Jewish service was held in Melbourne in 1840 with ten people attending.
Like many other well-to-do people, wealthy Jewish merchants were attracted
to living in fashionable St Kilda in the 1860s and 1870s. Many of the Jews
living in St Kilda at this time were originally from Germany and had lived
in England before migrating to Australia. The best known was Moritz
Michaelis. He was born in 1820 in Germany and arrived in Victoria in 1853.
He established a tannery in Footscray with his nephew Isaac Hallenstein.
St Kilda’s Jews held services in the Wesleyan Church hall, Fitzroy Street,
and also joined with the East Melbourne congregation.
there were about fifty Jewish families living in the St Kilda area and
Michaelis and others pushed to establish a St Kilda congregation. A
meeting on Sunday 3 September 1871 at the home of Israel Bloomington, in
Chapel Street, St Kilda, resolved to form the St Kilda Hebrew
Congregation. Michaelis was elected President. The new congregation held
services at the first St Kilda Town Hall, at the junction of Barkly and
Grey Streets. On 1 July 1872 Michaelis, assisted by I. Bloomington, laid
the foundation stone for a synagogue at 17 Charnwood Grove. The
consecration ceremony was held on 29 September with a large gathering in
attendance, including many non-Jewish people. The Reverend Moses Rintel,
the East Melbourne Hebrew Congregation’s minister, officiated and the
Reverend A. F. Ornstein, the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation’s minister,
preached the sermon. The architects were Crouch and Wilson. It was a
departure for the former, who was best known for his many Methodist
The contractor was H. S. Gardner. The humble building, ‘reminiscent of a
non-conformist meeting house’, was extended in the 1880s and twin domed
towers were added to the facade.
Blaubaum, a twenty-five-year-old born in Germany, was contracted for three
years as minister but remained at St Kilda until his death thirty-one
years later in 1904, aged fifty-four. He began to learn English on the
boat on his way to Australia and initially he preached in German, which
most of the adults in the congregation understood. His many achievements
make him ‘one of the greatest figures in the entire Australian Jewish
He was instrumental in establishing the Montefiore Homes for aged and
infirm Jews and founded and edited the Jewish Herald, a high
quality Orthodox paper. An intellectual, Blaubaum supported the campaign
to open the Melbourne Public Library on Sundays and championed the right
of women to higher education and economic independence.
1874 the first choir of ‘Young Ladies’ was formed and in 1883 the ladies’
gallery was enlarged. In 1905 women joined the male choir, boosting the
numbers to twenty-two. In 1904 structural alterations and extensions were
made to the synagogue under the supervision of Nahum Barnet. Michaelis had
died in November 1902 and bequeathed £500 for this work.
Jacob Danglow was appointed in 1904. Five years later he married May
Baruch, granddaughter of Moritz Michaelis. During World War I, 113 men
from the congregation enlisted and of these nineteen died. The Reverend
Danglow served as the Jewish Chaplain for the Australian Imperial Forces
on the Western Front for several months before the end of the war. On
Chanukah, 12 December 1920, the congregation’s roll of honour was unveiled
by Sir John Monash, the distinguished corps commander of the Australian
Imperial Forces during its victories in August 1918 when the Allies broke
through the Hindenburg Line.
Monash joined the congregation the same year and served on the Board of
Management. In 1921 Danglow published a history of the congregation to
celebrate its golden jubilee.
foundation stone for the new synagogue, to be built almost opposite the
original, was laid on 28 February 1926. F. D. Michaelis, the eldest son of
Moritz Michaelis, followed in his father’s footsteps as president and in
laying the stone. The Reverend Danglow officiated. The last service at the
old synagogue was held on 12 March 1927 and the following day the new,
significantly larger, synagogue was consecrated. Described by Cooper as an
‘imposing structure of Byzantine design’, it was designed by Joseph
Plottel based on a synagogue in Chicago. The contractor was H. H.
A large dome clad in Wunderlich metal tiles surmounts the red brick
building with its three-arched entrance. A central aisle leads to the
Bimah (reading desk) and behind it are the pulpit and Aron (Holy Ark) and
above them the choir gallery. The decoration around the ark and dais
reflects a Spanish influence. The large bronze doors were erected in 1955
to commemorate Danglow’s twenty-five years of ministry. Harrison Hall was
built on the site of the old synagogue and opened in 1932 for use as a
community centre. Another hall, Samuel Myers Hall, opened in 1940. In 1943
the brass pulpit from the old synagogue was presented to the Adelaide
remembered for his profound influence on young people. Sir Zelman Cowen, a
distinguished scholar and the second Jewish Governor-General, recalled his
admiration for the man and the leadership he displayed within the
congregation and the wider community. Cowen remembered that Danglow kept a
pile of books specially for children beside the pulpit.
Trevor Rapke was inspired by Danglow to become a rabbi but was tactfully
dissuaded and pursued a successful career, becoming the first Jewish judge
appointed to the County Court.
He also campaigned to have women admitted as voting members but this did
not occur until May 1975.
served as senior Jewish chaplain to the Australian Army in World War II
and visited New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. He represented the
Anglo-Jew, wearing a clerical collar and being known as John rather than
Jacob. Instead of attempting to maintain a strict Orthodox community in
Australia, he promoted the middle path, urging newly arrived refugees,
survivors of the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust, to assimilate
as soon as possible. He opposed the struggle for national independence of
Jews in Palestine, favouring instead a Jewish homeland in Palestine under
the British mandate. This, and his apparent lack of sympathy for Jewish
refugees, combined with the increase in secular leadership of the Jewish
community after World War II diminished his influence in his later life.
On 1 July 1957 Rabbi Danglow retired after fifty-one years of service to
the congregation. He had been accorded the title ‘rabbi’ on 5 June 1934 on
his twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. He died in 1962, aged eighty-two. On
10 May 1970 the War Memorial Annexe (Danglow Centre) was opened to house
the administration and a youth centre. The elderly also attend for social
activities and English classes are held there too.
Herman was inducted as Chief Minister on 29 September 1959 and during his
period of service the Sunday school attendance peaked with 160 enrolments.
On 27 March 1963 Rabbi Ronald Lubofsky was inducted. He retired in April
1988. During his time at St Kilda Synagogue he introduced changes in the
pronunciation of Hebrew and re-introduced the all-male choir. He also
founded the Jewish Museum of Australia. On 20 November 1984 the
refurbished centre in the Samuel Myers Hall was named in honour of Adele
Southwick. Rabbi Philip Heilbrunn was inducted as Chief Minister in May
1988, the fifth in the congregation’s history, and is the current
incumbent in 2002. Born and educated in South Africa, he and his family
emigrated to Australia in 1979. Blessed with a beautiful tenor voice, he
regularly appears in concerts and the synagogue’s Chazanut (religious
singing) Concerts. He is one of Australia’s most senior and respected
Rabbinic leaders and spokesmen.
In 1998 the renovated Danglow Centre offices were opened. The synagogue
was listed on the Historic Buildings Register on 1 January 2001.
War II many Eastern European refugees came to Australia and many settled
in St Kilda. The St Kilda Synagogue became the place of worship for many
of these newcomers. It is considered a modern Orthodox Congregation
although some of the well-loved German or Anglo-Orthodox traditions are
still observed, such as choral services and the custom of wardens wearing
top hats and tails.
School was established in 1872. In 1874 it was advertised that there were
to be two classes with a maximum of twenty-five children in each. New
schoolrooms were built in the grounds of the synagogue in 1896. In recent
times the congregation has supported the Jewish Day School concept.