ON THE WAY TO REALIZING THE DREAM
May 30, 2013
Beis Moshiach in #881, Memoirs

The previous owner of the building had died and his wife and only son decided to donate to the yeshiva the rest of the sum that the vaad was supposed to pay them over the coming years. * From the life of R’ Yehoshua Shneur Zalman Serebryanski a”h

Prepared for publication by Avrohom Rainitz

THE YESHIVA OPENS ALONG WITH THE FIRST CHABAD MINYAN

During the summer months, Mr. Leber cleared out the building. On 5 Tammuz, the students of the yeshiva moved from the tottering wooden structure in Burwood to the spacious building on Hotham Street in the center of Jewish life in Melbourne. The unofficial Chanukas Ha’bayis took place on 12 Tammuz and was combined with the simcha of the marriage of R’ Yitzchok Tzvi Klein to Yehudis, daughter of R’ Nachum Zalman Gurewitz, of the yeshiva vaad. The wedding feast took place in the yeshiva building and the simcha of Anash was doubled.

The transfer of the yeshiva to the Jewish center of Melbourne is ultimately what created the Chabad k’hilla of Melbourne. Until then, Anash did not have a shul for themselves. They would daven in the shuls of the Poilisher Chassidim. Only on Shabbos Mevarchim did Anash congregate in the home of R’ Abba Pliskin to recite T’hillim with a minyan.

In a letter that R’ Zalman sent the Rebbe on 12 Tammuz, he wrote, “On Shabbos the first Chabad minyan in the country began. On Shabbos afternoon, the talmidim who were already learning in the yeshiva came to the yeshiva to learn, in addition to some other bachurim. After Mincha, they reviewed a maamer Chassidus. We have announced in the newspapers about accepting students for all day and for after school.”

In the vicinity of the yeshiva, at a distance of a ten minute walk in each direction were three shuls with minyanim every day. To the west was the yeshiva belonging to the Hungarians. To the south was the Mizrachi shul. To the north was Rabbi Sholom Gutnick’s big shul. Most Jews in the area were already involved with these three shuls and it was hard to draw people to the new minyan. It was often necessary to go out looking for a tenth man for mincha-maariv. On Shabbos, the situation was better and about twenty people, Lubavitchers, joined the minyan.

Within a short time however, the wheel turned and the Chabad shul was bustling with life. Two years later there were several minyanim there each day and on Shabbos there were 300 people! Twenty of them were Anash and the rest were parents of children who attended the yeshiva, in the various programs, who enjoyed the Chabad atmosphere. People were mainly drawn by the Lubavitcher chayus and simcha. There was a farbrengen every Shabbos after the davening and the warm atmosphere drew people in.

R’ Abba Pliskin, who had a regular Tanya shiur in the Mizrachi shul, moved the shiur to the Chabad shul. Every Shabbos afternoon, Mizrachi youth came to hear his wonderful shiurim and remained for Mincha and the third Shabbos meal. This was mekarev many of them to Chassidus.

This reality, of a minyan in the Chabad yeshiva comprised primarily of non-Lubavitchers, created a conflict regarding the nusach ha’t’filla and other things. As the Rebbe had written that the official nusach should be Chabad but not to try to change others, the solution was that the chazan davened nusach Chabad and the worshipers each davened his own nusach. Friday night, for example, the chazan waited before Shmoneh Esrei so that everyone could say V’Shomru as they were used to doing, and then he continued with Kaddish. On Shavuos too, the congregation said Akdamus while the chazan waited for them.

RABBI GRONER 
IS A BIG HELP

After the many letters back and forth between R’ Zalman and the Rebbe, discussing the possibility of his coming to Australia, R’ Groner arrived in Melbourne on 3 Tammuz 5714. He farbrenged a lot with Anash in Melbourne and he revived them, as he brought fresh regards from the Rebbe. In those days, Anash were not well informed of the goings-on in 770 and the Rebbe’s sichos arrived a month after they were said. So for them, R’ Groner coming from 770 was “live regards” from the Rebbe and was tremendously inspiring.

Despite the requests of R’ Zalman in the name of Anash, the Rebbe had made it clear that R’ Groner’s main shlichus was to raise funds for the Central Yeshiva Tomchei T’mimim based in New York, and any activities to help with the local yeshiva should only be done in his spare time. In his letter of 12 Tammuz 5714, R’ Zalman wrote that “Rabbi Groner is doing his shlichus and may Hashem help him succeed materially and spiritually and that he can also help us set up the yeshiva.”

Indeed, R’ Groner’s visit was very successful. He did not raise money for the yeshiva in Melbourne, but his presence made a tremendous impression. He was a superb speaker and his speeches made a deep impression on his audiences and glorified the name of Chabad in Melbourne. On Shabbasos, R’ Groner was the chazan and his sweet davening drew many people who enjoyed hearing a baal t’filla with old world flavor.

In addition, R’ Groner helped tremendously in activities with the youth. R’ Zalman focused on young children, but not knowing the language made it hard for him to interact with older children. R’ Groner hit it off with the older boys and together with R’ Chaim Serebryanski and R’ Avrohom Chaim Felberbaum (from a family of Poilishe Chassidim and who learned in the Chabad yeshiva), they held special Melaveh Malkas during Tishrei for the youth. These gatherings took place in the yeshiva and attracted many young people to Chabad’s activities.

