South Head Synagogue: from the rabbi’s corner

July 19, 2017 by J-Wire Staff
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As Friday approaches and the real possibility that the administrator will put Sydney’s South Head Synagogue into liquidation, the shule’s spiritual leader has answered a letter to the congregation sent by the president yesterday updating the membership of the impasse which could lead to the demise of a once vibrant congregation.


In answering yesterday’s letter, Rabbi Benzion Milecki wrote to president James Hochroth:

Dear Mr Hochroth,

Rabbi Benzion Milecki

Rabbi Benzion Milecki: I was shocked by the audacity of the letter that you wrote to the community yesterday, purportedly as President, although according to the Constitution (Article 24i) your position as president was vacated the moment you took a personal mortgage on the shule. In your letter to members of April 27, you claimed that you did this to alleviate the risk of the property “being sold up or falling into the control of persons unknown who may have differing objectives to those of the majority of members”. Mr Hochroth, did you call an EGM to get a mandate from the members before taking such a drastic step? 

With the voting power that you and your fellow creditors arrogated to yourselves by replacing the bank and securing your loan against the property, you state in yesterday’s letter that “you will vote on the recommendation of the Administrator to wind up the company.” Whoa! Let’s read that again! I thought that the whole purpose of you becoming mortgagees was to alleviate just such a risk. Have you called an EGM to ascertain whether members want you to wind up their shule?

In the last paragraph of your letter you again obfuscate and mislead the community by claiming that only my acceptance of your offer will “avert the perils of liquidation”. Are you kidding? Or is this just another ruse to confuse the community? You know very well that I have a negligible role in any vote because the Administrator’s admitted debt to me is only $38,000 unsecured, whereas his admitted debt to you and Messrs Mann and Naumburger and their associated family companies is $1.5 million secured on the Synagogue. It’s not I who can vote for liquidation, Mr Hochroth, but you and your fellow secured creditors. 

You then go on to say that I should allow a Court of Law to determine my fair compensation. Isn’t that where we were two weeks ago? You remember, I’m sure, the Equity Division of the Supreme Court, with Mr Justice Paul Brereton presiding.  We sat in the gallery, on opposite sides of the room. Mr Justice Brereton found, among the many things in my favour that a) my contract is on foot; b) I have Chazaka/life tenure and cannot be dismissed and c) that all irreconcilable issues be decided by Beth Din. You lost on every single count! You now want to return to Court to get another bloodied nose, once again at the Synagogue’s expense?

Mr Hochroth! If you don’t feel that you can come to an equitable agreement with me, agree to go to Beth Din as you are so obliged according to the terms of my contract and Mr Justice Brereton’s ruling?

In your letter of April 27th to the congregation you claim that you had no choice but to appoint an Administrator to dismiss me because the rabbi “had chosen to delay determining his future by a lengthy and costly Beth Din process”. 

Lengthy and costly, Mr Hochroth? Would you care to tell the congregation how much your unlawful dismissal of the Rabbi cost the synagogue?  According to my estimates, after factoring for administration and legal fees (including my legal costs awarded against the shule), the synagogue won’t get much change out of $300,000. And let’s not forget the cost of employing armed security guards to lock the dangerous rabbi out, changing all the locks and security codes to ensure that the rabbi would not have access, etc etc.  That’s quite a spend for a company on the verge of insolvency. Perhaps even enough to push it over the brink into liquidation?

So tell me, Mr Hochroth, wouldn’t it have been less lengthy and costly had you had the common courtesy to sit down and talk to me about retirement and a changing role? After all, that was precisely what I had suggested to former president Mr Kofsky in December 2014.

Was it really necessary, Mr Hochroth, to create uncertainly about my future in the press before you had the good manners to speak to me privately?

Was it necessary, Mr Hochroth, to ask your lawyers to write to me about termination instead of speaking to me yourself?

Was it really necessary, Mr Hochroth, to create a bogus survey as a propaganda document to turn people against me, as is the opinion of Hugh Mackey AO, a foremost authority on the subject?

I don’t know why Mr Hochroth, but it’s quite obvious to me, and I assume others, that despite the great financial cost to the Synagogue and much public humiliation, pain and suffering to my family and I, you have been using the synagogue’s finances and resources to run a vendetta against me. Even the Administrator, who no one would consider my friend, was forced to censure you yesterday for utilising the Synagogue’s email system to attack me without his permission.

James Hockroth Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Yet you have the audacity to tell me to go to Court yet again? Are you going to pay the costs this time? Or will you once again go on another adventure on the Shule’s dime and my pain?

There is a solution, Mr Hochroth, and it comes in two flavours:

1) This doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game because there really is a win/win play here. The pie is big enough for me to continue my good work, but in a different capacity and in a different area of the shule, while those who want a young new Rabbi will get their wish without the (falsely) feared interference.  This will ensure that we can remain in our FIRST home, the shule that we have spent our lives building, and don’t have to move away from our SECOND home in the part of Sydney where we have lived for decades.

