South Head Synagogue Unity Plan scrapped

July 12, 2017 by J-Wire Staff
Read on for article

A group of “concerned South Head congregants” working behind the scenes to broker a deal between Rabbi Benzion Milecki , the Board and the synagogue’s secured creditors has announced it can do no more to bring the parties together.

Community identities Gary Cohen and Peter Wise have told J-Wire they worked with others to endeavour to independently secure an agreement with the Rabbi, the Secured Creditors and the Board.

In a statement they said: “We characterised ourselves as “concerned congregants who support a united congregation” and on 3 July 2017 we set out our aspirations in a self-explanatory Memorandum to the Board and Secured Creditors in the following terms:

We all need to find common ground. We have no desire to be antagonistic towards the Board or the Secured Creditors (or for that matter, anyone else); and we hope that this will be reciprocated. Our view is that if any of us are in attack mode, that will push us further apart and will be fertile ground for the rise of a new congregation at alternative premises.

That will be hard to undo; and will make reunification more difficult, both financially and in terms of harnessing popular opinion.

We are working diligently to find a formula with the Rabbi – and to succeed that needs to be in the next few days. We can’t comment further on that just at the moment except to say that apart from financial considerations, decency, fairness and restoring pride are important elements, not only for the Rabbi but also in the minds of a great number of congregants and the Sydney Jewish community in general. The communal reputation of South Head hangs in the balance and it could go either way.

But as part of that, we also need to collectively find a way to turn the tide and show that we are all united in our desire to have a vibrant and dynamic Shul. This is a numbers game as much as anything else, and getting that right is important to the vibrancy, vitality and solvency of the congregation in the future.

Staving off liquidation will only be worthwhile if we can achieve unity, even if it is a “strained” unity at first. Without an accompanying mood of optimism by the majority, a Deed of Company Arrangement (DOCA) will not achieve this outcome because it may be perceived as one group taking control from the other. That is not the aim.

The devil is in the detail, but a DOCA without resolution of the Rabbi issue as an intrinsic part of it will not be a successful outcome. A DOCA that alienates the board and secured creditors will not be a successful outcome. A DOCA that the community doesn’t understand or appreciate will also not be a successful outcome.

So we have to push forward on all fronts – with the Rabbi; with the board; with the secured creditors; and with harnessing the mood of the congregation at large. They are all pieces in the same puzzle – and as we try to move forward we need to take account of all of these elements to the extent that we can.

We expect to have a South Head Unity Plan available very soon.

We worked long hours on several versions of what we colloquially called a “South Head Synagogue Unity Plan”, a multi-faceted and detailed approach in which we have not taken sides but sought to find a pathway that the majority of the community could accept as a reasonable compromise between the competing positions.

In the process of preparing the plan, the Board and the Secured Creditors showed that they were willing to let us explore options; and Rabbi Milecki came a long way to giving up his position to enable a new Rabbi to be appointed and for him to step down and allow a renewal process to begin.

However, a lot of water had already flowed under the bridge and the parties have not, until this point in time, been able to bring themselves to accept the terms that each other were insisting upon. We have reluctantly concluded that there is nothing further that we can reasonably do to bring the parties together.

It appears that the costs and burdens upon the community will almost inevitably cause the South Head Congregation, as we have known it, to be very seriously damaged. It will now likely enter a new phase and we are saddened by this, but compromise for the greater good from all parties has not been forthcoming.

No one should take any pride or satisfaction in this outcome.”

The administrators for the South Head Synagogue in Sydney’s Rose Bay will hold a creditors’ meeting on Friday. The synagogue, founded in 1948, has Rabbi Benzion Milecki its spiritual leader for 32 years but the board is seeking rabbinical renewal. When placed in administration, the rabbi’s employment was terminated by the administrator, a move which was ruled as being void in a hearing heard in Sydney’s Supreme Court.

Gary Cohen and Peter Wise and their respective families are long-standing members of South Head Synagogue. Both hold leadership positions within the broader Jewish Community.


5 Responses to “South Head Synagogue Unity Plan scrapped”
  1. Victor Grynberg says:

    You won’t get better or fairer minded community members than Gary Cohen and Peter Wise. Clearly they have tried a neutral non=judgemental, non-vindictive approach to settle this matter decently. Alas they have failed. In these circumstances only a liquidation will settle things and the once proud South Head Shul will only go further backwards.

    I’ve heard so many opposing viewpoints, but as one Rabbi’s son said to me. “Nearly always a Rabbi will leave his position unhappily”. So this reality needs to be acknowledged and not just for this Shul, but all others, a divorce process needs to be put in place before the marriage. As business people do when starting a partnership.
    A Synagogue needs vibrancy and relevancy. Without members there is no Shul, and the evidence is that for at least 5 years rabbinic renewal has been necessary at South Head.
    Good people, well-intentioned people, capable people, have all failed.
    Where is the wisdom we expect from responsible people?

  2. Rivka Pincus says:

    May Hashem bless Rabbi Milecki with the wisdom to retire from and leave The South Head Shul and allow a complete and unfettered renewal to take place.

    • Rivkah Pincus says:

      This is not me whoever posted. Notice the diff in spelling of my name!

  3. Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone says:

    Gary Cohen and Peter Wise should be highly commended for the time and effort they have expended to bring peace and progress to the South Head Synagogue.
    Notwithstanding the frustration of not reaching an agreement acceptable to all the parties,the process must continue however daunting and apparently futile.
    A Kehilla of such importance and prominance cannot be allowed to close.
    May G-d bless all the stake holders with wisdom.

Speak Your Mind

Comments received without a full name will not be considered
Email addresses are NEVER published! All comments are moderated. J-Wire will publish considered comments by people who provide a real name and email address. Comments that are abusive, rude, defamatory or which contain offensive language will not be published

    Rules on posting comments