By Menachem Posner – chabad.org
Located between mainland Australia and Tasmania, Flinders Island has a population of 700 (down to 300 in the winter), and less than a handful—four to be exact—are Jews. This week, they received the first rabbinic visit in the island’s history, from Rabbi Yochanan Gordon, who co-directs Chabad of Tasmania with his wife, Rochel.
The trip was the result of a community dinner last December, during which the rabbi encouraged congregants and visitors to share mitzvahs they would add to their daily routines. Hearing their resolutions, the rabbi was inspired to accept a new challenge of his own: to do his utmost to personally visit every known Jew in Tasmania, which comprises a total of 334 islands.
Setting out to meet the estimated 300 Jews in Tasmania, the rabbi chose to begin with those hardest to meet, the isolated residents of Flinders Island, which sits in the Bass Strait between Tasmania and mainland Australia.
The Schecter family of Melbourne sponsored the flight from Launceston, and the rabbi immediately contacted members of the tribe he knew lived there. After alighting from the 19-seater plane, the rabbi was greeted at the airport by a full quarter of the island’s Jewish population: a man named Paul Williamson, who runs the Flinders Island Distillery. Together, they went to the breathtaking Walker’s Lookout, which afforded the rabbi a beautiful backdrop for inspiring morning services.
Williamson then proudly affixed a mezuzah on his door and put on tefillin for the first time in his life. They celebrated the milestone (his de facto bar mitzvah) over a cup of kosher coffee during which they discussed the possibility of making kosher-certified gin.
The rabbi then headed to the towns of Lady Barron (pop. 264) and Whitemark (pop. 301). They met a woman whose brother-in-law was a Jew born on the island, but he had passed away a year prior and none of his siblings still lived there.
The rabbi also had a chat with Kate Mooney (known internationally as the “Flinders Island Wombat Lady” for her work rescuing baby wombats orphaned by automobile accidents) and a Jewish tourist who wanted to know more about her Jewish heritage.
After a full day, the rabbi hopped back on the plane to Launceston, ready to continue his mission of meeting every Tasmanian Jew. Since the project began, he’s had coffee with around 40 Tasmanian Jews. That means there are still 260 left to go.