More than a Jewish school, more than a private school, Moriah College is a community school.
And it has held onto this ideal since the very beginning.
In February 1943, 25 children became the first students at the North Bondi Hebrew School and Kindergarten in Glenayr Ave, later to become Moriah War Memorial College.
An extraordinary man with an extraordinary dream, Abraham Rabinovitch, envisaged a Jewish school where every child, regardless of academic aptitude or financial standing, would have access to a general and Jewish education. He had a dream of creating a Jewish day school that could stand beside the secular private schools in Sydney.
Rabinovitch didn’t have any children, so the students of Moriah became his own. And while it started with just 25, the Moriah family has grown and grown each year.
This feeling of family is something past president Sam Fisher became synonymous with. Velvel Lederman, fondly known as Uncle Velvel, recalled that if it wasn’t for the kind heart of Sam, he never would have been a student at Moriah.
“My parents survived the war,” he told The AJN, explaining that they couldn’t afford the fees for a Jewish school. “They didn’t even have a car to get me there. Sam Fisher said to my parents, ‘Don’t worry about the fees and don’t worry about getting your son there, we will send a hire car.’” That’s his first recollection of Moriah College.
It’s this community spirit that everyone who spoke to The AJN seems to recall.
Velvel is now an educator at the early learning centres. When asked how he got the job at Moriah, he said he still remembers where he was when principal at the time Lionel Link tapped him on the shoulder.
“We were walking to shule and Lionel said to me, do you know what you want to do because we want to give you a job,” Velvel recalled.
And he hasn’t looked back. While he started in the primary school, he soon ended up at the King David Preparatory School (KDPS) campus teaching the year K-2 students. Now, Velvel is teaching the next generation.
“One of the big thrills for me and it’s a big nachas, is to see parents who I have taught coming back with their own kids. It’s great to see the continuity.”
It’s something that Donna Delbaere speaks fondly of. She introduced a lot throughout her time as primary principal, but when chatting with The AJN, Donna was humble, focusing on the staff and community.
“It was never about us. It was always about the kids,” she said, explaining that she never expected the staff to do things that she wouldn’t do, including 7am playground duty, sleeping on the floor of the synagogue during camps to Canberra and patrolling the freezing outdoor passageways of Stanwell Tops during music camp. “The kids these days don’t know how tough we had it,” she laughed.
“You won’t remember your maths lessons. You’ll remember music camp and gifted camps, holiday camps, art and drama classes. You’ll remember project heritage. The staff must have thought I was crazy, but I can honestly say they supported me. I had an exceptional staff,” she recalled.
Lionel Link recalls employing Donna, citing the fact that she was invited back to serve as acting principal of the entire college after she retired as testament to the mark she made.
He also recalls his partnership with vice-principal Morrie Finberg. He said both Donna and Morrie were his proudest appointments.
Talking about Morrie, who referred to Lionel as his “partner in crime”, he said they complemented each other.
“He was an excellent classroom teacher, educator and disciplinarian. It was very gratifying for me to see how he fitted so naturally into the Jewish, Zionist ethos of the college. I believe in both these aspects he grew, becoming much more committed than he had previously been, especially vis a vis his ‘Yiddishkeit’.”
Lionel started at the college as a teacher fresh out of university as he “wanted to contribute to the continuity of the Jewish community in Sydney”. He remembers class sizes being small, some often only five or six students. By 1979, he was principal. It had almost doubled in size through the time of his predecessor Harold Nagley.
During Lionel’s years, a lot of “co-curricular” activities were implemented. Lionel refers to them as ‘co’ rather than ‘extra’ because they became “part of the curriculum of the college, even if not in the four walls of the classroom”.
“Some of our greatest educational successes were students who did not get outstanding HSC results but developed a real commitment to being responsible citizens with Jewish values,” Lionel said. “There’s more to a good education than a good HSC result.”
When The AJN asked former principal Roy Steinman to reflect on his time at Moriah College, he recalled similar things, focusing on the informal Jewish education, counterpoint camps, IST and the expanding music program which led to international tours.
Most significantly, Roy recalled the moment Moriah was able to play against other schools on a weekday afternoon.
“We fought and won our battle with HICES and AHISA to offer and participate in midweek inter-school sports competitions, which had been strictly limited to Saturday,” Roy recalled, explaining that this meant the college was able to expand the sports program.
“I fondly remember our Rugby Union team and the annual Moriah-Masada Rugby match which always drew large crowds.”
During Roy’s tenure as college principal, the new primary school was built with all years K to 12 students on the one Queens Park campus. And now, ELC students are on campus as well, bringing a true communal spirit to the grounds. As the little ELC kids walk through the primary school, the bigger kids high-five them and wave hello.
Robert Simons, the third generation of the Simons family to have a leadership position in the college – his grandfather was with Rabinovitch at the beginning – joined the school leadership because he believes in Jewish continuity and community.
“We need Jewish day school education,” he said. “I’m always very proud to see when the community comes together to support the school. The children are involved, the parents are involved; there’s community spirit.”
Robert also spoke about the immersive experience for children as they roam the halls. Everywhere they turn, there is yiddishkeit for them to see, no matter what part of the school they’re in. The children, Robert said, are “grounded in the history and culture of Judaism”.
The culture and spirit of Judaism is something that spoke to current principal Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler from the moment he entered the doors of Moriah College.
