By Rabbi Amikam Tanami
MERON, Israel — Currently, Ezer Mizion services over 650,000 people a year. Its professional staff is augmented by 11,000 volunteers. Way back in the old days, I had the privilege of being Rabbi Chananya Chollak’s first employee. It was way back, when Ezer Mizion was still taking its first steps. There was a big overload of work, and Rabbi Chollak decided, for the first time, to take in an assistant. Since then – I’m here.
We never dreamt that the organization would develop to its present dimensions, as a veritable chessed empire. There are now many administrators. My responsibilities are to act as coordinator of Ezer Mizion’s national branches and director of its transport division. I run many of the organization’s projects, among them – the Lag Ba’omer project, which drafts the ambulance fleet to assist handicapped and mobility impaired individuals reach the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron.
In response to the request of the police department and the Holy Sites authorities, this year once again we coordinated the entire project of transporting mobility impaired individuals to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s gravesite in Meron. In this way, even people who cannot get around on their own had the privilege of coming to this special site on Lag Ba’omer.
Every year, because of our activities in Meron, there are people who ask us to drive VIP’s of different stripes to the gravesite, since private cars are denied entry. We are forced to turn down all of these requests for two reasons. First of all, we have to protect our credibility with the authorities and honor our commitment to transport only the mobility impaired. Second of all, if we would accede to such requests, it would be at the expense of the handicapped, and that is not the right thing to do.
We have a division that deals with personal wishes. One woman who was deathly ill, wanted very much to be at the Kotel, after years of not having had the chance to go there. Our volunteers enabled her to pray at this holy remnant of the Beit Hamikdash. Two weeks later, she passed away. An elderly homebound lady had not seen her cancer-stricken daughter in years. The logistics in bringing her for a visit were overwhelming but our professionally trained volunteers rose to the occasion and the two had a glorious day together. Stories like these give us the satisfying feeling that we made a dream come true that never would have happened without Ezer Mizion.
Our volunteers work hard. They think nothing of carrying a wheelchair-bound patient up and down several flights of stairs and do it with dignity and warmth. The occasional unpleasant situation encountered becomes a challenge, a mission. A pair of volunteers visited a family and found their home in a state of horrible neglect. Some twenty volunteers came down, but they literally could not step foot in the house, the situation was so atrocious. The closets reeked of moldy bread, the description was simply awful. Despite the repulsive condition of the apartment, the volunteers managed to empty it out, clean it up, give it a painting, put back only what was needed and literally transform the place into a new home. They checked out what help the family needs on an ongoing basis and put them in touch with the various Ezer Mizion departments so that they could carry on living with some semblance of normalcy. This is truly an example of incomparable dedication. At the same time, it is frightening to know that there are people living under such conditions without anyone in the community knowing or doing something about it. The fortunate ones are found by Ezer Mizion as was one man who was released from the hospital but had no way of reaching his home. An Ezer Mizion volunteer was asked to accompany him and was shocked to see the conditions under which he lived. As he was being helped into bed, he requested a raincoat. “The roof leaks. This is the only way I can stay dry,” he explained as if it were normal procedure upon getting into bed.
What vitalizes the volunteers is the work itself. Anyone who ever experienced volunteer work can tell you: You have the distinct feeling that your soul is uplifted. You can actually sense how your own character is enhanced. You give of your own time, your own resources and your own energy for someone else. This is what fuels volunteers and enables them to keep at their work, despite the emotional burden it entails.
Despite the fact that Ezer Mizion is founded upon the efforts of thousands of volunteers, there are also many employees who do holy work. We are blessed with workers who are totally dedicated, in the full sense of the world. For them, there are no limitations of day or night. They give of themselves and devote their entire lives to the organization and to the community.
