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Rabinovitch, Abraham Isaac (1889–1964)

by Suzanne D. Rutland

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Abraham Isaac Rabinovitch (1889-1964), businessman and property investor, was born on 5 November 1889 at Tiraspol, near Odessa, Russia, third of five children of Yacob Zvi Rabinovitch, a teacher of Hebrew, and his wife Lea, née Gitman (Goodman). Educated in a traditional school until the age of 13, Abraham began work as a crockery salesman. Within two years, with the help of a partner, he was buying fruit at Odessa and selling it as far away as Warsaw. He married his first cousin Chaya (Hake) Sara Gitman (d.1965) about 1910 and served for three years in the Imperial Russian army.

In 1914 Rabinovitch briefly visited his brother Zalic at Harbin, China, before reaching Australia on 2 February 1915 in the Niko Maru. Hake joined him in the following year. Reunited with his brother Nuchem in Brisbane, he struggled to make a living: he was first employed as a ship's painter, then at S. Hoffnung & Co. Ltd and eventually as a furniture dealer. Meanwhile, Hake worked as a dressmaker. She had a number of miscarriages and remained childless.

In 1921 they moved to Sydney where they were naturalized on 12 November. Rabinovitch developed a successful army disposal store in Pitt Street, near Central Railway Station. He had an excellent eye for property and was able to build up a significant fortune by developing real estate at Bondi Junction. In 1928 he brought to Sydney his brother-in-law's son, Nicholas Goodman, then aged 14. He moved from his Bondi home to a large house at 5 Vivian Street, Bellevue Hill, in 1935. His property included the Bondi Pacific Hotel which was requisitioned (1942-46) for accommodation for armed services personnel.

Rabinovitch devoted himself to activities within the Jewish community and was unstinting in his endeavours to assist orthodox institutions. Honorary treasurer in the 1930s of the Central Synagogue, Woollahra, he played a major role in the controversial dismissal (1932) of Rabbi Gedaliah Kirsner. He also served on the Chevra Kadisha and supported the Zionist movement. During World War II he befriended Rabbi Hans Elchanan Blumenthal, one of the Dunera internees. On arriving in Sydney in 1942, Blumenthal was dismayed that there was no mikvah (ritual bath), nor Talmud Torah (Jewish school), and that the Central Synagogue had a mixed choir. With financial support from Rabinovitch, the first mikvah was opened in April that year at 117 Glenayr Avenue, Bondi Beach. Rabinovitch acquired the property next door, where the North Bondi Hebrew School and Kindergarten opened in September 1942 with Blumenthal as principal. Initially the school's treasurer (1942-43), he served as its president in 1943-64.

In June 1952 Rabinovitch bought (for £30,500) Mark Foy's home at 112 Victoria Road, Bellevue Hill, as premises for the day school which was renamed Moriah War Memorial College. Additional classrooms were built on the Vivian Street side in 1959-60. The Foy home was demolished in 1963 and replaced by a double-storey block of classrooms. It was to be named after Rabinovitch in 1965.

Rabinovitch had founded the Adath Yisroel Congregation in 1942 and sponsored Rabbi Shmuel Bernath (from Budapest) as its minister in 1948. After a falling out with the Adath, he founded the Sydney Talmudical College (under Rabbi Gedaliah Herc) in 1955 and bought a property for it in Flood Street, Bondi. In February 1964 Rabinovitch endowed a second kindergarten for Moriah College, the Mount Zion Kindergarten.

In addition to helping many individuals—particularly newcomers—to establish themselves, Rabinovitch contributed to improvements in the supply of kosher meat and pushed for a more committed religious lifestyle. His vision, tenacity and generosity had led to the provision of a range of Jewish institutions in Sydney. Although he devoted energy and money to the causes he espoused, problems arose with his leadership. He acted in a dictatorial manner, appointing his boards, arguing with them and putting pressure on those who did not agree with him to resign. Tensions between Rabinovitch and the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies led to the creation of a second Jewish day school, the King David School, in 1960. After his death the two schools amalgamated.

Survived by his wife, Rabinovitch died on 26 July 1964 at his Bellevue Hill home and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. His portrait by Joseph Wolinski is held by Moriah College, Queens Park, Bondi Junction.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Blumenthal, Trials and Challenges (Jerusalem, 1994)
  • Moriah News, Dec 1953
  • Sydney Jewish News, 31 July 1964
  • Australian Jewish Times, 23 Aug 1984
  • S. Caplan, The Jewish Day School Movement in New South Wales (M.Ed. thesis, University of Sydney, 1975)
  • Moriah War Memorial College, Annual Reports and minutes, 1945-64
  • North Bondi Jewish Day School and Kindergarten Assn, minutes, 1942-53
  • Mikvah Committee, minutes, 1942-43
  • naturalisation file A/1, item 1921/19133, B985, item N/4/145 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Suzanne D. Rutland, 'Rabinovitch, Abraham Isaac (1889–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rabinovitch-abraham-isaac-11475/text20461, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 2 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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