Once a week, Moshe Jacobs gets a visit from a new young rabbi in Tasmania who travels some 60 miles from his home in Launceston to Devenport, where Jacobs lives. The rabbi gives a class, then returns the next week with more insights to share. Jacobs acknowledges that this is something to be grateful for, “especially if you live in an isolated community.”

Isolated is a word that’s frequently used to describe Tasmania as a whole, and not just its small Jewish population. Located 150 miles south of the Australian continent, Tasmania is the 26th largest island in the world, and almost 40 percent of it comprises nature reserves, national parks and World Heritage Sites that attract tourists from around the globe. Although there are only an estimated 300 to 400 Jewish residents on the island, that didn’t deter Rabbi Yochanan and Rochel Gordon from moving there a year ago.

Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis from mainland Australia have been heading to Tasmania for years, and a building was bought by Rabbi Joseph Gutnick for Chabad in 1987 to run programs during the visits. The Tasmanian Jewish community is small but committed, and has a long and storied history. Gordon’s father, Rabbi Yossi Gordon, is a familiar face to Tasmanian Jews and has long served as a sort of “Roving Rabbi” there.


Local resident Gershon Goldsteen has provided invaluable voluntary services to the community, but “it’s good to have more,” says Jacobs.

The Gordons moved last December in time for Chanukah, and ever since, they’ve been conducting services and hosting meals, giving weekly lectures, arranging bimonthly Shabbatons for the community and holding a monthly social event for women. “Our home is open to the locals and tourists, even if they just need somewhere to eat or a listening ear,” says Gordon. They also run a mother/toddler group and two Hebrew schools—one in Hobart and one in Launceston. They spend time with Jewish residents in rural areas and offer kosher food supplies for the community, as well as visit hospitals and help groups who come on trips.

“Since we moved here, I think the classes and our new Hebrew school have brought people much closer to Judaism in a practical way,” he says. “We have a good core group, and the children are now much more involved and informed than they ever were.”

‘Out of the Woodwork’

Holiday programs have also brought in new faces. “Our numbers have consistently been on the rise,” says Gordon. The Chabad website has also brought in new people, he adds; many are attracted because they’ve seen that there is now a Chabad rabbi in Tasmania full-time.

A core group of Jewish families live within six miles of the Chabad center, but more are spread far and wide in rural areas. There are even some who have been Sabbath-observant and very happy to have an enhanced Jewish infrastructure. “We have seen a big commitment from these people, who would otherwise have no other religious Jew or spiritual leader involved in their lives,” notes the rabbi. Jewish people have come “out of the woodwork” during his time in Tasmania, including some who were unaware they were Jewish.

 Tasmanians celebrate in the Chabad-Lubavitch sukkah.
Tasmanians celebrate in the Chabad-Lubavitch sukkah.

The Gordons are looking forward to connecting with more Jewish residents around the island, and to starting new programs for all ages. Plans are also underway to restore a mikvah in Hobart, and to build a new mikvah in Launceston. They’re also hoping to build a new Chabad House.

“In general, Tasmania is a beautiful physical place,” said Gordon. "We hope that it can also become a beautiful spiritual oasis that the community will be proud of.”

Pnina Clark, who along with her husband, David has been a mainstay of the Tasmanian Jewish community for years, lives more than two hours from the Chabad center. Clark says she’s always glad to see the Gordons.

“It just gives us a huge hope,” she says, noting that she has grandchildren nearly their age and enjoys seeing the young couple wear their Judaism proudly. “We’ve added one more yarmulke to the island, which only has about three,” she says of Gordon. “They’ve added new life and broadened the horizons; in a way, it restored my optimism about Jewish life in Tasmania.”

Clark says she likes knowing that when she lights Sabbath candles, other candles are being lit on the island. As for the rabbi and his wife, she says they radiate love, concern and goodwill.

“They’re just lovely people,” she states. More than that, she says they’re creating a focal point for Jewish activity in the area. “Having the young couple here rejuvenates. They’ve really lifted our spirits.”