South Head: former president writes

June 29, 2017 by  
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Rabbi Milecki’s viewpoint has been well publicised through his articles, various letters in the AJN, his letters to the community, his family’s Facebook pages, and their ‘testimonial’ website.

From: Malcolm Kofsky

Until now I, like many of those at South Head have not seen it fit to respond, as we believe it unseemly to fight one’s battles in public. However, in view of the number of accusations that have been made against the Boards of South Head and its community, it is now necessary to set the record straight.

Malcolm Kofsky

While South Head was still the flagship congregation in Sydney, its Board saw the need to plan for its next stage of development. Essential to the shul’s ongoing sustainability and continuing relevance for the next generation was the need for renewal. In addition, all organisations need a succession plan, and one would have to be put in place for its Rabbi who had served the community for 30+ years.

So it was that, about six years ago, I first began to discuss the need for renewal with Rabbi Milecki. I had worked closely with the Rabbi over many years in my capacity as President, Vice-President and Youth Coordinator. When I first seriously presented this need to the Rabbi, I was a member of the Board Executive and still overseeing South Head Youth.

The model I envisaged was one that has been successfully implemented in Orthodox congregations around the world, where it is willingly embraced by the incumbent Rabbis, who thereby become free to pursue their passions unburdened of the demands of full-time ministry. This model would take into account the interests of both the South Head congregation and Rabbi Milecki, who had expressed a desire to focus on teaching and not be involved with day-to-day pastoral activities. (This did in fact seem to me be the case as it seemed to me that his interest was waning and he was increasingly disengaging from the community.)

It is important to note that the plan for renewal included Rabbi Milecki who was appreciated for his erudition, pastoral care and contribution to the kehilla. It was unequivocally felt that Rabbi Milecki still had a lot to offer the shul. In short, the community needed rabbinic renewal, but was supportive of Rabbi Milecki.

However the Rabbi was not receptive to the idea.

Approximately three years ago, faced with dwindling memberships and deteriorating morale in a community becoming increasingly disaffected, I responded to a request to take on the vacant Presidency in order to assist the Rabbi in developing a plan for renewal.

For two intensive years, the Executive and I devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to achieving this, exploring all options and avenues of compromise to accommodate the Rabbi’s needs and concerns. We worked to put in place a structure that would accommodate the Rabbi in a role where he could do what he said he wanted to do, whilst at the same time allow the shul to grow. The Rabbi rejected every offer (both for the management structure and for his role within it) that the Board believed to be reasonable and viable. This included proposals developed with the advice of outside, third-party consultants. The Rabbi’s counter-proposals were not workable. They were financially prohibitive and unsustainable for the shul. They were also religiously untenable, as they involved his maintaining control over the spiritual life of the shul, making it impossible to bring anyone new into a leadership position.

In December 2014, the Rabbi presented a proposal (which he referred to in Viewpoint AJN 09/06/17) for becoming Rabbi Emeritus. This included a condition that he receive entitlements plus a specified amount as a pension for the remainder of his and his rebbetzin’s lives. The proposal stipulated that should the amount not be accepted, it would be “as if the proposal was never made.” There was no basis for negotiation: his way or the highway. In any event, his proposal could not be taken to the full Board for discussion because he also imposed a condition that it remain confidential between the Executive and himself until agreement was reached; only then could it be presented to the Board for approval. The Rabbi himself breached this condition with no notice to the Executive.

Following his proposal, a further year of intense effort was spent trying to reach agreement as to a way forward, with two different teams from the Executive meeting with the Rabbi on a weekly basis, attempting to negotiate with him. Every time it was believed there was a basis on which to go forward, the Rabbi would move the goalposts. It became clear that the Rabbi’s position was unyielding. It remains so until today.

Ultimately the Rabbi declared he would simply not permit another leadership rabbi to be brought in, stating that “there can only be one king in the kingdom” and that he would not step aside. Claiming chazaka, he said the shul could not ask him to do so. Offers of early retirement were rejected. Rabbi Milecki further stated that he would not leave his position, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe had told him in a letter some 25 years ago that he should stay at South Head, and it was therefore his mission to remain at its helm.

In retrospect, it has become clear to everyone that the Rabbi had never had any intention of stepping aside and relinquishing the control that he had wrested over the shul.

Any non-acceptance of his proposal or counter-proposals provoked the Rabbi’s outrage. Unfortunately, although no personal attacks were made or intended, Rabbi Milecki chose to take any disagreement with his views however respectfully presented as a personal insult, to the extent of abusing those who in any way challenged his stance.

