Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bloch, Jacob Simon (Jack) (1898–1961)

by Valerie Lawson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Jacob Simon (Jack) Bloch (1898-1961), shoemaker, was born on 14 May 1898 at Plunge, Telsas Apsketes, Lithuania (then part of Russia), and named Yaacov Shimon (known in Lithuanian as Simonas Jankelis), son of Lozer Blochas, painter and cobbler, and his wife Chaja. Apprenticed to a shoemaker at the age of 11, the youngster also studied dance until he was 15, when he moved to Varniai, to work as a cobbler. There in 1919 he married Zise Sandler, a bootmaker's daughter.

The couple's social life revolved around local theatre and folk dancing, at which Yaacov excelled. They had five children, including a son and a daughter who died in childhood. Zise's sister Polly and her British husband had migrated to Australia in the late 1920s. They sent the necessary papers to allow Yaacov to migrate as well and he arrived in Sydney in 1930, determined to find enough work to allow his family to follow him.

Known in Australia as Jacob (or Jack) Bloch, he charmed potential employers when he went from shop to shop, seeking work as a cobbler. At one city store, a display of ballet shoes inspired him to establish his own business. He rented a small shop in Oxford Street, Paddington, where he made dance shoes to order. For the students of Sydney's ballet schools, Bloch made flat ballet slippers, pointe shoes, tap shoes and national character dance shoes—including Russian Cossack boots and Irish and Scottish dance shoes. In 1933 his wife and three children joined him.

In 1936 Bloch expanded to a second floor workshop at Taylor Square, Darlinghurst. Many ballet troupes came to Australia in the 1930s, among them the Dandréa-Levitoff company in 1934 and Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo which toured in 1936, 1938 and 1939. Dancers who bought and wore his shoes in Australia included the ballerinas Olga Spessivtseva, Irina Baronova, Tamara Toumanova, Tatiana Riabouchinska and Tamara Tchinarova and the premier danseur David Lichine.

While visiting English dancers usually preferred lighter shoes, made in England, Bloch always boasted that his pointe shoes were strong and long lasting. When Russian-speaking dance companies came to Sydney, he visited the dancers backstage, acting as an interpreter and taking orders for his shoes. Accompanying him was his daughter Betty, who loved to watch the dancers from the wings. Bloch was naturalized on 26 June 1940, when he was described as 5 ft 9 ins (175.3 cm) tall, with dark hair and grey eyes.

His business grew in a modest way, and by 1950 he was making about fifty pairs of ballet shoes each week. Despite his output, Bloch was more craftsman than businessman. Sometimes his orders would be finished on time, often not. He was not ambitious, he was not compelled to meet deadlines and he never became wealthy. In 1950 he opened a small factory at Botany. It was not a success, as the damp sea air affected the drying time of his glue-stiffened pointe shoes. With another factory at Zetland, in 1959 he opened a shop in the city, in the Piccadilly Arcade. Outgoing, gregarious and popular, 'Jack' Bloch loved parties and cards—gin rummy most of all. When the European community of Sydney met at the Russian Club or at private parties, he often led the dancing.

A heavy smoker all his life, Bloch died of myocardial infarction on 12 April 1961 at his home in Bronte Road, Waverley. He was buried in the Jewish cemetery at Rookwood. His wife and their two sons and one daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Sept 1950, p 7
  • ST1233, item N6609 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Valerie Lawson, 'Bloch, Jacob Simon (Jack) (1898–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bloch-jacob-simon-jack-12803/text23107, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 21 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Shimon, Yaacov
  • Blochas, Yaacov Shimon
  • Blochas, Simonas Jankelis
Birth

14 May 1898
Plunge, Lithuania

Death

12 April 1961
Waverley, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation