South Head: a member writes

June 29, 2017 by  
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South Heads crisis is affecting the entire Jewish community of Sydney…writes Bernice Charif.

I feel the need to write this to make the wider community more aware of the real issues facing South Head.  The board of South Head had attempted over the past few months to keep the issues relating to South Head out of the newspapers and out of social media.   This absence of any comment has unfortunately been seen as an admission of guilt by many, rather than in the true light of its intention which was to give both the Rabbi and the community the dignity they deserve in not having an ugly mud-slinging match and to come to a resolution in a dignified manner.   In contrast, the Rabbi and his supporters have been very vocal in publishing things in the newspapers as well as in social media , many facts which are inaccurate, causing the wider community and those who are not current members and who have no idea of the recent events contributing to this saga to look upon the board of South Head with disdain.  This in reality,  is far from the truth.

My intention is not to have a mud-slinging session but rather  to point out a few facts from the congregation’s perspective.

Bernice Charif

At the outset , I wish to say I had the utmost respect for The Rabbi and the Rebetzin, particularly with regard to the good work they had done for the community as well as the way my family and I were welcomed into South Head upon our arrival in Australia some 15 years ago. This can never be taken away from the Rabbi and Rebetzin. The way in which the Rabbi delivered the JLI courses is hard to beat.  My husband has attended every one of them and found them inspiring and fantastic, in no uncertain measure because of the way the Rabbi has delivered the course.

Unfortunately, of late, and I refer particularly to the last few years, things have been very different. I myself,  as well as my husband have been the recipients of bullying tactics, insults and frankly behaviour towards my husband that is uncalled for and actually rude, particularly toward someone who ALWAYS stood up for the Rabbi, even when in his heart of hearts he knew the Rabbi was wrong. This he did out of respect for the Rabbi. On numerous occasions many people came to us and “apologised” for the way that we had been spoken to by the Rabbi.  This same treatment had been metered out to many people who have been intimately involved on the board and in the running of South Head and I refer particularly to volunteers but also to the paid staff.

The 800 families referred to in the Rabbi’s correspondence and articles published  as belonging to South Head have sadly dwindled and now sit at approximately 500 and one needs to examine the real reasons for this. If one thinks that the woes and difficulties of the Shul are restricted or limited purely to its finances, one is being naïve.

The vast majority of South Head members are urgently seeking renewal. At some point this included a place for Rabbi Milecki, but now this does not seem a possibility if South Head is to survive.

A large number of people returned to South Head after the departure of the Rabbi at the end of April.  South Head was a happy place, everyone had a renewed energy and positivity that hadn’t been seen for a long time.  People came forward and volunteered time, energy and money. One could say South Head was back on the map.   People enjoyed the shul service , truly enjoying the singing of Hatikvah in Shul on Yom  Haatzmaut and enjoying singing Avinu Shebashamayim. This ruach seems to have sadly been reversed.It is so that the Rabbi has won the legal battle, but the survival of an entire community is at stake here.

Since last  Thursday’s ruling, South Head has once again fallen to the depths of despair, only now worse.  There were numerous messages from the ladies who volunteer for the kiddushim that they were not willing to continue, in fact, they were not willing to come to South Head at all.  Many were not even going to attend any shul at all this last Shabbat.    This precipitated me to invite the ladies to my house on Saturday morning for a Dvar Torah and then we had a kiddush thereafter, rather than them sitting at home alone.  There were 27 ladies who were later joined by their husbands after attending services around the Eastern suburbs. The mood was sombre and many were in disbelief that the Rabbi had thought he could move back into South Head and continue as if nothing was amiss. This is very far from the truth.

The Rabbi mentions in one of his articles that somehow the board had enough money to continue running the shul up until last Thursday, but since the court ruling suddenly there is not. Does the Rabbi not understand that since the court ruling there have been numerous resignations and people have withdrawn their support, financially as well as in all other capacities.  This model , without their support leads to an unsustainable future.  There is no shul that can be viable without members or without people willing to offer their services in all areas, be it financial or of their time or expertise.The Rabbi mentions in one of his articles that the president Mr James Hochroth is not Shomer Shabbat nor is he kosher.  The Rabbi has a very short memory. Just over a year ago when this same man , James was appointed president, I recall the Rabbi saying from the pulpit that South Head now had ” the best board ever” . I happen to agree wholeheartedly that the board is great, the community has the greatest respect for them , but felt at the time that this was an open insult to any previous boards. It is not for us fellow Jews to judge other fellow Jews level of religiosity, but somehow, for the president to not be Shomer Shabbat or kosher a year ago, was ok , and now it is not ok.  I believe that some 20 years ago and prior not all the presidents were Shomer Shabbat.  This was also ok then, but not now.  I find this hypocritical.

