The Incredible Journey of a Jewish Traveller by Israel Cohen

[Hat tip to RYDBZ]

This is an incredible log of a world-wide journey, published in 1925. Even the City of Melbourne was visited and described in Chapter 7, and I present that section below (not perfectly converted from PDF to text).

Israel Cohen


THE journey from Adelaide to Melbourne,
accomplished overnight in a comfortable train,
was the shortest I made since I left Port Said,
as it took only eighteen hours. Melbourne impressed me as a beautiful city, clean and spacious, with
wide, regular streets, tall imposing buildings, including
something like a sky—scraper, and a handsome tree—lined
thoroughfare—St. Kilda’s Avenue-—which can challenge
comparison with some of the finest boulevards in the
capitals of Europe. It has a. Jewish community of 6000
souls, who are all intensely proud of the city in which
they live, and who never ceased asking me what I thought
of it. Their lines have fallen in pleasant places, for
most of those who arrived there as immigrants with only a few shillings in their pockets, though with untold

energy, succeeded within a comparatively short time in
attaining a high degree of prosperity. One of the largest
departmental stores was pointed out to me as belonging
to a Russian Jew who, twenty years ago, went about
hawking with a pack on his back. The devotion of
the Jews to the British Crown is sincere and ever-present,
and struck me as much more demonstrative in character
than that of their co—religionists in the mother country.

‘So fond were they of singing the National Anthem at
the gatherings in which I appeared that I was almost
inclined to think that they regarded me not so much
as an Emissary of the Zionist Executive as an Envoy of
His Majesty.

On the day of my arrival a reception in my honour
was given by the committee of the “Hatechia,” a Zionist
Society consisting mostly of Russian Jews. As I entered
the room the entire company greeted me with “ God
save the King,” to pianoforte accompaniment, and after
the introductions were over, and we had taken our seats
at a festively decked table, the chairman asked us to
fill our glasses, rose to propose “ The Health of the
King,” and within two minutes the National Anthem
was again rendered with great gusto to the tinkling of
the piano. Many speeches, brimful of enthusiasm, were
then delivered, and the concluding event was the singing
of the National Anthem for the third time. That demonstration should have sufficed to convince even the most
sceptical of the Morning Post scribes that Zionism has
nothing to do with Bolshevism. There was, indeed,
hardly any public function in my honour that did not
either open or close with a similar patriotic manifestation.
One evening I went to a ball organized by some youthful
Zionists, and as soon as I appeared on the platform overlooking the dancing-floor, the orchestra suddenly stopped
in the middle of a lively jazz measure, and after a
moment’s solemn preparation vigorously struck up the
ever-popular anthem.

The reception on the day of my arrival was rendered
memorable by another feature. It was .a gargantuan
plaited loaf that lay on the table. before me, similar to
that which I had seen in Perth on the eve of my departure. It had been specially baked, I was told, not only
in my honour, but for my personal consumption ; but
when I explained that I could not very well take the
loaf back to my hotel, and that in any case it would
become quite stale before I had eaten even half, it was
proposed that it should be raffled among the members
of the society for the benefit of the Palestine Fund.
This suggestion, however, was not proceeded with, as
one of the members bought it by private treaty for a
party that he was giving the next day in celebration of
his daughter’s marriage. The bridal couple thought that their union was rendered particularly auspicious
by the acquisition of the loaf of the Zionist Emissary.

Among various messages that reached me soon after
the local newspapers published their first interview
with me was a letter from a gentleman who stated that
he was very keenly interested in my mission, and had
indeed been looking forward for some time to my coming.
He mentioned that he was the brother of a rather distinguished personality in London, and asked if he could
call to see me. I at once responded cordially and affirmatively, congratulating myself upon the valuable assistance
which I felt sure he would offer, and still more upon the
introduction that I expected to receive to the distinguished
London personality, who had hitherto held quite aloof
from any Jewish cause. The brother of the great man
came to see me at once, but at the first glance at his
shabby coat and bristly chin I felt that I had been
building castles in the air, and we had not been engaged
in conversation many minutes before all the castles came
toppling down into fragments. For my visitor, after
inquiring after‘ the welfare of his famous relative and
perceiving that I acknowledged his importance, suddenly
remarked: “ I’m rather stumped just now. Can you
lend me a dollar ? I’ll let you have it back when we meet
again.” I had little faith in the possibility of any such
repayment, nor was I disposed to risk a second meeting,
as I feared it might be abused by further exploitation,
so I gave the brother of the distinguished personality
half a crown, and he left me with the assurance that he
would never’ forget me——a sentiment that I sincerely
though tacitly reciprocated. When I related the incident
later in the day to a friend, he told me that my experience
was not unique, that there were several “ ex-remittance
men ” belonging to good families of the old country,
who ‘were always on the look-out for visitors whom they
could impress and impose upon ; and he congratulated
me upon having got off so cheaply.