Volunteers are the heart of the organization. Their dedication of unimaginable scope, over 11,000 honorary ambassadors, each of whom does indescribable Chesed – from baking a cake weekly for a family in distress, to distributing meals in hospitals, driving patients to treatment, sitting at a hospital patient’s bed, manning the medical equipment loan stations, etc. Ezer Mizion is its volunteers, and the volunteers are Ezer Mizion. It’s not a cliché – it’s a fact. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to keep up any of our activities.
Rabbi Chananya Chollak has not become the ‘feet on desk’ CEO, sauntering into the office at eleven AM. It is he who arrives at eight every morning and never leaves before one at night. The years have not dried up his ability to cry and cry he does, holding the hand of the elderly, the handicapped, the terminally ill. And when a family member leaves this world either through sudden trauma or months of illness, it is he who visits the family and notifies them ‘bit by bit’ all the while grieving along with them. There is not a single one of us who hasn’t learned from him how to treat another human being, whoever he may be. I’ve been with him for so many years, that today, every time I have to make a decision, I automatically think, ‘What would Rabbi Chollak do?’ He instilled in each of us the importance of empathizing with the patient. He is the pillar of fire that leads the camp.
Preceding provided by Ezer Mizion
Compiled by Garry Fabian
MELBOURNE, 13 May – Heritage Victoria is campaigning to protect the site of Melbourne’s first synagogue from any unsympathetic development.
The building, now known as Equity Chambers and since 1930 the home to legal offices, was the original location of Melbourne Hebrew Congregation (MHC). The land had been granted to the fledgling congregation by the Port Phillip
District in 1844, only nine years after John Batman established himself on the banks of the Yarra River.
Almost two years ago, developers Williamson Properties were given planning approval to build a 16-storey apartment block at 472 Bourke Street. The developers’ plans show the facade of the building, some of which was part of the synagogue, will be retained.
With construction yet to begin on the new development, Heritage Victoria this week
recommended the building, which it said is architecturally significant as an example of
“exotic revival architectural styles”, be added to the Heritage Register. A spokesperson for Heritage Victoria said the public can make submissions via the organisation’s website until June 22 regarding the significance of the site.
If accepted, the building would join a list that includes Ballarat Hebrew Congregation and Trades Hall, among many other culturally important sites.
MHC life governor and past president Eric Cohen said that Melbourne’s first shul was situated at the back of the Bourke Street block and held around 100 worshippers.
The Argus newspaper reported on August 13, 1847, that a building would be constructed for people of the Hebrew faith. On the 25th of that same month, a foundation stone was laid by synagogue president Solomon Benjamin. A scroll was placed in the foundation stone referring to the congregation as the “remnant of Israel”, a name that MHC still uses today.
Alongside the shul ran a small road named Synagogue Lane. Today, it is known as Little
Queen Street, with Cohen suggesting the name may have been changed due to vandalism. However, the street sign displayed today pays tribute to the lane’s heritage. With money flush during Victoria’s gold rush and the local Jewish population growing, Cohen
explained that the foundation stone for a new 400-500-seat synagogue on the same site was laid in 1855. It was a large building and the pillars outside Equity Chambers are remnants of that synagogue.
In 1927, the building was sold to Equity Trustees and by 1930, MHC members had moved to their illustrious new home in South Yarra, where they remain to this day.
Williamson Properties’ plans for the apartment block show the building will continue to look similar from street level, with a tiered glass tower to be constructed behind the facade.
New principal for Yeshiva school
SYDNEY, 13 May – Following a two month international search, Yeshivah College has
announced the appointment of a new principal. Currently the rabbi and head of Jewish studies at Sydney’s Moriah middle school, Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler will commence his new post in July.
“He is a highly experienced, charismatic and innovative educational leader, with a unique
blend of diplomacy, consultative approach and strong leadership skills, and was the outstanding candidate for the role,” chair of the Yeshivah Centre committee of management Don Wolf said of the incoming principal.
“Rabbi Smukler is a creative and positive leader, committed to ensuring that Yeshivah College realises its goal of achieving excellence in all of its offerings and nurturing the potential of each individual student and member of staff.”
