Farewell to the Lewis Family

The article below was written as a farewell to the Lewis family. An abridged version of this article was published in last weeks Maccabean. Here is the full item

THE LEWIS FAMILY TO RETURN TO ISRAEL

When the contribution of the Lewis family to the Jewish community of Perth is considered, much may be recorded. However a significant amount will remain unrecorded although enormously appreciated by their friends and those who sought advice. Their generosity was displayed in the form of small gestures and dignified assistance to those in need. Matters of halachic research were analysed with great depth and insight. In providing hospitality, they were often defacto parents to local and visiting youth, especially from Israel and were available at a moments notice to help whenever th needed. Their monumental ability to connect individually and communally with so many people will serve as their true legacy.

A new era

By the turn of the century, Dianella Shule had become well established , defining its priorities as learning for all ages throughout the community. Two successful Kollel programmes had confirmed the need and benefit from concentrated learning. The imperative was therefore to provide a degree of permanence to textual based modern Jewish learning within the Perth Jewish community. This could not be achieved within the structure of the Shule at that time.

Members of the Shule faced a challenging decision. A virtual unanimous vote supported the appointment of a rabbi whose primary role would be the initiation of concentrated learning programmes and advising on halachic matters. It was extremely fortunate for Perth that at that time in mid 2000, Rabbi Lewis was between appointments, having just returned from a 2 year shlichut in the Ukraine. Following a meeting with Marcel and Lynne Goodman in Yerushalayim and communications with Rabbi Solomon, Rabbi Lewis accepted the position at Dianella Shule, initially for 2 to 3 years,

The family arrived for Succot in 2000, without the benefit of a pilot visit. It was a softly spoken young Rabbi who arrived to a minyan cramped in a small shule that was bursting at the seams. Spoken in broken English, his first drasha set a theme that has not wavered during his tenure, that a love for the land of Israel and the importance of Israel as the home for Jewish people is central to Jewish identity today.

Connecting with the Community

There are many groups within the community who have benefited from Rabbi and Rebbitzen Lewis. The members of Dianella Shule have been well served. Rabbi Lewis has gone to extraordinary lenghts to deal with vital matters of halacha in a diverse range of areas to ensure his advice and determinations are appropriate to the conditions and circumstances of Jewish life in Perth. Not a day goes by where Rabbi Lewis cannot be found delivering a number of Shiurim, from early in the morning to late at night.

The women of Perth have been benefactors of the Women’s Beit Midrash, a learning program administrated by Rebbitzen Noa Lewis on Tuesday mornings. The impetus created by this activity has sustained a big culture change within local Jewish learning, with many further initiatives stemming from this regular and established program.

So too, the Israeli community in Perth, growing in size and stature have been able to benefit from the Lewis family. Long and short term tourists, and Israeli families living in Perth have been hosted by the Lewis family, including many who have limited connection to religious identity and observance. Rabbi Lewis has been able to deliver drashot in Hebrew to Bar Mitzvah boys, arrange smachot for families with no community connections, and particularly over Chagim be able to encourage Israeli visitors to Shule.

However more than any other group, it is the youth who have been the focus and benefactors of the Lewis family. Within the classroom at Carmel School, Yeshiva Katana and Cheder, through camps and Shabbatonim, at community events, and within the open walls of their home, an endless stream of young people have surrounded Rabbi Eli and Noa for both formal and informal learning. In particular the advanced students who learn Chumash and Talmud with Rabbi Lewis have been able develop both their knowledge and independence in learning to the standard that enables them to enter Israeli Yeshivot with impressive credentials.

Building the future

One of the hallmarks of a modern Jewish community is the presence of an Eruv to enable observant families to carry items, and importantly transport children during Shabbat. The laws pertaining to the Eruv can be one of the most complex areas of halachah, with many practical matters to overcome. Prior to the establishment of the Eruv, Rabbi Lewis extensively researched the communities requirements, and with the aid of civil authorities, Rabbinic colleagues, and volunteers, was able to deliver an Eruv, described by the registrar of the Sydney Beit Din as “one of the most kosher eruvin I have seen”. This accomplishment came in a fraction of the time that it takes most communities (the Perth Eruv was operational before London which had planned for decades), and at minimal cost. With similar investment of much time and effort, the Eruv has been expertly maintained.

