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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Byron Bay to jump on Chabad wave

Melissa Singer

SUN, surf, alternative living – and Chabad. It doesn’t sound like Byron Bay, but that’s about to change when the area’s first permanent Jewish centre opens later this month.

Rabbi Mosheh Serebryanski, who runs activities and services on the Gold Coast and currently travels to Byron Bay about once a week, last week finalised a lease on premises in the Byron Bay Industrial Estate, about five minutes’ drive from the centre of the beachside northern NSW town.

He said the establishment of a designated centre would provide the local community of around 1000 Jews, including a large proportion of Israelis, with a place to call home for Jewish classes, prayer services and social activities.

“We needed to have a place to function for the things we are doing in Byron,” Rabbi Serebryanski, who is originally from Melbourne, told the AJN. “There was no natural place where things could happen.”

Previously, Chabad-organised activities were mostly held at private homes, which could “become onerous”, even for willing hosts, he said.

However, Rabbi Serebryanski stressed that the new centre was not a shul, nor does it intend to compete with Rainbow Kehilah, the Jewish community group that was formed in 2001.

“Many locals don’t want a shul because a lot of people aren’t interested in being in an organised [religious] community – they may take offence to it. It’s imperative that the sensitivities are taken into account,” he said.

Rainbow Kehilah co-founder Julie Nathan said there was room for both groups to service the broad range of Jewish interests and levels of affiliation in the Byron Shire.

“[Having two groups] gives people a choice,” she said. “[Chabad] can provide things we can’t always do.”

But not everyone is pleased with Chabad cementing its place in Byron Bay.

One local resident, who spoke to the AJN on condition of anonymity, accused Chabad of “muscling in” to the area.

“Jews have been working here without money for more than 10 years, slowly building a community ... We did all the foundation work, without money. Now Chabad comes in after a few years and claims it for themselves.”

However, Rabbi Serebryanski said he is establishing the centre in response to “a demand from Jewish people to get together in a Jewish atmosphere where they feel accepted ... however they want to express [their Jewishness]”.

“People who are anti-establishment or dislike [mainstream] rabbis will come because it’s non-committal. No-one is pushing anything on them.”

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