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The Burning Bush


The National Jewish Memorial Centre building was funded by private donation and opened in 1971 to meet the needs of the Jewish community in Canberra and across Australian.  The architect was Dr Ernst Fooks, FRAIA.  Dr Fooks was the first lecturer in town planning at the Melbourne Technical College (now RMIT) and established a highly successful architectural practice.  He published widely on urban design and town planning, and was also an accomplished artist, holding exhibitions over the period from 1944 to 1984.  

The National Jewish Memorial Centre has been home to a vibrant local Jewish community which dates back to the 1950s, as well as serving continuously from 1971 as a national forum for Australian Jewry.

In an Australian Jewish Historical Society monograph on The Canberra Jewish Community (1951-1981), Rabbi Dr Israel Porush OBE, then Chief Minister of the Great Synagogue in Elizabeth Street, Sydney, provided the following description:

The facade of the building is adorned with a large sculpture by the Canberra artist Izzy Kingsberg representing the “Burning Bush” where G’d first revealed Himself to Moses in the wilderness.  It was the artist’s gift to the Community, a miniature replica of this symbol was embossed on sets of cufflinks which were presented by the Community as a memento to its well‑wishers. [p. 218]

Issy Kingsberg was a Canberra sculptor of note who undertook many commissions and who exhibited locally during the 1960s and 1970s.  His work is cited in the Illustration Index to Australian Art - reproductions in art monographs and exhibition catalogues compiled by Ray Choate (University of Adelaide Barr Smith Library).  Mr Kingsberg was a Holocaust survivor, and to him, the Burning Bush was a symbol of Jewry having survived after going through the flames of the Holocaust.  This is in line with the traditional Jewish interpretation of the biblical Burning Bush, which burned but was not consumed, as a symbol of God's sheltering presence during times when the Jews will go through "burning difficulties."

The extant Burning Bush sculpture records a distinct phase in Australian Jewry: the arrival in Canberra of enough Jewish people from across Australia with a desire to preserve their traditions to establish an active Community.  The cultural significance of the Burning Bush in terms of historic provenance can be compared to the extant Margot Lewers Expansion mural on the façade of the Canberra Rex Hotel facing Northbourne Avenue. The Lewers mural is nominated for the ACT Heritage Register.  

Similarly, the cultural significance of the National Jewish Centre may also be compared to Toad Hall constructed at ANU in 1977. Toad Hall has been listed on the Commonwealth Heritage List as a building of architectural significance designed in the late twentieth century Late Modern style.  The National Jewish Centre is a comparable concrete building with a clear distinction between public and private spaces expressing function through form and sculptural massing. The external aspects of the building are enhanced through the extant Burning Bush sculpture, with the siting and orientation providing an external aesthetic appeal which draws visitors from across Australia as well as internationally.

The Burning Bush sculpture has been part of the Canberra visual landscape for over forty years. Its cultural and historical significance has been perpetuated by the Canberra Jewish Community through extensive use of the Burning Bush graphic. 

Mon, 27 May 2024 19 Iyyar 5784