Some of this abuse was demonstrated publicly at the Information Meeting held in the shul in February, alienating many of his erstwhile supporters. The Rabbi has maintained relationships with almost none of his Board members of the past six years, many of whom had considered him either a close friend, or their beloved Rav. This has been personally devastating for several people.

In the face of the Rabbi’s intransigence, memberships further decreased significantly. The Rabbi has repeatedly blamed the financial crisis on the Boards of Management of the last six years. It should be noted that (a) Rabbi Milecki – by his own admission – has attended all board meetings and finance meetings, and was involved in every financial decision; and (b) the major cause of the shul’s debt was the building project, which was the Rabbi’s initiative and taken on by the shul at his insistent urging.

Capital debt is not rare for a shul. South Head’s debt was being managed through its vigorous membership and donation levels. However, these were adversely affected by the lack of a renewal plan, causing the financial crisis in which the shul found itself six months ago.

Most shocking is the impression that has emerged that the Rabbi appears to believe he has ownership of the shul and is therefore entitled to be the sole arbiter of its future. This is regardless of the community’s collective needs and sentiment, which he has categorically ignored and overridden. That the Rabbi seems intent on putting his own agenda ahead of the needs and indeed survival of the shul is a tragic and inconceivable state of affairs.

This is difficult to make sense of given the Rabbi and Rebbetzin’s devoted contribution to the community for the past 32 years, which the Rabbi and his family have publicly emphasised over past months, though it is denied by no one. How does his past care now entitle him to ignore the wishes and collective need of his community?

The community is aggrieved, heartbroken and bewildered, that the Rabbi who, with the support of Boards whose positive and voluntary contribution he fails to acknowledge, led them for 32 years to build the community, could so seemingly callously be the architect of its destruction. There may indeed be only one king in the kingdom, but there is no king without subjects; a king who forces himself on people is no king.

I have always felt that in my role in the Shul I am but a cog in the wheel. The Shul is bigger than the President, bigger than the Board, bigger than the Rabbi, all of whom are there only to serve the community to the best of their ability.

The loss of an established community such as South Head is a tragedy not just for South Head but all for all Australian Jewry.

Malcolm Kofsky
Dover Heights

Malcolm Kofsky is the Immediate Past President of the South Head Synagogue.


6 Responses to “South Head: former president writes”
  1. Jock Orkin says:

    How much longer will the shul be in limbo ( with apologies to my Catholic friends ) ? To counter the claims made by both sides the Board should call in the Australian Electoral Commission asap to arrange a plebiscite of all members to answer the following question. (To make the vote decisive there should be a 75 % majority for or against.)

    ” Do you want Rabbi Milecki to remain on as your Rabb ?


  2. Otto Waldmann says:

    An abundance of careless, contradictory statements.
    Hard to believe that even 30 years of flawless dedication to the shule – out of 32, where 2 years would be “dedicated” to conflict – could be conducive to the notion of incompatibility of the Rabbi with the kehilat of South Head, as the current President insists. Then, it is interesting how the years of conflict coincide with Malcolm Kofsky’s tenure in the leadership of the shule, including no less than its President, while Mr. Kofsky obviously not seemingly that keen on Rabbi Milecky, anyway.
    The most incongruous is the contradiction between a Rabbii Milecky offering in 2014 practical retirement as Emeritus Rabbi and what Malcolm Kofsky insists about a Rabbi Milecky obstinate, relentless kind of lifetime “king”, refusing to make room for another Rabbi.

    From this account , one cannot be convinced that Malcolm Kofsky’s version of the events is 100% kosher.

  3. Harvey Wainstein says:

    I think we should all hail the new KING of South Head, Benzion MELECH HAMLACHIM Milecki.

  4. Jeremy Shapiro says:

    When a Rabbi commands a salary of the nature that is mentioned, 600K + he is no longer taking the needs of the kehilla to heart. He is recklessly gauging the coffers of the community, without remorse.
    What amount of money over 200K a Year, can be justified? How did it get to this?
    The Rebbe would be sickened by this greed. He would never have allowed it.
    this is doing untold damage to the Rabbinate of Australia, its not the first case, and it wont be the last, but things wont be the same from here on in our relationship with pulpit Rabbis

  5. Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone says:

    There both parties submit to arbitration as proscribed in the wmployment contract.

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