Shul in dire straits
Sydney’s South Head Synagogue is in the throes of a financial crisis, and its congregants and board members are questioning the suitability of head Rabbi Benzion Milecki.
With the eastern suburbs shul facing a significant decline in membership and massive financial losses, discussions on how to avoid liquidation are currently underway.
“We have been suffering a serious decline in our membership. We are cutting costs hard but unless we can arrest the revenue hits, we will continue to struggle. “As a result, it is expected that a number of Shul programs run will be subjected to cuts in the near future”said President of South Head Synagogue, James Hochroth,.
To address the deep financial crisis, Rabbi Benzion Milecki approached the Board with a proposal to donate 35% of his current remuneration to help reduce the shul’s overhead, subject to certain conditions.
“As part of my proposal I would assume significant additional operational duties and responsibilities in addition to my rabbinical duties. This proposal, if accepted, would have flattened the operating structure and amounted to the largest single cost-saving” said Rabbi Milecki.
Soon after putting forward his proposal, Hochroth informed Rabbi Milecki that the Board had refused to accept the proposal outright.
Hochroth’s said that ” the rabbi had “asked for a degree of control that no Board could ever agree to. He asked to be appointed chief executive with the right to have the final say on all matters; and he wanted a 5 year contract giving him these powers. In all normal companies and organisations, particularly a small community organisation like ours, the Board has the ultimate responsibility for the management and well-being of the entity, not a chief executive. The members of the Board are, in law, directors of the company and responsible to the congregation.”
Subsequently, an emergency meeting was held last Wednesday, 22nd February, with the rabbi, board and many congregants.
“I was very pleased by the big turnout that we got on Wednesday night. It shows that there are a lot of people who take a great interest in the future of their synagogue” stated Hochroth.
This keen interest was made abundantly clear by the numerous responses attained from a market research survey launched at South Head Synagogue last week. The survey responses are still being collected and will provide information about the congregants’ level of satisfaction with their membership, and how the synagogue can better meet the needs and expectations of its community.
In regards to the suitability of Rabbi Milecki, Hochroth told J-Wire that “some [congregants] have voiced that it is important to have a change in our Rabbi. Whether that is a widely held view or not is not easy to know. But the fact is that some people have indicated that they don’t feel as close a connection with him as they once had or they don’t feel as close to the shul as they would like to be.”
The children of Rabbi Milecki, Chony, Chana, Shmueli, Levi, Devorah Leah, Soudie and Brookie Milecki wrote a letter to the congregants of South Head synagogue, stating: “Our parents, Rabbi and Rebbetzen Milecki, have been the most devoted, dedicated, diligent, hard-working and dynamic rabbi and rebbetzen humanly possible. As their children, we had a unique vantage point to see what our parents gave up for the shul. Our parents taught us our duty to the community is above all.”
An extraordinary general meeting has been scheduled for before Pesach, at which further discussions regarding the financial crisis, the Rabbi’s tenuous position, and the future of the shul will be addressed.