Our Story

IN THE BEGINNING ;

The garage was dark, dust ridden and dismal yet the hearts and the singing and the feeling of all the people inside emanated a bright light and glow, which far compensated for the lack of physical comforts. These were Jews who came from war torn Europe and traveled to the far shores of Australia and began rebuilding their Jewish heritage in a little suburb by the beach known as Coogee.

Here they sang the ‘lecha dodi’ every Friday night full of hope that Coogee, Australia would be their safe haven, a start of a new beginning to rebuild the lives that they lost for themselves and for their children. There is a tradition that communities will transplant themselves in the times of Moshiach and be there for everyone inJerusalem. What happened in Coogee was thatWarsaw,Budapest,Minsk, Satmar, andEast Londonwere transplanted to these distant shores.

The life of the refugee after the holocaust in Australia was challenging and demanding. Families had no language, no money, no understanding of Australian culture and no family support yet they had each other all sharing the common experience of surviving the hardships of war. It was an enormous traumatic bond that was etched in their lives and in their memories forever. Unequivocally each and every one had a burning desire to rebuild the homes that they lost, and to establish community in the spiritual desert that they found themselves. In this way Coogee Synagogue was no different than the many other post holocaust communities that sprung up to continue the light of the eternal Jewish flame.

Approximately twenty families found themselves in a small little three-block area not far from Coogee Beach. They did not intend to meet but they bumped into each other at the grocer, butcher or just taking a stroll along the beach promenade.

It is important at this point to list those families who were there at the beginning.

  • Sala and Harry Gutman
  • Family Traurig
  • Family Vessely
  • Harold and Fay Levy
  • Edna and Ben Shaw
  • Family Hochstadt
  • Morry and Milly Silver
  • David and Maree Lester
  • Chatzkel and Yehudis Bobker
  • Miky and Magda Drimmer
  • Jack Fish
  • Emil and Dutzi Kuchar
  • Rueben Pelerman
  • Mrs Buchner
  • Sam and Renee Moleman
  • Max and Rosa Layton
  • Aurthur Falk
  • Bill and Lilly Benedekt
  • Ferry Deutsch
  • Fred and Clare Pollak
  • Ben and Marsha Hilderbrand
  • Polly and Yutzi Steiner
  • Jack and Agi Weiser
  • Jack and Magda Hilfstein
  • Dr William Burns
  • Shaya and Doli Gregor
  • Lesly and Mogda Spira
  • Sam and Trudy Glanz
  • Miki andReginaSchwartz
  • Isidor and Sally Stark
  • Kitty and Arthur Conway
  • Barry and Anna Sved

 (we apologise in advance for anyone’s name in advertently omitted or misspelled – please contact us so we can to correct any unintentioned mistakes)

It was these unassuming yet heroic people who started the

Coogee Randwick Clovelly Hebrew Congregation – Or Chadash.

In 1952 Yitzchak and Malka Traurig came to Coogee after surviving the ravages of the Holocaust of Europe. On the first morning he turned to his four sons  Isidor, Ferdinand, David and Yosef and said

Voo vellen mere gain daveven shabbas?…….Voo is dor epes a shul

“Where will we daven on Shabbos – where is the Shul in this area?”

His eldest son, Isidor answered “Tate ! Shabbas velen mere hoben a shul.”

“Father on Shabbas we will have a shul!”

They immediately contacted Herman Hochstat and said we understand that you have a double garage plus an enclosed courtyard off the garage, which would be ideally suited for our new shul. Our father who is a Cohen wants to daven with a minyan on shabbas, and we just can’t do it to him not to have a shule. There was no question in Herman Hochstat’s mind although his son Jack made a show of disagreeing on account of some of his collectable rare cars, which he sometimes stored there. But Jack too threw himself into the work of preparing the first minyan.

A Sefer Torah was borrowed from The Great Synagogue and its spiritual leader of Rabbi Dr Israel Porush who was supportive of this small emerging community trying to establish roots.