But if I had to place a trifle on the debit side of my sojourn in Melbourne, I was rather lucky‘ to be able to
build up -on the -credit side a record of munificence far
surpassing anything done by any other community in
the whole of my travels. I owed a good measure of my‘

success to the help and advice of Mr. M. Zeltner, the

President of the Victoria Zionist Organization, who was
himself characteristic of the self-made man, for, born
over half a century ago in Cracow, he had arrived in
Melbourne with nothing but his wits and his grit, and
gradually established his fortune as a.- merchant in rubber,
and his fame as a public-spirited philanthropist. He
presided at the first two public meetings that I addressed,
and lent his house on a Sunday afternoon for a private
gathering, the total yield of the three occasions being
‘nearly £14,000, which Mr. Zeltner headed with the first

The “most important meeting was that over which
General Sir John Monash presided. The General had
hitherto not identified himself with Zionism, although,
since his return from war-stricken Europe as the brilliant
Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Forces, he had
begun to take a more keen and active interest in Jewish
affairs. The fame that he, not a professional soldier
before the war, had deservedly won on the battlefield
by his genius for strategy and gift for leadership, seemed
to be resented by the military clique, whose jealousy
prevented the according of such an official welcome on
his h0me—coming as a victor acclaimed in the Allied
capitals was entitled to expect. Sir John had now put
away his uniform and sword and resumed his practice
as a civil engineer, and only a day after my arrival he
was appointed by the Federal Government as Director
of the great Morwell electricity scheme. He was exceedingly busy at the time,” and as the meeting over which

I wished him to preside was to take place on a Monday
evening. and I could not approach him until the previous
Friday afternoon, I was prepared for a rebuff. But Sir
John was the soul of kindness. He welcomed me in his office in his bluff and hearty manner, and little persuasion
was needed either from me or from a mutual friend,
Mr. B. H. Altson, an ardent Zionist, who accompanied
me, to secure his assent to our request. He had a previous
engagement, an important meeting of the Court of
Governors of the University, but he agreed to waive it
for the sake of Zion. He inquired about the latest
developments in Palestine, and told me with pride that
a famous kinsman of his had once been interested in
the Jewish colonization of the country.

“ Who was that ? ” I asked curiously.

“ The ‘historian of our people, Graetz,” was the reply.

There was little time left to make arrangements for
the meeting, especially as it was the week-end, and
some of my friends were rather nervous about the result.
But thanks to prominent advertisements in the press,
headed “ The King’s Message to Palestine,” and above
all, to the attraction of Sir John Monash, whose popularity
with the public was not affected by military pique, the
Assembly Hall was crowded with a representative
audience of about I000, whilst late comers had to be
turned away. As soon as Sir John arrived in the waiting-
room behind the platform he remarked: “ I mustn’t
forget to give you this,” and, taking a half-crown out of
his waistcoat-pocket, he said : “ This is from my cook.
She is a profound believer in the restoration of the Jews
to Palestine, and she insisted on my giving you her
mite to the funds”

The meeting was marked by scenes of enthusiasm,
particular applause greeting the reference in my speech
to the part played by the Australians in the redemption
of the Holy Land. I had been told that at the time
when volunteers were being raised in the Commonwealth
for transportation to the battlefields of Europe there was
a popular song with the catching refrain : “ Australia
will be there ! ” which was sung and whistled throughout
the Continent. I utilized the refrain in drawing a picture
of the future glories of Palestine, for, speaking of the new settlements that would gradually arise to cover
the waste places of the ancient country and of the proposal to create among them a colony bearing the name
of the Commonwealth, I exclaimed tha “ once again
would it be said: ‘ Australia will be there!’ ” The
patriotic allusion brought the house down. My appeal
for‘ funds, conducted by the method I had inaugurated
in Perth, was successful. The first response was for
£1000, then followed a few donations of £500 each (one
being from Sir John, though he asked that the announcement should be anonymous), and scores of others for
decreasing amounts, until a total of £6000 was reached
within an hour, making a grand total of £20,000 after
only six days’ work. The Victoria collection was shortly
increased to £26,000, thanks to private canvassing and
to visits paid to Geelong and Ballarat.

