Rabbi Milecki locked out of South Head

Rabbi Benzion Milecki.

SOUTH Head Synagogue’s Rabbi Benzion Milecki had his contract terminated and was barred from entering the shul for Shabbat.

The AJN understands that Rabbi Milecki was offered more than $1 million to leave the synagogue, but when a deal could not be reached, the board of the shul called in a voluntary administrator “as a last resort” because of the shul’s dire financial situation.

Within 24 hours three members then put up $500,000 to ensure the bank wouldn’t sell the property and the voluntary administrator, Anthony Elkerton, terminated Rabbi Milecki’s contract.

In scenes never seen before at an Australian shul, three security guards were employed to block Rabbi Milecki, who served as the shul’s rabbi for more than 30 years until Thursday last week, from entering South Head Synagogue on Friday night and Saturday morning.

Rabbi Milecki, who The AJN understands may not have been aware of the security guards, chose to pray at Coogee Synagogue on Shabbat.

Shul president James Hochroth told The AJN this week that, at his suggestion, the voluntary administrator wrote to Rabbi Milecki’s lawyer informing him that he would not have access to the synagogue unless he gives an undertaking to act as a regular congregant.

Hochroth said when the rabbi did not reply, “the administrator arranged for security guards in the event that Rabbi Milecki did attend”.

“He would not be allowed into the shul without giving that undertaking.”

Hochroth said that blocking the rabbi from the synagogue came after the dispute boiled over in recent weeks. He claimed that Rabbi Milecki blocked the board and staff from accessing ShulCloud, which controls newsletters, accounts functions and various databases for South Head Synagogue.

Rabbi Milecki told The AJN through his lawyer that ShulCloud was critical for the rabbi to do his job and that locking out one of South Head’s employees, Alan Herman, was a mistake.

“On April 2017, without our client’s knowledge or consent, the President of the Synagogue issued a message to the congregation via eNews as part of what was clearly a campaign by the Board to end our client’s engagement as Rabbi,” the lawyer said.

“There was then a further message to a similar effect on April 21, 2017. These messages resulted in our client receiving complaints from the congregation about the use of eNews in that manner by the President.

“It was in those circumstances that our client made contact with the website host in order to protect his entirely proper and necessary line of communication with the members of the website.

“In doing so he inadvertently caused the website host to block the administrator rights of a Mr Herman, who used the website on behalf of the Synagogue for other matters.

“When this problem was brought to our client’s attention he immediately instructed us to enter into correspondence with the Administrators to resolve the issue and restore access to the website which has now occurred.”

While Elkerton did not address the ShulCloud issue, in a letter to members he explained that the shul does not have the cash to continue to pay the rabbi.

“Following a review of the synagogue’s financial position and projected cash flows … I made the decision to terminate the employment of Rabbi Milecki,” Elkerton wrote.

The dispute now seems headed to court because Rabbi Milecki wrote on Friday that he does not accept his termination, stating that his contract remains valid until a Jewish court says otherwise.

Rabbi Milecki’s lawyer told The AJN that he is negotiating with Elkerton to avoid Supreme Court litigation.

JOSHUA LEVI