Author: Morris. S. Ochert OAM Z”L
The original Brisbane Jewish cemetery at Lang Park stood on the site of what is now Suncorp Stadium on Caxton Street in Paddington. In 1921, this cemetery was deconsecrated. Some of the Jewish graves were relocated to the Jewish section at Toowong Cemetery. The Toowong Jewish Cemetery was established in 1878, two years after the opening of the general cemetery in which it stands.
Toowong Jewish Cemetery has approximately 800 Jewish graves, with about twenty unused spaces, most of which are reserved.
Starting from the top left-hand corner of the Jewish portion, walk down the first row, looking left. About the 16th headstone from the start is the grave of Sam Burmister, a world-class heavy-weight wrestler. As a youth Mr Burmister, trained to be a singer in a Romanian Synagogue and he had a rich baritone voice. He became a professional wrestler and several occasions won the World Jewish Wrestling Championship.
Moving along another 14 headstones you will come across the grave of Morris Moskowitch. In the first half of the 20th century, Morris built and renovated many homes in South Brisbane. He built a small synagogue as an annex to his home in Greenslopes, where he and a group of friends used to pray.Walking up another 6 headstones and still looking left you will come to the Guinsberg grave. This type of massive monument is unusual for its size and is rarely utilized nowadays.
Another 13 headstones along this same path is the grave of W. J. Friedlander (AIF). This is an example of the bronze plaque erected by the War Graves Commission over the graves of ex-servicemen.
The grave next to this one is the grave of Isaac Hillel Hillman. As a young man he came to Brisbane from Latvia. He worked as a plumber until he could pay for his fiancée to join him. They married here and spent the rest of their lives in Townsville. Isaac was a pious man and made arrangements for his body to be buried in this Jewish Cemetery. He died aged 96.
Walking to the end of this path walk around to the start of second path. Looking right, go to the seventh headstone, and you will see the large headstone of Rev. Jonas Myer Myers, Minister of the Brisbane Hebrew Congregation for 45 years and in Toowoomba and Adelaide for several additional years. He was primarily responsible for the building of the Brisbane Synagogue in Margaret Street, established 1886. The Sefer Torah scroll at the top of his monument indicates that he was regarded as a particularly good person.
Walk two graves along and you have reached the two Lawrence and one Loewe graves, three sandstone monuments transferred from Lang Park.
The third headstone has a carved watcher pitcher. Persons who are descended from the Biblical clan of Levi are called ‘Levites’ and their duties in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem included washing the hands of the Priests (“Cohen” in English). One of the variant names of “Levi” is Loewe, the family name of the deceased.
Another 8 headstones along this path is the grave of Phyliss Mary Peixetto (the x is pronounced as a “z”). She was a descendant of an important leader by the same name in the United States Jewish community. There is a well-known painting in the Library of the US Congress, showing him with a Jewish delegation which was congratulating George Washington on his victory over the colonial power and assuring him of their loyalty.
Walking along another 8 headstones we come upon the grave of Monty Bloom who served as an engineer in the AIF during the Great War. He was also an entertainer who organized concert parties for out troops in both World Wars to entertain the troops. He was decorated for good service, and continued to entertain wounded soldiers for many years after the Second World War.
Now walk around to the start of the third path. Looking LEFT the 23rd headstone from the start is that of Myer Kangan AO, MBE He was decorated with the Order of Australia and made a member of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his distinguished services to the Crown and to Industry. His headstone has the symbol of a Cohen, a descendant of the High Priests of the Jerusalem Temple. Behind Kangan’s headstone is that of Louis Paul Fingereth, M.B.E. On this headstone is a motif of the configuration of the hands of a Cohen (a male descendant of the family of Aaron, Moses’ brother. With hands held in this manner, a Cohen is entitled to bless the Congregation.
Moving also this path 6 more headstones, we come to the grave of Lipman Abrahams. The book symbol suggests the person was well versed in Jewish culture and perhaps Jewish law. Next to this beautiful sandstone monument is the grave of Percy Benjamin, a son of Sir Benjamin and Lady Fanny Benjamin. Sir Benjamin owned a Melbourne Savings bank. At the end of the 19th century there was an unexplained public rush to withdraw funds. Sir Benjamin put all his own funds into his bank in an effort to reassure his customers; nevertheless, his attempt to support market confidence resulted in him becoming bankrupt. Percy’s monument was paid for by his employers, S. Hoffnung & Co.
A further 3 headstones along, we have the headstone of Cornelia Harris. On this monument is a passage from Proverbs XXXI, a fine tribute to a goodly wife. Several of the next graves on both sides of the path form the centre of the oldest part of this Jewish Cemetery.
Most of these monuments are made of sandstone, quarried near Helidon.
Another 3 headstones along is the headstone of Caroline Benjamin. The headstone and massive monument would weigh over one ton. Now go to the end of this 3rd path and round to the start of the 4th path and look to the right and to the 7th grave, that of Arthur Hyam. You will see some columns with the top broken off. This is a symbol of a person who died at a young age. As you walk along this path a few headstones up you will notice some more of the old sandstone monuments. Further along you will come upon the white marble monument of L. M. Boock. This is an example of a marble monument erected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
There is a grave marked “Shemot”, “books”. Jewish people are careful to avoid disrespect to objects carrying the Holy Name. Therefore, prayer books which are no longer usable are not trashed or burnt, but are placed in small coffins and buried in the consecrated ground of a Jewish Cemetery.
The third grave after the Shemot grave and in the rear row is that of E. S. Meyers. He was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Australian Army in the First World War, being a Regimental Medical Officer. He was a surgeon, anatomist and teacher; co-founder of the Medical Faculty of the University of Queensland and was Dean of the faculty 1942-1954. Now walk round to the start of the fifth path.
Walking along to the fifth monument. At the rear of it is the grave of: Dr E. M. Margulies, the only doctor in the western Queensland country town of Cunnamulla. A major fire destroyed the hotel and the doctor distinguished himself in the rescue, as well as in the treatment of the survivors. He later became the Government Medical Officer on the Gold Coast.
Walking along another 22 monuments is the grave of Roy Mark Levy, a well-known cricketer representing Queensland in the Sheffield Shield series. Walk along the path past 6 monuments, and you will be standing at the grave of: bush poet “Sali” Mendelsohn. His real name was Bezalel Saul Mendelsohn. Sali’s wife was a woman of strong opinions and she preferred his nickname to his given names, so she had them neatly chiseled off the headstone. Sali was Queensland’s greatest bush balladeer and wrote many songs about the droving days, including Salt Junk and the New Chum’s First Tour. His most enduring ballad is The Girls of Toowong also known as The Drover. It tells of drovers who would set out from the cattle fattening yards which used to stretch from the foot of Mt Coot-tha (close to where you are standing) to the Brisbane river. They would proceed in stages to the North West, where they would collect a vast herd of beef cattle and bring them here for spelling and fattening.
Moving along the path for another 10 monuments, you will come to the grave of Samuel Joseph Levy. When a person dies at a relatively young age, the event is sometimes symbolized by a motif of something being broken. In this case, an arm with an axe in the hand is reaching down from the clouds, and it has chopped the trunk of a palm-tree.
Go to the end of the path and onto the road. The first monument is that of Joseph Hearsch. Here you will see some of the pebbles or stones which are placed on monuments, a Jewish custom of when visiting graves.