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The Jewish Frankenstein – How to Breathe Life into a Dying Community

July 17, 2011 – 6:21 pm95 Comments

Frankenstein's monster, looking suitable disechanted with his community.

By Yaron Gottlieb

For the second time in not very long, someone that I held in very high esteem has come crashing down.

First Rav Motti Elon, my former Rosh Yeshiva, had suspicions raised about his conduct with some students. While these allegations were never proven, Rav Elon’s credibility has been destroyed. This is a pity as his vision, message, and boundless energy have now been lost to the wider world, and the entire Jewish community has suffered as a result.

In recent weeks something similar has happened, when it was alleged that Rabbi Groner was complicit in moving known sex offenders overseas to new communities, allowing them to continue their crimes elsewhere. Current police investigations will reveal if this was a one-off event or – worse – if there were several sexual predators in the Yeshiva community.

How do I respond? Firstly this does not shake my faith in the tenets of Judaism. A flawed individual does not cause a system to become irrelevant. Religion itself does not produce pedophiles, wars or thieves, and if someone wishes to use religion as their excuse for immoral behaviour, it is the failing of the individual and not the system.

But there is no doubt that the community has to get their house in order. Something is broken in our community and it is becoming apparent that something has to change.

Not only have we seem a series of child abuse scandals, there are other problems that point to something rotten at the core of the Melbourne Jewish community.

Recently we have had LionFM, which died a painful death. This was partly to do with the executive’s actions, but there was also a huge battle going on between various communal groups all fighting over how a radio licence was taken away from the community and how such a golden opportunity was lost. The bloodletting between the various parties presented the worst that our community has to offer.

Then there are other problems. Marginalising those who do not agree with you, and localised fights happen in every shule and organisation. I have been witness to at least one such major fight recently that has sullied at least one major communal figure in the eyes of many, due to his behaviour. And these are just the big ticket items.

But there is another major problem: members of the community themselves.

Day to day, I interact with people from a variety of backgrounds: Jews, Greeks, Russians, Indians, Chinese, Vietnamese among many others.  At times, interacting with certain types of Jews, I’m left desperately wanting to be anti-Semitic. While there are many nice friendly people within the community, there are also many arrogant Jews who leave a negative perception on the community as a whole.

No wonder people are running away from our community and want nothing more to do with Judaism. I understand them. If I were not religious I would not want to go to any shule (of any denomination), and I would not want to interact with the Jewish community at all. What have we done as a community to encourage people – and specifically the younger generation – to engage and join our congregations and organisations?

The answer: Nothing.

Quite the opposite – we have given them every reason to run in the other direction.

Since I have moved out of Caulfield, I have felt far more relaxed out of the eye of the Jewish community, and away from the petty squabbling that is a daily feature.

So how do we bring them back? What is the way forward for the community?

I have a dream, and while Martin Luther King is far more eloquent and intelligent then me, humour me for a few short paragraphs as I present my dream for what I would like to see in a community that I would be a member of.

It would be a community that is Orthodox, and yet non judgmental and welcoming of everyone: men, women, gays, the intermarried, those who walk on Shabbat and those who drive. The only qualification is to be welcoming, friendly and a pleasant person.

The place is a synagogue, but the aim is more to build a community, rather then a congregation. Interaction should not be limited to once a week, rather there should be a communal feel running through.

The community would be Jewish but would have a strong social conscience. It would be as much about being a good person as it would about being a good Jew.  We cannot feel ourselves to be too big to ignore the outside world, and the pains of the wider community around us.

Unfortunately at the moment this exists as a dream only. The people I have spoken to about this can be divided into 4 groups:

1. Not interested, just let things keep going the way they are. These people are not necessarily happy with the status quo, they just want to keep it.

2. Great idea in theory, but it will never happen.

3. Let me know when it is up and running, but I will not help set it up.

4. Ok, where do I sign up? Unfortunately these people can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

There are, however, moments when the community may be able to rise up and achieve something. There are moments like the last few weeks where everyone is ready for action, but then everything settles down and life happens.

Can we mobilise members of the community and specifically the youth to become active, building something that might change our communal culture? Is there a group of us in the community willing to make this change?

Yaron Gottlieb is a Melbourne based rabbi with a graduate diploma of education. He spends his spare time being eccentric.

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  • galit says:

    Well said Yaron.
    I am someone that grew up going to Bnei Akiva but never connected with the movement and never felt completely accepted.I have had the pleasure sitting in on some of your shabbat services recently and thoroughly enjoy them. It is the first time i have ever felt comfortable in a “shule” environment. Being jewish to me, is about a feeling, an emotion, not about an ideology…and i thank you for giving this back to me!

  • Yvonne Fein says:

    It’s this sort of writing and thinking that we need to make us sit up and re-examine what our Jewishness means. Certainly, shuls exist which emphasise community and doing good deeds. I happen to belong to one of them. That’s one thing. But to speak out about what’s so very wrong in the community at large and how we might address those wrongs, that’s another matter altogether. Takes guts and a clear-headed assessment of what’s going on and what’s needed.

    When Yaron writes:-
    It would be a community that is Orthodox, and yet non judgmental and welcoming of everyone: men, women, gays, the intermarried, those who walk on Shabbat and those who drive. The only qualification is to be welcoming, friendly and a pleasant person.
    The place is a synagogue, but the aim is more to build a community, rather then a congregation. Interaction should not be limited to once a week, rather there should be a communal feel running through.
    The community would be Jewish but would have a strong social conscience. It would be as much about being a good person as it would about being a good Jew. We cannot feel ourselves to be too big to ignore the outside world, and the pains of the wider community around us.

    – I can’t help feeling that if every Jewish community ran along those lines,possibly the whole Melbourne kehilla, would be a finer, safer, more welcoming place.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Yaron, this idea will not work simply because it does not take into account the human condition. For most religious people, there is an inherent need to feel superior to others. “MY way of practising the religion is superior to yours. God loves ME more. I’m SOOOOOOOOOOOO righteous”

    Most who are convinced that they are living a godly life will feel that those who aren’t are beneath them. That is why the orthodox community treats the secular community with such rabid disdain, and why the youth of the secular Jewish community has left the confines of the larger Jewish community, probably never to return. I know I won’t be.

    This is why even in the ultra-orthodox communities, everything is so fractured. To tolerate the life choices of others would mean that they have to admit to themselves that perhaps there isn’t one ‘correct’ way to live their lives according to their holy book. And that would shake them at their foundations. None of them would ever want to admit that, shock, horror, they could be wrong.

    This intolerance and insecurity has caused countless wars and unspeakable crimes throughout humanity and will be the reason why this is nothing more than a pipe dream.

    If you want to have a community where the people are “non judgmental and welcoming of everyone: men, women, gays, the intermarried, those who walk on Shabbat and those who drive”, then the community you’re after is a secular humanist society.

  • lionel says:

    Eloquently put Yaron. You are welcome to join me, my family and other like minded open hearted Jewish people at Shira Hadasha where acceptance of difference, respect and tikkun olam are evident in many aspects of the community’s functioning.
    Keep writing! You have important things to say that will be good for our community

  • Daviid says:

    It seems to me that there are two key elements in what Yaron is espousing. One is to conduct ourselves decently at all times and to expect the same from others. The other is to FEEL part of the Jewish community irrespective of one’s level of observance.
    This rings especially true for me as:-
    1) All my primary and secondary schooling was at a Jewish day school.
    2) I am not observant.
    3) My friends, as it happens, are all Jewish.
    4) I am in to my mid 60’s and reflect that the greatest qualities possessed by my friends is that they possess to the fullest the two key elements to which Yaron has referred.
    Yaron, you are so right.

  • Asher Wolf says:

    If you dream it – I will come. And bring my son too.

  • Greg Swedosh says:

    Daniel Levy, brilliantly put. I couldn’t agree with you more.

  • MargB says:

    You are describing the dreams and ambitions and actions of the people who founded the North Eastern Centre in Doncaster. Sadly the dream has not survived the second generation. The kindergarten has closed, the sports centre sold off & the synagogue has an ageing demographic.

    One thing you did not touch on in your excellent article is the growing socio-economic divide that is driving many people away from the Jewish community. If you are not observant, why not buy a proper house in the outer suburbs rather than cram your family into a concrete 2 bedroom flat on the main road (the only affordable option for the significant but silent portion of the community)? For years I fought to retain my connection with the community but have decided that as I am not observant and I loath the superficiality and materialism and values of the non-observant Jewish community that it really was pointless (the fact that I read websites like this shows I haven’t completely lost my interest in the Australian Jewish community). The truth is that I share more values with my atheistic socio-economically equal non-Jewish neighbours than with the average Caulfield Jew – where religious or not.

  • Bill says:

    Kol Hakavod to you.You’ve got guts!!
    You obviously realise that you’ve opened a can of worms and opened yourself up to serious criticism from the orthodox shules. Well,someone had to do it!!
    It’s a pity that you had to move out of Caulfield to feel”more relaxed out of the eye of the Jewish Community.”I have completed the reverse route some 9 years ago moving from Kew to Caulfield. Having been strongly connected to Kew Shule for nearly 40 years,it was very challenging to find a modern orthodox kehilla and community with a strong social conscience.
    I did the “rounds” for many months without finding a match. I certainly was welcomed by the majority of shules along the way,yet the spirit,the soul was unsatisfied by the davening experience at each of them.
    Luckily this experience changed markedly upon my first then second visit to Shira Hadasha.Was it the welcome? Not really. It was no better no worse than anywhere else.Was it that I felt like one of the “elders” of this kehila? Maybe,but that wouldn’t be the glue that bound me. It certainly wasn’t the standard of drashot that were presented weekly.
    It was however the “content” of the drashot,a caring non judgmental Jewish community,welcoming with a really strong social conscience,not ignoring the outside world. The bonus of course were the spiritually uplifting Karlbach melodies which formed and became part our davening.And so it continues….
    Yes,it is a kehilla “about being a good person as it is about being a good Jew”
    It doesn’t exist “as a dream only”;it exists.

