Melbourne, Australia--With members of Australia’s parliament, city council members, the Lord Mayor, rabbinic dignitaries and a broad representation of this city’s Jewish community looking on, the Melbourne Chabad-Lubavitch community dedicated a new synagogue on the eighth day of Chanukah, the last day of the festival when all the candles on the menorah shine the brightest.
Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Y. I. Riesenberg, co-founder and rabbi of the Central Shule Chabad opened the ceremony by highlighting that “the kindling of the menorah lights goes to the heart of what a shul must be.” He noted that the Book of Proverbs states that ‘a mitzvah is a lamp and Torah is light.’ "Every mitzvah that we do lights up the darkness of our world,” he said. “The Torah that we learn becomes a bright beacon that shines in our lives, giving us moral clarity and purpose.”
The dedication marks the culmination of an intensive building campaign launched five years ago by the building and finance committee of Central Shule Chabad. “Today, we can take collective pride in what has been achieved,” said Earle Sacher, chairman of the building committee, noting that the project was completed only “with fierce ambition, great support, tenacity, imagination and extraordinary generosity in the face of what often seemed impossible challenges.”
The congregation was co-founded in 1998, utilising rented halls, by Rabbi Riesenberg and its president, Ian Harris, on behalf of the large influx of South African Jews who came to Melbourne in the 1990s. A former library on the current site was purchased by the congregation in 2001, but in recent years the facility no longer met the needs of the growing community. More than 350 families now belong to Central Shule, with more than 400 people attending the Friday night services, and upward of 800 joining in for the holidays.
The architects wrote of the new building that Central Shule Chabad was designed to be “a purpose-built synagogue for the greater Jewish community. It is a place to bring people together, acting as a hub for religious and social interaction.”
The main worship area consists of 800 seats, with tiered seating for the male and female congregants, located on the ground floor and first floor respectively. A clerestory, filtered glazing and skylights have been used to allow natural light into the space and provide limited interaction with the adjacent streetscape.
Stone was imported from Israel to clad the ark and the curved cantilevered wall on the street façade. The precast base is detailed with an abstracted Star of David pattern and eight menorah lights are part of the fabric of the building.
“South African Jewry has its own unique customs,” noted Ian Harris, “including a strong musical tradition, with many tunes originating from South Africa and Lithuania.” Owing to that heritage, Central Shule Chabad boasts a renowned 15-man choir led by choir master Myron Bletcher and Chazzan Didi Levin.
Earle Sacher explained that “The beautiful design of our building has delicately captured the journeys that all of our parents took to find a better future for our families. The façade outside, the foyer, the Aron Kodesh (holy ark) and all around the building are angles that subtly depict the imagery of pathways of transport.”
“There is movement everywhere we look,” noted Sacher. “The journey of the Diaspora is creatively celebrated with the artistic architecture. Deeper still, the angles capture the choice we all are always confronted with. To strive and choose the path that goes up or in some cases the path that can go down.”
The overall Chabad community of Melbourne is the largest in Australia, noted Rabbi Riesenberg. It was led for more than five decades by the late Chabad-Lubavitch emissary Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner, a revered educator who is widely considered one of the great Australian Jewish leaders of the 20th century.
Earle Sacher concluded: “What we all began here must not stop now. We cannot stop the journey at this point with a beautiful building. It must inspire all in the community to embrace our achievement. It must inspire a generation to accept this amazing gift, grow it, infuse it with a soul and choose the road upwards to build an inclusive and welcoming community serving the needs of all in the community.”