103 Brook St, which was on the corner of Coogee Bay Road, housed a minyan of Jews, so if they were ever short of a minyan at the garage it was easy to round up a few stragglers from these flats. 10 Glenwood Avenuewas only a short stroll from these flats although it was quite easy to wake up Herman Gutman or Polly Steiner from Arcadia St, which was around the corner or Lesley and Mogda Spira who lived up the road on162 Brook Street.  Esther Helfgott (nee Vesely) and Carol Symonds (nee Vesely) remember “It was wonderful living in a block of flats where everyone was Jewish.  We played together, we went to Sunday school together and we remain friends to this day”.

The first Rosh Hashanah became the beginning of an interfaith relationship with the Saint Nicholas Church of England which is on 163 Brook St. Reverend Wade, the Parish Priest, kindly allowed them the use of the scout hall for five pounds rent during the high holiday period, as the Hochstat garage at 10 Glenwood Avenue was too small for the Yomim Tovim. The cordial relationship between the shul and the church exists till this day.

Perhaps the surroundings were somewhat dismal and un-shul-like but the beautiful voice of Chazan Gutezon and his hamish nusach uplifted the very souls of all those who attended. Chazan Gutezon was from Poland, had no family and lived alone in the room off the shul/garage. His very demeanor was a uniting force from the mixed crowd of immigrant from their various and colorful backgrounds. Every shabbas afternoon at ‘shalosh seudos’ he would sit around the table singing old songs. As Ed Vessely remembers… “He would bring a tear to everyone’s eye.” Not only did Chazan Gutezon serve as their chazan but also he was their defacto, spiritual leader.

There was a ‘Shalosh Suedos’ every Shabbas afternoon between Mincha and Maariv. Isidor Traurig would get one tin of herring and a small cake, cut it all up into very small pieces and this would be able to feed 20 odd people. The Ladies Auxiliary would also provide something small.

The following Rosh Hashanah in 1958 the church hall proved too small so the valiant group decided to rent the celebrity room of Coogee Bay Hotel. Today this is Selina’s nightclub. There was a slight problem at this venue, as the hall did not provide chairs.

Sam Glanz recalls the scene vividly “all of us schlepped chairs from home, there we were walking down Coogee Bay Road with a chair on our shoulder, the local shop keepers were thinking what do these Jews do in synagogue with chairs? ”

That Yom Tov was truly inspiring as the hall looked out upon the recurring tumbling of the waves on the beach it was almost as if the scene cried out moh rabu masecha hashem”- how glorious and wonderful are your deeds hashem. Sam Glanz celebrated the barmitzvah of his two grandchildren Justin Weiss on Parshat Devarim and David Glanz on Parshat Re’eh both at Coogee Synagogue in the year 2000 – the golden chain of Jewish tradition still lives on.

The Ladies Auxiliary

In 1960 Isidor Traurig bumped into Edna Shaw and saidEdna, we need a shul, please find me a shul Edna answered ”how can I do this we’re not in East End London anymore,”

Replied Isidor “you speak good English, so go find us a shul”.

So was born the first Ladies Auxiliary group with its first president Edna Shaw. This group of dedicated ladies Mrs Buchner, Dutzi Kuchar, Kitty Conway, Renee Moleman, Regina Schwartz, Maree Lester and others started the first of many hundreds of car rally’s, fetes, annual balls, card evenings, tombola nights and dances. Everything was fun, everything was homemade, it was a lot of hard work but it was all-worthwhile because all of them collectively had that dream to build their own shul.

“I remember our first function” Edna Shaw recalls, “It was a Purim Dance at the Coogee Bay Hotel. We had a Mr. Ezekiel who lived in the area; he organized the entertainment, and was very flamboyant man. I’ll never forget that function because I had just came out of hospital and I forced myself to go because I planned it. Those days we took all the food in and all brought a plate; it was like a supper dance. Well I’ve never seen so many different dishes, every minute there were all these ‘continental’ women saying to me…taste my Russian eggs…taste mine Edna! They were all marvelous cooks. Then there was the host of strudels, nut and cream cakes, and poppy and cheese cakes just to name some of the magnificent home cooked food supplied by all the shul supporters.” The function was a huge success and it can be truly said that, that was the beginning of the shul today. It received wide support from the community and provided the motivation, the social interaction, the interest and the initial funds to make the goal of a permanent shul possible. This was the start of the transformation from a congregation without a home, to a shul.

