Beit Knesset Shalom Synagogue Brisbane: A brief history

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 in 1978.

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 Knesset Shalom Synagogue Brisbane, 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. 

Torah Scrolls

One of the Torah Scrolls housed at Beit Knesset Shalom Synagogue Brisbane, has travelled a long way from it's original home. It was taken from the town of Loštice (pronounced LOSH-tea-tseh), about 140 miles east of Prague, in Moravia, in the eastern region of the Czech Republic. For more information go to  www.memorialscrollstrust.org and read more on the Torah Scrolls saved from destruction during the German occupation. Also see certificate below which is hung on the wall in the entrance to the Synagogue.

Coins

Terry Pekarek Coin Collection

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.

Coins Info

Windows

Stained Glass WindowsRight window:
BKS celebrated it's 25th anniversary in 1998 and to commemorate the event local artist and congregantGael Levywas 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.

Left window:
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 theMiszkowski familyto celebrate Sam and Liisa's 25th wedding anniversary.