South Head, Rabbi Milecki reach settlement

Former South Head Synagogue spiritual leader Rabbi Benzion Milecki.

A DEAL has been reached to resolve the dispute between former South Head Synagogue spiritual leader Rabbi Benzion Milecki and the now-in-liquidation shule.

It brings to an end two years of legal wrangling that began with the rabbi’s termination and the synagogue’s financial collapse in 2017.

An update this week from the board of Kehillat Kadimah – which operates from South Head’s former premises – said a binding agreement had been signed between the rabbi, the secured creditors, the liquidator, South Head & District Synagogue and Kehillat Kadimah.

“Rabbi Benzion Milecki has accepted a full and final settlement of his claims against the liquidator of South Head & District Synagogue (Sydney) (in liquidation) and the secured creditors have agreed to withdraw their defamation actions,” the update read.

“South Head & District Synagogue (Sydney) (in liquidation) can now begin a path to come out of liquidation. This brings an end to the matter. All parties wish each other well in their future endeavours.”

The board also thanked Rabbi and Rebbetzin Henya Milecki “for over 30 years of dedicated service to the community”.

The saga began in late April 2017, when Rabbi Milecki had his contract terminated and was barred from entering the shule on Shabbat.

He was offered more than $1 million to leave the synagogue, but when a deal could not be reached, the board called in a voluntary administrator because of the shule’s dire financial situation.

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.

The NSW Supreme Court ruled in June 2017 that Rabbi Milecki was wrongfully dismissed because the shule didn’t seek a ruling from a Din Torah (a Jewish court).

In July 2017, South Head officially went into liquidation and all employees lost their jobs.

In August 2017, Kehillat Kadimah, the new congregation founded by Josh Bolot, began offering memberships. 

In June 2018, the NSW Court of Appeal ruled that Rabbi Milecki’s contract with the synagogue, as a company, did not include the Jewish legal principle of hazakah, life tenure. The ruling could have meant he could have claimed a substantial payout from the administrators, which could have resulted in the synagogue having to sell its property.

Rabbi Milecki told The AJN he had been advised by his lawyers not to comment.

GARETH NARUNSKY AND EVAN ZLATKIS