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Monday, July 07, 2008

Australia's Chabad rabbi dies

Australia’s most senior Orthodox rabbi has died.

Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner, the chief rabbi of Melbourne’s Chabad-Lubavitch community, died Monday following a long illness. He was 83.

The brother of Leib Groner, a personal secretary to the former Lubavitcher rebbe, he will be buried in Jerusalem -- alongside his parents -- later this week. A memorial service is currently being planned in Melbourne with Chabad officials scrambling to find a venue large enough for the thousands expected to mourn the spiritual giant described as the person who “put Chabad on the map in Australia.”

Michael Danby, a Jewish member of the Australian government and Groner’s local lawmaker, said: “No spiritual leader of the Australian Jewish community has had a bigger effect on the postwar generation, both in terms of the restoration of spiritual life and educational institutions.”

Over the last half-century, Groner built an Orthodox community of thousands of Lubavitchers and a network of institutions in Melbourne: two schools -- Yeshivah College and Beth Rivkah Ladies' College -- educating more than 1,500 pupils; a men’s kollel; a women’s seminary; several mikvehs; and a cluster of Chabad houses throughout the city, three of which are run by the rabbi’s sons or sons-in-law.

Born in Brownsville, N.Y., in 1925, Groner was first sent to Australia and New Zealand by the Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, in 1947. He returned in 1953 before the rebbe requested he become his emissary to Australia in 1958.

Wheelchair-bound in the twilight of his life, the rabbi was renowned for his booming sermons. His flock would line up outside his door to ask religious question of their spiritual leader.

Groner is survived by his wife, Devorah, his brother Leib, his eight children and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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