2) If we really can’t agree, the matter will be adjudicated by the Beth Din appointed by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel as required by my contract.


The Beth Din process will neither be costly nor lengthy. It will certainly be nowhere near as expensive as the hundreds of thousands of dollars that were spent in placing the Shule in Administration.

As you very well know, the Chief Rabbi has appointed the Beth Din. The Beth Din has issued an injunction preventing anyone from taking irreversible action. This would most certainly preclude you from voting for liquidation, as you threatened to do in your letter. Should you ignore the injunction and vote for liquidation you would be in Contempt of Beth Din, an extremely serious matter in Halacha generally, and especially with a Beth Din of such eminence.

As to how to fund the Administration until the matter can be brought before the Beth Din in Israel, which because of our daughter Brookie’s wedding I cannot attend before August 14, I would like to make the following suggestion: Return to the shule some of the funds that you purportedly incurred on its behalf while embarking on your failed adventure to damage me through Administration and the Courts.

If neither of the above flavours are palatable, then perhaps its time to move aside and allow younger, less fixated members of our community to work things out with me on the basis of my contractual, legal and Halachik rights. If I’m ready to move aside, shouldn’t you be too? Remember, if you let the Synagogue fall into liquidation, it is these younger members who will suffer. So give them a chance to protect their future and give us a chance to live our lives – our conditions aren’t as onerous as you make them out to be.

And now a word to the young, energetic people out there who see their future with the shule:

You have a voice. You can make this happen. With the right mentality – an abundance mentality – it is more than obvious that the shule is big enough for everyone. It’s your choice. You can let others, and their agendas, decide the future, or otherwise, of the shule, Or you can step up and say: we respect the rabbi and the rebbetzen and their thirty two years contribution. The Rabbi’s giving us a huge opportunity. He’s ready to move aside and let us run the shule’s activities on ninety per cent of its geography. Let’s make this work! Even the doubtful would have to agree that that’s a far better solution than liquidation.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way, Mr Hochroth. If we all have the will, G-d will show us a way that works for everyone and leaves no one in the cold.

Yours Sincerely

Rabbi Benzion Milecki OAM


James Hochroth told J-Wire he has read the letter and added:  ” I remain available to Rabbi Milecki to meet in the hope that we can find a way to resolve the issues confronting the South Head community.”


8 Responses to “South Head Synagogue: from the rabbi’s corner”
  1. Mandy Shapiro says:

    On behalf of the younger members of the community, I can confirm that we all stand strong with the whole community that we want rabbinical renewal. We are all very grateful for everything that he and the rebbetzin have done for us and the shul, and noone is arguing that he has been an excellent leader over the years. But it seems that he is no longer meeting the needs of the community. It would have been better to leave when people wanted him to stay, rather than staying when people want him to leave. Rabbi says in his letter that he wld have been happy to retire in December 2014. Then why not now? If the Rabbi would retire, the shul will be saved and the community can continue to build in numbers and strength. It’s a simple solution.

  2. Bernice Charif says:

    Rabbi, it is not my place to say if you are right or not. Yes, the court decided that you were unlawfully terminated , BUT, it is plain and clear to see what the community so desperately want and need, and unfortunately that is not you as their spiritual leader.

  3. susan joffe says:

    According to letters posted on this website the Board had many meetings with the Rabbi but were unable to accommodate his apparently unacceptable demands,the most ludicrous being that he wants TRIBUTES paid to him.

  4. Caroline Krauss says:

    Can rabbi Milecki elaborate what will happen to the TEN% of the shul’s geography

  5. Angela-Leah Vered says:

    Well spoken Rabbi

  6. Shelley Sher says:

    My blood is boiling. So many people have, on a voluntary basis, over many years, worked their guts out to come to some agreement with Rabbi Milecki and he has written this response as if this has never happened.
    Turning now to the younger community members and asking us to use our energy and power to help keep you on board, when we have tried for so long to work with you but have got no where is insulting.
    The vast majority of the community have shown clearly time and time again over the past few months what it is we want. It is sad and frankly upsetting to most that in order to get our voices heard, we have to resort to coming across as rude and disrespectful. NOBODY wants to disrespect a Rabbi but we have been pushed into that corner.

  7. gail bachmann says:

    Rabbi, no one needs an EGM to see what the majority of the community want. The numbers at your service of less than 20 inclusive of your family members versus those at the other venue where the kehilla are davening of 180 on Friday night and over 200 on shabbat morning says it all

  8. Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone says:

    The Rabbi’s letter contains stratergies and options which deserve exploring.
    The response of James Hochroth is both positive and promising.
    Let there be no more court cases and wasting of time and money.
    All the stakeholders need to sit down and find mutually acceptable solutions so Torah can flourish at the South Head.

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