THE NEW MELBOURNE SYNAGOGUE

The new Melbourne Synagogue in Toorak Road was completed in 1930. The earliest years saw numerous activities around the congregation, including a flourishing youth group, enthusiastic Ladies’ Auxiliary and a large religious school. In April 1937 great disappointment was felt when Rabbi Israel Brodie returned to England. In August 1938 Rabbi Dr Harry Freedman, a brilliant scholar, became the new incumbent. Jewry in the world at large went through very difficult and tragic times - the Holocaust in Europe and continual unrest in Palestine / Israel prior to 1948. By 1946 for the first time in history the congregation had a full membership, and Australia welcomed to its shores some 15,000 European Jewish migrants.

Until this period the Congregation largely comprised families of the English migrants of the 1851-1855 gold rush era and the way of life enjoyed by the Congregation indeed changed very little for over a century. It was a proud Congregation that had celebrated the marriage of John and Hannah Victoria Monash in 1891, the Barmitzvah of Sir Zelman Cowen in October 1932 and had conducted the funeral service in February 1948 for Sir Isaac Isaacs, first Australian-born Governor General. That service took place in the presence of an august congregation including the Governor General Hon William McKell, the State Governor Lord Dugan and the Lieutenant Governor Lieutenant General Sir Edmund Herring.

In December 1947 Rabbi Hugo Stranksy was appointed Chief Minister. A Hildersheimer graduate, he held the post for the next four years. He was succeeded in September 1952 by Rabbi Dr Izaak Rapaport, a scholar who studied for his Rabbinical ordination in his native Poland and at Jew's College in London. His twenty-seven years of office coincided with  a resurgence of Jewish observance and outstanding growth in Jewish education in the community. As Rabbinical leader he played a key role in this era. The membership had changed, and many families now came from a traditional European background and expected a greater commitment in the religious activities of the Congregation. In 1973 a scheme to develop Stained Glass Windows within the Synagogue was commenced under the guidance of the noted architect Dr Ernest Fooks. These windows, especially the clerestory windows in the dome, add much grandeur to the Synagogue. Rimona Kedem, a noted Israeli artist, designed the windows.

Since its beginnings, the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation has  prided itself in the achievement of its membership. In former times the membership was largely composed of business people. Today there is a broad  membership of professional and semi professional people and acknowledged leaders in law, medicine, accounting, commerce and also many prominent communal and philanthropic figures.