  • Yaron says:

    To clarify a point that wAs put to me by my cousin. I am in no way implying that rabbi Groner is guilty of the same things as Rav elon. My point is that I have been disillusioned by two rabbis whose star has been dimmed bytheir actiOns.
    Hope that clears things up dr Baldwin

  • frosh says:

    I concur with Lionel and Bill.

    While no shul is likely to be perfect for anybody (and certainly not perfect for everybody), I think there are at least one or two Orthodox shuls in Melbourne that I know where there is a strong social conscience etc. I also feel that the shul I’m a member of functions as a community, and not just a congregation.

    I guess the tricky part is that not only does one have to somehow find the right right shul for them, but that they might not know it when they initially start attending that shul. That sense of community is not always apparent (and subjectively not existent) until you’ve been a member of that shul for at least a little while.

    Interestingly, I’ve found that the kehillot where I’ve experienced some of the strongest sense of community, and experienced this most rapidly, is in very small isolated far-flung communities. My time, over a decade ago, as a member of the Jewish Community of Kansai (Kobe, Japan) comes to mind.

    I wonder why it is so much harder to achieve this same sense of community in places where there are larger Jewish communities.

  • Isaac Balbin says:

    הלא משנאיך ה׳ אשנא

    Tell us which Yidden this refers to.

  • Alex Fein says:

    Lionel, Bill, and Frosh:

    Shira’s indeed an amazing place and there are so many philosophical elements that appeal to me, and many others.

    But there are two reasons that I personally would not attend, and why Yaron’s concept is somewhat different.

    First and foremost, his ideal community would be outside Caulfield.

    Caulfield is over-serviced with shuls in general and, much like what Frosh was saying, such a concentration of Jews can sometimes – ironically – produce environments not necessarily conducive to community.

    Secondly, I (and a number of Jews I know) are just not spiritually inclined, but we do crave community.

    For us, public prayer is not something we’re likely to engage in, but we may have people close to us who would want to pray with others.

    Yaron’s vision is for a community that goes beyond prayer – and to an extent, even beyond the religion itself.

    It would be a place in which everyone could benefit from communal involvement, but that wouldn’t demand a particular level of religiosity – or irreligiosity, for that matter.

    As far as I know, there just isn’t a place like that around, that is open to all the groups Yaron was referring to.

    I’d also hope that such a community would welcome newcomers to the extent that they didn’t feel as though they had to pay their dues before feeling connected.

  • Yaron says:

    To my dear cousin Isaac, the people to whom I refer know who they are, and they will have to make their own reckoning with what they are doing to the community.

    It is not my role to out them, rather it is my role to point out the hypocrisy and that we need better than that, away from their toxic influence.

    If they try to invade my world I will fight back to rid my community of them as you did in Elwood with the gabbai/rapist (and well done for your stance).

    Frosh, while I agree that some shules exist like that they are clearly only for a niche market. I still dream of a community that has broad appeal. I know it may be difficult and even impossible, but I want all those good people who are not connected to a community to engage. Not necessarily for shule, but for the community.

    Daniel Levy, Your tirade against the religion is something that is becoming more prevalent today. It is a function of not dividing between the religion and the religious. There are many religious who are not very nice (and even evil). There are also the holier than thou’s.

    This is not a reflection on the religion but on the egos that try to use the religion for their own purposes. I try (and hope that I succeed) to never see myself as superior to anyone due to my religious beliefs. I do however feel infinitely superior to the rapists who use the religion as their cover.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Yaron, I really didn’t have a go at religion itself in that comment (a conversation for a later day :)), merely the types of people religion tends to attract. And overwhelmingly these days, it appears to be those egotistical nitwits who are so distasteful in their rejection of alternative lifestyles that make being a part of the Jewish community such a contemptible prospect.

    Religious education ought to come with a humbling “but we could be wrong, so let’s apply these standards to ourselves, and only ourselves, and be happy that other people are living their lives to their fullest”.

    Of course, this would never happen for reasons I stated in my first comment.

  • Isaac Balbin says:

    For the record, I don’t know any such gabbai nor have I outed anyone. Victims out people, the rest is chatter, sometimes true other times horribly untrue.

    You missed my point. How does chazal parameterise your perhaps utopian inclusiveness in light of the pasuk I quoted? To what was the Rambam referring when he said מורידין ולא מעלין?

    Who does the Gemara mean when it says ינשכינו נחש? Etc etc

    Is Glen Iris the proverbial ערי מקלט? Who do you run away from?

    Regards cousin Isaac

  • Alex Fein says:

    Two other things:

    1) Marg, I agree completely! There is so much that’s problematic socio-economically. We need more than one geographic communal centre.


    Yaron and I just got back from a wedding. It was one of the nicer wedding’s we’ve been to.

    There was an overwhelming sense of kindness, decency, and humour.

    These people were all from Caulfield.

    It’s amazing what can happen outside the shul (or other organisational) environment.

    There is some sort of equalising effect. In our shuls and organisations, so often only a certain type of person is highly visible – in a position of formal or informal leadership.

    The general population is quiet and the environment is shaped by a few – often aggressive – types.

    At a wedding or other simcha, no one’s in charge. Every attendee has the same role – to sit, dance, eat, and shmooze.

    Individuals’ humour is given free reign, the fear of rocking the boat, or sticking your head above the parapet, is not an issue.

    If you are unkind, you breach an unspoken contract.

    Contrast this with our organisations: meanness or aggression can so often be a pre-requisite for advancement.

    Who would want to be a part of that?

  • Yaron says:

    It seems that we are in agreement, and it was my mistake that in my slightly tipsy state, following the wedding I was just at, I missunderstood you. But forgiveness is a cornerstone of religion, so I will beg for some. Can you find some room in your atheist heart to accept my apology? :)

    If I must be a city of refuge out here I will accept that burden. The rabbis say many things, and contradict themselves on many occasions.

    The harsh ways that may have worked in past generations no longer work with the current generation and it is incumbent on the communal leaders (Jewish and not) to change their mode of interaction with their communities to be more inclusive and open. Anyone who fails to take this on board will become irrelevant and see their community whither and die.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Yaron, inbetween feasting on babies and stoking the fires of hell, we atheists have plenty of room in our cold black hearts for forgiveness.


    (Just kidding, no need to apologise, clarification was enough)

  • Isaac Balbin says:

    Yaron, you must have had some bad experiences. I don’t mix in the circles of harsh uncaring or contradictory Rabbis, nor do I tar them all with your broad brush. The city of refuge is an self imposed existential reality for you it seems. Come back, all is forgiven. We know it was but an accident.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Isaac, your words “Come back, all is forgiven. We know it was but an accident.” are so freakily, eerily similar the feeble attempts of a wife-basher who’s at the police station trying to convince his victim not to dob him in…

  • Isaac Balbin says:

    “thanks” Daniel for the incite (sic)

  • Daniel Levy says:

    My pleasure, Isaac, it really was the least I could do to highlight to readers your ridiculous attempt to stifle this debate. :)

  • Daniel Levy says:

    It’s all in ‘er ‘ead guvnor! Some fantasy she bin dreamin’ up! I swear I ain’t touched ‘er!

  • Wolf says:

    Shkoiach Yaron,

    I find it funny and a little bit sad that I’m not the only one thinking what you wrote. I fact I have been thinking about it more and more recently, and it’s a terrible state of affairs.

    Here’s just one example of what you write “also many arrogant Jews who leave a negative perception on the community “! In fact I was speaking about this to a friend of mine the other day, who had the misfortune of doing a group project not long ago in university with one of these types of people. The arrogance was so overwhelming that my friend was embarrassed and ashamed of himself for his Yiddishkeit because of the way the so called ‘frum’ Jew grossly mis-represented himself and Judaism.

    Rav Arul once said that menschlachkeit precedes the mitzvos and one cannot even keep one single mitzvah if one isn’t already a mensch, a decent human being. I think it is a lesson we can all learn.

  • Alex Fein says:

    Isaac, the manner in which you’ve lashed out at Yaron is precisely the sort of nasty interaction he described in his post.

    While he muses on a general culture, and goes to great lengths *not* to attack anyone personally, you get personal – immediately.

    You also engage in rank hypocrisy, which is another feature of “establishment” communal culture so many of hate.

    Let me show you in your own words:

    “Tell us which Yidden this refers to.”

    Why would you ask Yaron to name names? How would it help anyone to get nasty and personal? Why would you want this?

    “For the record, I don’t know any such gabbai nor have I outed anyone. Victims out people, the rest is chatter, sometimes true other times horribly untrue.”

    That, I hate to say, is incorrect. I’m in possession of your blog’s post and comments (that you later removed) in which you most certainly did some outing.

    “You missed my point. How does chazal parameterise your perhaps utopian inclusiveness in light of the pasuk I quoted? To what was the Rambam referring when he said מורידין ולא מעלין?”

    Listen, I married a Rabbi. But when I read all that religious bloviating, all I see is, blah blah blah.

    The vast majority of young Jews are not religious, and your using the religion to bludgeon Yaron is only going to reinforce the contempt in which such learning is held.

    “Is Glen Iris the proverbial ערי מקלט [trans. City of Refuge]?”

    Did you actually read the post?

    Yaron makes no bones about it.

    Yes. It is a city of refuge.

    He said so explicitly.

    That you’d seek to publicise the suburb in which we live is disturbing and bizarre.

    “Who do you run away from?”

    Do you not see the irony in what you write?

