Why Melbourne should follow Sydney’s lead

ONE thing has become apparent while writing about Melbourne school fees for a recent feature in the Victorian edition of The AJN – the lack of communal leadership in Melbourne is a major stumbling block to reducing the cost of Jewish education.

After living in both Sydney and Melbourne I can say that Melbourne has a more heimish Jewish community – it’s nicer, friendlier and more intrinsically Jewish.

But the communal structure in Victoria is non-existent and as a result it’s a fragmented community.

Each organisation runs its own race and money is raised based on organisations’ ability to sell themselves, rather than the actual needs of the community.

As a result, there is no strategic planning for the major issues facing the community, including the cost of a Jewish education.

To resolve this, for the benefit of the entire community, it’s time to take a giant leap of faith and learn from the Sydney Jewish community and launch a JCA.

The JCA in Sydney is tasked with ensuring Jewish continuity by raising money for the community, allocating it based on need, organising strategic planning and then dealing with both short-term problems and long-term obstacles.

Importantly, it raises more than $12 million each year and distributes the money based on need and it is a place for capable and esteemed Jews in Sydney, who may not be aligned to one organisation, to go and help the community.

The cream of the crop of the Sydney Jewish community have been on JCA committees over the last 50 years, including former Federal Court of Australia judge Annabelle Bennett, former National Australia Bank director Jillian Segal, Toga Group managing director Allan Vidor, former Hoyts CEO Peter Ivany, former Football Federation Australian board member Phil Wolanski, entrepreneur Jonathan Barouch and dozens of other business and communal leaders.

What happens to those people in Melbourne?

I can reveal for the first time that without the JCA both the Emanuel School and Masada would have likely closed in the last 15 years.

In the early 2000s Emanuel’s loans were being called in by the bank and then-president Alex Abulafia asked JCA for emergency funding.

“The school was on the brink. If JCA didn’t come to the party I was going to close the school myself,” Abulafia said.

Eight years ago Masada was in the same predicament, and from 2010-13 JCA gave the school an extra $300,000 a year to stay afloat.

Although Sydney’s north shore has a shrinking Jewish community, JCA’s leaders concluded that in the future house prices in the eastern suburbs would be unaffordable and that the community would start to return to the north. For that community to be viable they needed the school to survive.

Both schools used that short-term finance to consolidate and rejuvenate; as a result they are now both financially stable.

Not only does JCA step in for emergencies, it allocated millions of dollars to the schools every year which means that parents don’t need to foot the full bill for subsidies.

That JCA money is needed, $3.2 million last year, in Melbourne to keep fees low.

Melbourne needs a JCA to properly fund the Jewish Community Council of Victoria so that it can properly lobby government, because it has become clear that Sydney schools are significantly better funded.

To confront community-wide issues, such as the cost of Jewish school fees, there must be one organisation with the best and brightest in the community that has the funding to force changes on the community.

Who knows what ideas they may come up with? The first step is to get them together.

JOSHUA LEVI