New rabbi for Canberra

May 29, 2014 by J-Wire Staff
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Rabbi Alon Meltzer has been appointed Rabbi to the ACT Jewish Community and will fulfil the roles of program organiser, educator, pastoral carer and communal leader for the entire  community, as well as Rabbi to the Orthodox Congregation.


Rabbi Alon Meltzer

Rabbi Alon Meltzer

The ACT Jewish Community Inc. has announced the appointment of its first salaried rabbi. Rabbi Alon Meltzer will take up his duties in Canberra on 28 July, fulfilling the roles of program organiser, educator, pastoral carer and communal leader for the whole community, as well as Rabbi to the Orthodox Congregation.

“This is the first time the ACT Jewish Community has appointed a full-time and salaried professional to such a role and represents a highly significant turning point in the development of Jewish life in Canberra, in all its manifestations,” said ACTJC president Robert Cussel.

Since its founding in 1951 the lay-led community has relied on volunteers to manage and run its programs, services, celebrations and other activities. “This spirit of commitment and involvement will continue to be fostered and encouraged. It is an essential part of who we are and who we will be,” said Mr. Cussel. “However, it is now time for professional leadership in our community, especially in areas that involve the children and youth, and continued learning for our adult members. In taking this step, the Board of the ACT Jewish Community is making a profound statement about our confidence in the future of a pluralistic and tolerant Jewish life in Canberra.”

In an unusual model of communal harmony, Orthodox and Progressive congregations worship in separate areas in the National Jewish Memorial Centre but join together for Kiddushim and all other communal activities. The community also encompasses social and cultural activities for all Jews, irrespective of outlook.  This pluralistic approach would continue to be fostered, said Mr. Cussel. Rabbi Meltzer will work with the whole community, although he will be rabbi to the Orthodox congregation.

This is the first time that the ACT Jewish Community will have full time rabbinical leadership in Canberra. The appointment is envisioned by the community as very important for continuing inter-faith collaboration and dialogue. The appointment has been strongly supported by at least six past presidents of the community. A community meeting is scheduled for 22 June to report on developments and to seek input from members on the best strategies to ensure success of the initiative.

Rabbi Meltzer is currently completing his studies at the Rabbi Isaac Eichanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University in New York. Last year he studied for a Master of Arts in medieval Jewish history at the university, and he has a BA in English and sociology and a Masters degree in sociology from the University of Auckland, his home town. He is presently youth rabbi and rabbinic intern at the Hebrew Institute of White Plains in the USA.  His extensive community involvement has included co-chairing the Australasian Union of Jewish Students New Zealand and heading Bnei Akiva Auckland, and serving as a rabbinic intern, board member and in youth education at the Auckland Hebrew Congregation, as a counselor at the Centre for the Jewish Future in Dimona, Israel, and as president of the Yeshiva Community shul. Rabbi Meltzer and his wife Linsay have a two-year old daughter Daliah and their second child is due shortly.

The ACT Jewish Community has previously had two resident rabbis. The late Professor and Rabbi Dr. Natan (George) Schlesinger was an analytical philosopher at the Australian National University from 1960-1967 and volunteered his services as a rabbi to the ACT Jewish community during his time in Canberra. Rabbi Uri Themal, educated at Leo Baeck College in London and now resident in Israel, was a senior bureaucrat involved in multicultural policy in Canberra in the 1980s, and also volunteered his services.

The community has regularly hosted visiting Orthodox and Progressive rabbis from interstate. It has occasionally hired interstate religious and lay leaders to assist with services, especially in its early days to conduct High Holyday services.

In 2009 Chabad set up a separate centre in Canberra with the arrival of Rabbi Dan Avital from Melbourne. He was succeeded last year by Rabbi Shmueli Feldman from Sydney.  Chabad of the ACT built and operates Canberra’s only mikvah. In February this year it opened Canberra’s first preschool at its Gan Yisroel community and childcare centre. Chabad of the ACT built and operates Canberra’s only mikveh.


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