  • Ian Grinblat says:

    We all yearn for perfection, but may I add some personal reflections? At the age of 64, I am able to look back, to review my own behaviour and my own changing, ever-changing ideals.
    All of us are guilty at some stage in our lives of saying one thing and doing another, or judging others, even excluding them. You are quite right that we shouldn’t but we are all human.
    Our community is expensive – the land prices in Caulfield, the cost of education, the cost of maintaining community infrastructure – the list goes on.
    As a starting point though, should we not establish an hierarchy of needs? If one needs, as a priority, to live within walking distance of a shul that provides daily services, then one has to bite the bullet on the cost of housing. Having set that first priority, then according to ones budget, one may need to “cut the coat according to the cloth” and accept the two-bedroom concrete walk-up flat on the main road. And so on, down the hierarchy of needs.
    Perhaps you long for a simpler world of yesteryear, when it was less likely that fellow Jews would question the standards of your kitchen. Well yes, but remember, everyone was significantly poorer then and the privacy that we now demand as our right was not available – there was gossip when a woman didn’t turn up at the mikveh, there was speculation when she stopped bearing children, there was widespread poverty and hardship, there was idle curiosity about each other’s finances, health, etc. Gosh, it all sounds just like today, except for the poverty, only a little more claustrophobic.
    One significant difference stands out for me in today’s community: we have seen a remarkable proliferation of small congregations, shtib’lach, and I wonder how we will support our community infrastructure. If everyone is paying for his own little satisfaction, who is thinking “community”? In Melbourne we depend to an inordinate extent on the generosity of our “big donors” and many of us are having an armchair ride. If we want a community, we must all think community and pay our way. Modern communities run on money – certainly you are correct that they do also require that each of us accepts his fellow Jews – but it was ever thus, it costs to belong. We each have to ask ourselves how much we want to be members of a community.

  • Bill says:

    Ladies and gentleman,
    Please halt the personal attacks sarcasm and innuendo.
    As stated last night;this forum is an opportunity for an open discussion to “re-examine what our Jewishness means”, not a place to besmirch our way of celebrating and living our Jewishness today.
    Yaron obviously has much detail to present in terms of his “Utopian Melbourne Jewish Community”. Please give him an opportunity to present his case without fear of attack or repercussion
    Whether we find it palatable or not,it’s definitely timely.So please let us debate this matter in an orderly manner to bring about a best possible outcome for us ,our children and grandchildren.
    Perhaps indeed our kehilla could be a “finer,safer,more welcoming place”.

  • letters in the age says:

    I would suggest that you might like to appoint a Greek as was mentioned in your post and have someone with fresh eyes come in and start from scratch but also understands orthodox values maybe?

    Progressve and open .

    I know of Jews that wish they were Greek,Italian etc…..for various reasons.

    A lot of Self Hating Jews and Uncle Toms are a common feature in this demographic of disengagement from the community.

    It’s a sociological cliche in many aspects of the diaspora, of WHY and HOW you have created this community in it’s present form.

  • Yaron says:

    ** Sorry all for the length of the reply here to Ian (probably a separate post), but I feel it is worth a read as it is a continuation of the thoughts in my article above.

    You have successfully pinpointed so many of the the major problems that exist within the community, primary amongst them, money.

    We feel that money solves every problem.

    There is one issue with this. If anything money causes more problems, and we are to blame. Let me point out a number of ideas that we hold as truths that come to us directly from the other side of the looking glass.

    1) A Jewish day school is vital for Jewish continuity, and $20,000 per year per child is a valuable investment (when compared to essentially free education in the state system).

    Reality: It is an overpriced scam – a number of studies from around the world show that schools only play an insignificant role in continuity. More important is a Jewish environment at home. The Jewish education is a joke. In my time there were students speaking better French after 2-3 years of French than Hebrew that was being studied for 13 years.

    You want a Jewish feeling in the family, sing Jewish songs around the Shabbat table (even if they are not the religious songs). This will do more than then the schools could ever do.

    And this is ignoring the social pressures and alcohol and drug abuse that I hear (from the non-scientific observations of quite a number of people) is rampant in many of the schools due in part to the unrealistic pressures we place on the students to succeed and to study at university (read Law and Medicine).

    2) If we want to be part of the community we have to be in Caulfield.

    Reality: This is a set of circumstances that we place upon ourselves. We have to live within 5 minutes of OUR shule (not even a shule), we have to live almost next door to our parents, etc.

    I have heard of religious Jews living in all manner of places, including one I heard of recently in Sunshine. All you need is a small number of people who are willing to move to cheaper land to have the nucleus of a successful community. Why not Reservoir or Glen Waverley or even the Western Suburbs?

    This desire for Jews to be ‘in the centre’ is artificially driving up house prices to a point where Caulfield is grossly overpriced, and young couple have two choices – go broke to buy an overpriced home or eat into their inheritance (which of course only solves the problem for only one more generation).

    3) The cost of being a religious Jew is not cheap, and is made more difficult in a culture of finding new stringencies.

    There is the Pesach food, one or two large family meals every week, the lulav (which can cost several hundred dollars), and then there are the separate milk and meat dishes. And there are more that I have not mentioned, but I would like to focus on 2 examples.

    There is a new drive to build ‘kosher kitchens’. There is no such thing as building a kosher kitchen. Any kitchen in the world can be made kosher or not. I personally have only one sink, one oven and a kitchen that if I turn around I hit my nose on the opposite wall, and yet I have a 100% kosher kitchen with both milk and meat.

    But that is not enough today (even though my grandparents would have seen this kitchen as a lap of luxury). We need separate sinks for milk and meat, then one for parve. And then separate ovens. Then separate microwaves. Then separate kitchens.

    But this is nothing compared to the extortion racket that is running in the community under the guise of kosher meat.

    If you compare kosher chicken in Coles to normal chicken we are paying almost 3 times the price. We are even paying about double what you would pay for free range!!!

    I understand that we have to pay for specialist slaughterers and the kosher authority – but triple the price??? If I were inclined towards conspiracies I would suggest the various kosher authorities didn’t want Jews to eat kosher any more.

    Judaism has become a religion for the rich, with some poorer members, and there seems to be the mentality in the community that its such “poor” people’ bad planning and foolishness that they don’t make the money they should have.

    4) Our communal leadership has failed us spectacularly. Not that they haven’t put in the effort or done the best they could, but the structures themselves are rotten.

    The whole community is top down and is rapidly becoming irrelevant in the lives of the community it claims to represent.

    What we need is a more fluid concept that can represent everyone. If someone makes a comment from outside the official leadership group this is not a reason to close them down and complain that they are breaking ranks. Let everyone have a voice. Even Michael Barnett. Hi Michael!!!

    5) The Shtiebl structure is a sign of a positive vibe in the community.

    Reality: The shule goers in our community are being recycled around the shules, and if anything are dropping in number.

    I could open up a new shule on the next corner in Caulfield, steal 5 people from 4 different shules and point to it as being a ‘new vibrant community’. Get your 30 congregants from roughly 75% of Melbourne Jews who will not go to shule except for High Holidays and Barmitzvahs and then I will be impressed. Only then will I point to a shule that is actually vibrant.

    There is money for all these things because we do not need to build a separate building for every communal institution. Johnny Baker had it right all those years ago when he called to pool the communal resources for schools.

    If we can still afford a separate building for every group in the community there is still plenty of money.

    So now it is the job of the smaller places to prove that they have a purpose to their existence. Let’s see them reinvigorate the youth and bring new faces into the communal organisations.

    6) One last point. You say:
    “there was idle curiosity about each other’s finances, health, etc. Gosh, it all sounds just like today, except for the poverty, only a little more claustrophobic.”

    But let us not forget that they also helped each other out. I have heard (third hand) that my gradfather received a free loan from a relative stranger upon arrival in Australia because he needed it.

    Knowing everyone’s business in that environment was a boon to society. In the current community it is just gossip mongering.

    If we can move towards a less selfish society and become more helpful, without material reward I think we will have moved the biggest step towards fixing the community.

  • letters in the age says:

    Scam maybe and tax write-off……

    right-wing agenda in the curriculum maybe?

    Note the demographic of the parent body in the school system and the TYPE of parent who display elements of the Dunning Kreuger effect in very large doses Yaron.(Hilarious)

    Great discussion people..well done!


  • Alex Fein says:

    The cost of conventional Caulfield Jewish living obviously costs a small fortune.

    So how does one make a small fortune?

    A very select few of us are lucky enough to work in a particular profession or to come from a very wealthy family.

    This very select few can afford the Jewish financial demands, and still have time to spend with kids, extended family, and friends.

    For the rest of us, it’s not that easy.

    Many of us would like to spend as much time with family and friends as possible, but also to engage in hobbies, travel with our families, and enjoy the many benefits of living in Australia that also cost money.

    Of course this is about priorities.

    And many of us will prioritise a Jewish life over many other things.

    But I can’t help wondering if some of this prioritising comes at the expense of ways we could make our families happier in general and happier as Jews.

    Do conventional assessments of priorities come out of a lack of creative thinking?

    Living as Jews in Australia is our blessing and our curse. It is a blessing for a host of very obvious reasons.

    It is a curse because so often the lure of the good life – perhaps even the happier life – makes the conventional understanding of Jewish life seem less and less attractive.

    We can hang on to the way we’ve been doing things, but we have to acknowledge that this will result in an exodus that will probably be impossible to reverse.

  • Gedalia says:

    Yisher Koach Yaron.

    I have lived in several small Jewish communities. All of them thrive not on resources and money, but on the ironic need that in a small community setting you are compelled to contribute, otherwise there is no community. This is the rub – community is about give and take, and I have found more often than not that the Melbourne attitude towards community membership is more take than give.

    Yaron – you mentioned that the strucutures are wrong. I have been reading the autobiography of one of Australia’s early Zionist leaders who talks about the establishment of organisations such as the JNF and the ECAJ more than 80 years ago. He talks about the tensions between the religious and zionist leadership. The structures of the community and its representative bodies have served their purpose for the generation in which they were created. The Jewish community has become too diverse to cope with single roof bodies or umbrella representative organisations. The functions of these groups may have evolved, but their founding purpose remains, and has (for better or worse) become irrelavent to the demographic of the community today.

    Communities are about people doing things, not about heirachical layers of organisational administration. The disenfranchised will participate if they find meaning and purpose in being involved, and that has to be the focus. I hope you manage to rebuild your community as an example of this – a structure of “bottom up” and not “top down”.