121 Brook Street

Jack Hochstat and Herman Gutman, that very year acquired the property, 121 Brook St. It was a 5-bedroom cottage and with a little bit of internal wall demolishing and redesigning they had another shul for the next Yomim Tovim. This property was bought for 8,500 pounds. The small band of committee members only had 1500 pounds which sufficed as the deposit.

That year there was a scramble to expedite the raising of funds. Each brick was sold for 1 pound. This was not a lot, but lots of bricks and lots of pounds make up the construction of a complete shul wall. There was no money to waste on demolition – so what is better than a band of European Jews together with their teenage children wielding sledge hammers, and pick axes to complete the demolition. Ed Vessely clearly remembers that it was his task to pile the bricks on the side for reuse later on – he was forbidden to wield the sledgehammer. “I don’t know whether people would afford the generosity these days or their time these days to give and give and give to something of no benefit other than their own shul”

On the 23rd of February 1962 the foundation stone was laid. Herman Gutman and Rueben Pelerman presided over this event. It was a big simcha attended by many communal dignitaries, foundation members and communal friends. In hindsight it was a day ‘Lekadesh Shem Shamayim’.  “A Sanctification of G-d’s name”. The Aron Kodesh was built by Morris Silver and the Asseret Hadibrot were carved and polished by Isidor Traurig who was everywhere as the unofficial gabbai, the rest of the Traurig/Vesely family were the Cohanim. Mr Fish looked after the children. If something was ever needed, Mr Gutman was never too shy in obtaining it. The sidurim were lovingly cherished and cared for by Nandor Vessely.

Reverend Mendel Mandel – 1966

In 1966 Reverend M. Mandel was appointed as the first Rabbi. He came from Romanian Europe, but his tenure did not last long for as is often the case amongst Jews – two Jews and three opinions. So it was with Reverend Mandel, the whole congregation could not unite behind him completely.

Rabbi Ya’akov Yosef Shick – 1967-1974

Early 1967 the then president Harold Levy together with his son Philip traveled to Melbourne to offer the position of Rabbi of Coogee Synagogue to Rabbi Yakov Yosef Shick. Rabbi Shick came from Hungary, he had held the position of Chief Rabbi of Hungary in the post World War II years. He was a great Talmud chacham and brought with him great prestige in his acceptance as Rabbi at Coogee. Harold Levy fondly recalled that he would not leave Melbourne until the Rabbi had accepted their offer to come to Coogee in Sydney. During this time the congregation was at is peak and it boasted not only a shabbas minyan but also a minyan each day. This was on account of the foundation members desire to create a strong community and most still resided in Coogee. Today Harold’s legacy lives on in Coogee Shul through his son Phil, who was a board member of the Coogee Synagogue and previously the  Kindergarten. Harolds’ daughter Diane Needleman who was the first child named in the shul and still remains an active member.

1967 was not only a year of miracles for the 6 day war in Israel, but it was also the time when the congregation galvanized 24 hour guard duty on account of the bomb scare that was threatening the local Jewish communities. This was a high point not only to world Jewish pride but also to Coogee Synagogue’s pride as a community. Rabbi Shick remained at Coogee till 1974 until his wife’s ill health forced him to take up residence at the Montefiore Home in Hunters Hill, Sydney where he became the home rabbi.


Rabbi Zev Tapoochi – 1975-1978

Rabbi Tapoochi became the next rabbi in 1975. He too was a great Talmud chacham of the old European school. He united the community during somewhat more difficult times as the community started to gradually loose membership as members moved on to the more Jewish areas of Bondi and Dover Heights. Rabbi Tapoochi had a vision that the future survival of the congregation was dependent on the youth and providing a place for children to feel comfortable and a place at which to study. He strongly advocated the opening of an educational home for Coogee and he firmly believed that they should commence with a kindergarten. Harry Gutman O.A.M at this time was the president and he whole-heartedly supported the rabbi in his endeavor for the kindergarten. A hall was built as an annex to the Synagogue at the rear of the property but due to lack of funds the project was never really completed satisfactory.

The righteous leave this world in a state of ‘gan eden’ on shabbas. One shabbas afternoon, the 4th of Adar 1978 after giving a shalosh seudos dvar torah he bid farewell to his congregation with a hearty ‘good shabbas’ and not long afterwards he passed away suddenly while resting. “Tzadikim einom meisim, ma zarom bechaim af heim bechaim.” – the righteous do not die for as their children and deeds are alive so to do there memories remain alive. Rabbi Zev Tapoochi remains alive through the existence of the Coogee Kindergarten that flourishes on that very spot.

