Rabbi Milecki ready to mediate

June 28, 2017 by J-Wire Staff
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The Rabbinical Council of NSW is extremely concerned about the prospect of threatened closure of the South Head Synagogue in Sydney, the city’s second orthodox community. 
President Rabbi Paul Lewin says it “strongly urges both parties to come together in a spirit of Shalom to mediate a satisfactory outcome to the dispute and prevent further Chilul haShem”.

In the meantime South Head’s Synagogue Rabbi Benzion Milecki, whose termination by the synagogue’s administrators was declared void in the Supreme Court in Sydney last week, has sent a letter to all members saying that he is ready to mediate.

Yesterday morning, members of the community received South Head eNews from the secured creditors, James Hochroth, Curtis Mann and Rodney Naumburger stating that on “Saturday night Rabbi Milecki was invited to come to mediation because if we don’t reach a compromise the consequences will be tragic and irrevocable… We implore him to mediate for the good of all concerned.”

I wish to remind both the secured creditors and the community at large of the following facts regarding mediation.

Although my contract clearly stated that the basis of my relationship with the synagogue was Halacha, the Administrator, in the words of Mr James Hochroth, said that he “had the power to terminate Rabbi Milecki’s contract of employment and that he should have regard only to Australian law in determining the rabbi’s entitlements”. To prove this, he brought a case against me in the Supreme Court, and not a Beth Din, as mandated by my contract.

Before the Supreme Court hearing, I was approached by the Administrator to attend mediation together with him and the secured creditors. Although I was in Melbourne at the time, I agreed to fly back for the mediation which was to be held on Tuesday 13 June, two days before the Court case. The mediator, Peter Jacobson QC,  a former judge of the Federal Court, was agreed to by all three parties and we were set! Then the secured creditors, James Hochroth, Curtis Mann and Rodney Naumburger, changed their minds and refused to attend the mediation. The Administrator called it off, saying that it would be pointless to attempt mediation in their absence.

The Secured Creditors have never explained either to me or to the community why they chose not to attend mediation. Presumably they were confident of a better result in the Supreme Court.

Unfortunately for them Mr Justice Brereton found in my favour and ordered that a) my purported dismissal was void, b) the Synagogue was restrained from preventing me from functioning as the spiritual leader and c) the Synagogue was ordered to pay my costs.

It now appears, after being disappointed with the Court’s judgment, the secured creditors wish to resile from their previous decision and try and mediate for an agreeable solution. It’s a real pity that they didn’t do so before wasting the Shule’s money on an expensive adventure in Court.

Nevertheless, as always my door is open and I am happy to attend mediation. But it must be with Peter Jacobson QC if he is still available, or if not, with another suitably qualified, experienced and respected mediator. I will not however attend mediation with a member of the community who out of nowhere approaches me at shul offering to mediate, as occurred late Shabbos afternoon. This is not a game. My life’s at stake, the shule’s future is at stake. Let’s do it properly and professionally.

So yes, James, Curtis and Rodney, I am ready to mediate in an effort to save the shule from Liquidation at the Creditors’ Meeting that YOU control with your votes. However, as you well know, this level of serious mediation cannot be arranged at short notice. The mediator has to be agreed upon and available, the lawyers have to be available, and the sides have to be available. You were in no rush to agree to mediation when it would have been a much cheaper option than the very expensive Court Case that we have just engaged in. What’s the rush now?

You claim that the shule has run out of funds and therefore the Administrator must act now to liquidate the shule. Somehow, funds to run the shul were available until the court case last Thursday. Are we to believe that the Judge’s decision in my favour has somehow made those funds disappear? The cash flow problem can certainly not be attributed to the Judge’s order that I be paid, because I have made an undertaking not to take a salary until we reach a settlement. 

Or are you suggesting that you would call in your loans just because I won the case?

Or is there a cash flow problem because of your legal fees and the costs awarded against you in a case that should never have gone to Court? Please remember that it was you who caused the case to go to Court when it could have been properly settled in a Beth Din or via Mediation.

Or is the cash flow problem the result of your decision to appoint an expensive Administrator with the sole intention of dismissing me – another bad decision that has severely backfired.

Still, G-d has His ways, and although I never wanted to go to Court, something amazingly wonderful came out of the hearing quite apart from my vindication. On Thursday, Mr Justice Brereton made a landmark decision that establishes the supremacy of Halacha in all the affairs of an Orthodox Synagogue, including its application to the relationship between a Rabbi and his Community. 

To hear a Judge of the Supreme Court make such a statement was an absolute and public Kiddush HaShem – Sanctification of G-d’s Name – one of the greatest Mitzvot in the Torah. It brought tears to my eyes, not only because I had been vindicated after a shocking bullying campaign to blacken my name which unfortunately is still continuing, but because the Honour of Torah and the Rabbinate had been upheld in an Australian Court acting under Australian Law. What a truly wonderful country we live in!

So, in conclusion, by all means let’s mediate! But let’s do it properly, professionally, but without a gun to my head and yet further attempts to blacken my name.”



5 Responses to “Rabbi Milecki ready to mediate”
  1. Jock Orkin says:

    As a disinterested party living in Melbourne I am disappointed by the conduct of both sides in the dispute. First, the Rabbi. According to today’s AJN ( July 30 2017 ) ,he was urged to lift his game as far back as 2011.Nothing happened and many of the congregants got restive.Why didn’t he listen to them ? .Surely a good Rabbi would take heed of their concerns? Furthermore why would a Rabbi serve a congregation that no longer liked or respected him ?Nobody in his or her right mind would enjoy working under such ill feeling.

    Then the shul board .Why didn’t they handle the situation in a smarter way ? By allowing things to drag on for so long they hosted an expensive banquet for the lawyers .

    Quo vadis South Head Synagogue ?

    • Yehoshua Fuchs says:

      I am not involved at all in this issue and don’t even live in AU anymore but I can answer your question. I don’t know the story here, however I have seen (sadly) enough times now a situation where the community loves their rabbi but an influential board member or a board that has an issue which some aspect of the rabbi for example he is Chabad takes issue and try’s to out the Rabbi. I have also seen it in a case where the board wasn’t handling the money properly and the rabbi’s involvment made it to difficult and they wanted to be rid of him. I am not saying that this is the case here. But it is very likely that the congregation at large isn’t involved in the politics and the dispute the way the board is.
      Imagine a class where the teacher is beloved by his students but he and the admin have some problems and they divide to fire him. It doesn’t mean the students don’t want him.

  2. David Austin says:

    Thank you for telling us you harbor a grudge against Chabad. Did it ever occur to you that says more about you than Chabad?

  3. Angela-Leah Vered says:

    Well spoken Rabbi Milecki
    Angela-Leah Vered MDR
    Master of Dispute Resolution
    Mediator NMAS

  4. Avigael Cassel says:

    This case will not rest. Its an unconstitutional outcome and will be further challenged and Beezrat HaShem overturned, even if not on this issue. The case reads like a horror story with biased witnesses who are far from experts talking fantasies. The injustice will be addressed. The entire episode is just another Chilul HaShem thanks once again to chabad. Its well past time chabadniks are removed from any leadership position in Australia. Its well past time the Shules take a different approach.

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