  • leedsiy says:

    I have to disagree with some of your points. Most of us are flawed, only some do not realise it and believe that they are perfect in every respect. The reason we are here is for a tikkun. In every way, we can improve ourselves.
    There are some active communities. I love my shule which is Hamayan. It is going to be spending around six weeks with Beit Haroi at Mizrachi shule.
    By the way LION FM is not dead. It is simply resting and can be heard on line at this address


    Click on the listen LIVE and you have some great Israeli folky songs at the moment. I hear they would appreciate new members and if you want a community radio to work, HEY THERE, you gotta get in and support it. The Melbourne Jewish Woman’s Hour at 7pm on Thursday will have a great interview with the famous Rav Sholem Mendel Kluwgant and we are talking about Shechita and the Live Beef Exports and other cutting edge business. You have the best Jewish Talk show host from NYC no less, Melbourne’s very own Shoshanna Silcove!
    All the other stuff, yes there are some problems, but it is time to get the house in order and believe me, these are mild problems compared to other communities. I am not belittling the serious nature of some recent events. But, we are Jews and people expect more of us.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    I love this piece. Sacred cows and all that.

    Yaron to me your vision is anything but orthodox. Why does it need to be Orthodox? why does it matter what its called?

  • Yaron says:


    You are right it does not matter however…

    It is my utopia, I am Orthodox, therefore I would like it to be Orthodox.

    If something was built that was purely secular I would love to be part of it too. The main focus is that things have to change for our survival.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Frosh commented earlier on this thread: “Interestingly, I’ve found that the kehillot where I’ve experienced some of the strongest sense of community, and experienced this most rapidly, is in very small isolated far-flung communities…I wonder why it is so much harder to achieve this same sense of community in places where there are larger Jewish communities.”

    I don’t have any experience of living in isolated far-flung places, so this is just me hypothesising, but I wonder if the reason it is easier to feel a sense of community in a small place is because when there aren’t many people you have no choice but to get along with everyone – a far better basis for coexistence – and everyone has to contribute in order for the community to thrive.

    In a large community like Melbourne, with heaps of communal institutions and infrastructure already in place, it’s easy to sit around, being a consumer of these services – however imperfect they may be – and complaining about them (like good Jews do…) without contributing. In our society, everything is very “me” oriented, and in a place with lots of institutions, we all expect to find the perfect community where things are exactly the way we would like them to be.

    I think someone is much more likely to feel part of a community if they feel a responsibility towards that community, rather than just being a consumer of its services. To paraphrase JFK: “Ask not what your community can do for you – ask what you can do for your community.”

    Of course we should talk about how we can improve – and luckily we have a great forum on Galus where we can do this! – but we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
    We have a wonderful community.

    Yes, there are arrogant people everywhere, but like Yaron has pointed out, these are individuals, not whole communities.

    Most certainly, Jewish school fees and the cost of living in Caulfield are way too high and the establishment of communities further out is a necessity long overdue. (Kol hakavod to the community in Frankston.) And hopefully those places will thrive and replicate the “small community” feel. But for those of us in Caulfield, why not become involved in whichever community we like and seek change from the inside, rather than lament the lack of a perfect community?

    Yes, there are some in each community who are intolerant of other ways of life (and that goes for both the religious and secular ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between). But there is also much inter-community recognition and cooperation. You just have to look at the deep rifts between communities in Israel which have virtually no points of contact with each other to realise how well most of us actually do get along here.

    Yaron’s community sounds wonderful, but I can think of quite a few shuls here that would aspire, broadly, to the same ideals. Why don’t we, as the younger generation, invest our energies into realising this?

  • Yaron says:


    You seem to be implying that everything is working perfectly well and we just need to focus our efforts a bit more.

    However, if you read my long comment above you will notice that you are actually part of the overall problem, with your connection to the as yet un-named 30 somethings minyan at Mizrachi.

    I noted the prevalence of recycling members around the various minyanim, and here is the perfect example. The minyan from which you split (the Beit Midrash) was getting a sizable minyan every week. Yet now they struggle to get to their requisite 10 men.

    Yet with all this I have failed to see anyone new come in to join. I would suggest that you have failed in the purpose of your breakaway.

    We are busy moving around the deck chairs but there are still 75% of Jews not willing to participate. And the only change I have noted over time is that things are getting worse and fewer people are involved.

    Again I will be convinced that something is worthwhile when the “active” communities become dynamic enough to bring in the 75% that do not currently participate on anything like a regular basis.

  • Alex Fein says:

    Shira, you haven’t addressed a central theme raised here.

    The community in which you happily exist requires a financial commitment that is beyond many – and an ever increasing number – of Jews.

    Arguing that those who have issues with the community, such as those who cannot afford mainstream Melbourne Judaism should, “Ask not what your community can do for you – ask what you can do for your community,” is grossly insensitive.

    Rather than engage in motherhood statements, we need to examine the unsustainable model that exists both financially, and by extension, culturally.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Yaron, “rearranging the deck chairs on The Titanic” is a most apt metaphor.

    These ignorant, all-too-proud buffoons will never be bold enough to admit that they have been wrong about their entire community outlook for decades. And it is that stubborn pridefulness that will absolutely sound the death knell for the Jewish community.

    And when it is all said and done, you’ll be able to look at each and everyone one of these idiots and say “it was absolutely your fault, and you have only yourselves to blame.”

    But by then it will be too late.

  • >Rav Motti Elon, my former Rosh Yeshiva, had suspicions raised
    >about his conduct with some students. While these allegations were
    >never proven,

    You have used unfortunate language in describing the allegations against Elon. It was more than mere suspicions.



    It appears that these allegations of indecent sexual acts with two minors/students, one of them by force, are matters before the courts in Israel. This is a far different than the manner you characterized the allegations.

  • Yaron,

    You are a gifted writer and a person with a sense of responsibility. For that I admire you. I also wish you much success in you endeavours.

    After reading your blog and general responses, I must say I find your tone extremely negative and border line insulting. I found your attack on Shira Wenig shocking and demeaning. Here is a young person who sees positivity and goodness and yet you tell her she is a problem. Here is a young person who has (in your opinion- I dare say) naïvely embarked on a journey to create change, and all you can say is she is a failure. Why, I would want to curl up and hide if I received such feedback. I would never dare to dream after such a beating.

    Throughout history we find that the greatest and most successful revolutionaries were those who shared vision, inspired with positivity, believed in society, promoted growth and led with action. You have written a critique of the community and shared a dream. But no substance. No plan of action. You have given off the impression of being superior and more enlightened than the Caulfield riff raff. And called for a retreat.

    I too, dislike much of what I grew up in (in context of community) but I see that as a failing in what and how we were taught and raised. As you wrote: A flawed individual does not cause a system to become irrelevant, we have reflected and criticised enough, it is now time to correct and build. Simple people spend their life criticising, the current community criticizes- surely you (and many of those commenting here) are better than this.

    I believe in society and humanity. I believe people can change. I believe in working with what we do have, not what we don’t have. Look at this monumental community we live in. Look what has been built, schools, shops, shuls, youth movements, blogs and newspapers. All this has been built in a short sixty years. Sure with fast growth and absence of true leadership, in a confusing world which rapidly changes every decade, people can go astray and lose focus. Sure people will behave like humans and consume one another. but this can be changed, this can be salvaged. The builders can be made to build once more.

    Melbourne (caulfield) is not Sodom, it doesn’t need to be raised to the ground and restarted. Belief in people is required. Not negative academic pontificating (not that I feel you do this, but many bloggers and ‘commentators’ do).

    Less than five years ago we established Spiritgrow. People predicted that it would fail, people said Melbourne didn’t need it, people chose to be negative. But we went ahead with it anyway- in Caulfield in the ‘heart’ of the ghetto. And like you, I wanted more than to just shift ‘participating’ Caulfield members around from one community org or shul to the next, and we are in the process of succeeding. It is a long journey but we have over one thousand different people (from all over wider Melbourne) who consider themselves members/participants, many of whom before Spiritgrow had no affiliation with any part of the community at all. Is Spiritgrow perfect? not yet, is it the only one? it shouldn’t be, but it is working hard to achieve and promote growth, connection and subsequently continuity.

    I don’t raise this to blow my own horn nor do I want this to be about spiritgrow. But I want to demonstrate a couple things: you must be positive and you must lead with action. People will follow. Resources will be provided (possibly- though i dont believe this- as a detriment to older and irrelevant causes,) by inspired people. History has shown this.

    You must harness energetic youth. stop asking whether you have the support. this blog and many others prove that the ground swirl is there!

    Like myself, some of my family, friends and many others, I encourage you, a person of hope and – I believe- vision, to commit your life to the cause of change. our great community has many people that can give weekends etc. to the cause but we need people that will give their whole life for society. This is not a job or a hobby, it is a life commitment.

    I ask that you not take any criticism personally. I too have strong feelings for continuity in Melbourne and I relish the opportunity that this blog and you as a regular contributor have created, so that we can have this open discussion. but the discussion must be followed up with action. now.

    Yashar Koach. Continued Strength.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Lol looking at spiritgrow it seems like just another one of those new age cults. Pedalling ‘courses’ and other bullshit for people to buy and throw money at the cult leaders (Menachem Wolf appears to be chief among these bullshit pedallers)

    All of your little activities have an associated cost. Meditation? $50. Film nights (you’re not even going to an actual theatre, you’re charging ticket prices to show a movie in your own premises :|) $20. Every single other ‘event’? Requires a donation from gold coin (how kind of you to consider those poor people you can only gouge a little bit from :)) but mostly higher up to hundreds of dollars.. They’re all just more ways to get money out of people. What an embarrassment.

    It’s like Jewish Scientology :’)

  • DJ says:

    This sums it all up, thank you Daniel.

    aniel Levy says:
    July 17, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    Yaron, this idea will not work simply because it does not take into account the human condition. For most religious people, there is an inherent need to feel superior to others. “MY way of practising the religion is superior to yours. God loves ME more. I’m SOOOOOOOOOOOO righteous”

    Most who are convinced that they are living a godly life will feel that those who aren’t are beneath them. That is why the orthodox community treats the secular community with such rabid disdain, and why the youth of the secular Jewish community has left the confines of the larger Jewish community, probably never to return. I know I won’t be.