The rabbi’s new role will see him build partnerships with students, staff and parents “to
create an environment where children are loved and cared for, so that Yeshivah College is a place where children want to come and learn”.
“My aim is to bring a refreshing perspective of global best practice, innovative educational leadership and thought into an uncompromised environment of Torah values and menschlichkeit,” Rabbi Smukler said in a letter sent to parents this week.
“I am confident that . we can be a truly great school. We can strengthen the positive, happy, quality learning environment in which our children thrive and grow.”
Ordained by the Rabbinical College of Sydney, Rabbi Smukler also holds a masters of education, graduate diploma in education and an individualised teaching certificate from Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.
Former Bialik College principal Genia Janover headed the recruitment panel, which included Beth Rivkah Ladies College principal Samuel Gurewicz, Dr Ray Lewis and members of the school’s committee.
Rabbi Smukler will move to Melbourne together with his wife, Laya, and their four children.
Rabbi Avrohom Glick, a past principal at the school, was appointed interim leader in February when then principal Rabbi Mordechai Berger vacated the position. Rabbi Glick will remain on staff as a senior teacher.
On the 33rd day….
SYDNEY, 11 May -More than 1000 people from small children to grandparents joined the parade through Bondi to a Lag b’Omer carnival at Barracluff Park last Sunday.
The carnival included a petting zoo, arts and craft activities and food stalls. Member for
Wentworth Malcolm Turnbull, Yeshiva Centre spiritual leader Rabbi Pinchus Feldman, NSW Jewish Board of Deputies president Robin Margo and Waverley councillor Yvonne Coburn all spoke before the parade.
Meanwhile, on Saturday night, Young Adult Chabad hosted a concert at the Yeshiva Centre, featuring Jerusalem-based singer Chaim Dovid. Dovid brought the audience to its feet with his hippy-style music.
Lag b’Omer commemorates the 33rd day of the Omer the weeks between Pesach and Shavuot and is considered a celebratory day honouring Rabbi Shimon Bar Kochba.
What’s in a name? Enough for an unholy row
MELBOURNE, May 13 – Famous people get their names pasted to planes and trains, sporting stadiums and halls. But an unpleasant spat in the Victorian Supreme Court has shone a light on the elusive prestige that attaches to the naming rights on a synagogue.
Just weeks after the Sydney-based Jewish businessman and former jailbird Rodney Adler met the leader of the Catholic Church – yes, at the Vatican, in Rome – the Adler family has been accused of trying to resurrect Mr Adler’s reputation by garnering ”billboard”
presentation of his name on the front of a building that houses a Melbourne synagogue.
The Victorian Supreme Court yesterday heard that in mid-March a sign was erected in front of the small synagogue in East St Kilda, proclaiming it the ”Lyndi and Rodney Adler Sephardi Centre”.
That sign inflamed tensions between the Sephardi Association of Victoria, which runs the
synagogue, and Dan Horesh, the executor of the estate of the late multi-millionaire Albert Sassoon Yehuda.
Horesh launched legal action last year claiming Yehuda, and later his estate, paid
for and continues to own the exclusive, perpetual naming rights over the synagogue.
Yesterday, Horesh asked the Supreme Court for an injunction forcing the Sephardi Association to remove the latest version of the ”Lyndi and Rodney Adler” sign before Saturday, when the synagogue is due to dedicate its Hekhal, the small room that houses the Torah.
Chief Justice Marilyn Warren sitting in the Practice Court yesterday heard that Melbourne
businessman David Bardas, who is not a party in the case, donated tens of thousands of dollars towards the construction of the Hekhal, and the ceremony is likely to attract dozens of people.
Horesh’s counsel, David Sharp, told the court that the Adlers were trying to ”re-establish
themselves in society, particularly Jewish society’,” and part of that involved ”being seen
as significant benefactors to the synagogue’.”