Another distinguished Jew whom I met was the Hon.
Justice Isaacs, a member of the Commonwealth Supreme
Court, whose decisions in some leading cases, I was told,
had evoked encomiums from legal authorities in England.
He was another example of the Jew who had risen to
the highest position by sheer merit and force of character.
The son of a poor Russo-Jewish tailor, he had started
life as a school teacher, but in his leisure hours he studied
law and then decided to devote himself to the legal

I met him———a dour-visaged sexagenarian of medium
height with small grey moustache and fresh complexion
——at the house of Mr. Altson. The aspect of Zionism
in which the judge was most interested, or rather about
which he was most concerned, was the question of
Jewish nationality. He could not understand nationality
apart from a state or territory from which such nationality was derived, and he therefore asked how the Jews,
having no such qualification, could claim nationality.
I replied that his definition was faulty, that it was
formulated without regard to actual conditions, and
that he confused nationality with citizenship.

” Take the case of Eastern Galicia,” I said. “ There
you have a country whose fate the Peace Conference
has not yet decided, and which is inhabited by three
distinct nationalities-the Ukrainians, the Poles and
the Jews. The Ukrainians and the Poles are striving
for the mastery, but both recognize that the Jews form
quite a different nationality. Whatever be the fate of

Eastern Galicia, the Jews will be citizens of the State ‘

to which it will be assigned, but they will still belong
to the Jewish nationality.”

The judge thought for a moment, and then said
gravely: “ I think that nationality is an unfortunate

He told me that he was making a serious study of
Hebrew grammar, which he had neglected since
boyhood, and wished to know something about the
adaptability of Hebrew to the needs of modern speech,
asking for the equivalents of various modern terms.
The acquisition of languages was his hobby, and among
the various European tongues that he had mastered were
Russian and modern Greek. I” was anxious that he
should make a. profounder study of Zionism than he
had hitherto done, and was glad to learn that he in-
tended. visiting Palestine on his way to England, whither
he was shortly sailing for a year’s holiday. I gave him
a letter of introduction to Sir Herbert Samuel, but when
I reached Jerusalem several months later, I learned that
Justice Isaacs had spent only a day in Palestine, which
scarcely sufficed for the correction of pre-conceived
ideas, still less for the gathering of new impressions.

Among the novel experiences that fell to my lot was
to occupy the pulpit in two synagogues, first, at the
more fashionable shrine in St. Kilda, whose minister
was my old fellow—student, the Rev. Jacob Danglow,
and, secondly (after a few weeks spent in New Zealand),
at the East Melbourne Synagogue. The addresses
served a practical as well as a moral purpose, for they
were delivered during the Sabbath morning service before congregations which included many people who
had not attended my public meetings, and the result
was of no small benefit to the Fund. The experience
recalled memories of my Jews’ College days, when I
occupied more than one London pulpit ; and apparently
I acquitted myself of the preacher’s role ‘with some
measure of satisfaction as I was discreetly approached
on behalf of the committee of another synagogue and
offered the vacant position of minister with alluring
emoluments. Memories of my College days were also
revived when I visited Mr. Danglow’s study and saw
on the wall the framed illuminated address that had
been presented to him by the Jews’ College Union
Society on the occasion of his departure from England
some sixteen years before, and which had been drafted
and signed by me as President of the Society.

I had, indeed, no lack of variety of experiences. They
were in no case exciting, though occasionally exasperating.
For I had to supplement my public appeals by personal
canvassing, and I seldom found anybody willing to
promise a donation without some preliminary skirmish.
Doubts were sometimes expressed whether the Zionist
scheme would succeed ; questions were asked about the
measure of financial support given by prominent English
Jews ; priority was claimed for local calls and charities;
attempts were made to postpone a decision. But I
grappled bravely with every case, developing the patience
of a Job and the ingenuity of a counsel for the defence.
One man wished to be assured that there would be a
Hebrew revival in Palestine; his next-door neighbour
demanded that English should be predominant; both
were ultimately satisfied and contributed. Another
person was anxious lest England should relinquish the

‘Mandate and leave Palestine to her fate; and a fourth
had the vision of a powerful Jewish Commonwealth fifty
years hence making war upon Great Britain-—as though
we Jews have not had enough with the wars of others.

