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Benjamin, Moses (1805–1885)

from Jewish Herald (Vic)

By the death of Mr. Moses Benjamin, which we regret to state took place early on Sabbath morning the 25th ult., the Melbourne Jewish community has lost one of its oldest and most respected members. For close on half-a-century he was a familiar figure amongst our people, and more or less identified with every movement tending to their welfare. Being among the pioneers of Victorian Judaism he was naturally much attached to the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation, the oldest of our congregations, which he helped to establish, and in the progress of which he took a lively interest up to the time of his death. Indeed, that congregation owes him no small debt of gratitude. Through its varying fortunes it had no better friend than him, who with his money and advice many a time piloted it through grave difficulties. On Sabbaths and festivals he was a regular attendant at Divine service, and on all occasions a consistent advocate of our time hallowed mode of worship. As a private citizen he was of a quiet, unobtrusive disposition, acting on the golden rule, "Do good by stealth and blush to find it fame." He had a kind word for everybody, and everybody spoke kindly of him. Apart from the veneration due to his age he was held in esteem, and deservedly so by Jews and Christians alike.

The late Mr. Moses Benjamin was born in London in October, 1805, and was consequently close upon eighty years of age at the time of his death. He arrived in Melbourne in the barque London, Captain Gibson, on the 29th December, 1843, accompanied by his wife and six children. Immediately on his arrival he started business as an importer in Collins-street west, a few doors above Elizabeth-street. His two brothers, Messrs. David and Solomon Benjamin, who had arrived in the colony some few years before the deceased gentleman, were already established in business in Melbourne. After the late Mr. Benjamin had carried on business on his own account for about two years the businesses of the three brothers were amalgamated, and they conducted most extensive mercantile operations under the style or firm of Messrs. D. S. and M. Benjamin, a name which was a household word in the early years of the colony. The firm was in existence until the year 1854, when a dissolution took place, the two brothers, Messrs. David and Solomon Benjamin finally leaving Melbourne for England. The deceased gentleman subsequently entered into business with his two sons Mr. Benjamin Benjamin and the late Mr. Elias Benjamin, under the firm of Messrs. M. Benjamin and Sons. This partnership lasted some eight or nine years, when the deceased retired from mercantile pursuits. Since then he has led a private life, although deeply interested in and concerned for the progress of our institutions, both Jewish and unsectarian. He was a man who never sought for honours; the only public position he consented to occupy was that of a Justice of the Peace, he having been created a territorial and city magistrate in the year 1858. On the occasion of the establishment of the Jewish Orphan and Neglected Children's Aid Society, some three years ago, Mr. Benjamin accepted the position of patron to the society.

When Mr. Benjamin arrived in the colony, those pioneers of Judaism who were already resident in Melbourne, and amongst whom might be specially mentioned his brothers, Messrs. D. and S. Benjamin, the late Mr. A. H. Hart, the late Mr. E. Hart, the late Mr. S. H. Harris, Mr. Isaac Hart, and Mr. M. Cashmore, had established a society for Divine worship, called the "Jewish Congregational Society." On the 21st January, 1844, the late Mr. Benjamin applied that his name might be entered as a member of the society. It is worthy of note that at the general meeting of the members which was held on that date, and at which Mr. Benjamin was accepted as a member, it was resolved that the name of the society should be discontinued, and that it be called ''The Holy Congregation of a Remnant of Israel".

The deceased gentleman soon took a prominent part in Jewish matters, and at the annual meeting of the privileged members of the congregation held 22nd September, 1844, he was elected president. He refused to accept the office, but consented to act on the committee. In 1846 he was elected treasurer, to which office he was re-elected in 1847. He was again elected treasurer in the years 1848 and 1850, but on both of these occasions he declined to take the office. In January, 1852, the deceased gentleman was elected one of the trustees of the synagogue, and in February, 1854 a resolution was passed that the deeds of the synagogue property should be placed in his hands. During the years 1852 and 1853, owing to the discovery of gold, there was an immense influx of population to the colony. The increased population naturally included a great number of Jews. The then synagogue was much too small to accommodate the number of worshippers who flocked to Melbourne during the holidays. To meet this difficulty, and in order to provide for the spiritual wants of his co-religionists, Mr. Benjamin, in conjunction with his brother, Mr. David Benjamin, converted the whole of their mercantile premises in Collins street west into a special temporary synagogue, and provided sitting accommodation for at least three hundred persons. The deceased gentleman was appointed to act as treasurer to this temporary synagogue, and for their kindness on that occasion a special letter of thanks was forwarded to him and his brother. Mr. Benjamin was on many occasions a most liberal contributor to the synagogue funds, and, in fact, it may be truly said that one of the objects of his long life was to raise the prestige of Judaism, to elevate the status of those who were concerned in the affairs of the synagogue both lay and spiritual, and to make the name of "Jew" honoured in a new sphere, where men of all creeds worked together shoulder to shoulder to found a community free from those Old World prejudices, which are a slur upon civilisation.

