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  • Ut porttitor urna ut pretium
  • Phasellus convallis tincidunt enim.

St Kilda Hebrew Congregation

Sassoon Yehuda Sephardi Synagogue

12 Charnwood Grove, St Kilda

 The first Jewish service was held in Melbourne in 1840 with ten people attending.[1] Like many other well-to-do people, wealthy Jewish merchants were attracted to living in fashionable St Kilda in the 1860s and 1870s. Many of the Jews living in St Kilda at this time were originally from Germany and had lived in England before migrating to Australia. The best known was Moritz Michaelis. He was born in 1820 in Germany and arrived in Victoria in 1853. He established a tannery in Footscray with his nephew Isaac Hallenstein. St Kilda’s Jews held services in the Wesleyan Church hall, Fitzroy Street, and also joined with the East Melbourne congregation.

By 1871 there were about fifty Jewish families living in the St Kilda area and Michaelis and others pushed to establish a St Kilda congregation. A meeting on Sunday 3 September 1871 at the home of Israel Bloomington, in Chapel Street, St Kilda, resolved to form the St Kilda Hebrew Congregation. Michaelis was elected President. The new congregation held services at the first St Kilda Town Hall, at the junction of Barkly and Grey Streets. On 1 July 1872 Michaelis, assisted by I. Bloomington, laid the foundation stone for a synagogue at 17 Charnwood Grove. The consecration ceremony was held on 29 September with a large gathering in attendance, including many non-Jewish people. The Reverend Moses Rintel, the East Melbourne Hebrew Congregation’s minister, officiated and the Reverend A. F. Ornstein, the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation’s minister, preached the sermon. The architects were Crouch and Wilson. It was a departure for the former, who was best known for his many Methodist churches.[2] The contractor was H. S. Gardner. The humble building, ‘reminiscent of a non-conformist meeting house’, was extended in the 1880s and twin domed towers were added to the facade.

 Elias Blaubaum, a twenty-five-year-old born in Germany, was contracted for three years as minister but remained at St Kilda until his death thirty-one years later in 1904, aged fifty-four. He began to learn English on the boat on his way to Australia and initially he preached in German, which most of the adults in the congregation understood. His many achievements make him ‘one of the greatest figures in the entire Australian Jewish story’.[3] He was instrumental in establishing the Montefiore Homes for aged and infirm Jews and founded and edited the Jewish Herald, a high quality Orthodox paper. An intellectual, Blaubaum supported the campaign to open the Melbourne Public Library on Sundays and championed the right of women to higher education and economic independence.[4]

In January 1874 the first choir of ‘Young Ladies’ was formed and in 1883 the ladies’ gallery was enlarged. In 1905 women joined the male choir, boosting the numbers to twenty-two. In 1904 structural alterations and extensions were made to the synagogue under the supervision of Nahum Barnet. Michaelis had died in November 1902 and bequeathed £500 for this work.

Reverend Jacob Danglow was appointed in 1904. Five years later he married May Baruch, granddaughter of Moritz Michaelis. During World War I, 113 men from the congregation enlisted and of these nineteen died. The Reverend Danglow served as the Jewish Chaplain for the Australian Imperial Forces on the Western Front for several months before the end of the war. On Chanukah, 12 December 1920, the congregation’s roll of honour was unveiled by Sir John Monash, the distinguished corps commander of the Australian Imperial Forces during its victories in August 1918 when the Allies broke through the Hindenburg Line.[5] Monash joined the congregation the same year and served on the Board of Management. In 1921 Danglow published a history of the congregation to celebrate its golden jubilee.

