Worth Remembering

Posted on 5 May, 2011 by

When Reb Moshe Feiglin landed nearly one hundred years ago in the port city of Fremantle, local Jews advised him not to overly emphasize his Judaism. When he later went to Melbourne and found a relatively organized Jewish community, it wasn’t the sort of community he was familiar with.

It was clear to Reb Moshe Zalman that it would be quite a challenge to maintain a Jewish life in Melbourne on an acceptable spiritual level. So when he heard a government announcement about an agricultural settlement in the area of Shepparton, 200 kilometers away from Melbourne, he jumped at the opportunity and settled near Shepparton, together with a few other Jewish families.

The early years were extremely hard and at first, they barely had a minyan, but Reb Moshe Zalman spared no effort in building up Jewish life permeated with the warmth and spirit of Chabad. A wooden structure in the centre of the settlement was declared a shul and they brought a melamed and shochet, just as they did back in Russia. But in Australia the melamdim and shochtim did not last long, and once every two or three years they had to find someone new to fill the positions. In the transition times between one melamed and the next, Reb Moshe Zalman would substitute and he even filled in as the shochet sometimes.

The fledgling community grew. By 1930 it had over 100 people, and was the first Lubavitch community in Australia. Many years later, in 1956, when Reb Moshe Zalman’s son had yechidus with the Rebbe and raised the possibility of selling the rural estate because of the difficult economic situation, the Rebbe negated the idea, giving as his reason the fact that the main development of Judaism and Chassidus began there.

Fast forward to the end of World War II, when thousands of refugees began making the long journey to distant Australia. The Rebbe Rayatz’s view was that some of the Lubavitcher refugees who left Russia at this time should settle in Australia and messages were sent to some Chassidim who were in refugee camps in Europe. When Reb Moshe Zalman heard about this, he renewed efforts to obtain entrance visas and was able to obtain visas for seven Lubavitcher families. This was considered a pivotal moment in the history of Lubavitch in Australia.

Years passed and in the summer of 1956, the Rebbe addressed Chabad activists in Melbourne and asked them to start a girls’ division, Beis Rivkah. Reb Moshe Zalman visited 770 with his son Dovid. At the Chaf Av farbrengen the Rebbe said to him, “Since it has been said already that the education of girls is no less important and is even more important than education for boys, a school should be founded for girls and the Feiglin family should be amongst those leading the way.” Then the Rebbe addressed the crowd and said, “Since we have just laid the cornerstone for Beis Rivkah of Australia, the community should bless Reb Moshe Zalman with ‘mazal tov’…”

Reb Moshe Zalman Feiglin has been given the title of “Avraham Avinu of Australia” by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. This Shabbos, 3 Iyar, is his yahrzeit.

(Extracted and adapted from here. See also here)

Reb Moshe Zalman who? What founding families? This week, the Yeshivah is celebrating a “Shabbos achdus” to pay homage to and glorify the memory of Rabbi Groner OBM. It is timed to coincide with his birthday, rather than his yahrzeit, because of “logistic issues around Gimmel Tammuz”.

Several members of the founding families have taken offence to this event, and e-mails have been circulating. Here is a quote from one of the e-mails:

This event is referred to as an Achdus Shabbos, but has it ever occurred to you, the reasons why we DON’T have achdus?

What, you think that a talk fest on a particular Shabbos is going to change anything?

Why should anything improve when neither you, nor the powers to be, are capable of comprehending or accepting that you/they, together with Rabbi Groner were/are responsible for the stagnation of our community? Not only you are unable to accept responsibility, you have no clue as to how to even begin to correct past abuses which have finally caught up with you, and what’s more, gaining momentum.

So you think the same people who have trampled our communal rights, who have dashed our communal expectations are suddenly going to recognise their shortcomings, and miraculously they will be the ones to get us all happily together?

Who is behind this “Shabbos Achdus”? Did they even think about how people might respond, particularly those related to all the “other” families who help build the Chabad community? Why this apparent deification of Rabbi Groner above all? And since when do we celebrate birthdays of anyone after their passing (besides the Rebbeim)?

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