The Greater Synagogue

September 11, 2015 by Henry Benjamin
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Sydney’s The Great Synagogue has celebrated the inauguration of its 7th Chief Minister in its 137 year history.

Rabbi Dr Ben Elton, Rebbetzin Hinda Elton, Rebbetzin Vicky Kennard and Rabbi James Kennard Photo: Giselle Haber

Rabbi Dr Ben Elton, Rebbetzin Hinda Elton, Rebbetzin Vicky Kennard and Rabbi James Kennard Photo: Giselle Haber

Rabbi Dr Ben Elton was inducted by a former teacher of his, Melbourne’s Mount Scopus College’s principal Rabbi James Kennard.

Both men grew up in Manchester, UK.

In his address Rabbi Kennard told those present that The Great Synagogue now had “a shepherd for its flock…a rabbi for its community”.

The synagogue’s former spiritual leader Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence moved to London 16 months ago to assume the position of Chief Minister of the Kinloss Synagogue in Finchley after his predecessor, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis had been made  Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth.

Rabbi Kennard explained why he felt “personally very connected” to the celebration. He said that 20 years ago he lived in Manchester where he was asked to give regular Talmud lessons to school students pointing out that “two turned up  which is some respects classed the entire project as a failure.”

Speaking of the only two who turned up, Rabbi Kennard said that today one was a rabbi teaching in a yeshiva in Jerusalem adding “and the other is the rabbi you see before you tonight”.

He told the audience that over the last two decades Rabbi Elton had become a student who became a friend “and tonight is a friend who becomes a colleague”.

The Great Synagogue has selected a rabbi who embodies the key attributes that a rabbi represents. He said that a leader needs a vision and that Rabbi Elton will be a leader “who can create a vision for this community”.

He referred to the words in Hebrew on the ark which state “knows before Whom you stand” remarking that the rabbi should also be aware that when facing his congregation he should also know before whom he stand.

He concluded: “To be teacher to be a counsellor, to be a guide…with Rabbi Elton’s qualities and his passion to learn, his passion to teach and his passion to serve the Jewish people and now to serve this community I am sure he will fulfil his role admirably.”

In his response, Rabbi Dr Ben Elton said: “I stand before you as the new Chief Minister of the congregation deeply humbled and fully aware of the privilege to hold this office and the profound responsibility that comes with it.”

He singled out Reverend Hilton for “his year-long religious leadership of the congregation in the absence of a Chief Minister.”

He told those present that he and his wife Hinda had been married “two Sundays ago and it has been a marvelous eleven days.” He recalled the rabbis who had preceded him…Rabbis Davis, Rabbi Cohen, Rabbi Levy, Rabbi Porush, Rabbi Apple and Rabbi Lawrence.

Speaking of The Great Synagogue, Rabbi Elton said: “There are no barriers for entry, there are no requirements for membership other than being part of the Jewish people. We stand for inclusiveness orthodoxy in which all are welcome to join us as they proceed on their Jewish journey.”

He said: “We want a forward-looking Judaism that gives new opportunities to women and gives access to those who have been traditionally been sidelined or ignored.”

Rabbi Elton declared his new community’s love and support of Israel adding but we do not dogmatically assert that there is only one way to be a Zionist”.

He declared: “I want to make The Great Synagogue a vibrant centre of Jewish life. The Great Synagogue is back in business. I promise you my total commitment to the regeneration of The Great.”

NSW State Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton spoke of next year’s NSW parliamentary visit to Israel which will include Premier Mike Baird saying: “This trip will cement our parliamentary ties even further particularly in relation to technology, innovation and research and development.” Gabrielle Upton said that there is a deep friendship between the NSW Government and the Jewish community.

She said: “It is a friendship that is more important now than ever before. The world we live in has changed from what it was when we were children.” Referring to the Lindt siege she said that actions designed to invoke fear created unity and hope.” Gabrielle Upton told those gathered that The Great Synagogue is one of the most prominent in Australia and “a point of religious and intellectual leadership in the Jewish community. We can all be confident that Rabbi Elton will continue in this important tradition.” She invited Rabbi Elton to visit Bondi Beach where she would show him “its unique and hidden treasures”.

The Great Synagogue’s president Justice Stephen Rothman referred to the precision with which the Jewish community can date itself pointing out that 16 Jews were on the first fleet which arrived in what was to become Sydney on January 26, 1788. Justice Rothman said that “the members of our community and the view of our community have been an integral and important part of our society”

Justice Rothman said there is no doubt both the building of the Great Synagogue “and the community within” had played a major role in the development of Sydney society.

He continued by saying that The Great Synagogue had changed over the decades “and will continue to do so”.


Among those attending the inauguration were Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton, representing Premier Mike Baird, State MPs Ron Hoenig and Sophie Cotsis, Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia James Alsop and Reverend Glenn Davies the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney.

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