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Adass Israel Congregation

22 Glen Eira Avenue, Ripponlea

The history of the Adass Israel Congregation dates to 1939-40 when some members of the Elwood Talmud Torah became dissatisfied with the level of observance and decided to established their own congregation.[1] Known as Kehilla Kedosha Beis Haknesses Ahawah Zion, it was established at 391 High Street, St Kilda, in a small shuttered shopfront. This building was later demolished when the road was widened. In 1943, Leo and Michael Newman and their father Peretz, who was originally from Vienna, left Elwood Talmud Torah over dissatisfaction with procedures they believed contravened Orthodox Jewish lore. Soon after joining the new group, they took over its management and the group moved to 15a Brighton Road. Ephraim Pollak, one of the founders, died in 1943 and the minyan was renamed Beth Ephraim in his honour.

The Newman brothers brought a Viennese influence to the congregation. This attracted Orthodox Jews arriving from Germany and Austria during and after the war. Some of these were the boys and men who were sent to Australia by the British aboard the Dunera in 1941. This group of about 3000 Austrian, German and Italian men and boys over the age of sixteen had been interned in Britain as enemy aliens after the outbreak of war. In fact, a majority of them supported the Allies. Many were Jewish, but not all were refugees. Some were interned at Tatura in country Victoria, where Leo Newman visited them and arranged for additional religious requisites to be provided and for some of the younger ones to be released. Erwin Lamm was also released from Tatura in order to become minister of Beth Ephraim after Joseph Weinern left. In 1944 Rabbi Ehrentreu, who had also arrived on the Dunera, presented the first Shabbos Hagodol Droshe at Beth Ephraim. Rabbinical assistance was also given by Rabbi Wyshkowsky, who had escaped with his son from the Nazis via Singapore and Japan.

In 1944 the congregation affiliated with the London Adass Yisroel movement. Congregations were required to include in their constitutions that the congregation would be conducted in the Orthodox way, according to the law of Moses and Israel, and that no-one who desecrates the Sabbath or partakes of forbidden food can be elected to the governing body. The name Adass Israel was adopted at a special meeting on 20 August 1950. Many congregations had adopted this name, modelled on the one in Berlin; it was also the name of the one in Vienna, which many saw as their model.

Post-war immigration laid the foundation for the Adass community. The congregation quickly outgrew the Brighton Road premises. A house at 24 Glen Eira Road was bought in 1950 and used as a shule and classrooms. In December 1950 the foundation stone for a mikvah (ritual bath) was laid at the rear of the property, which took two years to complete. In the meantime, many people used a private mikvah at the home of Yechiel Binet in Gardenvale.

The first Rov was Rav Yitzchok Ya’akov Neumann. He arrived from Antwerp on 23 April 1952. He was displeased that the children were attending state schools and a Hebrew school was opened in May 1952. It was a Government-recognised primary school and only the second such Jewish school in Melbourne. He also arranged that Neumann and Schwartz, at 251 Inkerman Street, St Kilda, would provide kosher meat under his supervision. The fees gained from this arrangement made the Adass establishment sounder and enabled expansion, especially in the education area. Rav Neumann stayed only briefly and it was two years before a new Rov, Rabbi Bezalel Stern, arrived in 1955. Rabbi Stern oversaw great developments and expansion of the Adass Israel congregation.

The new school campus opened soon after and Rabbi Stern’s daughter Miriam began teaching there, thus enabling the inclusion of girls at the day school. With a new influx of migrants after the Hungarian Revolution, the congregation needed larger premises. In 1959 the adjoining property was bought and an Adass Israel War Memorial Synagogue Building fund established. It was created as a war memorial for the purpose of tax deductibility for donations but was considered an appropriate designation given the background of so many congregants. Priority was given to the school building and it opened on 25 October 1964, the night before the foundation stone for the synagogue was laid. Building began in 1965 and opened on 19 September that year. It was designed to seat 300 men and 250 women. Subsequently adjoining sites were also bought as the membership continued to grow.

Rabbi Stern was succeeded by Rabbi Elimelech Ashkenazi whose leadership saw the congregation continue to expand and more building undertaken. A multipurpose hall built in 1984 was later named the Adass Gutnick Hall after an endowment by Rabbi Joseph and Stera Gutnick in memory of his mother, Reebetzin Raizel Gutnick. Rabbi Ashkenazi’s successor was Rabbi Avraham Zvi Beck, who was appointed in 1987. He placed great emphasis on the development of the Yeshiva, where young adults devoted their time to study and teaching. Another initiative was the building of the Caulfield Mikvah on the corner of Furneaux Road and McWhae Street. Named in memory of Mrs Malkah Sarah Jager, it opened in 1993. A new men’s mikvah was opened at the synagogue premises in 1997.

The shule (synagogue) was severely damaged in an arson attack on 1 January 1995. A rebuilding appeal was launched and there was wide support for it. The architect was Erwin Kaldor and the contractors were the Pomeroy Bros. Interior decoration was undertaken by Dario Zuroff. The new work was consecrated on 17 September 1995. The congregation continued to grow and extensions were carried out in 1997. Rabbi Gutnick also assisted the purchase of the building on the corner of Hotham Street and Glen Eira Road, which was redeveloped in 1999 and now houses the Yeshiva Ketana.

[1]     This account is from Yossi Aron, ‘History’, 50th Anniversary Commemorative Journal, Adass Israel, 2002, pp. 40-102. My thanks to the Adass Israel congregation who kindly sent me a copy of this book.