”They had a setback in that Rodney Adler is a criminal, and a significant one,” Sharp said.
He argued that each day the Adlers’ name remained on the building, the estate of Albert Sassoon Yehuda lost the benefits of the naming rights it had purchased. ”But what is particularly unconscionable is the Adlers are getting a benefit every day that sign remains,” Sharp told the court.
Adler pleaded guilty in February 2005 to four criminal charges related to his HIH dealings, including disseminating false information, obtaining money by false or misleading statements, being intentionally dishonest and breaching his duties as a director of HIH. He served 30 months of a 4½-year jail term.
The Adlers are not parties to the case. Rodney Adler last year told The Age the donation was made with good intention, and he suspected ”my name is being used as a pawn in a larger dispute” between the estate and the association.
The court heard the original asking price for the naming rights to the building was $450,000, and the price of naming rights to the hall, $125,000.
Just as Chief Justice Warren was about to deliver her decision yesterday, lawyers for Horesh and the Sephardi Association agreed to a formal mediation to try to resolve the matter.
Desperate appeal for $100,000 to save shul
ADELAIDE, 13 May – The South Australian based Adelaide Hebrew Congregation (AHC) has launched a desperate appeal to raise $100,000, warning members that unless the money comes in, the congregation will not be operationally viable.
In a letter sent to congregants last week, AHC president Mark Cohen said dwindling membership and the global financial crisis had contributed to the shortfall. He also claimed long-term loans to Massada College had not been repaid.
Cohen said: “The big issue was that no fundraising had been done for a long time, and
the bank balance had been slipping into the red for a while. There are no patrons of significance in Adelaide anymore, and every cent raised is by generous personal support.”
Calling for aid from beyond Adelaide, he added: “Our shul board has raised over $5000 from its last board meeting, and we hope the appeal will bring in around another $20,000 from smaller donors in the community. It would be wonderful to have additional Australian support for another $75,000, so we can get out of the red and begin a
program of rejuvenation, immigration and community building right away.”
To help raise funds, renowned local artist Franz Kempf has donated one of his paintings, titled “Why Does the City Sit so Solitary?” to the community to sell.
Asked what may happen if the funds aren’t forthcoming, Cohen said: “We will have to call a
special AGM – and ask for permission to sell the rabbi’s house, but this is a time-consuming, less than optimal, solution.”
Yuval Yarom, president of Massada College, refused to comment on the school’s financial
relations with AHC. However, he told The AJN he was confident that Massada wasn’t facing an immediate cash crisis. “We will need financial support from the community in the near future and I believe we will get it,” he said. “But we do have a business plan and we are on our way to being able to stand on our own two feet.”
NBL Championship coach joins Maccabi
MELBOURNE, 14 May -Maccabi Victoria Basketball has received an enormous fillip, with the signing of NBL side Melbourne Tigers head coach Alan Westover to the role of technical coaching adviser.
Originally from the Napa Valley in California,Westover is a two-time championship winning coach with the Tigers, and a former player in the NBL in the 1970s and ’80s. He also played college basketball for the University of the Pacific.
The club’s coaching staff will be further bolstered by the appointment of Daniel Sherr as director of coaching.
Sherr is the assistant head of sport at Mount Scopus Memorial College and will be responsible for overseeing the entire basketball program, with a particular focus on coach education and exploring additional playing opportunities for Maccabi players.
President Danny Samuels said the appointment of Westover would give the Warriors an edge.
“The appointment of Alan Westover allows us to expose our coaches to some of the inner workings of an elite program and I believe his contribution to our club, at every level, will be far-reaching. Everyone is very excited,” Samuels enthused.
“Westover is a proven winner who has a wealth of experience at the elite level. For our coaches tohave an opportunity to learn from one of the game’s best is huge – as an added bonus, Alan also has a real understanding of grassroots basketball, having coached his son all the way through juniors.”