  • andrew wirth says:

    Great topic Yaron – so why are some contributors trying to recreate on this post exactly the kind of animosity that is writ large in the community? For example, Shira Wenig’s post raises the really important issue of participation in community – the sort of participation that often arises in small communities. Does she really have to be met by accusations of making “motherhood statements” and being “part of the problem”? Barriers to engagement in the community are multifaceted, and include financial and structural issues- but Shira’s chose to highlight the important question of personal involvement.
    Regarding Yaron’s desire for orthodox and inclusive – I think Shira is a great model for this (Hadasha not Wenig)- but maybe it is too much to ask one element of the community to address all its needs. Isnt it the case that orthodoxy, in its nature, cant be all things to all people- if it were it wouldnt be doing fulfilling some key functions only orthodoxy can? The Jewish body politic is really like a body- if kidneys, bones and gonads all did the same thing bodies would be a mess – physiology is about organs all doing their own thing but working together.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Yaron, have to disagree that every shtiebl is just rearranging the deckchairs.

    There are many people who attend little minyanim that had previously opted out of structured Jewish stuff because it lacked relevance or resonance but who have found it in smaller, more innovative arrangements. And yes cost can still be a barrier but you can’t compare the infrastructure cost of running a small minyan like Kedem (a progressive minyan) which is lay led and uses a room in a school, to the cost of the big shules with expensive buildings which have to be maintained,have full time staff etc.

    The question of cost has rightfully been raised – kehillot which use existing facilities without worrying too much about the physical set up, are being economically and environmentally more careful and conscious of future demographic shifts than the decisions of yesteryear to build big high maintenance facilities which become obsolete.

    Yaron, I love your big picture, starting from scratch thinking but didn’t much like the way Shira was shut down for disagreeing.

    Anyway a great thing that happens in Tel Aviv each week (heard about it, I didnt see it) is a secular kabbalat shabbat service at the port, overlooking the beach. No private facilities required. Dress as you please. Kippot optional. Jews getting together to welcome shabbat in a cultural/ religious/spiritual way (tick whatever box works).

  • Shira Wenig says:


    Note that I did not mention Mizrachi at all in my post, because I didn’t think it was the most relevant example of anything I said. Yes, it happens to be the community I belong to; no, that doesn’t mean that I had no other shuls in mind when I wrote my post.

    But now that you have raised the issue of Mizrachi…
    It is true that I have recently been involved in setting up a new minyan at Mizrachi. Of course you have failed to see anyone new come in, because you haven’t turned up to a single service.
    Having attended every Shabbat, I can tell you that just under 50% of the people there come from outside Mizrachi. You may still consider this to be “recycling” people as most (not all) were attending other shuls on a weekly basis, but if they were attending those other shuls because they had to go somewhere, despite not feeling a sense of community, then I am proud of what we have achieved so far.
    And we are more than willing to welcome anyone else who would like to join us. What more can I say? I’m not saying it’s the ONLY minyan that Melbourne needs. But I hope it will be a warm and welcoming environment for those who are looking for a sense of community, particularly in the 20s-30s age group.

    (By the way, the Beit Midrash Minyan easily gets a minyan every week. I don’t know where you get your information from.)

    I also did not mention my own shul because I didn’t want to put myself forward as a paradigm of community involvement. I’m certainly not. But I have been on the mizrachi committee more or less consistently since I was 21. At times I have been the only female and/or the only person under 40 there. I wish more people would join me. Imagine how different all our shuls and institutions might be if more young people became involved at committee level where they can effect real change from inside the institutions we already have.


    I think you must have misunderstood my intention. I was not trying to solve financial problems by saying that one needs to contribute more and I’m sorry if I appeared insensitive.

    I recognise that the financial commitment required to live in Caulfield and send your kids to Jewish schools is unsustainable for the majority of the community. I’m not an economist, I have no solutions for this, but I think setting up communities further from the centre is a great start.

    But Yaron’s article was not entirely about finances. I was trying to say that regarding the problem of disenchantment with our communal institutions for the reason that they don’t represent what we want out of a community (not for the reason that we can’t afford them), more individual contribution might help rather than needing to reinvent the wheel.

    To the extent that the two issues are linked though, it’s possibly less expensive to revamp existing institutions than to create new ones. But as I said, I’m not an economist, I’m happy to be corrected on that point.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    By the way, thank you Menachem, Andrew & Mandi. If there were a “like” button for all your posts I would use it.

  • Mordy says:


    Anyway a great thing that happens in Tel Aviv each week (heard about it, I didnt see it) is a secular kabbalat shabbat service at the port, overlooking the beach. No private facilities required. Dress as you please. Kippot optional. Jews getting together to welcome shabbat in a cultural/ religious/spiritual way (tick whatever box works).

    Great! Is there a nudist section as well? Should make it easier to spot who may be Jewish or not. Hmmm, in “cultural” Tel Aviv that should be fine. Hey man, it’s 2011 so let’s do it! So, where’s the box which needs to be ticked?

  • Daniel,

    i am shocked by your abusive tone. you sound like a very abusive sort of person. a person who feels threatened by anyone who isn’t into whatever it is your in to. if not, perhaps your obscenities and brazen insults threw me off.

    i am not going to address your petty attack on spiritgrow as, this is not what the thread is here. it is about growth and productive ideas sharing. though i would love to see your business model for how to run an org without having a revenue stream. if you are genuinely concerned with our prices i welcome you to contact me.

    if it is that you cant afford the prices, like many in the current economic climate, we would be more than happy to have you come for free (like we do with many, without question or demands to see bank balances like many other orgs in melbourne!).

    i thought yaron was trying to promote ideas (courageously), you seem to only want to criticise and miss his point of creating. but thats fine, because i imagine it made you feel better with yourself and i am happy i could help you feel more satisfied with your life.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Mordy – dont know about nudism (as I said I haven’t been), but I do know that if you don’t like it, you dont have to go.

    is it unimaginable to you that there are people who presently dont celebrate shabbat with any Jewish content at all and would find this fulfilling, and might respond to something like this without saying “ooh kabbalat shabbat – lets get our gear off”.

  • Ian Grinblat says:

    As i wrote, i knew what i was trying to say but perhps my meaning was not clear.
    Bill’s post, immediately following, mine made me wonder if my tone was too strong – I certainly didn’t mean to snap at you or admonish you in any way, but i do feel that you are very idealistic. I take issue with you only on the location issue. For reasons that I cannot altogether understand, we find ourselves ever more concentrated geographically. I too think that we ought to be able to sustain two or perhaps even three locations but when Chabad moved families to East Bentleigh most felt isolated and moved back to East St Kilda. Doncaster blossomed briefly and has now contracted. Kew is dying. I grew up in McKinnon and attended Brighton shul, but I see that any young people who want to join BA either have to walk a long way each Shabbat or persuade their parents to relocate.
    I totally agree with you on Jewish schooling. I know that the home environment is far more important in establishing Jewish identity and affiliation in children. I also see however, that there is a powerful social element to jewish schooling and we all want our kids to be in “the crowd”. I have no idea on how we resolve that conflict.
    I agree that kashrut has become a burdensomely expensive commitment, but what choice do we have? Leave the group? We could probably organize a boycott of kosher meat for six months (I am a real carnivore and I would join such a boycott) but what about the phony credentialism that creeps in? Why do we flock to buy imported products made under the hechsher of a Rabbi we don’t know when we have locally produced foodstuffs which are considered suitable even though they are not supervised? Because we are a wealthy community (overall), I am sure that the time is not far off when the touchstone of a reliably-kosher kitchen will be a separate Pesach kitchen. I agree with you that having only one sink does not disqualify a kitchen but the two well-separated sinks are now de rigeur. And if you can afford it, why would you not make your life easier?
    On this matter we need the leadership of rabbis who are prepared to stand up and say “this is too much” – but it won’t happen because any rabbi who dares to do it will be discredited.
    We have a simple choice – in or out. If we choose to be in, we are obliged to play by the rules. If you are strong enough you may be able to have the rules changed – good luck.

  • Mordy says:

    You never know your luck in a big city.
    Just about anything else goes, why shouldn’t this catch on? Ought to give it a trial run here. So big deal, it’s not “kosher” but then that’s acceptable these days.

    The bar is set a “kosher style” (not only in Tel Aviv), which means that rules can be and are made on the fly. No doubt a “shul” doing that kind of shtik, would put a great dent into Yarons missing 75%.

    I imagine it would be “standing room only”.

    Yay, great stuff,

    Dress as you please. Kippot optional. Jews getting together to welcome shabbat in a cultural/ religious/spiritual way (tick whatever box works).

    How would we be able to tell the difference between your Utopia Kabbalat Shabbat services and those conducted by Jews for Jesus?

  • Yaron says:

    A few points that I think have to be made:

    1. A vigorous debate where the comments border on insulting is not the worst thing if it helps reach a better understanding of the debate. If you walk into many yeshivas around the world you can see best friends abusing each other over their apparent misunderstandings of the gemara. It is in this light that I take all comments made to me and I hope that is how everyone takes my comments.

    2. Shira, I know these things because I am the one often called in to make up the minyan at 10am. And while I may not attend I have stuck my nose into the new minyan a few times to see what is going on. I only bring it up as an example of the the mentality of spreading the resources too thin without any actual outcome.

    Replicating the same model of ‘saving the community’ with the proliferation of shtibls and then wondering why people are still not coming after all our efforts, points to a lack of imagination in us.

    3. Mandi, I love the ideas put forward and it is at least looking at things in a different way. Of all the things mentioned here they would be the most likely to reinvigorate the ‘lost’ parts of the community.

    Menachem, while I disagree with the philosophy behind your institution and of your approach to Judaism, you deserve congratulations for at least looking at things in a different way and trying to make a change for some of those who want to leave the community.

    (I should also add Shira Hadasha in this section discussing groups that are trying something new).

    4. What we need is not more institutions, and I have no intention (unless I am asked by others) to start another one. I think that what we need is bottom up. People want to get together in a Jewish environment and be Jewish.

    You want a shiur, organise it with who you want and how you want it. There is no need for an institution or a rabbi to mandate from above.

