Beit Or v'Shalom Synagogue Brisbane: A brief history of origin
An unusual donation and the insightful thinking of a small group of Brisbane Jewry who wanted a shul outside of orthodoxy -- with equal rights for women -- gave birth to Queensland's first reform shul, Temple Shalom, in 1978. This congregation was later renamed as Beit Knesset Shalom Synagogue Brisbane Inc.
The shul was -- 'miraculously' -- purchased without incurring any debt.
At a Special General Meeting in December 1977 the congregation decided to buy the dwelling and property now known as Beit Or v'Shalom Inc, at 13 Koolatah Street, Carina (then postal code Camp Hill) — for $25,000.
The problem was how to raise the money. The obvious way was to send the hat around and allow congregants to make their donations. The only problem with that, as was seen by the shul's forward-thinking and enthusiastic founding members, was that it could take years with members slowly chipping in their hard-earned pennies and cents.
Instead of waiting, a core group suggested that five members -- who could afford it -- each put in $5000 (fairly substantial amounts in those days) to buy the property outright and avoid an overdraft.
Four hands went up, including the late Bernie Jacks at whose house the first ever meeting of Brisbane's reform Jewry was held in April 1972, and Ben Shohet, now in his eighties and still a strong supporter of the shul.
A fifth hand was needed, and it came in a most unusual and generous way. Terry Pekarek, formally of Czechoslovakia (see separate story on this site), who was the only survivor in her family of the Nazi concentration camps, found a number of gold coins that had been hidden by her father during the War. She brought these with her to Australia, and sold the coins to make up the full amount for the purchase.
The acquisition of the shul was finalised in early 1978, and the first service was Purim, on March 17. The chief lay reader was Harry Silver. A few months later, on August 28, a special Dedication Service was held with Rabbi Dr R Brasch, Rabbi Richard 'Dickie' Lampert, Rabbi Hillel Avidan and Reverend Cantor Michael Deutsch involved.
The congregation had come a long way -- in a short time -- from that first Shabbat Service at the home of Bernie Jacks and his wife, Joan in early 1972. Even that first meeting was well represented in an official capacity with Rabbi Brasch from Temple Emanuel, Woollahra, Dr V Bear, the Australia-New Zealand Union of Reform Jewry President and ANZURJ vice-president, Mr L Rose taking part.
From that first meeting, events moved fast. The first General Meeting was held in May -- remarkably, at the John Oxley Motel, Wickham Terrace. The name Temple Shalom was adopted and Mr George Frey, President of the Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies, made an official invitation to the congregation for affiliation to the state's overarching Jewish organisation.
Fast forward to 2007. Some members of the congregation wanted a more "conservative" feel, while others preferred to retain the "progressive" approach to Judaism. This led to the creation of Brisbane Progressive Jewish Congregation as a separate entity. Over the next decade it became clear that the separation had been a mistake. In mid-2017 the two congregations reunited to form Beit Or v'Shalom, and Brisbane's non-orthodox Jewish community once again found expression in a single, strong voice.
Brisbane’s two major non-orthodox communities have reunited
Brisbane’s non-orthodox Jewish communities merge to become Beit Or v’Shalom
Beit Knesset Shalom and Brisbane Progressive Jewish Congregation (Beit Or) officially joined hands after putting a merger agreement to their two congregations in late August. The new congregation is known as Beit Or v’Shalom, and is based at the original Progressive shul (Temple Shalom) in Koolatah Street, Carina (previously Camp Hill).
Jason Steinberg, president of the Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies, the roof body of Queensland Jewry, said he was delighted to hear the two congregations had merged. “The efforts shown by the two congregations and their leadership to merge is a great outcome for our relatively small Jewish community in Brisbane,” he said. “The new merged progressive congregation demonstrates the importance of having a harmonious community with shared values.”
Beit Or president Hila Jacobi, who will serve as president of the reunified congregation until a new board is elected mid-2018, said, “The reunification has come about after years of hard work. The will of the two congregations is there and the time is right. We look forward to a strong, inclusive and growing centre of Progressive Jewish learning and worship.” BKS president Matt Goldman, who recently made Aliyah to Israel, and who with Ms Jacobi was instrumental in bringing about the reunification, said, “The merger will create a strong progressive community centre in Brisbane which will further strengthen the wider Brisbane Jewish community. We can now look forward to a lively, united and growing congregation.”
The split came about nearly 10 years ago because of ideological differences. Said Union of Progressive Judaism president Roger Mendelson, “The UPJ is delighted that after 10 difficult years, Beit Or and Beit Knesset Shalom have agreed to merge. This is wonderful news for the Jewish community in Brisbane, including the Orthodox, as it will strengthen the whole community.” He said the UPJ “especially acknowledges the wisdom and drive shown by both boards and their presidents.”
Brisbane is on of many vibrant centres of Jewish life in the UPJ region, which covers Australia, NZ and Asia. The cheder has been meeting at the Carina shul grounds since May 2017, with around 30 children involved. In September 2017 final approval for the merger was granted by the Queensland Office of Fair Trading.
The coins pictured here once belonged to the Father of Terry Pekarek, a foundation member of Temple Shalom. Terry and her family lived in Czechoslovakia before World War II. They were all deported by the Nazis to concentration camps; only Terry and her husband survived.
After the war, Terry returned and found these 18 gold coins which had been hidden and which had been part of her Father’s valuable collection. Terry and her husband Rudi emigrated to Australia and eventually Rudi was appointed Chief Conductor of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Terry generously donated the coins towards the cost of the purchase of this building in Koolatah Street.
Dedicated to the memory of Terry Pekarek’s Family.
In 1998 BKS celebrated it's 25th anniversary and to commemorate the event local artist and congregant Gael Levy was commissioned to design a stained glass window. Gael's design incorporates a dove, the universal symbol for our name shalom, together with the Hebrew lettering for shalom and Austro-Hungarian symbols taken from a collection of antique coins donated towards the purchase of the synagogue by the late Terry Pekarek Z"L. The cost of the window was donated byBen Shohet.
The left hand window was commissioned in 2003 on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the congregation. Gael's design for this window features a shofar based on the midrash citing Psalm 89:15, "Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound", and continues the menorah theme from the original commission. The costs were donated by the Miszkowski familyto celebrate Sam and Liisa's 25th wedding anniversary.