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November 05, 2006 - Image 65

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2006-11-05

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Dave Dow

Take a peek inside an exquisite Melbourne synagogue.


f you've seen one, you've seen them all."
Clearly, this cliche wasn't coined by some-
one who has seen any of the spectacular syna-
gogues around the world.
How could one be blase about the cut-
glass chandelier suspended inside a large Magen
David relief on the ceiling of the Ortokay
Synagogue in Istanbul? Or ignore the natural
stone walls inlaid with plaques
listing the names of citizens who
perished in the Holocaust inside
the shul on Rhodes?
One more to add to the
list: the exquisite beauty
of the Melbourne Hebrew
Congregation in Melbourne,
Australia. Known locally as the
Toorak Street Synagogue, it is
led by Rabbi Dovid Rubenfeld
— who happens to be a cousin of
Yisroel Poker, a prominent Metro
Detroit Orthodox community
The synagogue is a modern
Orthodox congregation of 900
and was the . shul-of-choice for
Isaac Isaacs, the first Jewish gov-
ernor general of Queenstown.
Rooted in a small structure on Bourke Street,
built in 1848, the congregation soon required
larger accommodations and built a second syna-
gogue on Bourke Street. By 1930, it had outgrown
even that, and the current, classically designed
synagogue was built that year.
Visitors to the synagogue are greeted by ornate
carriage gates rescued from the 1848 Bourke
Street structure that now serve the courtyard
entrance of the synagogue. Inside, a blanket of
ruby-red carpeting
leads eyes down the
aisles lined with lus-
trous Tazmanian black-
oak seats to the impos-
ing columns of the
bimah. Look up, and
the round sanctuary is
topped with a copper-
clad dome resplendent
with a gold and blue
interior; below it, 12
jewel-like stained-glass
windows based on
Judaic themes circle
the sanctuary, punctuat-
ed with tall marble pil-
lars and pilasters with
gold capitals and carved
fretwork. The short
wall beneath the bal-
cony is set with medal-
lions, which repeat the

blue and gold motif of the dome. An imposing ark
is topped with the Ten Commandments flanked
by a commemorative plaque on either side — one
offers a prayer for the royal family; the other, a
prayer for the welfare of the State of Israel.
The bimah has two levels: The lower level has
a central lectern for the cantor, flanked on the
ark side by tall, electric candelabra and on the
congregation side by the flags of
Australia and Israel. This level
also has seats for the gabbais, bar
mitzvah boy and those getting
a/iyot. The upper bimah, on the
level of the ark and set off by
a wooden railing with carved
gold open-work panels, is a wide
space providing a magnificent
view of the Torahs when the
ark is opened. The shul's lower
level is occupied by the Herscu
Synagogue, which was named for
the parents of George Herscu,
who was responsible for the
structure's 1978 refurbishment.
This area, which we would refer
to as a daily chapel, contains
many of the elements that had
embellished the earlier Bourke
Street shul: Wooden seats, the doors of the ark,
the bimah and the pulpit, all from the 1848
synagogue, enhance this synagogue's beauty and
warmth. "When there is no bar mitzvah or major
celebration, we like to use this for services," says
David Lissauer, a co-chairman of the shul. "It
provides a very heimish [home-like] atmosphere."
For more information about the Melbourne
Synagogue, visit melbournesynagogue.org.au .

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This Eternal Flame (top right) is based on one in a Florence syna-

gogue; it was commissioned in the late 1920s and hangs from the

sanctuary of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation's 1930 structure on

Toorak Road (right), Above, top to bottom: The Bourke Street shul's

exterior (top) and sanctuary (center), both circa 1900. A dome of

stained-glass windows towers over today's sanctuary.



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