    Whenever I am at home I have a number of friends who come for shabbat meals. Even something as simple as this if replicated can change the community and potentially keep the disaffected in the loop.

    5. Sorry if I sound negative but I do not have all the solutions myself. I would be happy to join a group that will sit down and try and find different solutions to the problems that exist, but I am only one person in one post on one website, I do not have all the answers.

    I have presented the problems as best I could, and we as a community should be looking for some left field solutions to fix some of these.

    6. Ian, the main solution to change Judaism is to educate ourselves. How can I keep a kosher kitchen with only 1 sink? Because I know the laws of kashrut.

    How can we find a path between ‘the stringency of the month’ that is thrown at us by the rabbis and what Judaism actually wants of us? Only through knowing what the laws are. Without that we are reliant on the whims of the rabbinical class making things more difficult for those who wish to join.

  • Alex Fein says:

    We need to be mindful: sometimes, in order to confront a difficult issue, one has to be prepared to say difficult things.

    Many here are taking his thoughts on community personally.

    He never suggested that if you are happy, you should be unhappy.

    But it is a logical failure to argue that if you are satisfied, everyone should be satisfied.


    Menahem Wolf’s statements on revolutions and revolutionaries show a disregard for history. Revolutions and revolutionaries are bloody, nasty, and messy. Yaron is not a revolutionary, nor is he calling for revolution.

    This, however, is a simple misunderstanding.

    It was Menahem Wolf’s views on charity and the disaffected that really disturbed me.

    He patronises Daniel Levy by implying Levy’s antipathy may be because he can not afford Spirit Grow activities.

    Menahem then offers Daniel Levy charity in a public and demeaning way.

    This is characteristic of a dangerous trend: that Caulfield Judaism can continue its incredibly costly trajectory, and those who can not keep up either have to leave or accept charity.

    Many Jews who are currently struggling would not stuggle if they did not have the current Jewish overheads.

    The “charity” model can only bifurcate us – elevating the wealthy, and demeaning the non-wealthy. It pathologises the average income.

    Menahem, Yaron, and I are all very fortunate: we come from financially secure families.

    But to mistake our own good fortune as solely the product of our own virtue and hard work is more than unhelpful, it’s dishonest.

    There is nothing wrong with working with donors, or to capitalise on one’s father’s eminence, to do good in the community. It is, in fact, quite commendable.

    Menahem’s account of his own experience, however, fails to disclose the amount of money that was required to establish his shul, and the vital role his father played in its establishment.


    Most of us commenting here, agree that Shira Hadasha’s efforts towards inclusiveness are important and laudable.

    No one is criticising Shira Hadasha for not being all things to all people.

    But as explained in comments above, there is a place for thinking beyond Caulfield and beyond prayer.

  • Tanya Munz says:

    Very well said.
    Im all up for vigorous debating and expression of diverse views. I just hope it leads somewhere.

    Please come along and share your views at our upcoming Q& A public forum at ACJC.
    More details can be found at:

  • Andrew Harris says:


    Menachem’s eloquent, heartfelt response to your post sums up precisely how I feel about the sentiments you expressed — if you have action to back your critique, that’s great.

    Your latest response serves to further underline Menachem’s point — what exactly are you actually suggesting? Informal shiurim? Relaxed, social shabbat dinners? Those all happen all the time. They are positive, often non-denominational, organic, ground-up, communal engagements that are the very fabric of the community.

    Menachem and Spiritgrow, and the new Mizrachi Minyan and Shira (Wenig and Hadasha) all play equally instrumental roles in weaving the social, religous, political fabric of the Melbourne Jewish community, in which every Jew is merely a thread.

    Separatism leads to divisiveness; change leads to progress. Setting up a community in Frankston is and was a pragmatic approach to the growing problem of affordability; and with the upsurge in shtibls will come the falling away of the old guard — for better or worse, St Kilda shul is likely to become a Heritage-listed museum. This is just the way things go — Hineni moved to Caulfield Shul, and it’s thriving, and its move away from St Kilda signalled the end, practically, of youth involvement there.

    The ‘ghetto’, so to speak, is slowly creeping down Glenhuntly Road, and up into Glenhuntly and Carnegie. Not that property or rents are that much cheaper that way, but it’s a sign of community adaptation. As people move further away, infrastructure will develop. It’s all a highly organic process. And I feel that the tone of your argument, in its entirety, is more poison than fertiliser.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Menachem, I wouldn’t come to one of your ‘services’ if you paid me!

    It’s interesting that you refer to your business (sorry, religion, oops) as an ‘org’. That is precisely the name that the Cult of Scientology gives to all of their ‘religious centres’.

    The similarities are ridiculous!

    Also, that was quite a disingenuous statement. Menachem Wolf, says he won’t respond to my post: spends three paragraphs responding to my post. Is this doublespeak emblematic of the ‘religion’ you’re feeding your congregants? Tut tut!

    You came in here pedalling your spiritgrow bullshit. You came to an online forum, in an online space. You, a leader of the centre. So how dare you say that I have no right to criticise what you were coming here to pedal. This is a public space, and when you try to swindle and hoodwink people in a public space, I will call your bullshit every time.

    It is very telling that your main rebuttal appears to be “show me a business model for an org without a revenue stream”. Firstly, how interesting that you consider your religion to be your business. Do your congregants know that is how you view it? I’m glad you’ve been honest enough to admit that you’re in this to make a buck. But that doesn’t exempt you from criticism because I doubt this is what you tell your congregants.

    As L. Ron Hubbard said, infamously, “If you want to get rich, you start a religion.” And that appears to be your chief motivating force in this business that you’re running. Well you won’t get rich off of gullible, naive people while skeptics like myself are willing to expose your bullshit, and how dare you have the gall to attack me for helping to shed light on your scam.

    I guess you didn’t even have the creativity to start your own ‘religion’, you just leeched off of Judaism and gave it a new age spin to sell your products. Well, that ends now. :)

  • Bill says:

    Daniel Levy.
    I have no idea who you are. However this is not the arena to deal with your anger management issues,nor to attack kehila leaders who are attempting to create a more caring,more empathetic,non judgmental Jewish community.
    Sometimes it’s better to say nothing if there’s nothing constructive to be added.

  • Daniel Levy says:


    I don’t care who you are, however this is not the arena to stifle debate, and nobody is immune from criticism.

  • Andrew Harris says:


    Yet again, you are full of unwarranted, unfounded, enraged, venomous, totally unhelpful vitriol.

    The last thing Menachem is out to do is make a buck for himself. There’s no way to put on the kinds of events he does without cash — attending shul services is, unsurprisingly, separate and apart from attending Spiritgrow events. Every religious institution needs a kitty from which to pay for itself.

    Just so you know, I only respond to you for the benefit of others reading this thread. I have no intention of changing the way you think, or what you believe.

    And before you accuse me of what you have accused everyone else who doesn’t share your particular breed of madness, if anyone is guilty of stifling real, constructive discussion here, it’s you.

  • i give up.

    alex, i didn’t realise this was an inquest on how spiritgrow started or exists. i didn’t realise that by giving an example of where people who have/had a dream and worked dog hard to get it, was actually a negative. had i known that an example needed a compendium of hows and whos, i probably would have not bothered to mention it.

    spiritgrow was made possible through the donations of wonderful people who donated money, time, effort etc.

    it was spearheaded by my father. if you want change/growth/continuity blah blah blah, one needs to spearhead it and take action. that is all i was trying to bring out. i am not suggesting for a moment that spiritgrow is the only model nor is this the forum to bring up the step by step processes, i am presenting the fact that a person and people had a dream and they did it!

    fundraising is an action. speaking to people about vision with goals is an action. giving classes is an action. responding to peoples needs is an action.

    yaron makes wonderful point, everyone can create change by inviting people to your home, befriend and assist people. this is what will make melbourne a better place. we don’t all need to open centres- we can’t and it’s not the answer. an wholist (yes i ad a ‘w’) approach is required. its not about shuls and buildings alone, it’s about total infrastructure. there are many right ways to do it!

    to build on what yaron wrote,we do need to turn our homes into ‘centres’. if every home was a centre for ten people to grow and nurture one another, can you imagine the effect it could have on this town. lets not talk about whats wrong alone, lets couple that with positive small steps- like this one to bring about a change. the ripple effect should not be underestimated!

    lastly, alex, did you really need to mention (a true caulfield’ism) my financial background? do you know where we come from financially? have you seen my bank statements? yet you seem to have passed judgement about my upbringing and background being privileged- in public! tut tut.

  • TheSadducee says:


    It is nice to see that you are so open to criticism. Your claim:

    “For most religious people, there is an inherent need to feel superior to others.”

    is especially foolish. You have no intelligible way to prove this claim. This is thus a classic example of general bigotry.

    We all “get it” that you have a problem with religion – unfortunately for secular humanists, you are far from their best representative and I at least would ask that you refrain from telling your tale, full of sound and fury, which signifies nothing.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Alex, your treatment of Menachem was not only offensive but also counter-productive. I would imagine that Spiritgrow is a perfect example of an institution that can break down barriers, change perceptions of Orthodoxy and serve as a model for what Yaron is yearning for.

  • Naava says:

    Hey! Isn’t there a blog called the sensible jew where you can attack other hardworking Jews to your heart’s content? Looking for a bigger audience?

    Leave galus for constructive investigations into communal issues and telling stories that need to be heard, helping us progress together. Listening to mean rants on which shuls you choose not to attend is a surprising mix of shocking and boring.

  • Dave says:

    I have a dream… That everyone treat their fellow in the way they wanted to be treated themselves…starting here on this blog.
    It so much easier to attack someone from behind a computer screen, often from or towards a pseudonym. This is because of how removed we are from the human element. The less we focus on another’s (and our own) humanness the easier it is to attack and hate. The more we view another’s (and our own)humanness the easier it is to love and care. This is the story of racism hatred and war throughout history. It is also the story of blogs, social media, online commentary etc. in the modern age. People have been replaced by screen names. And its so much easier to hate a screen name then a person. What could have been used to bring us together is actually tearing us apart.

