August 23, 2018

Can a Departed Soul Live Again?

When I first saw the rolling hills and green pastures of Jamberoo, I felt an instant connection. My wife and I were looking for a venue for a weekend retreat, and we knew Jamberoo was it the minute we arrived. This Shabbos for the third year running we are holding our Shabbaton retreat in Jamberoo.

I decided to do a little bit of research on the history of the area. Something caught my eye in the Wikipedia entry on Jamberoo. It has a list of famous Jamberoo personalities. 

Solomon Herbet HyamOn the list was was a certain Solomon Hyam (right). The name piqued my interest, as it had that familiar ring to it. So I looked into who he was. Solomon was a politician in the 1800's, and of course he was Jewish. He was born in Jamberoo. So Jamberoo has a Jewish history!

But there's more.

Solomon's father was Michael Hyam. A boot-maker and horse enthusiast, Michael came to Australia from London in the early 1800's. He was granted land in the Kiama district by the Governor of New South Wales.

Michael Hyam the Jew is considered the founder and first settler of Jamberoo. He named it Sara's Valley.

On further research I discovered that Sarah was his mother's name. It seems that he named the land in honour of his mother back in England. He opened an inn in Sarah's Valley which he named David's Harp. Of course the biblical King David was known to play the harp, but the name had a more of a personal significance for Michael. His father's name was David.

I was amazed to discover that this beautiful piece of rural Australia that we keep coming back to was first settled by a Jew. Even the Aboriginals did not live here before him. Michael Hyam turned an uninhabitable forest into Sarah's Valley.

But there's more.

I discovered that Michael Hyam was not just incidentally Jewish, but a proud and observant Jew. He was the first Mohel to practice in Australia, and traveled near and far to perform this holy duty. Though isolated from community, he lived a religious life. For the High Holidays he would make the long trip into Sydney with his family to pray with the community.

 

 

As I got more enthralled by this story, I found another piece of trivia that almost made me fall off my chair. Michael had a daughter, named Sarah. She married a Jewish man by the name of..... Henry Moss!!! 

 

I was starting to feel a deep connection to this man, and wanted to take it further. So I checked the burial records and found that Michael Hyam was buried in the Jewish section of RookwoodCemetery.

I decided that I wanted to find his grave. I went to Rookwood armed with a map of the exact whereabouts of his grave. It is in a 200 year old section of the cemetery. Most of the tombstones are in the state of sorry disrepair, and many of them are broken, worn and hard to read. It was difficult to actually locate the grave of Michael Hyam. But eventually I spotted it. The tombstone had fallen and broken in two. But it was still legible. I could make out the Hebrew inscription that read:

"Here lies  Michael Ben David.  Passed away 4 Elul 5638 (1878),  Aged 79."

I was dumbstruck. The date of his passing corresponded to the exact timing of our annual Shabbaton, the beginning of the month Elul.

I realised that we were making a pilgrimage to Sarah's Valley, to David's Inn, to the land of Michael Hyam, right around his yorzheit. Who would have thought that 140 years after his passing, a group of Jews would be celebrating Shabbos together on the land where he and his family kept Shabbos all alone? 

Michael Hyam was physically isolated from the Jewish community, but spiritually so connected. He maintained his Yiddishkeit with passion and depth. In his honour we can live as he did, proud Jews in the beautiful land Australia.

The name Hyam is an anglicised version of Chaim. That means life. This Shabbos we say Lechaim, in honour of Michael ben David.