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Friday, July 14, 2006

Dawn of new era as American rabbis open kollel in Sydney

DAN GOLDBERG

DAWN broke at 6.32am in Sydney on Tuesday, but less than one hour later, the arrival of Qantas flight 108 from New York heralded the dawn of a new era in Jewish life in the Harbour City.

Among the passengers on the aircraft were more than 25 Orthodox Jews: seven rabbis, their wives and a flock of kinder - all of them here to open Sydney's first full-scale kollel, an institute for the advanced study of Torah.

The rabbis and their families were greeted at the airport by Rabbi Shalom Silberberg, the rosh (head) of the new kollel, who arrived in Sydney from New Jersey two months ago to lay the foundations for the Jewish institute.

Two more rabbis and their families will arrive in Sydney in the next few weeks, taking their total to 10 rabbis - the requisite number for a minyan.

The rabbis - all graduates of Lakewood Yeshiva in New Jersey, the largest Orthodox institution of its kind in the US -- will be based at the Adath Yisroel Congregation in Bondi, although Rabbi Silberberg stressed the kollel is totally independent of the Adath.

Called the Sydney Community Kollel, the men will study Torah during the day and teach community members - either individually or in groups - at night.

"The idea is to expose the greater community to learn on this [higher] level," said Rabbi Silberberg, a Litvasher.

Most of the families are expected to stay in Sydney for about three years, he said.

"We are not coming to step on people's toes. We are offering [our services to the community] but it's up to them what they would be interested in. We'd like to have 100 people [studying with us] a night."

The cost of establishing the institute -- including airfares, accommodation and wages -- is estimated to be about $1.2 million per year, most of which has been raised by Sydney benefactors with some seed money for a philanthropic foundation in the US.

Dr Geoffrey Zeilic, the chair of the kollel's management committee, told the AJN this week: "I feel unbelievable excitement that many people in the community at large will benefit from having these people in our midst. Many people have no idea what a kollel is, and that there will be a huge range of educational programs running here."

Dr Zeilic, who has been planning and fundraising for the kollel for almost three years, said the idea originated when Adath Yisroel's Rabbi Osher Reich arrived here several years ago and suggested a community the size of Sydney required a kollel. One previous attempt to establish such an institute had failed, Dr Zeilic said.

He said the kollel will "augment and work together with the present institutions", such as Sydney's Yeshiva Centre, which has operated an evening kollel for the last year.

The Yeshiva Centre's dean, Rabbi Pinchus Feldman, said: "I wish them a great deal of success. We're living in a society that desperately needs moral and spiritual values."

Rabbi Silberberg, the son of Holocaust survivors, was 11 when he moved to Israel with his parents in 1980. In 1990 he returned to America to study at Lakewood Yeshiva before teaching there. Then, in 2000, he returned to Israel and taught at the Hofetz Haim high school in Jerusalem. He has already started night classes in the last two months, attracting between 30 and 50 people.

Former Moriah College president Robert Gavshon, one of the kollel's 10-man board of governors, added: "I see it as a very important party of a Jewish community to have a kollel to impart and disseminate Jewish learning."

Others who sit on the kollel's board include Sydney Chevra Kadisha president David Ainsworth and South Head Synagogue president Malcolm Kofsky, as well as the Jewish Learning Centre's Rabbi David Blackman, and North Shore's Rabbi Paul Lewin.

Melbourne is already home to at least three kollels: Kollel Beth HaTalmud, Kollel Beis Yosef, and Kollel Menachem Lubavitch. Between them, they provide shiurim to more than 100 people a day on average.

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