    Nothing genius here just an obvious and sad observation.

    I wonder if in the spirit of this sad period in jewish history and attempting to enhance our community we can commit to mature and caring discourse. Lets make the next three weeks a trial period. We all try and address others as if they were sitting opposite us in person or even better, the way we would want to be treated…
    I reckon this is a pretty good place to start in achieving our utopian community. Right here. Right now. Or am I dreaming???

  • Yaron says:

    There is a fine line between abuse and vigorous debate. In the heat of an argument many things can be said that is not permitted in polite company. It should be understood that the blowtorch applied to (for example) Spiritgrow by Daniel can very often help crystallize ideas and reach a proper conclusion.

    I do not think that there has been much in this thread that has crossed that line… until Naava. But let us move on from there.

    In the realm of words that exists here on the internet it is easy to point to ourselves and claim that our community is the solution. Unfortunately the reality is very different.

    Unfortunately the ability to self congratulate is both easy and gratifying, especially when surrounded by like minded people who will back you up.

    We can very often confuse activity with productivity.

    An active community can still be a closed system and dying a slow death. I would point to many of our communal institutions as perfect examples of this.

    But we should not be closing down debate. The harsh language shows passion and we can use that passion. I think that we need to grow thicker skins rather than bleed the passion from the debate, and overly control the permitted language.

  • A few points:

    Regarding “small isolated far-flung communities”: guess what? Melbourne used to be one such! This may have been one of the reasons it was considered such a haven for Holocaust survivors. I remember the days when I would walk to & from shul, and would greet everyone, and actually knew who each one was. It’s good to see that in our community we continue to greet people, even though we have no idea who they are.

    The Melbourne Jewish community has, for a long time, been spoilt for choice. We have many schools and shuls to choose from – so many that anything that anything “not quite right for our children” or “5 mins too far away” becomes too much trouble. Where other communities have (successfully) fragmented as a result of growth, our “ghetto” just keeps growing. The trends identified in the research on continuity indicate there is some bloat, and this can lead to a breaking point some time in the future. I don’t think the community is drastically broken, nor on the verge of a crisis. I do think we need to think more about where things might be headed, and make some adjustments.

    The trend towards smaller shtieblach in Melbourne has been a very good one for the community. I think it’s a rejection of the large and sometimes impersonal shuls (and a challenge for them). While there are probably a small number of “journeymen” (and women) who keep looking and don’t find, people are broadly voting with their feet for smaller shuls. This is an endorsement of the Gerer system which requires that any shtiebel split when it gets too big (I think that means more than 30 families). My view is that any shul where no-one notices when someone isn’t there is too big.

  • Rachel SD says:

    I agree with all the comments (David’s, Andrew’s, Shira’s, Menachem’s, Bill’s, Lionel’s, etc.) that have been about the importance of small communities and minyanim. I think it’s subjective and judgemental to say that Shira Hadasha (disclosure: my community) and Spiritgrow are inventive and new and the new minyan that Shira Wenig and others have organised at Misrachi is not. Everyone is coming from somewhere different and is in a different place, has different needs, etc., which is why have a diverse group of small communities is intrinsically a good thing.

    Yaron, what someone says in a Bet Midrash and how they say it should ideally be a little different to discussion online for a few reasons. These include: (a) people don’t know each other; (b) it’s hard to judge tone from quick comments online; (c) the comments are available for others to see so criticism is public and not private.

    The comments directed to Menachem about financial matters, suggesting that Spiritgrow is asking people for money in a dishonest way or trying to trick them, were totally unwarranted, insulting and had nothing to do with the value of providing services even to those people who can’t afford them. The comments were also bigotted because the idea was that Spiritgrow was dishonest because it was a religious organisation whereas a secular organisation that charged people money to attend movie nights and yoga classes would not be called dishonest.

    Yaron, I also don’t understand why you say that you won’t start your own community unless someone asks you to. When you say things have to happen from the bottom up, why don’t you include yourself in the grassroots community?

    Also, on the one hand you say that Shira Hadasha is positive but only appeals to a niche community. You want something with more general appeal. On the other hand, you say that you like being out of Caulfield, outside of the gaze of the Jewish community, and want to start a community outside of Caulfield. It sounds like you are interested in another niche community, which as I said in my first paragraph, I think is great, but I don’t think it will have general appeal (if it did, your community outside of Caulfield would again be in the gaze of the Jewish community).

  • Yaron says:


    I make my value judgements based on my understanding of the circumstances of each community. You may disagree (it would seem that you do), and what that means is that we have a difference of opinion. That is healthy.

    My statements are based on my previous comment, which is:
    Do not mistake activity with productivity.

    There are many people who are active for the sake of being active. This is if anything detrimental, since we can point to the activity and say ‘Look, things are getting better. People are doing things’. We then feel there is no need to fix anything. This is the basis of the civil service, and I don’t know anyone who likes red tape.

    I will not start my own community because been there and done that. I have mentioned that in the post, if you look back at it. There is no support and I cannot do it on my own.

    One final point. I did not say that I need general appeal. I said that small and grassroots is good, but if they only steal from the large groups without bringing in from the outside then what is the point? We will only be efficiently recycling our numbers around.

  • Yaron says:

    To all,

    I will now leave this conversation as it has started to go around in circles.

    I will leave the debate with a few short ideas:

    1. How do we measure the success of a community and its value. Does an organisation that services several hundred people who are all part of other communities serve us well or is it simply part of the merry-go-round.

    Rather find 5 people who are not connected and build that connection. This will be infinitely better for us as a community.

    2. Knowledge is power. We are Jews who pride ourselves on our knowledge and wisdom, and yet fail to know the basics of our own religion.

    The more we know the more we can engage. Without knowledge our growth will remain stunted.

    Well that is my little bit, I can now ride off into the sunset. Enjoy the remainder of the discussion.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Yaron, I find it extremely ironic that you think comments which insult others are fine if they are in the context of a discussion on making communities welcoming.

  • Keren Tuch says:

    Hi Yaron,

    I found your ‘dream’ community which you referred to at Limmud-Oz Fest last year.

    It was a very welcoming environment of 150 people for all regardless of their income, sexual orientation, religious or political outlook. Anyone could present and then in turn learn from others at other sessions. It took place in Central Coast in NSW in November, and will be making its way to Victoria in November this year.

    It was only for one weekend, yet a wonderful weekend which I would encourage you to take part in this year.

  • Bill says:

    I’m a little confused……..
    At 4.27pm you noted that “we should not be closing down debate”. At 5.59pm you did close it down just as some serious posts and varied forms of our”ideal Jewish community”were taking shape.
    Did I miss something?

  • Local Yocal says:

    Wow Yaron, Very well written although reading through the comments above things got a bit too personal for my liking between others :(. In my humble opinion, I agree with most of what you said. I think people are disenfrachnised by the lack of friendliness from various communitities and that that is a bigger issue than any other issue mentioned. The Melbourne community is often very friendly to other visitors (eg Israeli backpackers and international students), but can often ignore the locals a bit too much.
    But lets have ideals and goals as a community. This article and the website is a big eye opener!

  • Alex Fein says:

    Have you been reading the threads on LionFM, Rubashkin, and – especially – the recent child rape furore? I haven’t seen your name pop up in any of them worrying about the “mean” and the “shocking”.

    I’ve said publicly here, and privately to Rachel and Frosh, that I think Galus provides a wonderful service. I’ve told Rachel and Frosh that I admire them – that I found The Sensible Jew blog time consuming and exhausting.

    It was wonderful to have Jewish and non-Jewish readers, to have a couple of Age features written about it and to have ABC’s PM programme ask some questions. It made some people furious, others quite liked it. One problem I never had was lack of audience.

    But rather than rehash history, Naava, let’s focus for a moment: I want you to read every single one of the 359 comments on the sex abuse thread.

    I have – because it was really, really important.

    Nowhere in the 359 comments did I see your name, decrying the cruelty and intimidation taking place there.
    I suggest you read it, because it would give you some perspective on what qualifies as, “shocking” and “mean.”

    I’m going to join Yaron and leave this thread to others if they wish to continue the discussion.

  • Naava says:

    Hi Alex,

    I’m not quite sure why you are drawing me in to this but I’ve taken the bait!

    I’m flattered that you’ve looked for me all over the web.
    Mentioning the sensible jew obviously hits a nerve. I just thought it might be a better forum for discussing your vision for a community and which members of the existing community shouldn’t be including in it than galus.

    I comment where I feel I have something to contribute that hasn’t been said already. Everyone else was very eloquently putting the crazy sickos doubting Manny Waks back in their box. I didn’t have anything further to add on the matter.

    This is not really a comparable scenario. There is a clear right and wrong when it comes to supporting victims of sex abuse.

    Yaron, thank g-d, is not a victim of anything here. When people are simply attacking hardworking rabbis and laypeople running shuls and important community services, without suggesting alternatives it’s very hard to see what their point is.

  • bemused says:

    Game, set and match to Naava

  • Wolf says:


    May I ask why you are taking this article so personally? Yaron simply made a personal assertion of fact. That’s all.

    It is no different from you or I taking an introspective look at ourselves come Yom Kippur and deciding how we can further improve ourselves.

    Nobody is perfect, either is our community.

  • Andrew Harris says:

    Wolf, I do believe that Alex and Yaron have officially left the building, and the good people of Galus, in the form of their representative Bemused, have unanimously declared the victor.

    Done and dusted.

  • Wolf says:

    Andrew Harris,

    Sorry to hurt your fragile ego ;)

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Just wanted to lend some support to Mandi’s post re kabbalat shabbat on the beach in Tel Aviv, which she got a bit of flack for above.
    I don’t see why this service should bother anyone. Correct, it’s not an Orthodox service – so if you’re Orthodox (as I am), don’t attend; go to shul instead. But clearly there are many people who are not Orthodox and feel uplifted by such a service. I think it’s a really positive thing that they want to spend part of their Friday evening welcoming Shabbat, so that it’s not just like any other night of the week.

