“THE Great Synagogue is not only firmly in my heart, it is in my blood.”
Upon assuming the role of presidency, David Lewis reflected on his family’s long-standing connection to The Great Synagogue.
Going back five generations (his daughters, Charlotte and Juliet, are sixth-generation members), Lewis is the fifth member of his family to become president.
“My ghosts are all in there and that is really powerful … So few people in the world can say this has been my shule for five generations,” said Lewis.
His great-great-grandmother, Rebecca Selig, was a founding member of The Great in 1878, but his family predates The Great, with members having formed part of the York and Bridge Street communities from the early 1850s.
Always fascinated by genealogy, the quote, “You have to know where you came from to know where you are going,” has become a guiding light.
For Lewis, that maxim means focusing on the financial situation of The Great, enhancing the involvement of women within the confines of halachah, and increasing cooperation between the synagogues.
“My principle objective over the next few years as president is the financial position of the shule and placing it in a stronger position,” he said.
Lewis’s wife, Caroline, previously served as vice-president and Lewis believes they may be the first husband-and-wife pair to have both served, at different times, as president and vice-president of the synagogue.
Praising the contribution of former president Justice Stephen Rothman and his executive, Lewis said, “We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude … I inherit their amazing work and we are in a really good space now to take it to the next level.”
Reflecting on his presidential term, Rothman commented, “The 140th anniversary [of The Great] was an extremely interesting and enjoyable time … What was more important from a communal point of view was that the shule has become even more inclusive than it was some years ago.
“We’ve seen an increased role within Orthodoxy of women even in a ceremonial sense and we have had functions together with the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies for the LGBTIQ+ community and the Aboriginal community and indeed other interfaith communities.”
He said the commemoration held for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in 2018 was particularly memorable.
“It was an honour to be able to conduct that,” said Rothman. “Even though there were some quarters that were less than happy about the inclusion of the Progressive movement in that function, it was serving within the bounds of Orthodoxy and built community unity.”
The Great Synagogue recently dedicated a High Holy Day Sefer Torah mantle in honour of Rothman’s presidency.