Some doubted whether Jews could make successful colonizers, but when I showed them some of the photographs I had taken in Palestine—of the beautiful avenue
of palms in Rishon-le-Zion, the picturesque suburb of
Tel Aviv, the keen intelligent faces of the Haluzim,
the splendid figure of a mounted Shomer—their doubts
were dispelled.

There was, in truth, little reason in Victoria for doubt
on the score. of Jewish fitness for husbandry, as a colony
of Jewish farmers had actually been created in that
State only a hundred miles from Melbourne. It was
the fruit-growing colony- of Shepparton, comprising a
hundred Jews, mostly of Russian origin, some of whom
had lived in Palestine several years before the war.
The establishment of the settlement was due to the
initiative and generosity of one or two public-spirited
Melbourne Jews, and had proved thoroughly successful.
I received a telegram from the little community inviting
me to visit them, but unfortunately my arrangements
rendered the journey impossible. The Jews of Shepparton, however, bore no grudge. They at once convened
a local meeting, delivered speeches on the restoration
of Palestine, and raised a goodly sum for the benefit of
the Fund.

A little scepticism was also expressed at a meeting
that I addressed under the auspices of the Melbourne
University, and over which the Principal presided. I
spoke mainly upon the subject of the Jerusalem University, though I also dealt with the general aspects of
the Restoration. But a professor of history, who proposed
the vote of thanks for my address, tried to show that
the Zionist ideal was impracticable on the ground that
his reading of history had taught him that the Jews
had always lived in discord with one another, and could
not govern themselves. I. acknowledged his thanks but
repudiated his history. I pointed out that the Jewish
communities and colonies already established in Palestine
were .a model of peace and concord ; and that the Jews
were not only able to govern themselves, as they had proved through the councils of the colonies in that
country, but were also able to govern some of the people
in Australia, as would be shown when Sir Matthew
Nathan shortly arrived to assume office as Governor of
Queensland. The burst of applause evoked by this local
illustration signalized the discomfiture of the professor
and the ‘explosion of his thesis.

Before leaving Melbourne, I had a brief interview
with the Commonwealth “Premier, the Right I-Ion.
W. M. Hughes, to whom I bore a letter of introduction
from Sir Alfred Mond. The Federal Parliament was
sitting at the time, and as the interview was to take
place in the Premier’s official room, I arrived a little
earlier so as to hear some of the speeches. The Chamber,
which is modelled in general after the House of Commons,
is, of course, much smaller and less dignified, and the
apparently constant restlessness of the members deprived
the proceedings of any inspiration. I was fortunate enough to come in time to hear “ Billy ” Hughes, as he
is invariably styled, address the House on the Estimates.
He has an unprepossessing figure, being short, round-
shouldered, and with a beak-like nose; his. lips snapped
open like a vice, emitting a rasping, raucous voice, and
then snapped together again; he gyrated first on one
foot and then on the other ; and all the time he held
in his hand a short ear-trumpet to- catch the interruptions
that flew about. But the instrument-did not compensate
entirely for his deafness, and he made some curious slips
in his retorts, which evoked peals of laughter. “ Billy.”
however, was not disconcerted, and despite all his physical
deficiencies he easily dominated the entire assembly
with his arresting eye and air of authority.

As soon as his speech was over he left the Chamber

[for his private room, into which I was presently ushered.

After reading the letter of Sir Alfred Mond, he remarked
that the latter had been very helpful to him in England,
and then asked if he could be of any assistance to me.
I said that I should have liked him to preside at a public meeting, but as he had been away most of the time that
I was in Melbourne, and I had to leave for Sydney the next day, that desire was doomed to disappointment.

He inquired about the progress in Palestine, and especially
about the attitude of the Arabs, and then sharply asked :

“You haven’t come here to recruit emigrants for Palestine ? ”

“ Oh, no, sir,” I assured him. ‘

“Because we can’t spare any,” he added grimly.

He expressed his good wishes for the continuance of my tour, and I withdrew.

It is well worth downloading and reading all 378 pages of this book. Enjoy.

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: