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excerpts from Suzanne Rutland’s case study of the Jewish school, Moriah War Memorial College

Rutland, S. ‘Moriah College: History and Heritage’, paper presented at the History in Heritage Works Conference, 15 Sept 1999

excerpt one

The leading, Jewish day school in Sydney today is Moriah War Memorial College, a school of some 1500 students. Now situated at the Queens' Park campus near Bondi Junction, the school was located for 40 years of its 57 year history at its Bellevue Hill site on the block surrounded by Victoria Road, March, Vivian and Rosslyn Streets. The school began its history on that site in June 1952 with the purchase of the old Mark Foy family home, built in 1893, and ended its association with the site when it was auctioned in November 1993. Since 1993, any material evidence of a hundred years of heritage and history has been destroyed under the bulldozer to make way for the new family mansions which have been erected on that site.

The founder of Moriah College was Abraham Rabinovitch whose dedication and vision led to the development of the school and purchase and rebuilding of the Mark Foy property. Rabinovitch was born in Russia in 1889. Before World War I he left Russia and settled in Brisbane, having arrived via Harbin in China and Japan. His wife, Chaya, joined him and in the early years he struggled to make a living, first working as a ship's painter with fellow newcomer Isaac Smith, and then as a hawker. During the week he would leave his wife alone as he set off to sell his wares, coming back only for the Sabbath while she added to the family's income working as a dressmaker. Chaya Rabinovitch had a number of pregnancies all of which ended in miscarriages so the couple remained childless. After World War I they decided to move to Sydney where Rabinovitch opened an army disposal store which proved to be very successful. In addition, he had an excellent eye for property and was able to build a significant fortune through his insightful purchase and development of real estate.

As Rabinovitch and his wife were childless, he devoted his energies to activities within the Jewish community. He became involved with Central Synagogue, serving as the synagogue's honorary treasurer in the 1930s. He was very concerned with issues of Jewish education. During the war years he befriended Rabbi Elchanan Blumenthal, the first Dunera internee to be released from the internment camp at Hay. Blumenthal arrived in Sydney in 1942 and was dismayed by the lack of orthodox observance in Sydney Jewry, including the fact that there was no mikvah, ritual bath, no Talmud Torah, school, and that the Central Synagogue had a mixed choir which was against orthodox practice. With the financial support of Rabinovitch, the first mikvah was built in Sydney at 117 Glenayr Avenue Bondi. Blumenthal also became the first principal of the North Bondi Jewish Day school and Kindergarten established in April 1942. Rabinovitch joined the day school's committee in May 1942 and thanks to his generosity a property was purchased for the new school next door to the mikvah at 115 Glenayr Avenue in June 1942. Some changes were made to the property and it was opened as a school and kindergarten in August 1942. This site is still being used by the Moriah kindergarten today. In 1943 Rabinovitch was elected president of the school, a position he retained until his death in July 1964.

By 1945 Rabinovitch believed that the site at 117 Glenayr Avenue was too small and he bought a new property at 109 Glenayr Avenue. This was an empty block and plans were developed to build a new school on the site, today occupied by a hotel. At the same time the New South Wales Board of Jewish Education decided to build its own school so that two rival Jewish day school schemes were competing for limited community funds.

In 1935 Rabinovitch moved from his Bondi home to a large house at Number 5 Vivian Street, Bellevue Hill. He had a vision for his school, which he believed should be housed on a campus similar to Scotts College or Cranbrook, both situated in Victoria Road, Bellevue Hill. When he learnt that the Mark Foy family home was for sale he made an offer and was successful in purchasing the property for the school at the cost of 30,500 pounds. The property, which spanned the area from 112 Victoria Road to 17 Vivian Street, was set in one and a half acres of grounds. It had 14 rooms and was considered 'ideally suited for the college and day school, being in close proximity to existing well known colleges'.

excerpt two

The house was built on the block bounded by March, Victoria, Rosslyn and Balfour Streets – the name Balfour being changed to Vivian later, perhaps because of confusion with Balfour Road in Rose Bay which was in very close proximity. This block remained undivided until 1912 when the first sub-division was advertised as part of 'the Lawns Estate' of the 'Mark Foy's Estate' on 27 January 1912. A total of 27 blocks of land on either side of Victoria Road were put up for sale on that day with H.W. Horning & Co as the auctioneers. The properties were described as being only five minutes from the tram terminus. The auctioneers advertised that:

Every site in this magnificent estate comprises the cream of the exclusive sites of this beautiful suburb with an outlook which thrills the onlooker with delight and amazement at the vast panorama of Ocean and Harbour Views.

A second subdivision was advertised for the property on 22 October 1921. This auction put up for sale twelve blocks, bounded by Victoria, March, Vivian and Rosslyn Streets, together with the residence Milford Hall which had been part of Eumemmering Estate.

