South Head locked as sparring continues

Former South Head Synagogue spiritual leader Rabbi Benzion Milecki.

THE war of words over South Head Synagogue continues, but the congregation seems no closer to returning to its home on Old South Head Road.

In another flurry of emails this week, president James Hochroth revealed that Rabbi Benzion Milecki has been offered more than $1 million to leave the shule.

The AJN can reveal that the offer is for a lump sum payment of $245,000 and then 40 quarterly instalments of $20,000 over the next 10 years.

Rabbi Milecki was also offered a tribute in the synagogue, ownership of a motor vehicle being used by his wife and the ownership of computer equipment and books that he has in his possession from the shule.

He was also offered a guarantee that the mikvah would only be utilised “for Orthodox Jewish practices”.

In an attempt to prove to Rabbi Milecki that the secured creditors and the congregation don’t intend to move away from Orthodox Judaism, the offer included an assurance that, “The rabbinical successor is to have smichah from a body recognised by either the London Beth Din, The Rabbinical Council of America, The Chief Rabbi of Israel, or a recognised Chabad yeshivah as ordaining Orthodox rabbis.”

According to a term sheet obtained by The AJN, the offer to the rabbi would also see the entire board quit and a new board democratically elected within 60 days of South Head coming out of administration.

Hochroth wrote to the membership on Tuesday stating that an agreement cannot be reached and as a result the secured creditors will vote on the recommendation of the administrator to wind up the company this Friday.

“In short, we do not have agreement on either monetary compensation or other conditions. Meanwhile daily costs continue to mount,” Hochroth said.

“We have no alternative but to act now in the hope of being able to salvage the congregation for the high holy days.

“We will try to make arrangements to keep our congregation together and have communal services.

“Terms that allow the rabbi to run a shule within the shule and give him a prominent position in the main shule will only undermine the rabbinical renewal that we are all looking for.

“It is not too late for Rabbi Milecki to accept our offer and so avert the perils of liquidation for our synagogue and mikvah or as a minimum step down and allow a court of law to determine his fair compensation. But the time is running out.”

Rabbi Milecki responded to the email by dismissing the claim that he can end the dispute, and instead proposed two solutions.

“This doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game because there really is a win/win play here,” Rabbi Milecki said.

“The pie is big enough for me to continue my good work, but in a different capacity and in a different area of the shule, while those who want a young, new rabbi will get their wish without the (falsely) feared interference.

“This will ensure that we can remain in our FIRST home, the shule that we have spent our lives building, and don’t have to move away from our SECOND home in the part of Sydney where we have lived for decades.”

Rabbi Milecki said that if that couldn’t be agreed to, then the shule should go to a Beth Din, which has already been appointed by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

“The Beth Din process will neither be costly nor lengthy. It will certainly be nowhere near as expensive as the hundreds of thousands of dollars that were spent in placing the shule in administration.”

JOSHUA LEVI