By far the most significant change in the religious life of the Perth Jewish community since the arrival of Rabbi Lewis has been the establishment of the Torah MiTzion Perth Yeshivah. For the inaugeral year of this Yeshivah Rabbi Lewis has fulfilled the duty of Rosh Kollel, a prestigious role in any community setting. From the laws of Shecitah (animal slaughter) to demonstrating his skills as a sofer (scribe), Rabbi Lewis has led a group of Rabbinic students in their daily study, and mentored their interaction as they in turn tutor dozens of community members each day.

Inspiring and leading

It is the unassuming nature of Rabbi Lewis, and the unrelenting dedication of his wife, that have been features of their time in Perth. All of those who come into connection with Rabbi Eli Lewis know him to be modest and the hallmark of humility. He is not the type of Rabbi who will make his audience tremble with fire and brimstone, and if his orations deviate from the teaching of halacha to the delivery of mussar (guidance on conduct and ethics), the importance and seriousness of his message is well heeded by his congregants. So too, if Noa Lewis puts out a call to action, the merits of her approach are the matter of immediate response.

Leading by example is the strongest character trait of this family. Rabbi Lewis is a true Ben Torah – one who not only shares his vast knowledge and insight, but one who sets high standards that he will be the first to maintain. This is all accomplished without compromise, but also without lacking tolerance or understanding about the standards and customs of others. Within his kehillah, and within the diverse spectrum of visitors (from Chassidic Rebbes to Diaspora academics), he has accommodated a multidude of traditions, standards, and nusachim (liturgy) under his leadership, demonstrating respect and understanding in each instance.

Sharing Rabbinic responsbilities with Rabbi Marcus Solmon, it would be insufficient to simply record that these two Rabbis have dynamically combined to compliment each others strenghts over the past seven years. It may also be too controversial to suggest that each has influenced the other in the respective areas of Zionist and Chassidic philosophy. But it can be mentioned that their collective strengths, dedication and expertise have delivered a very unique blend of Jewish identity and observance which has strenghed the Perth Jewish community in a way that could not have been forseen when the decision to appoint him was made.

Finally, it is the reserved personal and social side of Rabbi Lewis, his wife and children which has also endeared them to so many. The Lewis family have made many friends, many of whom they share hiking and camping, BBQ’s and picnics. Their acculturation as Australian Citizens was perhaps best demonstrated on a recent trip to Israel, where Rabbi Lewis visited the Kotel wearing his Akurbra hat. On his way into the plaza he was stopped by a Chabadnik who politely asked if he was Jewish, and whether he wanted to put tefillin on.

Returning Home

We are approaching the Schmittah year, the 7 year cycle in the Jewish calendar. It is coincidental but significant that the Lewis family shlichut corresponded to one of the dynamics of Torah life.After seven very productive years, they depart Perth with a tremendous legacy. The whole family can be well satisfied with their accomplishments here. We trust they stay well connected to Perth. Their pioneering efforts provide a wonderful basis for further growth and another era under their appointed successors Rabbi Eitan and Rebbitzen Tatsie Cahn.

It will be of especially great satisfaction for Rabbi Eli and Noa Lewis to return to Israel at this time, due to the added signifance of this coming Shmittah cycle. The laws of Shmittah are technically only biblically mandated once the majority of Jewish people are living in the land of Israel. In the very near future this will become a statistical reality for the first time since the destruction of the first Temple over 2,500 years ago. Through our community the Lewis family will have made a small but significant contribution to this great historical change. We are deeply indebted to them, and look forward to seeing them in the future, both at home in Israel, and at their home away from home in Perth.

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