“A WARM, welcoming, vibrant, major Jewish home of Yiddishkeit within our world.”
That was the verdict on Melbourne from Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth Ephraim Mirvis, during the last leg of his whirlwind Australia tour last week.
Following visits to Perth, Canberra and Sydney, a packed four-day schedule saw the 11th holder of the position address audiences at Caulfield Hebrew Congregation (CHC), St Kilda Synagogue, Mizrachi, Blake Street Synagogue and Central Shule, as well as speaking to students at Mount Scopus Memorial College, Leibler Yavneh College and Bnei Akiva.
At a communal event at CHC last Thursday, Rabbi Mirvis spoke on the centrality of Israel to modern Jewish life, the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe and the importance of both interfaith and intrafaith dialogue.
Hailing Jerusalem as “the centre of our universe” and “our eternal capital city”, he noted that unlike other capitals it is highly inaccessible and doesn’t have a natural water source. Explaining why it is the Jewish capital, he said, “God has chosen Zion for the place of his habitation … to be a place through which he would manifest his presence, his kedushah more than any other place on earth.”
Focusing on the example set by Isaac in his determination to remain in the Promised Land, he added, “We should never give up hope to yearn for peace, to pray for peace, to strive for peace, if and when appropriate and necessary and proper, to make concessions for peace so that one day we will indeed reach the stage of ‘rechovot’, having spaciousness, peace and tranquility in our land.”
With regards to contemporary Jewish life, Rabbi Mirvis stressed that while the Torah is ancient, it is nonetheless still relevant. Not a single letter needs to be changed, he said, it just has to be presented to younger generations in a way that is meaningful to them.
On reaching out to other streams of Judaism, the Chief Rabbi described himself as “a champion of Jewish unity,” stating “We have enough problems with regards to threats from without, why do we have to create problems from within … The Jewish ideal is unity where we respect others with other views and we work together in cohesive and harmonious ways.”
However he added that while “Intrafaith cooperation between different movements is important, I think it’s also important that we shouldn’t give legitimacy to movements which do not represent authentic Judaism.”
Addressing students at Mount Scopus, Rabbi Mirvis urged his audience to give of themselves.
“Some of the greatest gifts you can give are not financial,” he said, “The gift of time, the gift of love … even a smile is a gift because when you see someone smiling it brightens up your day.”
He also said the students shouldn’t think they have to pursue fame. “Just be yourself, he said. “The best people that I have come across are the people that are quiet and behind the scenes. They do incredible chessed, acts of loving kindness. Hardly anybody knows about it but thanks to their goodness the world is preserved.”
As well as speaking at shuls and schools, Rabbi Mirvis also met with members of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) and Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia president Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, with whom he discussed topics such as professional development for rabbis, child sexual abuse and domestic violence and kashrut concerns.
“The Chief Rabbi was very warm and personable,” said Rabbi Kluwgant. “He shares our passion in striving for excellence in the field of rabbinics and I look forward to working with him for the mutual benefit of our communities.”
RCV president Rabbi Moshe Gutnick said Rabbi Mirvis “brings his own style and warmth and vast experience to his position and we greatly appreciated his presence and message to us.”
ZEDDY LAWRENCE AND JOSHUA LEVI
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis talking to students at Yavneh.