Abraham Hort 1799 -1869, was one of the founders of the Wellington Jewish community and congregation, and is credited with holding the first organized Jewish service in Wellington, New Zealand.
Abraham Hort was a British colonist—with a difference. While his voyaging compatriots saw themselves as founding a little England in the antipodes, Hort’s vision was more in the order of creating a new Jerusalem in the South Seas.
Hort, a philanthropic fixture in London’s Jewish circles, became interested in New Zealand through his close friendship with Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, a director of the New Zealand Company who himself would leave a significant cultural footprint in the Dominion.
Hort’s enthusiasm was for New Zealand becoming a destination for Jewish immigration. Along with his wife and four children, he arrived in Wellington on January 2, 1843, to scope out the possibilities. In the event, and with the blessing of the Chief Rabbi of England, he went on to establish a Jewish congregation in Wellington, which began life on January 7, 1843. Later he helped acquire a site on The Terrace for a synagogue.
He also helped bring out potential Jewish brides for the community of mainly male settlers.
On the political front, Hort successfully campaigned to become the town's aldermen in October 1843; two years later, he served on the military subcommittee for the defence of Wellington. He is remembered, in particular, for his philanthropic activities, but also for his legaces, among them a future prime minister, Francis Dillon Bell, and William Hort Levin, a prominent Wellington merchant who gave his name to the town of Levin.
Yet it was the destiny of his Jewish bretheren that occupied much of his energy, as was shown in a typically impassioned letter to the local New Zealand Spectator from 1854 imploring readers to be aware of the “intense sufferings sustaining by the Hebrew residents of Jerusalem and the suburban cities of the Holy Land” as a result of a local famine, and the need for the worst affected to find refuge in Australasian colonies.
In 1859, Hort returned to London, where he died 10 years later.
Image above header: Abraham Hort, 1799 - 1869. Photographer unknown. Reproduced here with the permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library