When a young Anne Fromer met Samuel Symonds, Shabbat services at the East Melbourne shule still pledged allegiance to King George V. For the Fromers, the Symons and other Jewish residents of inner Melbourne, East Melbourne shule was an important part of the fabric of life. Both Anne and Sam’s parents had vowed their devotion to one another under the chuppa at the ‘new’ Albert Street shule, after all.
Mrs. Symons grew up in Abbotsford where her father worked in the shoe trade and her mother looked after nine children, following a stint running a fruit shop. “We would walk to shule from Abbotsford on shabbat and holidays. It was a lovely warm atmosphere. We’d grown up together and knew everyone.
There was competition among the women on holidays, as they tried to outdo each other with hats and so forth,” Mrs. Symons said. Once the Rabbi sent a message upstairs for the ladies to remove the furs they had slung over the railing of the balcony as their presence was seen as inappropriate, Mrs. Symons recalls. Life then had its trials. “My brother Harry was killed in the First World War and my mother died two months later, at the end of 1917)’ Mrs. Symons said, but the shule and the community provided a steady support for life in both good times and bad for the Symons over more than a century.
Then, as now, the shule reached out into the community, and daughters of then minister Rev. Jacob Lenzer taught the young Anne Fromer Hebrew and Judaism at Abbotsford Primary School. Her married years were spent in Kew but she still attended at East Melbourne synagogue regularly.
My memories of this Congregation go back more than 50 years, to when I would visit with my father for the high holydays. These are my earliest memories of my connection to my Jewish roots.
Even in those days, the Synagogue felt musty, full of ancient tradition and awe. I can still recall the smell of woollen suits and the silky tallith tickling my youthful cheeks. The foreign babble (to me) of people at prayer, the rocking back and forth of the men, the friendly greetings and the sense of companionship.
Our family’s connection to East Melbourne is very strong. My father migrated from England in the earliest part of the 2Oth Century, and my mother arrived in 1935, fleeing Hitler. Each family lived at different ends of Drummond Street, but the East Melbourne Hebrew Congregation was a centre of their worlds.
In 1936, my parents, Esther and Morry Bardas were married in Albert Street, and so were my in-laws, Victor and Loti Smorgon
The earliest members of the Shule came from old Europe– Poland, Russia and the Ukraine. They came with hope, seeking freedom. They were looking for a new life of opportunity, as far as they could from the persecution and pogroms of eastern Europee
At East Melbourne Synagogue it was terrific, people were behaving like they did in the villages of Russia and it was more or less a communal club rather than a praying house. There was no decorum, there was no order and from to time the Rabbis would clap the table for silence and particularly when the real prayers came on. Where in the Anglo Saxon Jewish community it was more like a church, nobody was allowed to speak and the Rabbis were very firm about that. Really today its still the same. In some synagogues like East Melbourne you have that feeling of being at home, and then you go to the other synagogues, and its very different and very quiet
Those who prayed in the Carlton synagogue during the week and on Sabbath would move to the East Melbourne synagogue for the festivals and particularly for the high holy days.., the Jews of Carlton would go to East Melbourne because was as it were, the .festive synagogue. And you couldn’t get in on a festival-the place was jammed packed.