On the matter of the South Head mikvah.  If the Rabbi and the board do not come to an amicable agreement, that will  pave the way for the future of South Head , then the shul’s doors will close. Besides the fact that we will no longer have a shul, the mikvah that was built on South Head property , that unfortunately was a contentious issue for many, will also close. With the opening of South Head Mikvah, the attendance at the Bondi mikvah that served so many for so many years has dwindled to very few.  Bondi mikvah is not in a good state of repair and will most likely not be able to cope with the numbers of people who will now no longer be accommodated at South Head mikvah. I believe many people will just not go to the mikvah anymore.  This is a huge chillul Hashem that will over shadow any good that the donor and the Rabbi did in initiating the building of the South Head mikvah.  If South Head mikvah had not been built, then the Bondi mikvah would have retained its viability and been kept in a good state of repair. So ultimately, this may lead to the demise of 2 mikvah facilities.

The Rabbi needs to recognise the fact that even though he has won a legal battle, this is a pyrrhic victory, and if he truly cares about his congregants views he will recognize the fact that there can be no successful continuity of South Head whilst he is the spiritual leader.

The Rabbi is fully entitled to his employment entitlements and the board surely recognises this. The time to get together to negotiate an exit plan is now , for the good of both the Rabbi and the South Head community.
Bernice and Ian Charif came to Sydney from South Africa 15 years ago.  They have made an enormous contribution to South Head Synagogue.  Ian served on the board, filling positions of treasurer, president and vice-president; he was made a life warden about nine months ago.  He attends the daily minyan most days  and has provided great oversight for the office administration.  Bernice restarted a ladies guild over 10 years ago; she built a large team of volunteers to assist in arranging kiddushim and similar functions.


6 Responses to “South Head: a member writes”
  1. Angela-Leah Vered says:

    Why does everyone feel the need to make their points by speaking lashan hara

  2. Michelle Eisenberg says:

    Wishing the best to all at south head and hoping to hear good news soon. We hope south head Mikva will continue to function, but please know that the sydney Mikva is available to everyone. Although 2 bathrooms out of 7 have issues, we will be attending to the repairs urgently and have the other 5 bathrooms available with a wonderful team of warm sensitive Mikva ladies.

  3. Harold Perlman says:

    Well said Bernice. Your sentiments are held by the majority of members of this Kehilla.

    Rabbi Milecki is only interested in himself and his family and will not step off the gravy train.

    I believe he also wants to remain as The King.Well King Milecki it’s time to abdicate.

  4. Erica Edelman says:

    When the congregants and Rabbi are not sailing together
    In the one ship Hashem is displeased.
    On a less spiritual level when the congregants, or bulk of them
    Have lost faith (and are not receiving ) the guidance from their Rabbi they are paying for
    Well, it’s simply time for the Rabbi to realize this and pack up with
    His dignity in tact.

    We are so blessed in Perth – Rabbi Freilich, who is humble and kind
    And heroic – he listens and it’s obvious he works for the congregation –
    Not the other way around. All this he does with and
    Through Hashem as his guiding light.
    He’s retiring soon and it will be nigh on impossible to
    Replace him. Let’s hope Hashem has his finger on the pulse
    As He must have in the case of South Head Shule.

    • Rodney Naumburger says:

      I’ve got an idea to help the Perth community out how about we swap Rabbis! You get Rabbi Milecki we get Rabbi Freilich!

      • Erica Edelman says:

        Haha Rodney ! Rabbi Freilich is retiring!
        Such a pity – what a mensch!
        Rodney ! I hear Perth is interviewing – you up for the job yourself?
        What we need is someone with a great sense of humour !

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