Australia’s Unofficial Chief Rabbi Buried in Israel
Sydney, Australia – An American-born rabbi who has been hailed as “the greatest Australian Jewish leader of the past century” was buried July 11 on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner, who was sent to Australia as the special emissary of the Chabad-Lubavitch rebbe, died July 7 after a long illness. He was 83.
Israel’s former Ashkenazic chief rabbi, Yisrael Meir Lau, officiated at the ceremony in Jerusalem in front of hundreds of mourners, including Groner’s younger brother, Leib, who was the personal secretary of the Lubavitch rebbe for more than 40 years.
Yossi Aron, religious affairs editor of the Australian Jewish News and longtime student of Groner, told the Forward, “Rabbi Groner did more to develop the Orthodox community than any other rabbi. He put Chabad on the map in Australia.”
Isi Leibler, a former Australian Jewry president who now lives in Jerusalem, said, “History will record that Rabbi Yitzchok Groner was beyond a doubt the greatest Australian Jewish leader of the past century.”
Born in New York in 1925, Groner was first sent on a pilot tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1947. He returned Down Under in 1953, and several years later, in 1958, the Lubavitch rebbe asked him to be his emissary there for a few years. Groner stayed for 50 years, building a thriving Lubavitch community of thousands as well as a network of educational and religious institutions, including two Jewish schools; a men’s kollel; a women’s seminary, and a clutch of Chabad houses around Melbourne, three of which are run by his sons or sons-in-law.
In a rare interview in 2004, Groner said: “My objective is to make my boys and girls a mensch. I want that they should be decent, moral, learned, observant young men and women, a credit to the community where they will live.”
At Groner’s 80th birthday party, which raised $1 million for Chabad, then-prime minister John Howard said he had the “enviable reputation as the people’s rabbi.”
On Wednesday, July 9, more than 1,500 mourners came to the memorial service, which was held at the Yeshiva Centre in Melbourne and streamed live on the Internet. Groner’s body was then flown to Israel for burial alongside his parents.
Succeeding Groner as Lubavitch chief will be Rabbi Zvi Telsner, who is married to one of Groner’s daughters.