South Head Synagogue’s administrator bars the rabbi

April 30, 2017 by Henry Benjamin
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Sydney’s South Head Synagogue is facing a legal battle with its sacked Rabbi Benzion Milecki who has been told he has no longer access to the building or use its car park.On Thursday, a decision to appoint a voluntary administrator to run the synagogue’s affairs was reached by South Head’s board.

Rabbi Benzion Milecki

A letter terminating Rabbi Milecki’s employment reached him on Thursday afternoon and clearly stated he had no longer access to the synagogue.

A spokesman for the synagogue told J-Wire: “An hour or so later, he came to the synagogue, parked in the small employee car park, attended the daily service and gave a short d’var Torah between Mincha and Ma’ariv.  On Friday the Administrator, through his lawyer, advised Rabbi Milecki that he needed to provide a written undertaking that he would not speak publicly in the synagogue or otherwise purport to be the continuing rabbi of the congregation and not park in the car park. Rabbi Milecki did not provide that undertaking and he was told that the Administrator would take appropriate steps to deal with the situation.

On Friday evening and Saturday morning, security guards were appointed by the administrator to join the synagogue’s  normal CSG security.

Rabbi Milecki davened on Shabbat at Coogee Synagogue.

The bank debt of $1.5 million owing to Westpac has been replaced with three contributions made equally by three members of the synagogue…President James Hochroth, Rodney Naumberger and Curtis Mann. At the time of the appointment of the administrator J-Wire understands the synagogue had $50,000 in its account.

President James Hochroth told J-Wire: “We expect that, aside from the possible claims from Rabbi Milecki and related legal expenses, the synagogue will generate significant cash surpluses over the next few months.”

Rabbi Benzion Milecki moved from Melbourne 32 years to take up his appointment as the synagogue’s spiritual leader. The congregation reached its highest level about 8-9 years ago with 1350 members. James Hochroth said: “We have lost about 30% of this total; the decline has accelerated over the past year.   We now have about 850 members, perhaps a little fewer.”

A professional survey of members  showed that approximately 72% of respondents put as their top priority the need for rabbinical renewal some calling for Rabbi Milecki to retire or leave, some wanting a younger rabbi and others wanting a rabbi not associated with Chabad.  Some 5-8% of respondents expressed positive sentiments about Rabbi Milecki.  In our view, the congregation was not divided but rather united, with some 8:1 or 10:1 wanting change.

James Hochroth added: “We asked whether members will stay with the synagogue over the next 12 months and we estimate that some 25-30% of congregants will leave the shul if there is no change within a fairly short period.  We decided to get a second market research firm to review the findings doing an independent analysis showing the same results.”

The outcome was emailed to members on April 19th.

The synagogue’s president added: “There is no question that Rabbi Milecki will be able to pray in South Head as long as he has furnished the undertaking requested by the administrator.”

Rabbi Benzion Milecki is disputing his termination.









8 Responses to “South Head Synagogue’s administrator bars the rabbi”
  1. Alan says:

    This sounds like a Harry Kemelman novel,entitled “Friday the rabbi stayed in bed”

  2. Sean says:

    When can we expect this sad affair to end ?
    It is a blight on the community.As they say in the classics ” justice delayed is justice denied “

    • Selwyn says:

      On appeal the judge did say,
      ” Benzie you should not delay,
      To take the package from
      Rose Bay,
      And relocate down Crown Heights way “

  3. Jock Orkin says:

    As someone who has served on the Boards of synagogues in Melbourne and Johannesburg I would suggest the following course of action.

    1 ) Call an extraordinary general meeting of all members as soon as possible in order to put a motion to the effect that the Rabbi’s services be terminated . Once the vote ,with a duly constituted quorum, is taken there can be no further argument.
    2 ) If the motion is successful then the Rabbi’s departure should be handled in a dignified way ,giving credit for his many years service to the congregation.

    3 ) If the motion is defeated then the best minds on the board should be involved in a healing exercise ,which may not be easy.

    A final comment .Why was the situation allowed to go on for so long without any attempts to secure a mutually satisfactory out come ? One thing is sure ,the lawyers will have a feast.

  4. Sarah Pincus says:

    The survey is only one piece of this puzzle. Other evidence would point to the fact that the Rabbi has lost touch with his kehillah and the membership is dwindling.
    The shule is not attracting young adults and many of the older members do wish for change.
    The Rabbi should take a retirement and move on.

  5. ben gershon says:

    is this another chabbad over reach?


  6. Samson Dienstag says:

    From the survey results sent out by the Southhead Board to it’s mailing list, only 48% of members actually filled out the online survey. Of those maybe half supported “rabbinical renewal” which could amount to less than a quarter of all members. Many of Rabbi Mileckis supporters amongst the membership would be older and much less likely to fill out the online survey. The survey had been presented as an innocuous review of options for the Schule such as whether the Shul should open up a daycare centre or what catering options there should be at the Kiddushs..not whether the Rabbi should be unceremoniously given the boot! So many members just ignored it. This online survey is open to abuse.. How do we know that some rabbinical renewal zealots didn’t comandeer the surveys of their associates or that those pushing for change knew the seriousness of the survey in advance and orchestrated the votes of their buddies. Although 48% is often considered to be a large statistically significant sample. For this to be the case, the sample must be chosen randomly ie a random phone sample of the membership should have been carried out. Furthermore, many of the communications have gone out to a large number of people many of whom aren’t Shul members so how can we be sure that all of those who did vote were actually members. In any case such a serious matter as removing a Rabbi of 32 years service should have been put to a vote by all the membership at an Extraordinary General meeting. Iit does seem as though this survey may have been cooked up for the express purpose of serving as a pretext to remove the Rabbi. ( yes the board did organise for a second survey firm to review the data but it’s the old story ..garbage data in leads to garbage conclusions!)

  7. Ann hedges says:

    Please add me to your mailing list

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