The foundation stone for the new synagogue, to be built almost opposite the original, was laid on 28 February 1926. F. D. Michaelis, the eldest son of Moritz Michaelis, followed in his father’s footsteps as president and in laying the stone. The Reverend Danglow officiated. The last service at the old synagogue was held on 12 March 1927 and the following day the new, significantly larger, synagogue was consecrated. Described by Cooper as an ‘imposing structure of Byzantine design’, it was designed by Joseph Plottel based on a synagogue in Chicago. The contractor was­  H. H. Eilenberg.[6] A large dome clad in Wunderlich metal tiles surmounts the red brick building with its three-arched entrance. A central aisle leads to the Bimah (reading desk) and behind it are the pulpit and Aron (Holy Ark) and above them the choir gallery. The decoration around the ark and dais reflects a Spanish influence. The large bronze doors were erected in 1955 to commemorate Danglow’s twenty-five years of ministry. Harrison Hall was built on the site of the old synagogue and opened in 1932 for use as a community centre. Another hall, Samuel Myers Hall, opened in 1940. In 1943 the brass pulpit from the old synagogue was presented to the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation.

Danglow is remembered for his profound influence on young people. Sir Zelman Cowen, a distinguished scholar and the second Jewish Governor-General, recalled his admiration for the man and the leadership he displayed within the congregation and the wider community. Cowen remembered that Danglow kept a pile of books specially for children beside the pulpit.[7] Trevor Rapke was inspired by Danglow to become a rabbi but was tactfully dissuaded and pursued a successful career, becoming the first Jewish judge appointed to the County Court.[8] He also campaigned to have women admitted as voting members but this did not occur until May 1975.

Danglow served as senior Jewish chaplain to the Australian Army in World War II and visited New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. He represented the Anglo-Jew, wearing a clerical collar and being known as John rather than Jacob. Instead of attempting to maintain a strict Orthodox community in Australia, he promoted the middle path, urging newly arrived refugees, survivors of the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust, to assimilate as soon as possible. He opposed the struggle for national independence of Jews in Palestine, favouring instead a Jewish homeland in Palestine under the British mandate. This, and his apparent lack of sympathy for Jewish refugees, combined with the increase in secular leadership of the Jewish community after World War II diminished his influence in his later life.[9] On 1 July 1957 Rabbi Danglow retired after fifty-one years of service to the congregation. He had been accorded the title ‘rabbi’ on 5 June 1934 on his twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. He died in 1962, aged eighty-two. On 10 May 1970 the War Memorial Annexe (Danglow Centre) was opened to house the administration and a youth centre. The elderly also attend for social activities and English classes are held there too.


Rabbi Dr Herman was inducted as Chief Minister on 29 September 1959 and during his period of service the Sunday school attendance peaked with 160 enrolments. On 27 March 1963 Rabbi Ronald Lubofsky was inducted. He retired in April 1988. During his time at St Kilda Synagogue he introduced changes in the pronunciation of Hebrew and re-introduced the all-male choir. He also founded the Jewish Museum of Australia. On 20 November 1984 the refurbished centre in the Samuel Myers Hall was named in honour of Adele Southwick. Rabbi Philip Heilbrunn was inducted as Chief Minister in May 1988, the fifth in the congregation’s history, and is the current incumbent in 2002. Born and educated in South Africa, he and his family emigrated to Australia in 1979. Blessed with a beautiful tenor voice, he regularly appears in concerts and the synagogue’s Chazanut (religious singing) Concerts. He is one of Australia’s most senior and respected Rabbinic leaders and spokesmen.[1] In 1998 the renovated Danglow Centre offices were opened. The synagogue was listed on the Historic Buildings Register on 1 January 2001.

After World War II many Eastern European refugees came to Australia and many settled in St Kilda. The St Kilda Synagogue became the place of worship for many of these newcomers. It is considered a modern Orthodox Congregation although some of the well-loved German or Anglo-Orthodox traditions are still observed, such as choral services and the custom of wardens wearing top hats and tails.


The Hebrew School was established in 1872. In 1874 it was advertised that there were to be two classes with a maximum of twenty-five children in each. New schoolrooms were built in the grounds of the synagogue in 1896. In recent times the congregation has supported the Jewish Day School concept.