A first Rosh Hashanah

September 17, 2015 by Henry Benjamin
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Sydney’s Great Synagogue’s new Chief Minister Rabbi Dr Ben Elton was inducted less than a week before Rosh Hashanah…he tells J-Wire of his first Rosh Hashanah in Sydney.

Rabbi Dr Ben Elton and Rebbetzin Hinda Elton Photo: Giselle Haber

Rabbi Dr Ben Elton and Rebbetzin Hinda Elton Photo: Giselle Haber

The Manchester-born rabbi gained an MA at Cambridge University and a PhD at London University. He joined the prestigious Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York in 2013 and received Semicha the following year.

Rabbi Elton is also a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Eleven days before travelling to Sydney for his induction, he married his New Yorker wife Hinda in Teaneck, New Jersey.

J-Wire asked the 7th Chief Minister of the 137-yr-old congregation of his first days in his new position…

JW: How was your first Rosh Hashanah in Sydney?

RBE: Very enjoyable. The chazan and choir were in good voice and we had a very large turnout especially on the first day. It was a nice start to the year.

JW: Would you have believed a year ago that you would have been spending Rosh Hashanah this year in Sydney?

RBE: No, it didn’t seem likely.

JW: Apart from the short introductory visit a few months ago, have you ever visited Sydney before?

RBE: I have spent no time in Sydney before applying for the position.

JW: Do you know many people in the city?

RBE: I only know one or two. Some friends of mine have found their way here. The rabbonim in Sydney have been very friendly and have reached out to us.

JW:  Rabbi James Kennard, the principal at Melbourne’s Mount Scopus College inducted you. You go along way back together, don’t you?

RBE: He started teaching me in Manchester when I was 14 and we have kept in touch.

JW: It’s early days, but have you identified any issues you need to address within the Great Synagogue community?

RBE: Our issues are all to do with building the future. We need to bring in an infusion of younger people and younger members. We obviously value the older members tremendously and we want to make their shul experience as good as possible. But we need to build the future based on bringing in the next generation.

JW: Are you aware that there are some in the Sydney community critical of the Great for not having embraced newcomers to the city especially post-war and later those from South Africa?

RBE: Yes I know that Holocaust survivors did feel that they were not valued by the shul. That is now seen as having been a big error on the part of the Great Synagogue. My policy is to be as welcoming as possible to everybody…and I think that’s true of the Board as well. The new Board is forward-looking, is full of energy and has vision. They want to try new things to build a future for the Shul.

JW: You had two droshas  to deliver on Rosh Hashanah. What were the topics you dealt with?

RBE: On the first day I spoke of the three messages of the Shofar…the importance of Jewish solidarity, the importance of the Jewish sacred mission through performing mitzvot and the importance of the place for diversity and  for individual spirit. We can’t expect uniformity. We have to embrace the diversity that comes with a community. On the second day I spoke about striving for excellence.

JW: Malcolm Turnbull has been made Prime Minister of Australia. Are there any plans to invite him to the Great?

RBE: It would be very nice to have him here. I would most certainly like to see him in the shul. To have him address the congregation at the end of a Shabbat service is something I would like very much.

JW: Rabbi Ben Elton…we wish you and Hinda an enjoyable life’s experience in Sydney.

 

 

 

 

Comments

One Response to “A first Rosh Hashanah”
  1. Benseon Apple says:

    It is well known that the GS was not particularly welcoming of European refugees in the first half of the 20th century and – arguably – after the Holocaust (though Rabbi Porush was very helpful to survivors who made it to these shores). However, what is this suggestion by the interviewer that the Great was not welcoming of South Africans?! There are many immigrants from SA who joined the shul, sang in the choir, participated in shul life, served as staff members (including a former shul administrator) and sat on the board of management (including a former VP)! Perhaps given the shul’s location in the CBD, it has primarily been families with a historic connection to the shul who have remained members and newer immigrants have attended shuls that are more geographically accessible. However, the shul has definitely been welcoming of new arrivals in recent decades and any allegation that South Africans were discouraged in some way from joining is simply incorrect.

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