Rabbi Korda – 1978-1982

The next years were very difficult ones for Coogee synagogue. Rabbi Korda presided over the congregation from 1978 to 1982. These were difficult times for the Synagogue as many more congregants left. The congregation was dwindling rapidly due to the change of demographics – no longer was Coogee a small little Jewish ghetto, for the ghetto had moved to Bondi. Only a small minyan remained. They were Micky Schwartz, who owned the Coogee Deli. In his own right he was very knowledgeable in synagogue ritual, knowing most of the davening off by heart. Bill Benedekt was the gabbai and still lived in Carr St, around the corner. He was very honorable keeping the peace by being very particular in calling up everyone of the congregation. Morrie Silver remained on Mount Street, but was getting on. Marie and David Lester became the backbone of the shul, as they were the thread and twine that held the synagogue together throughout their honoary work as joint secretaries.

G-d does not allow his children to be bereft, for onto the scene came Alex Odze who became the unofficial ‘bal korah.’ He too was very knowledgeable in synagogue rites not to mention his ability as a handyman, which saved the congregation a lot of money.

Rabbi Elozer Gestetner – 1983-Present

In 1983 Harry Gutman appointed Rabbi Elozer David Gestetner as Rabbi of the congregation. Mr Gutman strongly felt in his words “Our congregation now needs a young man.” Rabbi Gestetner at the age of 24 came to Coogee together with his wife Miri and their young baby Mottel, with a strong passion to revitalize an ailing congregation. At the time of the interview Herman Gutman asked Rabbi Gestetner “How to daven I can’t teach you, but anything else, just ask me.” This was indicitive of all the members as they were always willing to help. Much of the spirited and ferverous growth was due to the outreach ideology of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe who strongly campaigned for the strengthening of outlying communities. Slowly the Synagogue regained old members and built a platform to outreach, for new membership. By 1988 synagogue membership was once again full – all be it for the high holidays only.

Induction of Rabbi Gestetner

Zeline Bloom fondly recalls how her family made contact with the Synagogue. It was her custom to light Shabbos candles on Friday nights. Mr Avremele Chutaretzky who lived accros the road saw this and he went over to Rabbi Gestetner and said he thought there was another Jewish family living in the area. Rabbi Getstner visited the Blooms and they came to the Synagogue. Years later one Chanuka night Zeline was looking to visit the Gestetners. She was not sure of their address untill she saw the lights of the Menora burning in the window. The Jewish light of Coogee Synagogue was once again rekindled.

The burgeoning community seemed now to out grow itself and Rabbi Gestetner felt the need to expand the synagogue. A capital appeal was embarked upon and the resulting ladies gallery, which seated 50 people, was constructed. Today the synagogue boasts a membership of 320 people and each year now a youth minyan with 80 participants takes place on the High Holidays. The growth is so strong now that a hall at the Medina Apartments has to be rented. The demographics of Coogee today is still very unlike the early years because there does not exist a strong local Jewish community, rather the synagogue bases Its support from membership living in other areas. The most recent change in the demographics of the synagogue is in the influx of South African immigrants who show a desire to attend synagogue services on Friday Nights.

This period also provided the catalyst for Mr John Bartory to provide the funds to finish the kindergarten section at the rear of the Synagogue. Together with Rabbi Feldman of the YeshivaCentera kindergarten was opened on the 6th of November 1983. This kindergarten remains vibrant and active till this day and is now managed and controlled by the Kindergarten Board made up entirely of member families.

