November 8, 2022 by Features Office
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Louis was the son of Isaac and Rosetta, who met and married in London in 1840.
Isaac and Rosetta set sail for Melbourne in 1851, when Isaac was nearly fifty years old and had gone into business without much success.
However, the story goes that when he had money, he gave five guineas to the building fund of the synagogue and bought part or all of the Hebrew library from Dr. David Hailperin. The Pulvers had six children – four born in England and two in Australia. The two born in Melbourne were Solomon and Louis, neither of whom married.
Louis was born in 1855 and educated in Melbourne. He acquired good Jewish knowledge and training in traditional synagogue melodies through his father. Her secular education came from the Jewish Day School and Melbourne Model School. He majored in music and obtained a certificate from the Victorian Education Department. He funded most of his education by working as a warehouse assistant for Feldheim, Jacobs and Company for three or four years. He became a proficient violinist, pianist and organist, as well as other instruments. He was honorary secretary of the local orchestral society, composed the music for some of Longfellow’s poems, and taught music and singing. His main focus was within the Jewish community with his Jewish career initially centered on the East Melbourne Hebrew Congregation, where he was choirmaster, secretary, teacher and principal. He disliked secretarial work and felt dissatisfied with his work with the choir, in part because he could not recruit enough boy choristers.
He loved his teaching and, although he had no formal qualifications, he had a teaching philosophy. He said, “My first and foremost duty is to make my students good; imparting knowledge comes next.” Louis had an excellent rapport with his students; and it is said that there is an electric current in his class. His classes were so popular that money had to be spent to expand the synagogue classroom. Classes were held on Sunday mornings and three afternoons a week after school. There was a carefully designed curriculum and boys and girls learned separately without children to be promoted to the next class without passing the Pulver test. The day’s lessons ended with the singing of “God Save the Queen” – in Hebrew.
Louis was also very creative and organized extracurricular activities that everyone loved. He was like everyone’s uncle inviting them all to amazing picnics in Brighton Beach, and to his birthday parties and, when it came to being an educator, he was more than ahead on his time.
Louis was involved in fundraising for the Young Jewish Men’s Russian Relief Fund, the Melbourne Jewish Club and the Hebrew Ladies’ Benevolent Society, of which he was secretary. His musical interests included the Melbourne Artists’ Society, dedicated to classical music, of which he was the librarian.
Popular as he was, he often thought he was taken for granted and after the untimely death of Hyman Isaacs (director of the Sydney Jewish Education Board) in 1884, Louis applied for the job and was successful. He continued in this position until ill health forced him to resign in 1896. Once it became known that Louis was moving from Melbourne to Sydney, the community in East Melbourne tried to accommodate him. hold back, but it was too late. He was certainly well thought out and attended many farewell functions. The farewells held for him included everyone from the youngest to the oldest, and it was obvious that everyone was saddened by his departure. On January 7, 1885, he left for Sydney and was overwhelmed by the crowds who had come to the station to see him off. Melbourne has never known another teacher like Pulver.
Louis was still in his twenties when he moved to Sydney and sadly only spent thirteen years in his new role before passing away at the age of forty-two. While he didn’t marry or have kids of his own, he looked a lot like ”Mr Chips” still with a retinue of kids. Louis, as Director of SJEB, continued his work with the same energy and remarkable ideas as in Melbourne. He worked on educational ideas and policies that reflected and enhanced the thinking of the time. He became the musical mainstay of the community, acting as choirmaster and master of ceremonies and occasionally gave sermons when the chief rabbi – the Reverend Alexander Davis – was absent. The children’s Sabbath afternoon services were a highlight, with most children congregating from the surrounding local community.
Louis was never inactive. As he had done in Melbourne, he was involved in musical organizations and literary societies, and began to write and was recognized for his achievements. If there were no textbooks, it was Louis the “superhero” who wrote them, as well as guides to the prayer books and the Bible, vocabulary exercises and explanations of Hebrew grammar – the all composed of his pen. You could say that in Louis, the Australian Jewish community had a better educator than many of their counterparts in England. Among his books was his famous First Bible Stories for Little People, which was first printed in 1889 and reprinted several times thereafter. The last edition was published in 1930 by the Reverend Morris Rosenbaum of the Borough Synagogue in south London. The success of the book is very much due to the ability of the author – as he explains in his preface – “to bring to the mental capacities of young children the stories contained in the first parts of the Bible, and the main truths morals they teach”. .
Needless to say, his classes were professionally delivered, with curricula, teaching aids and standards of discipline. Public school entrance fee classes were introduced by the NSW Free Secular Public Instruction Act of 1880. Pupils had no chance of getting bored. They and their manager were friends. The jewish herald said that in him, the children had “a true friend, a loving companion and a sympathetic educator”. In the history of the NSWBJE, Maurice Kellerman says that Louis’ influence “cannot be overestimated”. An obituary called Pulver “a heaven-born teacher of youth”.
Louis was a tall, black-bearded, energetic man (with big feet!). His energy and stamina were evident and yet both energy and stamina can be sapped by disease. Still in his early forties, Pulver fell ill and was lovingly cared for by his sister. He died on November 4, 1897, aged forty-two, of “tuberculous disease of the kidneys” after spending the last two months of his life in Sydney Hospital.
At his death he was described in a poem published in the jewish herald as
The teacher, rarely good at inculcating
The love of God in the budding spirit of childhood;
Who from the baby’s mouth and breastfeeding strove
To establish strength in the tents of Jacob;
Whose loving heart aroused reactive love,
Implantation of elements of sweet virtue.
In his honor a prize known as the ‘Pulver Prize’ was established and generations of Sydney Jews have been proud to say, ‘I have won the Pulver Prize’. In a Jewish sense, it had almost the same cachet as the Pulitzer Prize in the United States, named after a Jewish newspaper publisher. The Pulver Prize honored a late 19th-century Jewish educator and musician whose students reportedly echoed the phrase made popular in Reader’s Digest several decades later, “My most unforgettable teacher”.
AJHS acknowledges the following references in the preparation of this story
Oz Torah by Rabbi Raymond Apple; AJHS Review – June 2015, Vol. 22, part 2; A Bibliography of Australian Judaica (Sydney: Mandelbaum Trust, 1987 ed); TROVE
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