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.

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