Rabbi Smukler spoke highly of the “community” and “family” of Moriah, explaining he felt it from the first parent information evening when some of the parents tried to make a shidduch for him.
He also recalled when a staff member needed to see his family overseas during COVID, the staff and the parents helped him with visas and flights, and even ensured that he was able to get back into Australia.
“He turned to me and said that he never realised when he joined Moriah, that he became a brother,” Rabbi Smukler recalled.
Rabbi Smukler said that celebrating 80 years is especially extraordinary to him because the school is older than the State of Israel, and older than the conclusion of the Holocaust.
“While the world was burning, while the Jewish world was being ravaged, there was foresight to turn around and say, ‘We’re going to rebuild; we’re going to ensure there is a haven.’”
Rabbi Smukler paid tribute to the staff, saying they are of incredibly high calibre.
“I don’t see myself as leading Moriah. I see myself as a conductor of an orchestra of extremely talented musicians who know the music, know the notes and my job is to synchronise everybody,” he said, using a very apt metaphor for Moriah with its music program, that as vice-principal and director of music and co-curricular, Roberta Goot, says is the envy of many schools, nationally and internationally.
Roberta attributes a lot of the success of the music program to the team around her, the P&F and the parents, many of whom continue feed the hundreds who attend music camp. She recalled a time when the high school was based on the Vivian St campus and she and Eddie Smout, the resident caretaker of the college, would load the college ute with the percussion equipment just so the high school band could rehearse.
This whole-staff spirit is still alive today with even the maintenance department being on hand to greet the kids each morning at go-with-the-flow, dressing up on Purim and partaking in activities during special assemblies.
Most important of all, Rabbi Smukler said the spirit of Judaism is very much encouraged.
“We teach never to give in to the status quo. Jews have never made peace with where they were when they were exiled or when they were suffering. They never sat and accepted being victims. Moriah is like that. Our children are encouraged to love and respect Israel but at the same time, to be a vocal part of the dialogue about Israel,” he said. “We’re ensuring our children are well-educated to make choices and be strong, know who they are and how they need to behave. We talk about Jewish pride, but we want our children to be proud Jews with Jewish values oozing from their being.”
He said the very notion that Moriah is looking to rebuild parts of the high school shows how the college is looking to the future. Many of these children will enter jobs that aren’t invented yet, so the school must equip them with enough knowledge and experience to succeed.
“They want to innovate and change; to use their minds, their hearts and their souls to better the world around them,” Rabbi Smukler said. “We see it as young as our primary school children. They’re scholars of entrepreneurship.”
Rabbi Smukler said he is also grateful for those who came before him.
“I look at the things they did that had an enduring legacy. They were not planting the tree for the fruit of then, they were planting the tree for the fruit of now.”
According to Rabbi Smukler, the improvements that the college is looking towards are not “nice to haves, but absolute necessities”.
“We need to be responsible, at this milestone, in setting up the next generation for success. Just like the previous pioneers set us up.”
While the college opened with just 25 students, it’s now home to more than 1700 children from two years old through to year 12.
It’s home to hundreds of families.
It’s home to the community and future generations of Jewish children.
My Moriah Journey
In 1992, I walked through the doors of King David Preparatory School (KDPS) on Dover Road. I had been through the Moriah kindergartens for the past couple of years and now I was a big kid – donning my school uniform and brand-new school shoes to officially start my schooling journey. It was the beginning of a wonderful 13-year experience.
Moriah College very quickly became my second home. And not just the little KDPS campus, but the big kid campus too. My dad, Daniel Goulburn, was on the board of the College for 13 years and my mum, Rochelle Goulburn, was a primary school teacher for the better part of three decades. We were surrounded by our ‘Moriah family’.
As I grew, my days were dotted with sneaking into mum’s staffroom to help myself to the Freddo Frogs that she kept for her kids at school and spying my dad during early morning visits to the campus before he rushed off to work.
The walls of the College became a haven for me. And while, it wasn’t always rainbows and roses, I don’t remember the tough days as much as I remember the incredibly special ones.
The day I received my candle sticks. I day I received my first siddur. The first time I picked up my clarinet to join the Training Band – an activity I would see out until Year 12, enjoying countless music camps and band tours. Demonstration seders and Purim fun. School camps to Bathurst and Canberra. When I stood on the stage, alongside my friends, proudly welcoming everyone to our Bat Mitzvah ceremony. Representing the College in netball. The day my parents waved me goodbye as I headed off on March of the Living. Years of athletics and swimming carnivals, where my mum would call the races over the microphone, despite never needing the amplification. Music festivals. Dance concerts.
Through to the day I took my final steps out of the school gates as a student.
Now, I’m back as a parent. And my kids are making the same wonderful memories.
Recently, I watched my son recite his part on the bimah before he received his first siddur. Last year, I watched him put on a tallit for the first time. These moments brought me to tears. But equally as special are the Purim parades, certificates in assembly and Mother’s Day in the ELC.
My Moriah family continue to make their mark on my life, through my own relationships and those my children forge. My closest friends are some of the people I went through Moriah with, some of whom I met when I was two years old. What is incredibly special for us as a family is that my children are the third generation to be involved in Moriah. And many of their friends are children of alumni as well. Many kids going through Moriah today are the true representation of the Moriah family.
For us, it’s a home away from home.