Parents step in to save Yeshiva College

UNLESS Rabbi Pinchus Feldman can raise more than $20 million, Yeshiva in Bondi could collapse.

That was the message from Yeshiva’s spiritual leader when he recently approached a major communal philanthropist for desperately-needed funds.

The rabbi is also reported to have told the donor that he and his organisation have debts of more than $30 million.

As a result of the financial situation, the operating budget of Yeshiva College has been handed over to ­parents.

In recent weeks, several rabbis associated with the organisation have left Sydney, teachers have left Yeshiva College to work at other schools and parents have enquired about moving their children to Kesser Torah College.

When approached by The AJN, a spokesperson for Yeshiva would not comment on claims that two individuals were owed at least $700,000 each.

One of those individuals spoke to The AJN last week and confirmed that he is owed money by the Feldmans. However, he wouldn’t disclose the amount and would not comment on speculation his recent move away from Sydney was prompted  by the debt.

Yeshiva’s situation has become more precarious in the last week because some major donors in the community, including Harry Triguboff who helped out Yeshiva College only two months ago, said they wouldn’t dip into their pockets again.

“I can only help one school at a time and Rabbi Feldman is not first on the list. I like to help when I can but not now,” Triguboff told The AJN.

The only major communal philanthropists The AJN has spoken with who expressed any interest in helping is Melbourne mining magnate Rabbi Joseph Gutnick. However, on a previous occasion when he helped out Yeshiva, it ultimately led to a court battle that resulted in two Yeshiva properties being handed over to Rabbi Gutnick to cover the debt.

Gutnick, who is Rabbi Feldman’s brother-in-law, was recently valued at $300 million in the 2012 BRW Rich List, and told The AJN he is “sympathetic and would like to help”. However, he did not confirm whether he would in fact assist.

The AJN has learnt that mortgages taken out on properties operated by the Yeshiva Centre amount to more than $13 million.

“Servicing those mortgages has made it increasingly difficult to cover our ongoing operating expenses,” a Yeshiva Centre spokesperson said in a statement this week.

“This includes Yeshiva College Bondi, which has grown exponentially over the last few years.”

He blamed the situation on the global financial crisis, stating “donations took a dip but our expenses grew with our programs”.

Claiming “the spirit of Chabad is to persevere despite the challenges that we face”, the statement said that the operating budget of the school has now been handed over to a parent committee to oversee and implement.

“They have already met and will be meeting regularly going forward to manage the smooth financial operating of the ongoing college income and expenditure, minus capital costs.”

The statement added, “At the same time, Yeshiva is currently initiating a separate fundraising drive to cover the mortgages and associated infrastructure costs.”

Yeshiva College is also in discussions with the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, which recently completed an investigation into the use of money allocated to the school as part of the Building the Education Revolution.

Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia (ORA) past president Rabbi Dovid Freilich said rabbis should leave financial matters to lay leaders.

“Rabbis need to concentrate on the spiritual side of the community and every community works a lot better when the finances are left to the lay leadership. When the two mix, it could end in disaster.”

JOSHUA LEVI

Wishing Yeshiva well

BEFORE the phone starts ringing and the condemnation of The AJN begins, let us be very clear.

While there is no rule that says The AJN has to explain why it has chosen to cover the story of Sydney’s Yeshiva Centre’s financial woes, we nonetheless feel that there is a moral obligation to explain it to our readers and the community, who may otherwise believe our report on the centre is an attack on the Chabad movement, the religious community or the Feldman family.

Yeshiva Centre, which houses within its walls the Yeshiva Synagogue, Yeshiva College and Our Big Kitchen, is one of the largest organisations in the Sydney Jewish community. When politicians want to be seen with the Jewish community, they are pictured baking cookies at Our Big Kitchen or standing alongside Yeshiva’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Pinchus Feldman, in Flood Street, Bondi.

And when the spiritual leader of an organisation of that size has told a major donor that Yeshiva could collapse without $20 million, it is a news- worthy story. It will affect hundreds of families and the ripple effect will spread throughout the Jewish community.

The article is not a slight on the good work that Yeshiva has done in Sydney’s Jewish community. A Jewish community without a rabbinical college and without rabbis would struggle to survive.

But at what cost? In 2003, Rabbi Pinchus Feldman and his wife handed over Yeshiva College, which was in Dover Heights, to a new board, and the school was renamed Kesser Torah College.

This week, a spokesperson for Yeshiva Centre told The AJN that the operating budget of Yeshiva College, Bondi, has been handed over to parents to manage ongoing income and expenditure. We hope that they are successful with this task and that in nine years time, Yeshiva College, Bondi, is also a thriving community like Kesser Torah College is today.

We wish the school and the centre well, and hope that any problems they face now can be resolved.