The magnificent building that Central Shule Chabad calls home was once just an idea shared amongst a few idealistic people. With determination, vision and sheer perseverance Central Shule was built.
The first discussions to create a Shule that would provide a family-orientated and children-focussed environment and a sense of belonging took place in May 1998 between Ian Harris and Rabbi Yitzchak Riesenberg.
To test the market place and gauge a response to this idea, an advertisement was placed in the Australian Jewish News for interested people to meet at Ian’s home and explore the idea further. Enthusiasm was buoyed by the response which was far more than could have been expected initially.
The very first service was held in the upstairs meeting room at the Caulfield Town Hall just two months later on 17 July 1998. The room was filled and the following week a bigger room was hired. Within three weeks that room too was at capacity. The response was not only very encouraging but most uplifting and reassuring. The hunt then began for a more suitable and purpose-driven venue.
The fledgling congregation found sustenance and nurturing roots with the National Council of Jewish Women in Hawthorn Rd Caulfield where each Friday night Ian and his family built the Shule and each Saturday night they dismantled it again. Within a matter of weeks Brett Kaye started to grace the Shule with his talents as an honorary chazzan and the Central Shule choir morphed with Myron Bletcher as the unofficial choir master. So it was that 1998 and 1999 came and went with our first two High Holiday Services being held in the amiable rooms at the Beth Weizmann Community Centre.
We just kept growing
We then arranged a 12-month lease with the ANZ Bank on the corner of Glen Huntly and Hawthorne Roads in 2000-2001. Once again, that space was outgrown and our next location was sharing the all-purpose hall at the Glen Eira College with a school and various other groups. We built ‘The-Shule-in-a-Box’ which comprised a collapsible arc, bimah and even the Rabbi’s chair. Dedicated to the shule, Ian and his family ensured that the shule was built on Fridays for Shabbat and on Saturday nights they packed it away for another week.
This was a period of vigorous growth and Ian and the Rabbi soon held a meeting with Rabbi Groner who gave his enthusiastic blessing to the venture. For the next two years Central Shule Chabad had unconditional support and encouragement from the Chabad movement with a mandate to provide a home, a dwelling of spiritual growth and a place for education. The focus for Central Shule Chabad is, and has always been, on the children who are our future. Our motto is “Come Home to Central”.
A place to call home
It was not long before we realised that Central Shule Chabad really needed its own space and a place for solid growth. As it happened, the Caulfield South Municipal Library at 4 Maple Street, South Caulfield was for sale. Ian raised a deposit by approaching congregants who in turn became the foundation members. The land was won at auction in 2003 and the fit-out of rooms for worship, small offices, a little kitchen, a choir room, a children’s room and a library quickly materialised.
Even though regular services were taking place in Maple Street from 2003 onwards, our high holiday services were held elsewhere – at Glen Eira College, and at Blackwood Hall at Monash University where 800 people were accommodated. We even proved in a trial run that we could seat over 600 people at Maple Street!
In 2006 and 2007 Ian started to put out feelers to gauge a response from the community to the idea of transforming 4 Maple Street into a permanent building for Central Shule Chabad and a place to really ‘Come Home’ to. There was once again a fabulous response and the building & finance committee was created to take serious fundraising to the stage of enabling construction of the new building in all of its facets.
The first sod of soil for the construction of our present day Shule was turned in 2011. In the 13 months it took to establish our new facility, Central Shule Chabad remained intact and we were able to share offices, accommodation and service times with South Caulfield Hebrew Congregation in Leopold Street, South Caulfield. Due to limited space, we had one last hurdle to cross – where to hold our high holiday services for 2011. The answer came in a blessed flood – not the Noah kind, but a flood in the Indoor Bowling Club in Hawthorne Rd, Caulfield. While they waited to dry out and resurface their large venue it was perfect for our last wandering high holiday services in the wilderness, much in the same tradition as Moses.
Amongst the smell of new paint, the dust of newly chiselled masonry and the excitement of finding our own permanent seats, Central Shule Chabad hosted our first high holiday services in October 2012. Our Shule was officially opened on 16 December 2012 to rapturous applause.
The symbolism behind our shule building
Careful consideration was given to the design and symbolism that would embody our new shule. We wanted it to represent the essence of our being, acknowledging our past whilst looking forward to our future. The front façade of the shule makes subtle reference to the flowing South African planes, similar to those seen in outback Australia. The interior is adorned with Jerusalem stone, our eternal connection to the Land of Israel. And finally, the entire shule is flooded with light, symbolic of the Jewish people being a light unto the Nations.
We couldn’t have done it without you
The list of people who contributed their time, effort, devotion, donations, commitment as well as their heart and soul to create the shule and community we have today is absolutely endless. The countless volunteers ranging from people on various committees, Ladies Guild, chazzanim, youth, events, fundraising and anyone else – we couldn’t have done it without you. We are exceptionally grateful to your dedication and thank you with all our heart.
A bright future
We look forward to the future with great anticipation and pride in what we have achieved to date. Our community is strong and established. Central Shule Chabad can look forward to a bright future where we meet the needs of our members and especially our younger generations to lead us from strength to strength.