Internal photos are from the Rotary Club’s Doors Open Day in 2009.
To go in, you have to go along this side bit and the door is around the back.
There’s no apparent reason for the door being at the back, and it probably faced the road when it was built. [Edit: maps suggest it might have faced a garden or small park]
Inside now, we all sat down and the caretaker (I think he was) told us about the history of the building and then how it’s used. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hear most of what he said. Just bits and pieces, like in the 1840s the local Jewish community wanted some land to build a synagogue but (Lieutenant Governor) Franklin said no way. He then wrote to (someone in England) but (someone else) wrote to (someone else in England) and they were given land on which to build.
The synagogue was built in 1846 (actually I think it was consecrated in 1846 and built a year or two earlier) which makes it the second oldest existing synagogue in Australia. The Hobart one being finished (or consecrated) a year earlier. (I also think it was the third built in Australia? Which is interesting because that means there must have been a sizable Jewish population at the time but) over the next few decades the Jews in Launceston moved to the other colonies and by 1881(?) the few remaining (or the Hobart congregation) wanted to sell the building/land, but they weren’t allowed to.
In the 1930s, the population increased again with refugees from Europe. It dropped off again (down to 2 men and 4 women, or something) and the synagogue fell out of use. Down in Hobart it seems they were concerned at this lack of use, so they apparently took out a phonebook and rang up everyone who a Jewish name in order to rebuild the congregation size. Then a bit about Harry Joseph, of Joseph’s Menswear (a once prominent local business) who, in 1981, stated he wanted to see services in the synagogue before he died. Things happened and a service was held in the late 1980s.
However, they ran into problems with the building needing repairs, especially the floor. Funds were obtained, some work was done, funds ran out, more funds were obtained, more work was done. Which brings it to the current situation, where there is still repair work to be done but it is used for services once a year(?).
The second half of the talk was about the way the synagogue was used, but I’m not about to try and recall any of the little I heard of that.
There was some discussion about women sitting upstairs and the men downstairs because women are inherently (pure? holy) whereas men (need to renew their connection with God?), and also it reduces socialisation.
There is a better view from up there though. (The different floor colours are due to boards being replaced, no floor coverings.)