 2012.

In the late 1950’s and early ‘60’s, as the Jewish community became more settled and prosperous, it began to shift from Carlton to the leafier, more middle class suburbs of Melbourne.  Firstly, south to St Kilda and Elwood and then gradually south-east to Caulfield and Brighton.  The “Kadimah” was being gradually abandoned by its former migrant patrons and had to follow the trend, by moving south-east and building its present premises, the Leo Fink Hall in Selwyn St., Elsternwick.  The choice of position was no doubt influenced by the availability at its rear, of a unique facility and investment opportunity, Melbourne’s oldest operating picture theatre, today the “Classic Cinema”.  With a little renovation and building of additional changing rooms, the “Classic” doubled as a theatre stage for the performances of the very active “Dovid Herman Teater by der Kadimah”. 

Then in 1970, with the rejuvenation of Australian theatre in general, a youth ensemble, the “Melbourne Yiddish Youth Theatre at the Kadimah”, led by the late actor, director Fay Mokotow, began performing translations of English plays and classics of the Yiddish theatre.  And whilst the older “Dovid Herman Theatre's” performances slowed following the passing of key veterans such as Shiah Tigel and the much loved actor, editor, broadcaster and Kadimah President Yasha Sher, the younger troupe continued with their productions until the late 1990’s.  In the Centenary Year of the "Kadimah" in 2011-2012 and prior to that at the 2nd International Yiddish Theatre Festival in Montreal, the "Zaftik" Yiddish theatre troupe of wonderful performers Evelyn Krape, Elisa Gray and Tomi Kalinski devised and successfully performed "Ek Velt-Tail End of the World", a roller-coaster journey through the lives and histories of leading lights, actors/directors of the Australian Yiddish theatre, using a number of theatrical genres and traditions, including comedy, tragedy, song, dance and recitations. 

With the aging of the post-war Jewish migrant population, other initiatives became a priority.  In 1984 under the dedicated stewardship of the veteran actress Rachel Lewita the “Wednesday Club at the Kadimah” began to function as an important weekly gathering, which encompassed a program of news and current events, cultural presentations, entertainment and companionship.  It continued its weekly meetings until 2015, led by such dedicated, dynamic volunteers as the Coordinator Cesia Goldberg and her assistant Tomi Kalinski, amongst others.  The "Kadimah" library collections and archives has continued to expand under the dynamic leadership of the former Vice President and Library Coordinator Rachel Kalman OAM and her team of dedicated volunteers. 

Similarly, three Yiddish chat-shmooz and reading circles, which meet weekly, one on Monday morning led by Alex Dafner, one on Tuesday morning led by Beni Gothajner and a third on Wednesday night led by Dr Yankev Dessauer, have also increased the number of regular attendees.  A weekly Kadimah Yiddish Radio Show is presented by Alex Dafner on J-Air FM and Internet Radio every Thursday at 4.00PM and the occasional, popular, special events, such as the "Lebediker Radio - Live Radio Show", "In Friendship" and the "Libe Brent-Love Burns" concerts, entertain the general public with wonderful artists, comedians, singers and musicians several times per year.  Thus, even though the membership has dropped to the levels of the early years, the “Kadimah” still manages to present more than 150 activities per year, making it one of the most active cultural organizations within the Jewish community. 

It would be remiss not to mention the literally hundreds of dedicated “Kadimah kultur un gezelshaftlekhe tuer”/cultural and community activists, presidents, office bearers, volunteers and functionaries, who gave of their talents, time and toil, for the betterment of the Kadimah’s organizational life and its cultural pursuits over more than a century.  Those interested in these personalities are encouraged to turn to the “Kadimah Almanachs”, the Presidents’ honour board and other records of the “Kadimah”.*  The more than century long history of the ‘Kadimah” reflects much of the story of 20th century Jewish migration and settlement in Australia.  Its fortunes wax and wane with the influx and decline of immigration in general and Jewish immigration to Melbourne in particular, but overall it is a proud history of exemplary service and self-efficiency, a pioneering example of cultural autonomy within an increasingly dependent, multiethnic, multicultural society. 

For more then 100 years the “Kadimah” has fulfilled the vital cultural, linguistic, intellectual and social needs of a nascent, dislocated Jewish migrant community.  Sometimes however, it also served as a platform for the expressions of anguish and struggle, much of it transplanted and reflecting the turbulent and tragic Jewish experience in 20th century Europe.  The challenge for the future is to make the “Kadimah” relevant to the needs of the second and third generation, Australian born Jews, offspring of those migrants who made this country and this institution a real “home away from the home” that was so cruelly destroyed forever.  For the “Kadimah”, there’s much cause for celebration and the challenge is currently being taken up by President Renata Singer, a reinvigorated Kadimah Board and Cultural Officer Fay Burstin.  So, “lechaim”/to life, “un biz 120 un nokh vayter/may it live to 120 and then some!

