After 60 years, the Jews in Australia's coal capital have a rabbi

Rabbi Yossi Rodal and his family are putting everything they have to restore life to this once-thriving community.

Newcastle, Australia. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Newcastle, Australia.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Australian coal mining city of Newcastle now has a rabbi for the first time in 60 years, with Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Yossi Rodal taking up the post, the Australian Jewish News reported.
Established in 1905, Newcastle's Jewish community is one of the oldest in Australia, and while the city is now one of the country's largest (seventh largest, boasting a population of 440,000) and is the single largest exporter of coal on the planet, it wasn't always that way, with the growing town's first synagogue consecrated in 1927, according to
It boomed quickly in the mid-20th century, and its 300-seat synagogue was filled to over-capacity for the High Holy Days. However, as time went on and the city grew larger, the Jewish community began to decline, with younger members of the community leaving for the seemingly greener pastures and large Jewish community of Sydney, according to
While an influx of new immigrants from South Africa kept the community afloat in the 1980s, it wasn't enough to stop the decline. And by 2009, one couldn't even buy kosher meat locally, according to
But Rodal has been visiting the city for years, according to Directing the Chabad of Rural and Regional Australia (RARA) since 2015, the Melbourne resident had used Newcastle as what his regular stop-over on the coast of New South Wales, and he had to travel a lot. In this capacity, Rodal needed to personally visit every single Jewish community in the entire country, including the often snowy town of Jindabyne which is home to just single Jew, and has seen him establish the first Jewish cemetery in Australia's northernmost city, Darwin.
But throughout all of these travels, especially when in New South Wales, Newcastle was always more than just a routine stop-over.
“We had a shul there,” Rodal told, “and a home always available for us to use, thanks to a generous community member.” This gave him a break from what he traditionally used to tour the country: The “Mitzvah Tank” — a custom-fitted synagogue-on-wheels that hosts the rabbis and their families.
And despite the coronavirus pandemic causing Jewish life across the world, the Newcastle community has managed to blossom, giving a new lease on life to a community that seemed destined to soon close the doors of its synagogue, reported.
And Rodal is determined to keep it thriving, working to tap into new demographics by reaching out to children, teenagers and students at the University of Newcastle, even opening a Hebrew school and hosting regular university events.
“This is a fast-growing community,” Rodal said, according to, “and very soon we hope to have more regular services and establish Newcastle’s first-ever mikveh.”