Etz Chayim Progressive Synagogue (originally
called the Southern Liberal Congregation) was founded in 1951 and was an integral part of TBI (Temple Beth
Israel). The congregation grew from a need to educate Jewish children living in the area who were at the
time without religious instruction. With agreement from families in the area, and TBI's approval, Cantor
Schwarz was engaged to teach at the home of Mr Justice & Mrs S Strauss in Murrumbeena. One of the first
teachers was Mr John Levi, later to become Rabbi Levi. The little religious school grew very quickly as
did the interest of the parents to start meeting on a regular basis.
Dates of Interest
- May 1952 - families held their first annual election.
- May 15th 1953 - first religious service conducted by Rabbi Sanger in the Murrumbeena Bowling Club
Hall. “The Group" started looking for land with a view to building a synagogue. The TBI Board unanimously
approved a motion that the finance committee be empowered to make arrangements regarding the acquisition
of land and a proposed building".
- 1958 - an old weatherboard house in Lillimur Road, Ormond was purchased.
- March 21st 1958 – a Shabbat service saw the dedication of the new Temple. From then on, a Succah was
built there every year and Shabbat eve services were held on the first and third Friday of each
- 1959 - SLC's first Barmitzvah, conducted by student Rabbi John Levi, and the first female call-up.
- 20th March 1959 - the first anniversary of the acquisition and occupation of the Ormond premises.
- May 1962 – announcement that a block of land had been purchased at 549 Centre Road, Bentleigh and a
census showed that the Congregation wished to hold its own High Holiday services in this district. Rabbi
Sanger, Rabbi Levi and Rev Schwarz conducted the services.
- December 1964 - Lillimur Rd premises were sold and services conducted at the Ormond Special School
until the completion new communal building.
- 20th August 1964 - Rabbi Stuart Lasher inducted, served for the next 3 years.
- 28th November 1964 - foundation stone of the new building laid by Rabbi Levi.
- April 1965 - new building completed
- Thursday 19 May - a large congregation filled the sanctuary and the communal hall and included
representatives from many churches and civic and communal dignitaries. Service conducted by Rabbi John
Levi, Rabbi Stuart Lasher and the Rev Eric Cahn, with Cantor Mr Stanley Berkhoff and Mr Joe Stupel as
organist and a choir.
- Friday 29 May 1965 - first Erev Shabbat service was held in our new building.
- 21 May 1965 - a special Youth and Children’s service was held. Regular Sabbath morning services were
introduced at Bentleigh.
- May 1966 - self administration granted to our Congregation and a kindergarten was opened and commenced
- May 1968 - Rev Claude Schwarz, recently returned from Temple Emanuel, North Shore, was appointed a
minister of our Congregation.
- 11 July 1976 – The congregation was elevated to be an equal with TBI and LBC – thus establishing the
Victorian Union for Progressive Judaism (now PJV).
- February 1980 - Rev Schwarz resigned and formed a new congregation.
- 1981 – appointment of Rabbi Harold Vallins.
- December 1988 – A Mission statement for the synagogue was created by some of the Board members: We
are an established family based Jewish Congregation providing a friendly, warm, close-knit atmosphere.
Our synagogue shares in the observance of life-cycle events, Jewish education, social and cultural
activities while recognising the Congregation’s commitment to the greater Jewish general community. As a
Progressive Jewish Congregation, we aim to instil a living Jewish identity in our congregants and their
- August 1991 – Rabbi Harold Vallins departs.
- 1991 – Rabbi Michelson, willingly offered by TBI, joins the Congregation on a part time basis. Rabbi Michelson instigates the drive for new synagogue seating and carpeting.
- 1995 – Rabbi Linda Joseph is appointed as the Congregation's rabbi. Rabbi Joseph was the first local born female rabbi to have her own congregation within Australia.
- 1995 -1999 – Rabbi Joseph sets up Congregational committees to help run the Congregation.
- 1999 – Rabbi Joseph departs for the USA.
- 2000 – Rabbi Aviva Kipen, the first Australian female to become a Rabbi, is appointed to lead the Congregation.
- 2003 – A new Torah is purchased.
- 2008 – Rabbi Kipen departs.
- 2010 – Appointment of Rabbi Gersh Lazarow, who is also the full-time Rabbi of the King David School.
- 2010 – Building renovations are carried out.
- 3 December 2010 – The Congregation is rededicated and renamed Etz Chayim Progressive Synagogue in a Chanukah rededication sevice.