Figure 12 – Coogee Bartory Kindergarten – 1986 – on bottom line 2nd from left is Rabbi Gestetner’s eldest son, Mottel

Figure 13 – Mr Harry Gutman OAM and Mr John Bartory

A young team of energetic women revitalized the ladies auxiliary at this time. Riki Spitz, Gail Gotleib, Jeanette Milston and Monica Foltyn became presidents. Monica and Peter Foltyn joined the congregation when Adam their oldest came to the Mesibot Shabbat’ on shabbat afternoons, Peter put on teffilin for the first time and he was also the first president of Coogee Batory Kindergarten. Harry and Gail Gotleib joined not long after moving to Melody Street in Coogee. Harry became the Chazan for shabbat for many years after that. Philip and Zimra Segal joined during this time too and as one of the only ‘shomer shabbas’ members became the bal tokea’ on Rosh Hashanah. Simon Horry was a dedicated member and fulfilled the role of honoree treasurer for both the Synagogue and Kindergarten and through all of this resurgence there was Alex Odze. Mr Odze took over as gabbai from Bill Benedekt. They were hard shoes to fill but Mr. Odze was the exact person to do just that and to take the synagogue to even greater heights.

1967 was not only a year of miracles for the 6 day war in Israel, but it was also the time when the congregation galvanized 24 hour guard duty on account of the bomb scare that was threatening the local Jewish communities. This was ahigh pointnot only to world Jewish pride but also to Coogee synagogue’s pride as a community. Rabbi Shick remained at Coogee till 1974 until his wife’s ill health forced him to take up residence at the Montefoire Home in Hunters Hill,Sydneywhere he became the home rabbi.

 

Rabbi Zev Tapoochi – 1975-1978

Rabbi Tapoochi became the next rabbi in 1975. He too was a great Talmud chacham of the old European school. He united the community during somewhat more difficult times as the community started to gradually loose membership as members moved on to the more Jewish areas of Bondi and DoverHeights. Rabbi Tapoochi had a vision that the future survival of the congregation was dependent on the youth and providing a place for children to feel comfortable and a place at which to study. He strongly advocated the opening of an educational home for Coogee and he firmly believed that they should commence with a kindergarten. Harry Gutman O.A.M at this time was the president and he whole-heartedly supported the rabbi in his endeavor for the kindergarten. A hall was built as an annex to the Synagogue at the rear of the property but due to lack of funds the project was never really completed satisfactory.

The righteous leave this world in a state of ‘gan eden’ on shabbas. One shabbas afternoon, the 4th of Adar 1978 after giving a shalosh seudos dvar torah he bid farewell to his congregation with a hearty ‘good shabbas’ and not long afterwards he passed away suddenly while resting. “Tzadikim einom meisim, ma zarom bechaim af heim bechaim.” – the righteous do not die for as their children and deeds are alive so to do there memories remain alive. Rabbi Zev Tapoochi remains alive through the existence of the Coogee Kindergarten that flourishes on that very spot.

Rabbi Korda – 1978-1982

The next years were very difficult ones for Coogee synagogue. Rabbi Korda presided over the congregation from 1978 to 1982. These were difficult times for the Synagogue as many more congregants left. The congregation was dwindling rapidly due to the change of demographics; no longer was Coogee a small little Jewish ghetto, for the ghetto had moved to Bondi. Only a small minyan remained. They were Miky Schwartz, who owned the Coogee Deli; in his own right he was very knowledgeable in synagogue ritual knowing most of the davening off by heart. Bill Benedekt was the gabbai and still lived inCarr St, around the corner. He was very honorable keeping the peace by being very particular in calling up everyone of the congregation. Morrie Silver remained onMount Streetbut was getting on. Marie and David Lester became the backbone of the shule, as they were the thread and twine that held the synagogue together throughout their honoury work as joint secretaries. Maree today is ka’h is in her 90’s and never misses a shabbas in shule.

G-d does not allow his children to be bereft, for onto the scene came Alex Odze who became the unofficial ‘bal korah.’ He too was very knowledgeable in synagogue rites not to mention his ability as a handyman, which saved the congregation a lot of money.

 Alex and and Margaret Odze

Rabbi Elozer Gestetner – 1983-Present

In 1983 Harry Gutman appointed Rabbi Elozer David Gestener as Rabbi of the congregation. Mr Gutman strongly felt in his words “Our congregation now needs a young man.” Rabbi Gestetner at the age of 24 came to Coogee together with his wife Miri and their young baby Mottel, with a strong passion to revitalize an ailing congregation. At the time of the interview Herman Gutman asked Rabbi Gestetner “How to daven I can’t teach you, but anything else, just ask me.” This was indicitive of all the members as they were always willing to help. Much of the spirited and ferverous growth was due to the outreach ideology of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe who strongly campaigned for the strengthening of outlying communities. Slowly the Synagogue regained old members and built a platform to outreach, for new membership. By 1988 synagogue membership was once again full all be it for the high holidays only.

