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The New Melbourne Synagogue, Australia

The New Melbourne Synagogue was completed at Toorak Road in 1930. The synagogue belongs to the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation – Shearith Israel, established in 1841 and composed originally by European Jewish immigrants.

In its earliest years its members were very active endeavors around the congregation and had a flourishing youth group, enthusiastic ladies auxiliary and a large religious school.

The synagogue building is classical in style and was inspired by a very similar building in Richmond, Virginia in the U.S.A. and linked in many ways to the original Melbourne synagogue that functioned in Bourke Street.

Rededication service, celebrating the golden jubilee of the Melbourne Synagogue, 1980. Courtesy: Lionel Simon Sharpe, Australia

Rededication service, celebrating the golden jubilee of the Melbourne Synagogue, 1980. Courtesy: Lionel Simon Sharpe, Australia

This synagogue is a central structure with a magnificent facade containing a portico of four columns holding a gable. The synagogue itself is in the form of a rotunda crowned by a huge central dome. The foyer contains honor boards to Jewish veterans and victims of World War I and II. The World War I board was unveiled in 1920 by General Sir John Monash.

The main prayer hall decorated with marble columns is round. Around the walls of the synagogue there are four historic plaques commemorating various personalities of the congregation, like David Benjamin, who laid the foundation stone of the old synagogue in Bourke Street in December 1853.

In the east part of the prayer hall, the Bimah carved in Tasmanian black wood and pews in each side of the pulpit. In front is the new Bimah and reading desk linking with the pulpit. To the right of the foot of the Bimah is a Hanukiah (eight-branch Menorah) inspired by the Menorah on the Triumphal Arch of Titus in Rome.

The Holy Ark is a three story marble structure bearing the verse: “Know Before Whom You Are Standing” (Avot 3:1, 4:22) in Hebrew and in English in golden letters. Inside Torah scrolls which various members of the congregation have generously donated over the years. In front of the Ark one finds the perpetual lamp – Ner Tamid – made as an exact replica of a similar lamp in the main Sephardi synagogue in Florence, Italy. On the west part of the hall is an undulated gallery containing the women’s section.

The synagogue contains a smaller and weekday and Friday Night house of prayer called the Herscu Synagogue established by the Herscu Family. Its Ark of cedar wood, built in 1847, and the Bimah are originally from the Bourke Street synagogue opened in 1855.

In 1973 a scheme to erect stained glass windows within the synagogue was started under the guidance of the architect Dr. Ernest Fooks. These windows – especially the clerestory windows in the dome – were designed by Israeli artist Rimona Kedem and add much grandeur to the synagogue.

In 1980 the synagogue celebrated its 50th anniversary and was rededicated.

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