Founder of the first Jewish congregation in New Zealand.
Abraham Hort was well known among London's Jewry, where he earned a reputation as a philanthropist long before he thought of coming to New Zealand. He had filled the highest positions in the Duke's Place Synagogue and had served upon many charitable boards. As an intimate friend of Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, Bt., a director of the New Zealand Company, he became interested in the Company's plans. In order to explore the suitability of New Zealand as a field for Jewish immigration, with a view to relieving the pressure on Jewish charities at home, Hort arrived in Wellington on 2 January 1843, where his son Abraham Hort junior had established an importing business some years earlier. Before leaving London, Hort received from Solomon Herschell, Chief Rabbi of England, a written authority to establish a Jewish congregation in Wellington and “to promote Judaism in whatever way he thought fit” and, knowing the difficulty Jewish settlers experienced in finding brides within the faith, he brought out several young Jewesses, all of whom later married into the Wellington Jewish community. Shortly after his arrival Hort conducted the first Jewish service held in New Zealand, and immediately afterwards applied to Lt. Willoughby Shortland for a site for a synagogue and cemetery. This was approved on 16 May 1843.
Hort was elected one of the town's aldermen in October 1843 and signed the Wellington address of sympathy to the Nelson settlers after the Wairau affray. In 1845 he served on the military subcommittee for the defence of Wellington. Hort returned to London on the Clantarf in May 1859 and died there on 18 October 1869. His daughter, Jessie, married Nathaniel Levin, and another, Margaret, married Sir Francis Dillon Bell.
Hort was very active in Wellington's public meetings in the 1840s and 1850s, especially when the cause was philanthropic, while in the infant Jewish community he undertook the important role of pioneer organiser.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- History of the Jews in New Zealand, Goldman, L. M. (1958).