During his life the deceased gentleman suffered several family afflictions. A son died before he came to Victoria; in 1854 he lost his wife, a lady much beloved by all with whom she came into contact; in 1870 his second son, Mr. Elias Benjamin, died, and in January of the present year his daughter, Rachel, wife of Mr. Isaac Hart, J.P., departed this life. He leaves surviving him his sons, Mr. Alderman B. Benjamin, J.P., and Mr. David Benjamin, two daughters, Mrs. Edward Cohen, widow of the late Hon. Edward Cohen, and Mrs. Edward Marks, wife of Mr. Edward Marks, of Albert-street, and a large number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The funeral took place on Sunday afternoon, the 26th ult., and was attended by a large concourse of mourners—the largest that has been witnessed in Melbourne for many a day. The remains were interred in the Melbourne General Cemetery, the funeral service being conducted by the Rev. Dr. Abrahams. At the grave the rev. gentleman delivered the following oration:—

"My Dear Friends,—At this solemn and mournful moment, when we are about to consign to their last resting-place the remains of our esteemed and beloved brother, must there not re-echo from the heart of all who knew him, and who witnessed his quiet, unobtrusive, yet eminently useful career, the words addressed by the inspired Psalmist to the Almighty, 'Thou hast put far from me one that loved me, and my friend.' It was yesterday, on the Sabbath day, that our esteemed co-religionist passed away from his earthly existence to enter into the day of eternal rest and tranquility. Significant, indeed, it is that the soul of our departed brother was summoned into the presence of the Creator on the Sabbath, for which the portion of the Law contains the recapitulation of the Sinaitic Revelation— and it was an honour he highly valued to be called up to the reading of the Decalogue, and contains further some of the fundamental principles of our Holy Faith that his earnest endeavours were directed to realise.  'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,' yesterday's Sedrah proclaimed, and our teachers add, 'Let thy actions be such as to cause the Eternal to be universally revered through thee, even as it is written, ''Thou art my servant 0 Israel in whom I will be glorified.' " And have not these words been verified in the career of 'Moses, the servant of the Lord, who was faithful in all God's house?' He was one of the earliest members—aye, one of the founders of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation. He always took a lively interest in our synagogue, as well as in our charitable institutions. As a trustee of the House of God, he many a time proved himself worthy of his office by extricating the community from financial difficulties. And at a period of embarrassment in the communal management, not very long since, he was the means of doing good work for the holy cause, both by his advice and by his influence judiciously exerted. That he was appreciated by his fellow men outside the pale of our Faith is evident from the fact that he held the position of justice of peace, and, doubtless, he could have attained other dignities had he but chosen to strive after them. But, hitherto, I have spoken in accordance with what I have gathered from the mouth of others, whose acquaintance with him dated back many years prior to mine. Now let me point out to you some of the noble traits of his character, that have come within the range of my own experience. He was a regular attendant at the synagogue, and always came forward with his consolation and solace to those who had been visited with affliction. I cannot take my place at the reading desk without beholding the holy Ark containing the Scrolls of the Law, that was a gift from a member of his family, who had emulated the example of piety worthy of imitation that he had set. The hooks out of which I publicly recite the daily Sabbath and Festival prayers were presented by him to the synagogue. But let me speak of him as a man. He was considerate in the extreme. When he was lying on his bed of languishing, enduring "his heaven-sent visitation with pious fortitude, I heard him remark to the attending physician, 'Doctor, you can benefit me but little; leave me, go and attend your other patients to whom your skill may be of more service, than to me.' On the Sabbath eve he gave instructions for the due preparation to welcome the day of the Lord, and from his anguish his Creator has raised him to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in His Temple, leaving behind a good name that is better than precious ointment. It was usual in the days of yore to preserve the body of the deceased from physical dissolution, by means of various processes known to the skilled men of the times. Far superior to enbalming is a good name. The former keeps but a ghastly semblance of life and merely protracts the end that must inevitably come. But the tender recollection of a pious man defies the elements of nature; and the influence over our lives which it exerts is undying. Benjamin, the beloved of the Lord, thou shalt dwell in safety by him, and the Eternal shall cover thee all day long, and shall dwell between thy shoulders.' Benjamin enjoys the Divine protection both in this life and in the world to come.' And the knowledge that the glorious future awaiting God's holy ones has been realised by our departed brother must fortify us in the loss our community has sustained by the death of a true Jew, and a faithful and exemplary member.

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'Benjamin, Moses (1805–1885)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/benjamin-moses-20255/text31313, accessed 20 June 2019.

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