Max Frelich (1913-1986)

Max Freilich was a committed and active zionist for more than seventy years and one of the people who advised Dr H.V. Evatt in his historical support for the establishment of the State of Israel. When he died, he was honorary life president of Keren Hayesod, life member of the Zionist Federation of Australia and New Zealand, life president of the State Council of NSW, life president of the NSW Friends of the Hebrew University, honorary life president of Youth Aliyah, life member of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, life member of the Zionist Congress and patron of the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce.

He was born in Lesko, Central Galicia of an Orthodox Jewish family, and was considered a talmudic prodigy in the Yeshiva of Rabbi Halberstan of Brzerzany. He went to Vienna in 1913 and served as an officer in the Australian Army in World War 1, then studied philosophy at the University of Vienna. He married his life's partner, Sasha in 1920, migrated to New Zealand in 1926 and settled in Sydney two years later. Here he founded the manufactoring firm Safre Paper Industry Pty Ltd. On arrival in Australia he joined the Union of Sydney Zionists, and by 1929 he was a committee member, responsible for increasing membership and organising cultural activities. In the following year he attended the first national Zionist conference. In 1934 he was appointed as the Australian Commissioner of Keren Hayesod in 1934 and several times was president of the United Israel Appeal. He also joined the editorial committee of the Australian Jewish Chronicle. He played a part in the World Zionist Organisation for more than twenty-five years, being a delegate to the Zionist Congresses from the 1940s.

In the early 1930s, there was little Zionist activity, as the severe economic depresssion caused many active zionists to look after their own affairs.

From 1935 onwards, the Jewish communities in Sydney and Melbourne were growing rapidly with the influx of German and Polish migrants. The fifth Zionist conference was held in March 1936, attended by a record number of delegates. The same year Max Freililch met Horace B. Newman in the course of business, and they struck up an enduring friendship with both ultimately assuming key leadership positions in the Jewish community. Max Freilich was appointed chairman of the Keren Hayesod Appeal Committee, devoting himself to fundraising. In 1939, he was elected vice-chairman of the newly-formed State Zionist Council of NSW.

With the outbreak of World War II that same year, the perilous and disastrous position of European Jews was becoming more apparent. A third of World Jewry went up in flames. Freilich could not escape a feeling of deep dejection. He devoted all his energies to the idea of Jewish national survival and devoted much of his time and energy to public relations work in Australia on all levels. The dramatic decision of November 29, 1947, creating a Jewish State was made by 33 votes in favour, including Australia and New Zealand, 13 against, with nine abstentions, including Great Britain. On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed. He saw the importance of economic ties and invested in the paper manufacturing industry based in Hadera to help with employment of new immigrants, and the Australian Wool industry in Ashdod, and was instrumental in 1966 in the formation of the 'Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry'.

In 1968 he became the first Australian life member of the World Zionist Organisation. In addition, he was chairman of the NSW Keren Hayesod and after the establishment of Israel, he became its president, being named Life President in 1971.

Max Freilich and Dr Shlomo Lowy founded the Jewish National Fund in Australia and New Zealand and was honoured on his 70th birthday with the building of a watchtower in Kerem Maharal, an Australian project centre in Israel. He was co-founder and benefactor of the Australia House project of the local Friends of the Hebrew University. In addition, he established the Youth Aliyah movement in Australia, and was one of the prime movers in the foundation of King David School, which was later joined with Moriah College.

Undoubtedly, his most significant work was his vigour and determination in the years leading up to 1948 to promote the concept of a Jewish State. As he believed that these were years of Jewish destiny and historical justice for the Jewish people, he resolved that Australian Jews should play their part in these historic events. Thus he used every conceivable opportunity to make representations to the Australian Foreign minster of the time, Dr H.V. Evatt, urging Australian support for the establishment of a Jewish State. This story and much more is told in his book Zion In Our Time, published in 1969.