  • L'kaf Zchus says:


    Your litmus test appears to be “I think it’s a really positive thing that they want to spend part of their Friday evening welcoming Shabbat, so that it’s not just like any other night of the week”.

    Sounds good. That implies if a group wishes to conduct a Kumzitz around a log fire eating barbequed pork chops on a Friday evening welcoming Shabbat, so that it’s not just like any other night of the week, that should get the green light as far as you’re concerned?

    With only one rider I take it? Carlebach songs must not under any circumstances be sung out of tune, right?

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Thanks Shira. I withdrew a bit because the discussion got weirdish but I agree with you – it did get traction.

    For the Yiddishkeit police the mere mention of something different and it’s a slippery slope to pork chops, nudity and pagan bonfires.

    I do understand that a service where , say, men don’t wear kippot would feel very disrespectful to Orthodox Jews. I’m not sure how much I would enjoy it. But I like shule. Not everybody does. And those who didnt like it could stay away.

    There are so many people who are not interested in any kind of Orthodox or any religious service or practice. So for Mordy and Lkaf Zchus religious standards apparently say its better for people never to sing Lecha Dodi than to sing it in anything other than a religious context. Their view seems to be if it’s not Orthodoxy , then it’s better for people to have no Jewish content in their lives.

    As to where the boundaries are drawn, and when it becomes something other than authentic Judaism – yes there is a real risk that it transforms (mutates?) and becomes unrecognisable. But doing nothing is not recognisable or transmittable Jewish practice either.

    And Lkaf Zchus – Shira said ‘some’ support. any chance you could give her you give her the benefit that she doesn’t endorse anything too sacrilegious.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    L’kaf zchus – seriously, do you really think your scenario is comparable to a kabbalat shabbat service?

    I get your “slippery slope” point, but it is pretty easy to draw a line somewhere between a service which resembles an orthodox kabbalat shabbat (which I assume the one Mandi refers to does) albeit in different surroundings, and your scenario which involves at least 4 issurim.

    No need for sarcasm. I understand where you’re coming from but an all-or-nothing attitude will only further alienate the non-religious sector of our community.

  • This is like when someone says “I’m going to shul on Yom Kippur” and they get the cynical reply “you don’t even fast, why do you bother going to shul?!” An argument of that form should be rejected because it is always going to get a person doing less, and not more. If they go to shul this year, they may be inspired to go again next year, and possibly fast as well. If they don’t go to shul, they are not likely to do any more in future.

    If these people in Tel Aviv are finding a way to welcome Shabbat and express their Jewishness at the beach on a Friday night, then kol hakavod to them. Deriding it as being not kosher enough (in whatever way you want to define it) will only push them away.

  • Sam says:


    Great comment! I think that this is perhaps message that Yaron was trying to convey. Everyone has a different level of observance and belief and any shul/steibl/community where one feels a sense of being included is a huge plus. Some years ago I left the very large kehilla at PHC after feeling somewhat on the fringe for years. The breakaway group (also orthodox) was less judgemental and being smaller felt more warm and welcoming. That shul grew considerably in membership with time, and it’s emphasis shifted gradually to suit a more strictly observant demographic. I have since returned to PHC but that is another story.

  • Ittay says:

    When I was living in Israel for year in 2007, I visited over 40 synagogues ranging from satmar to secular. One of the reasons why Israel has been such a great success story in reviving the Jewish people is because the democratic nature of the country allows people to pray in any way they want.

    I davened at beit tfilla yisraelit (which is just off rehov rothchild in tel-aviv) a number of times. Beit tfilla is the perfect shule for someone who sees Judaism as a culture, civilisation, and nationality in addition to it being a religion.

    You can watch a clip of their beautiful kabbalat Shabbat service on tel-aviv beach here

  • Andrew Wirth says:

    Building a good relationship to Yiddishkeit is a bit like building a good marriage. It takes exploration, commitment and hard work, disappointment and anger, more hard work, and then hopefully contentment and growth.
    But somewhere along the line you have to fall in love!
    Without that spark of inspiration, people just hang on to Jewishness out of conformity, habit, grim determination or spite- or else they just leave – like the Frankenstein’s monster of the title- Judaism is just an assemblage of body parts lying limp and soulless on the slab, until a bolt of lightning brings it to life.
    How can our kids experience that electricity? Perhaps it doesn’t matter so much where it starts – in a Kollel in East St Kilda, in a Carlebach shul or on a beach in Tel Aviv. As long as it generates that magic “look across a crowded room” experience that makes them want to ask for Judaism’s phone number.

  • L'kaf Zchus says:

    Have a feeling of Deja Vu here.

    Re-inventing the wheel comes with the turf.

    The logic which is being applied is precisely what the Reform did several hundred years back, and the Conservatives even more recently. I’m all for inviting “lost or wandering” Jews back to the fold, but when it’s done in clear violation of halacha and by quasi rabbis who sprout words of wisdom from the very torah and tanach which they mostly reject, one has to ask whether or not that is really kiruv or just a different form of Madonna kabbalism, which also attracts meny Jews, who use the same logic and rationale as applied on this blog.
    By all means, explore and adventure but when one fools themselves into a state of “kabbalat shabbat” because they are surrounded by Jews(on the beach?)assuming they are Jews that is, and feel quite cosy ’cause they’re having a joint whilst swaying to the well known traditional Shabbat tunes, anyone who thinks thinks this will bring them closer to religion is simply trying to justify their own comfort zone by labeling whatever they are doing as “better than nothing” therefore it’s fine. Say what you will, it won’t be the religion our Torah and Talmud have decreed. Outreach Aish H’atorah shuls, or Chabad houses world wide, where everyone is encouraged to attend without any questions asked, is offered authentic Judaism at a level which they can relate to, rather than “feel-good” places where almost anything goes as long as (most) of the people there are Jewish. May as well have a kabbalat shabbat service during intermission between two movies at the Crown Casino, of course as long as most patrons are Jewish.
    And Shira, the beach scenario involves more than 4 issurim. You attend Mizrachi, right? Check with your rabbi about mixed intermingled prayer, kippa-less, tzniut, mechalel shabbat and more.
    No way you’ll get even the barest “hechsher” from any competent rabbi, unless you question a co-religionist rabbi in Alma Rd.
    Having said that, everyone can do what they like, after all it’s a free country, but heck, I’m going to call a spade, a spade.

  • letters in the age says:

    Great response and analogy Andrew W,

    Simple yet complex.

    Make Judaism sexy……..(insert wink)


  • Onlooker says:

    This is all quite pathetic if you ask me. Here we have a bunch of wannabe puppeteers sitting in the chairs at home trying to identify, and even solve, the supposed problems of the Melbourne Jewish community. The lack of perception is astounding.

    The starting point of all this outcry is the recent revelation that Rabbi Groner did not want to report a suspected sex offender to authorities, coupled with the reference to Rav Elon in Israel. It is beyond me how these two events have caused the alarm bells to start ringing and given you all the urgency to get the community back in order.

    I sense some strange yearnings toward unrealistic egalitarian society. Society will always comprise of the rich and the poor, the happy and the unhappy, those gifted with opportunities and those not so fortunate, those affiliated with communal life and those unaffiliated, those religiously inclined and those not. Yet here we have a very long and heated discussion as to how to introduce some life size iron to straighten out all the differences and “injustices” that inevitably occur in any community.

    Let us get a few things straight. Judaism does not exist for the sake of creating warm loving communities. It is not its aim, it is merely a result of its practice. People are drawn together into communities due to shared beliefs or values among other factors such as social attraction and simple convenience. Thus, a Jewish community are such people who can relate to each other in some way or another. It is utterly preposterous for all you people to suggest for a community to compromise or change its values, and bend over backwards so to create a community. That is not Judaism. If one wants to fit in and feel loved, go join a yacht club or a sports team or become a boy scout. But if you think a community is failing because it is not all-inclusive than you have an entirely warped definition of community.

    It is very nice, and even sometimes commendable, for new shules to be opened. Take this Spirit Grow for example. It identified some sort of demand in the society and catered for it. This consequently brought people who shared such values together into its own community. If one genuinely believes in a philosophy, then by all means, live out your philosophy with others who agree with you. But do not expect us to mould our philosophy or lifestyle so that it is more far reaching.

    In Melbourne’s case, the community at large is the large group of all these smaller communities that are bound, more loosely, but their common interests and beliefs in some form of Jewish life. However, some people will not be able to fit under this large umbrella and as a result, they will be unaffiliated. There will always be those who are unaffiliated, because that is what happens when a group has a definition that binds them together.

    And in all honesty, it is not the problem nor the concern of people who are Jewish to go out and sweep in the masses of unaffiliated Jews. We will not die out, because we never have. And yes, whilst there are those who dedicate much time to this ‘outreach’, its aim is to take people and instill within them the values of the group that they may want to join. Those who outreach do not approach every stray Jew and ask them what would need to be done so that they would fit in, how to further loosen the definition of the group so that they will fit under its banner. That is absurd.

    There will always be people outside and always be people inside. There will always be those who are content and always those who are enchanted. If you don’t like it, then leave – it’s a community, you can leave it. I would suggest that you all stop attempting to attach to the Melbourne community inescapable tentacles so that everyone feels a part of it.

    That’s life folks.

  • Letters in the age says:


    So there is class.yep, sociology 101 Onlooker!!! so what?

    I suggest a more complex look at God was on q and a last week.

    Great philosophical argument on God that can be found any-where and not just in a shul.

    That is enough for some!! we lead busy lives these days peeps.

    John Safran made an appearance as well


  • MargB says:


    You are right, one can leave a community. And in many ways I already have. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some sadness about it. Part of that sadness is that I haven’t been able to find a comfortable place in the Melbourne Jewish community but that is life.

    While I am not a believer, I do value the rich historical, cultural and intellectual life of our people. I wish I had the time and money to undertake further study with the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation at Monash University. But in the meantime I have the internet. On the upside, the advent and growth of the internet means that it is easier than ever to research and connect intellectually with Jews all around the world.

  • letters in the age says:

    Thanks to the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation for keeping the bored bourgeoisie busy ….thank god.


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