HUNDREDS OF CHILDREN IN LIMUDEI KODESH

At first, the building was empty, since the yeshiva had only six bachurim who learned from morning till night. R’ Zalman worked quickly and announced that all the Jewish children who attended public school were invited to attend Jewish classes every afternoon in the yeshiva building. Word got around and dozens of children began appearing every evening. Within a short time, the number of students reached 150.

Despite the many years of estrangement from authentic Judaism, many parents wanted to provide their children with a Jewish education. Many of them were immigrants from Europe who had attended Talmud Torah in their childhood and even after dropping religious practices when they arrived in Australia, continued to talk Yiddish and wanted their children to have a basic Jewish education. They still wanted public school where the children learned secular subjects, but they were definitely happy about the opportunity to add quality hours of Jewish studies.

The first teachers in the Talmud Torah were R’ Aharon Serebryanski and his friend R’ Shmuel Gurewitz (in accordance with the Rebbe’s answer that they should do this kind of work at the expense of their learning). However, they soon needed additional teachers. R’ Zalman enlisted some men from the Jewish community who came in the afternoon and taught basic concepts in Judaism, parsha and stories of tzaddikim. The other talmidim in the yeshiva also got involved, and each day between four and six, they stopped learning and worked with the children.

R’ Zalman put all his efforts into developing the yeshiva. He was very organized by nature, and when he took on the administration of the yeshiva he made sure that everything would be well organized. He paid attention to details such as the cleanliness of the building and yard. Several months after the opening of the yeshiva and Talmud Torah, the yeshiva’s reputation was that of an organized place in all respects, materially and spiritually.

As the sound of Torah began to reverberate from the walls of the yeshiva, R’ Zalman began preparing the next phase of the development of the mosdos – the opening of a Chabad elementary school that would have Jewish studies and secular studies on a high level.

THE GOAL: AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL IN THE JEWISH CENTER OF MELBOURNE

In Melbourne of those days, there was one Jewish school called Har HaTzofim. Most of the students came from liberal homes that were not religiously observant, but wanted their children to have a general Jewish education.

The school was run by R’ Avrohom Feiglin, R’ Moshe’s nephew. Like all members of the Feiglin family, he was firmly religious, observing Shabbos, kashrus, t’filla etc. and he brought this spirit to the school. Aside from Jewish studies, there was also a minyan for Mincha every day and more. Since he was a strong person by nature, he insisted that all the children, even those from irreligious homes, wear a yarmulke when in school.

Har HaTzofim was considered a very successful school with a high level of education, but it had two deficiencies. They did not learn enough about Judaism and most of the time was devoted to secular studies. In addition, the school was on land received from the city and was an hour away from the Jewish centers (it was near the first location of the Chabad yeshiva, in Burwood), so the students had to spend two hours a day traveling.

Many parents were not pleased with the hours spent on travel, as a result of which, some of them sent their little children to non-Jewish schools. There were also Jewish families who found it hard to pay the high tuition and sent their children to public school for financial reasons since it was free. They didn’t have a problem with this since most of the students in the public school were Jewish, being that the school was in a Jewish area. Even the few non-Jewish students in the school didn’t frighten them since they weren’t ill-mannered.

R’ Zalman, who spoke with these parents, heard that they would prefer sending their children to a Jewish school if it was close by. If he could arrange tuition with them, they were definitely willing to send their children to the new school.

THE FINANCIAL PRESSURE DIMINISHES

In order to realize his dream, he had to overcome two financial obstacles: the debt still remaining after buying the building and the annual budget of 3000 pounds sterling (Australia didn’t switch to the dollar until 1967). 2000p were raised from various sources, including 2000 American dollars from the reparations committee, and the vaad was left with a deficit of 1000p every year, which they had to cover out of their own pockets.

(In the letter that R’ Zalman wrote to the Rebbe reporting that the reparations committee had decided to apportion $2000 a year to Lubavitch, he writes that this caused a great kiddush Hashem. This was because other Jewish organizations from Melbourne that had applied were turned down, and when they asked why Lubavitch was the only one to get funding, the person in charge explained that it was due to the great influence of Lubavitch in the United States.)

Under these circumstances, there was no way that the vaad would agree to a new project with large financial obligations that would be needed in opening an elementary school.

At the end of 5714, a few months after the opening of the yeshiva in the new building, an unexpected development occurred which significantly reduced the financial burden on the vaad’s shoulders.

The previous owner of the building had died and his wife and only son decided to donate to the yeshiva the rest of the sum that the vaad was supposed to pay them over the coming years. The entire building was named for the Leber family (eventually, descendants of Mr. Leber learned in the yeshiva and in mosdos Chabad and they are religious).

At this point, R’ Zalman felt that if he only managed to overcome the problem of the annual deficit, the members of the vaad would be open to hearing new ideas and investing additional money into opening a school. He enlisted his son Chaim who agreed to visit Jewish businessmen and raise funds for the school.

R’ Chaim spoke with two men who had a car and they agreed to drive him every Sunday, one in the morning and one in the afternoon to the area where most of the businessmen in Melbourne lived. R’ Chaim went from house to house and raised funds. He was helped by R’ Ziggy Yaffe who was a carpenter by profession. On Sunday he made himself available to the yeshiva.

In those days, hardly any people went around collecting and people gave generously. There were days that he managed to raise 40p, and within a short time he reached a point where the donations he raised covered all the expenses of the yeshiva. R’ Zalman did not have to ask the members of the vaad for money to cover the deficit.

The members of the vaad were happy that the yeshiva was doing well, in terms of the number of students and in the financial arena. It was no surprise then, when R’ Zalman approached them half a year later with the idea of opening an elementary school, that they approved the suggestion.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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