Induction of Rabbi Gestetner

Zeline Bloom fondly recalls how her family made contact with the Synagogue. It was her custom to light Shabbos candles on Friday nights. Mr Avremele Chutaretzky who lived accros the road saw this and he went over to Rabbi Gestetner and said he thought there was another Jewish family living in the area. Rabbi Getstner visited the Blooms and they came to the Synagogue. Years later one Chanuka night Zeline was looking to visit the Gestetners. She was not sure of their address untill she saw the lights of the Menora burning in the window. The Jewish light of Coogee Synagogue was once again rekindled.

The burgeoning community seemed now to out grow itself and Rabbi Gestetner felt the need to expand the synagogue. A capital appeal was embarked upon and the resulting ladies gallery, which seated 50 people, was constructed. Today the synagogue boasts a membership of 320 people and each year now a youth minyan with 80 participants takes place on the High Holidays. The growth is so strong now that a hall at the Medina Apartments has to be rented. The demographics of Coogee today is still very unlike the early years because there does not exist a strong local Jewish community, rather the synagogue bases Its support from membership living in other areas. The most recent change in the demographics of the synagogue is in the influx of South African immigrants who show a desire to attend synagogue services on Friday Nights.

This period also provided the catalyst for Mr John Bartory to provide the funds to finish the kindergarten section at the rear of the Synagogue. Together with Rabbi Feldman of the YeshivaCentera kindergarten was opened on the 6th of November 1983. This kindergarten remains vibrant and active till this day and is now managed and controlled by the Kindergarten Board made up entirely of member families.

Figure 12 – Coogee Bartory Kindergarten – 1986 – on bottom line 2nd from left is Rabbi Gestetner’s eldest son, Mottel

Figure 13 – Mr Harry Gutman OAM and Mr John Bartory

A young team of energetic women revitalized the ladies auxiliary at this time. Riki Spitz, Gail Gotleib, Jeanette Milston and Monica Foltyn became presidents. Monica and Peter Foltyn joined the congregation when Adam their oldest came to the Mesibot Shabbat’ on shabbat afternoons, Peter put on teffilin for the first time and he was also the first president of Coogee Batory Kindergarten. Harry and Gail Gotleib joined not long after moving to Melody Street in Coogee. Harry became the Chazan for shabbat for many years after that. Philip and Zimra Segal joined during this time too and as one of the only ‘shomer shabbas’ members became the bal tokea’ on Rosh Hashanah. Simon Horry was a dedicated member and fulfilled the role of honoree treasurer for both the Synagogue and Kindergarten and through all of this resurgence there was Alex Odze. Mr Odze took over as gabbai from Bill Benedekt. They were hard shoes to fill but Mr. Odze was the exact person to do just that and to take the synagogue to even greater heights.

In 1991 Mr Nicholas Sterling became president of the now vivacious and vital community. He succeeded Mr Harry Gutman O.A.M who had steered the community over good and difficult times for 25 years. What an outstanding achievement of leadership, courage and skill to see out the congregation from its inception till the present. The Synagogue was now giving back to this fledging congregation what the members had given it. The Synagogue was now, once again a source of communal activity, communal spirit and a place, which provided a second home to many of its member families and a center for both adult and children education.

Today the Synagogue looks back with pride on its achievements as a communal pillar and strong supporter of thelandofIsrael. In the last 10 years over 300 Bar and Bat Mitzvahs have taken place at the synagogue. The circle of life seems to be turning as many of those Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are now celebrating their weddings. Those who were married in the synagogue are now celebrating their children’s birth. The role of the synagogue throughout the ages has been to provide a second home for its membership. Coogee Synagogue is no different. Coogee is a place where its members come together to celebrate joyous events and happy occasions and to mourn over sad ones. It is a place, which creates the remarkable sensation to laugh and cry at the same time, to shed a tear of both sadness and joy.

Figure 14 – Rabbi Gestetner with Barmitzvah Boys

The dedication of its members can best be summarized by Mr Alex Odze to say, If only I was younger…I…because I would like o live to see the shule go to its next level”

“Michayel el choyel – from strength to strength.”

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