David Abzac, 1901-1951
Autobiographical writing, 2010, commissioned by Julie Meadows
Everyone in Carlton knew my father. His warm sholem aleichem handshake and welcoming smile was his signature.
He had a drapery store in the markets (South Melbourne, Wednesdays and Fridays, and Dandenong, Tuesdays). He never worked on Saturdays. The rest of the time he worked for the Jewish Welfare and Relief Society (Hilfsfund) in a voluntary capacity. We never had much money, but he was totally devoted to his work with the newcomers. He seldom had an uninterrupted dinner, because people used to ring the bell asking for help and he never turned them away, morning or night. I often helped him to fill in immigration and other papers which used to pile up, there were always so many of them.
He was a weekly columnist in the Yiddishe Nayes (Jewish News), and a legendary gezelshaftleche arbeiter (community worker), especially for the naye gekumene (newcomers).
His journey started in Warsaw, Poland with wife Golda and daughter Masha on the Orient Liner “Orion”, in 1939. His brother-in-law, Jack Lederman had wanted him in Australia to join his mother, Rachel Abzac and three sisters, Pola Lederman, Chana Nagel and Fela Acker. Jack Lederman sponsored their visa and guaranteed work and accommodation. The family arrived on 11 March 1939, six months before the outbreak of war.
David’s Yiddish world was of the greatest importance to him, as is reflected in his weekly column of commentaries on politics, Yiddish Theatre, the Kadimah, local affairs and the situation in Europe. We spoke only Yiddish at home and with friends. My mother was a housewife and she learned very little English.
David loved Yiddish music and wrote well-informed critiques of the chazanim in the shuls on the Yomim Tovim. He would walk from Talmud Torah Hascolato Stone’s shtibel to Carlton Shul, East Melbourne and Toorak Shuls, to hear them all. David wrote music. He also had a beautiful tenor voice and sang at Samuel Meyers Hall on numerous Oneg Shabbatim, where there were usually about 300 people gathered. His favourite songs were Rozinkes mit Mandlen (Raisins with Almonds), Baranovitch and Oifn Pripetchick.
David became President of the Welfare and Relief Society and spent endless hours counseling the migrants on jobs, filling in applications and finding schools and accommodation for them. Together with Yehuda Honig, Sigmund Stock, Kalman Parasol, Dr Gold and Jones Pushett, he was deeply committed to the Revisionist Party.
His time was never his own. He was sent by the Welfare society to Fremantle and Sydney to meet the ships and welcome the refugees from the Holocaust. People still remember the tall, friendly gentleman, whose warmth and Yiddish vort (Yiddish words) embraced them and made them feel welcome. His passion for caring and doing whatever was needed to be done extended until his illness, which took him at the early age of forty-nine.
The David Abzac House for Refugees was named in honor of his untiring work, as was the plaque at Bialik College, which he co-founded in Drummond Street, North Carlton.
An icon of Yiddishe Carlton, and indeed, of life as it was in Melbourne 1939-1951.