It was the remaining property which was purchased in June 1952 by Rabinovitch 'for Moriah College after Foy's death. The school's board carried out a series of renovations which cost 7000 pounds and the new school was opened in January 1953 with some 57 children attending in its first year. Moriah News published in December 1953 described the school in this fashion:

The daylight classrooms of the College equal the best anywhere. The classroom is well above standard. A lovely assembly hall has been fitted out for the use of the pupils and the Parents & Citizens' Association have held many pleasant social functions within its precincts. A kosher kitchen has been installed and many other desirable amenities.

Until 1960 the school was contained in the original house. On the Vivian Street side of the property there were stables with a driveway down the side. The stables had a room which was used as a Board Room, part of the stables were converted into a flat for the groundsman-caretaker who lived on the site, and the rest of the stables was used for storage. The Moriah News claimed that the groundsman had 'made the grounds among the show pieces of Sydney', and the property certainly did contain large playing areas for the children as can be seen in the photos of the time.

By 1959 it was felt that it was necessary to expand the building to provide additional classrooms for the high school which was to be opened in 1960 and a new building project was begun on the Vivian Street side of the property. The stables were demolished and the new building, designed by Aaron Bolot was erected and officially opened in 1960 by Dr Herbert Vere Evatt. From the Victoria Road side of the property it looked exactly the same with the old Mark Foy home almost untouched, but from the Vivian Street side it looked like a modern school property, as can be seen in photos of the school taken in 1962.

In 1963 further building plans were decided on which included the demolition of the Mark Foy home and the building of a new double storey classroom black on the site of the old home. This time Rabinovitch asked architect Cyril Smith, whose father he had worked with in Brisbane, to design the new building. Smith experienced no problems gaining Woollahra Council permission to demolish the Mark Foy home. As he commented when reflecting on the project:

My brief was to demolish the building and get on with the project, unlike today when one has to do heritage studies. From an heritage point of view, all the properties in Bellevue Hill would have had a heritage value, but during the building boom of the 1960s a lot of these places were demolished without a thought to heritage.

So the building project went ahead with Crossroads Constructions and was completed in 1966.

excerpt three

ln 1967 the second Jewish day school in Sydney, King David School, which had been founded under the auspices of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies in 1960 as a result of conflicts between the Board and Rabinovitch, amalgamated with Moriah College. The infants' school established at the newly purchased site in Dover Road, Rose Bay, previously a Catholic primary school, was called King David Preparatory School (KDPS). The president of King David, John Einfeld became a vice-president of Moriah and assumed the presidency following Redelman's retirement in 1970. Under Einfeld's leadership a new building project was undertaken for an expanded library and new science laboratory block. The foundation stone for this new block facing the Vivian Street side of the property was laid in February 1973.

In the years after 1975 the school experienced rapid expansion, with its students numbers growing from 500 to 800. The new president, Sam Fisher, believed that further expansion was imperative and in the meantime additional properties on the Bellevue Hill site had been acquired by the school. A building appeal was conducted in 1978 and plans drawn up for the new building project. But, there was a sense of concern that the Bellevue Hill site would not prove large enough for the expanding Moriah High School. In the early 1980s the government decided to amalgamate Dover Heights' Boy School with the Girls' School and sell the campus in Napier Street Dover Heights. Moriah made an offer for the Dover Heights campus which the then premier of New South Wales, Neville Wran accepted. But, the matter did not rest there. The Teachers' Federation was opposed to a government school being bought by a private school and mounted a campaign of strikes and pickets.

In the end, Wran bowed to this pressure and offered Sam Fisher the site of the old Eastern Suburbs Hospital in Queens' Park instead. This offer was accepted by the school, an architectural competition was held for a design for the new high school and the new building proceeded. However, the construction experienced problems, with one of the architects withdrawing, the construction companies not completing on time and other major problems. The school board, by this time under the leadership of Mr Robert Goot, was faced with escalating costs. Mr Goot finally decided that the only possible solution was to build a new primary school as well on the Queens' Park campus and to auction the whole Bellevue Hill property in order to finance the cost of the new school. This decision was approved by the school board and with the building program at Queens' Park nearing completion by the end of 1993 the Bellevue Hill site was put up for auction. A total on 13 blocks were auctioned in November 1993, raising over twelve million dollars for the school.

Following the sale of the properties the bulldozers moved in to demolish the school to make way for the new private mansions so that as one drives past the block surrounded by Victoria, March, Vivian and Rosslyn Streets there is no material evidence of a hundred years of history which encompassed the historic family home of Mark Foy and the campus of Moriah College. The only reminder of that history is what has been named as the Rabinovitch Walk at the new Queens' Park campus, where all the foundation stones, as well as the lists of all the major donors and benefactors, have been affixed to the brick wall which is part of the new primary school. At least those plaques still remain to tell the story of an interesting part of Sydney's material history relating to the development of a school which has come to play a significant role as a leading educational institution which seeks to preserve the Jewish heritage in Australia.


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