Woman Porush, Bertha
- Jewish community leader
Written by Ann Standish, The University of Melbourne
Bertha Link was born in Berlin in 1903, into a Jewish family that had produced many rabbis over the years. She moved to London in the early 1930s. In 1934 she married Rabbi Dr Israel Porush, then Rabbi at a synagogue in East Finchley. Israel Porush's family background was Lithuanian, but he had been educated in Germany. When Rabbi Porush was appointed chief rabbi of the Great Synagogue in central Sydney in 1940, the couple migrated to Australia. The Great Synagogue, consecrated in 1878, is the oldest surviving Australian synagogue, and remains socially and historically important as the 'mother' synagogue for Australian orthodox Jews. Here, Bertha became an influential rabbi's wife (or rebbetzin) who significantly expanded opportunities for women's involvement in the synagogue.
Before women could become involved in the rabbinical side of Judaism in their own right, a rebbetzin was the most powerful position a woman could hold within the religion. Traditionally, a rabbi's wife has distinct duties within their community; they can be responsible for performing social tasks and outreach roles and may be approached by women members of the congregation who are uncomfortable approaching the rabbi directly. In this way, the rabbi and his wife form a team. Bertha was greatly committed to her role in supporting the synagogue and its community. As Rabbi Raymond Apple said on her death, 'Mrs Porush was more than a faithful support to her husband she was a leader in her own right, expecting the women of the community, in particular, to take her advice and follow her lead'. She was particularly effective in opening up access to the synagogue to women, which had previously been limited. As the then president of the Great Synagogue said in 2009, 'there has been a women's presence in the Great since it was founded in 1878, but membership was restricted to wives of Board members and the Chief Minister'. This changed in 1941 when Bertha Porush formed a new women's auxiliary, which was open to all female members. The reinvigorated auxiliary was a powerful forum for women's involvement in synagogue management from then on.
When Israel Porush retired after thirty years in Sydney, the couple moved to Caulfield, Melbourne, to be near their daughter and her family. In retirement, they continued their involvement with the Jewish community, and Israel wrote a number of books. Israel died in 1991. Bertha later moved with her daughter and daughter's family to Jerusalem, where she died in 2009 aged 105.
- Apple, Raymond, The Great Synagogue: A History of Sydney's Big Shule, University of New South Wales (UNSW) Press, Sydney, New South Wales, 2008. Details
- Porush, Israel, The House of Israel: A Study of Sydney Jewry from its Foundation (1788) and a History of the Great Synagogue of Sydney, Hawthorn Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 1977. Details
- Porush, Israel, The Journal of an Australian Rabbi, or, 'And thou shalt tell thy grandchildren, Australian Jewish Historical Society, Melbourne, Victoria, 1992. Details
- 'Bertha Porush dies at 105', in The Australian Jewish News, 15 June 2009, http://www.jewishnews.net.au/bertha-porush-dies-at-105/3873. Details
- Benjamin, Henry, 'Governor Visits the Great', in J-Wire, 16 November 2011, http://www.jwire.com.au/news/governor-visits-the-great/20430. Details