Tonight was a very special night in the history of the Perth Jewish Community, indeed for all Australian and world Jewry.
Rabbi Shalom Coleman is Australia’s most senior Rabbi. At the spritely age of 105 he celebrated his birthday. He still leads a remarkably active and fulfilling life.
In recent times he has continued to write and publish material, deliver weekly shiurim, and he attends Shule on a daily basis. He recently delivered a drasha to a packed MZH Shule on Kol Nidre and has spoken at various community events and levayot to departed friends.
At tonight’s historic event a number of tributes were extended. Just a few speech highlights are as follows:
Adam Levine (MC) drawing on the parshat hashavua described the demeanour of Rabbi Coleman as youthful as Yosef Hatzaddik.
Rabbi Leiberman quoted Perekei Avot 5:21, taking issue with the Tanaiim’s statement about the quality of life at 100, noting that Rabbi Coleman is not just with us, but he is still teaching us and we are still learning from him.
Rabbi Freilich, the younger of PHC’s Emeritus Rabbis, described Rabbi Coleman as a fearless and determined leader. He recounted the persistence of Rabbi Coleman in establishing enduring religious infrastructure for the Perth Jewish community.
Rabbi Justice Solomon said that there has barely been a time within Jewish history where the embodiment of longevity, resilience and commitment to Jewish leadership was so important and necessary. He described Rabbi Coleman as “a living chanukah candle”.
Dr Norm Hoffman made a special presentation on behalf of the PHC Talmud class which Rabbi Coleman has been teaching for 28 years. He is the only founding member still attending. The shiur combines Talmud with related contemporary topics. Dr Hoffman described Rabbi Coleman’s encyclopaedic knowledge of Judaism, language and archaeology.
Rabbi Coleman’s son and daughter both spoke. Son Martin shared the experience of household living with the Rabbi, demonstrating his ability to think through all matters. He spoke of Rabbi Colemans civic contribution to many non-Jewish organisations and his role in more broadly representing the Jewish community beyond its own ken. He also fondly noted that Rabbi Coleman had a replacement pacemaker because he had outlasted his first one. Daughter Romaine spoke of her father’s 105 years of wisdom and grace and of how is heart remains youthful. The Coleman family extended their appreciation to the Perth Jewish community.
Rabbi Coleman delivered a powerful and uplifting oration. He said “You have called me an inspiration, but I am not the inspiration. You are the inspiration! What would life be without the community? We are all family.” The Rabbi quoted the psalm Barechi Nafshi, and cited the Talmudic edict that the world stands on the pillars of Truth, Torah and Shalom. He stressed that unity will provide the strength to overcome our enemies. Noting that age is just a number, he mused that “What I did yesterday I will do today, and I will also do tomorrow. He concluded “thank you my dear friends, Happy Chanukah and may we see the light of victory.”
A copy of the video of Rabbi Coleman’s speech is below, courtesy of the wonderful Eli Rabinowitz
Last year I wrote an article about Rabbi Coleman’s impressive accomplishments, which continue to grow and prosper. This article is reproduced below.
Australia’s most senior Rabbi Celebrates
Well on the way to a’biz hundert un tsvantsik, Rabbi Coleman is celebrating his 104th birthday with his beloved Perth Jewish community this month.
Rabbi Dr Shalom Coleman CBE AM MA PhD Hon LLD (UWA) JP, continues a legacy that spans generations.
The Rabbi is Zeideh to three grandchildren and three great grandchildren. Rabbi Coleman also proudly notes he is a great great great uncle twice over, spanning five generations of extended family.
Reflecting on Rabbi Coleman’s achievements is a difficult task to condense into an article, but can be read in his many published historical and autobiographical works. The most notable of these is his book “Life is a Corridor”.
With awe, the autobiographical accounts of Rabbi Coleman immerse his readers in modern history. His personal encounters interface with history itself, and connect the reader to great leaders, including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mother. Rabbi Coleman shared personal audiences with many of the great leaders who have shaped our era.
A student activist at a young age, Rabbi Coleman supported the evolution of Zionism. His dedication to the Zionist movement entails first hand encounters with some of the great Zionist pioneers such as David Ben Gurion, Menachem Begin, Zeev Jabotinsky, Sir Israel Brodie, Chaim Weizmann, Edmund de Rothschild, Moshe Dayan, and Rabbi General Shlomo Goren.
In short, Rabbi Coleman is a student of history, a recorder of history, a commentator of history, a participant in history, and a creator of history.
Rabbi Coleman has influenced the lives of so many congregants and friends. Professionally, Rabbi Coleman’s career traversed four Rabbinic postings in Potchefstroom and Bloemfontein (South Africa), Sydney and Perth (Australia).
It is his service to the Perth Jewish Community from February 1966 laid the foundation for the religious renaissance and sustained growth of Australia’s third largest Jewish community. Rabbi Coleman transformed Perth Jewry by delivering revolutionary educational initiatives and critical infrastructure including the suburban relocation of the Perth Hebrew Congregation. After 20 years of service he has enjoyed the merit of retiring into a flourishing community and continues to witness the success of his efforts for the past 36 years and counting.
In a distinguished military career, Rabbi Coleman provided wartime service to the Royal Air Force. He served as a wireless operator/air gunner on missions in France and Western Europe, and in 1944 he was recruiting officer in England for the Jewish Brigade Group. He was decorated with the 1939-1945 Star Medal and War Medal. He then maintained his service as a military chaplain in both South Africa and to the 5th Military District of the Australian Army. He takes pride of place each year in the ANZAC day veteran’s parade.
Rabbi Shalom Coleman’s civic contribution has also extended far beyond the Rabbinate. His leadership included tenures as President and District Governor of Rotary, and vice President of the Save the Children fund. He was a District Secretary of Probus Centre, South Pacific. Added to this list is a Grand Master to the Freemasons, a Member of the Murdoch University Senate, a Justice of the Peace, Patron to the Family Association of Australia, Chairman of the Perth Dental Hospital Board, and member of the Karrakatta and Pinarroo Valley Cemetery Boards. As recently as last week Rabbi Coleman was awarded of a certificate in the Roll Of Honour of the Royal Australian Justices Association of Western Australia.
As honorary Rabbi and Life Governor to the Maurice Zeffert Home, Rabbi Coleman has taken his indefatigable energy into his very senior years. The Rabbi remains an active daily attendee at Perth Shules, and continues to exude great cantorial koach. He imparts his wisdom at weekly Talmud shiurim that have been running unabated for decades.
Our Rabbi is best described in this paraphrased quote by his contemporary, Rabbi Raymond Apple, Emeritus Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney. “Small in stature, Rabbi Coleman is a giant in energy, enterprise and enthusiasm, and became one of Australia’s best known Rabbinic figures. Largely thanks to him, Judaism became strong in Perth, with the evolution of new synagogues, a Jewish school, kosher certification, and enduring educational activity. No longer is it a struggle to be Jewish in Western Australia.”
Rabbi Coleman’s community and well-wishers around Australia and the world extend a mazaltov on his birthday celebration, and take great admiration in his strength and ongoing contribution. May he continue in good health to inspire us.
A photo of Rabbi Coleman providing chizzuk and words of wisdom to the Bnei Akiva youth leadership in 2023.
Some years ago in 2013 Rabbi Coleman asked me to compile a biography which was published as a book called Spiritual Treasure. Limited copies of this publication are still available.
I wish Rabbi Coleman and his extended family Mazaltov on yet another wonderful milestone, and take great pleasure in being able to continue to daven in his presence.