Samuels added he was delighted with the appointment of Sherr.
“We are very excited to have someone of Daniel’s calibre as our director of coaching. He has come through our junior ranks as a player, moving into coaching, and definitely provides an excellent role model for our young players to aspire to.”
Scopus building for Cambodia
MELBOURNE, 14 May – Students from Mount Scopus Memorial College will take building into their own hands next month, travelling to Cambodia to construct homes for the less fortunate as part of the Tabitha Foundation House Building Program. The second annual trip for the school, 20 year 9 students will be accompanied by two staff members
for the nine day journey, that will see the group physically complete four houses in a remote Cambodian village.
“The trip is important because it gives students the opportunity, not only for fundraising, but also to physically make a difference to a community in need and to see the satisfaction on people’s faces once they have been rewarded by our work”, trip co-organiser Braham Morris said.
“The kids are good at raising money and we think it is great for them where the money is
actually going. This way they raise the money,roll up their sleeves, do some hard work and get the satisfaction”.
While the frames and roofs of the houses are pre-built by qualified builders, the Scopus group will nail the floors and walls together, using the skills they have acquired from a wood-working class. In addition to the construction work, the participants will return to the same orphanage their peers visited last year to complete a gardening project.
New this year, they will also travel up north to Siem Reap to visit a municipal school,
participate in an art project and help teach English to the local children. The 22 will also
sped a Shabbat in the South-East Asian nation as guests of Chabad Cambodia.
“While the trip is ” a community service project, not a touring opportunity” the students
will visit the killing field and a former prison. “They will learn about the local history and its parallels with our own history”, co-organiser Adina Wolters said.
It has been a busy lead-up to the trip. Earlier this month, students ran a sausage sizzle, where they raised $1000. They had previously organised a chocolate drive, raising a further $1400. Some students have even taken efforts into their own hands, selling belongings to supplement the funds, as well as hosting a movie screening to
raise additional funds for the trip and project.
My own 15 year old grandson is one of the students on the trip.
Funding boost for Jewish Museum
MELBOURNE, 14 May – The Jewish Museum of Australia’s (JMA) Jewish history gallery got a boost this week, with the State Government announcing a pledge of $400,000 towards its upgrade and a new online learning portal.
Announced by Victorian Minister for the Arts Peter Batchelor and Member for Prahran Tony Lupton, the grant will go towards the upgrade of the musuem’s permanent exhibition to be named in honour of former governor-general of Australia, Sir Zelman Cowen.
“It is a fitting tribute to Sir Zelman Cowen, a great Victorian, pre-emininet figure in
Australian Jewish life and founding patron of the museum,” Batchelor said.
The minister described the JMA as “one of the top community museums in the country”.
“It’s a living, breathing, active cultural centre and a valuable educational resource,” he said. “These are two exciting and transformative projects for the JMA and that’s why we are pleased to contribute $400,000.”
Launched to coincide with Sir Zelman’s 90th birthday late last year, the project had a target of $1.4 million, something Batchelor described as “ambitious”. He quickly added that this was “underestimating the ambition, guts, generosity and support” of the community, who he acknowledged for raising the first $700,000.
“This brings the museum to within $300,000 of the target,” he said. “Work can commence.”
While Sir Zelman was in hospital and not able to attend, his wife, Lady Anna, sister June Helmer and daughter Kate represented him. Batchelor wished Sir Zelman a “refuah shleimah”.
Lupton told of his personal appreciation for the museum.
“We recognise the importance of celebrating and preserving the rich and diverse stories of
Victoria’s communities,” he said. “I commend the Jewish museum for leading the way.”
The announcement was JMA director Rebecca Forgasz’s first official engagement, four weeks into her new role. “It is the largest gift I have ever received and I promise to spend it wisely,” she said, adding that she hopes it will “inspire the community to continue to give generously.”
Fabian is Australia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World.