‘Bar mitzvah king’ turns 100

Max Lemberg with Moriah College students in 2011.

THE man once called the “bar mitzvah king” has just turned one hundred.

Max Lemberg celebrated with family and friends from as far away as the UK, Berlin and Canberra last month.

Wishes came from the UK and Israel, while the beloved former Moriah College teacher was also honoured with a special party attended by Moriah students and staff.

Lemberg also taught at Central Synagogue, where he trained hundreds of bar mitzvah boys over many years, the NSW Board of Jewish Education (then called Hillel Talmud Torah) and gave private lessons.

“It was lovely to teach them. I was at Moriah College for 50 years. I loved the school and I loved the kids,” Lemberg, who now resides at Montefiore Home in Randwick, said, adding, “I gave from my heart.”

“I’ve been steeped in Jewish learning since I was a child, so it was quite natural to go from that to teaching,” he said.

A young Lemberg grew up in London’s Soho. He attended a Yeshiva in Gateshead from the age of 12 until he was forced to get a job at 18.

“I don’t think I was a very good student … so I went to work,” he said.

He worked at a warehouse in London until the Second World War began, and then joined the British Army for six years, serving in the blood transfusion unit in Africa, Canada, Germany and Italy, where he met his wife Hannah, a nurse.

After the war he worked in factories, warehouses and a bookshop before coming to Australia by boat in 1963 with Hannah and their daughters Vivienne and Jeanette, paying just ten pounds for the fare.

“I felt it was a new life and a new opening and anything could be possible,” he said.

In 2006, his many years of service to teaching in Australia saw him recognised with a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM). Tragically, that same year, his wife Hannah passed away.

Daughter Jeanette Lemberg told The AJN that when she goes for a walk with her father, “everybody walks up and asks ‘hello Max, how are you?’. Everybody knows him.”

And while he said he enjoyed the respect, he said the most important thing in his life was his wife and family.

He added the most important thing he’s learned is the value of Judaism.
“Yiddishkeit is a way of life,” he said. “It’s the values of family, of goodness, of community.”

GARETH NARUNSKY