* To see or download a Chronological Short History of the Kadimah click here 

** To download a slide presentation of the History of the Kadimah click here

Alex Dafner

“Kadimah”

Melbourne

צו לייענען אַ כראָנאָלאָגישע קורצע געשיכטע פֿון דער קדימה אין יידיש, גיט  קוועטשט דאָ*

פֿון דער באַגריסונג לכּבֿוד 100טן יובֿל פֿון דער קדימה

חשובע און טײַערע מיטגלידער און פֿרײַנט פֿון דער "קדימה".  זײַט האַרציק באַגריסט צו דער דערעפֿענונג פֿון דער 100 יאָריקער יובילײַ פֿײַערונג פֿון דער "קדימה.  דעם יאָר דערמאָנען מיר זיך אין די גוטע צײַטן ווען די קדימה איז געווען פֿול געפּאַקט מיט די מערסטנס קאַרלטאָנער יידן, אַ סך פֿון זיי נײַע אימיגראַנטן.  די קדימה איז געפֿירט געווען פֿון געניטע, דערפֿאַרענע ייִדישע געזעלשאַפֿטלעכע און קולטור טוער, נאָך פֿון דער אַלטער היים.  דאָ האָט מען זיך צוגעהערט מיט גרויס אינטערעס צו די רעדנער, היגע און אויסלענדישע פּרעלעגענטן, געהאַט הנאה פֿון די פֿילצאָליקע קאָנצערטן און בעלער, און די אומ-פֿאַרגעסלעכע פֿאָרשטעלונגען פֿונעם טעאַטער קרײַז בײַ דער "קדימה" און שפּעטער דעם "דוד הערמאַן" טעאַטער.  דאָ זענען פֿאָרגעקומען היציקע פֿאַרזאַמלונגען און פּראָטעסט מאַניפֿעסטאַציעס.  דאָ האָט מען געלייענט מיט נײַגעריקייט די לעצטע צײַטשריפֿטן פֿון דער ייִדישער וועלט, און געבאָרגט ביכער, פֿון די אוצרות פֿון דער ייִדישער ליטעראַטור.  דאָ האָט זיך געטראָפֿן די פּרץ שול, און די "סקיפֿ" און "הבנים" יוגנט באַוועגונגען, און נאָך און נאָך

 מיר באַגריסן ספּיציעל די מיטגלידער פֿון דער משפּחה פֿון סענדער בורשטין, פֿון לעאָ און מינאַ פֿינק, און שלמיתשער און איר מאַנס יאַשאַ שערס און פֿאָטער יוסף גיליגיטשעס משפּחות, הערשל באַכראַכס משפּחה, יוסף אָרבאַכס משפּחה, דעם ביבליאָטעקאַרער קוויאַטקאָווסקיס, און די משפּחות פֿון געוועזענע קדימה אַקטיוויסטן, נאַטאַן גריפֿענבערג, און פּיניע רינגעלבלום, אונעם כאָר מײַסטער ברוח קאַלושינער און די הײַנטיקע אַקטיוויסטן צעשיאַ און אַבֿרהם גאָלדבערג און רחל קאַלמאַן OAM.  און מיר באַגריסן האַרציק די משפּה מיטגלידער פֿונעם דוד הערמאַן טעאַטער, געניאַ טיגעל און איר מאַנס שיאה טיגעלס משפּחה, רחל לעוויטאַס, לאה צוקערס, און אהרן גורעוויטש, אַבֿרהם און חווהלע וויגושין, פּאָלאַ באָלטמאַן, חיהלה יאַקאָבסאָן, און די מיטגלידער פֿונעם מעלבורנער יוגנט טעאַטער בײַ דער קדימה.  און אויב מיר האָבן אַדורכגעלאָזט עמעצן, אייערס אַ קרובֿ אַמאָל טעטיק בײַ דער "קדימה", זײַט מיר מוחל, מיר באַגריסן אײַך אויך האַרציק צוזאַמען מיט אַלע וועלכע פֿלעגן קומען דאָ און פֿאַרברענגען און זיך באַטייליקן 

איך וויל אויך איבערגעבן באַזונדערע גרוסן צוויי לאַנג יאָריקע "קדימה" טוער וועלכע צוליב געזונט סיבֿות האָבן נישט געקענט זײַן דאָ, דער געוועזענער פּרעזידענט, ערן-סעקרעטאַר און דעדאַקטאָר פֿון "די מעלבורנער בלעטער", דער שרײַבער משה אײַזענבוד, און דער געוועזענער וויצע-פּרעזידענט און קאַסירער יוסל ווינקלער, וועלכער שיקט אויך איבער זײַערע האַרציקע גרוסן אונדז דאָ.  ביידע זענען טעטיק בײַ דער "קדימה" מער ווי 50 יאָר, און נאָך אַלץ טעטיק לטובֿות ייִדיש.  משה מיט זײַנע שריפֿט און רעדאַגירן פֿון די "מעלבורנער בלעטער" און "חורבן צענטער נײַעס" יידישע זײַטלעך, און יוסל ווינקלער אויף די ייִדישע ראַדיאָ פּראָגראַמען, און אין דער "מאָנטעפֿיאָרי היים" מיט יידישע ידיעת, און מיר ווינטשן זיי אויך אריחות יומים.  איז הײַנט ווילן מיר זיך דערמאָנען די "גוטע צײַטן", צוריק גערעדט, כאָטש מיר האָבן דאָס אפֿשר נישט געוואוסט דעמאָלט, און פֿאַרזיכן נאָך אַ מאָל בלויז דעם טעם, פֿון דער קדימה פֿון אַמאָל, בפֿרט אין קאַרלטאָן.  אַ האַרציקן דאַנק אײַך.  איז געדענקט קומט אויף די פֿיל אונטערנעמונגען וועלכע מיר פּלאַנירן איבערן יאָר, און בלײַבט געזונט און שטאַרק

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