Newcastle has its first rabbi in more than 60 years and Yossi Rodal is already bringing the city's Jewish community together.
Newcastle Hebrew Congregation, which is 115 years old and one of Australia's most historic, had been operating on "bare bones" since the last rabbi departed in the 1960s and the number of members started to dwindle.
"When the synagogue was built 93 years ago, there was about 200 members," Rabbi Rodal said. "But everyone moved to Sydney between the '40s and '60s and when I arrived there was about 40 members."
Rabbi Rodal moved to Newcastle a few months ago after visiting the area with his "synagogue on wheels", which he and his wife Malki took to areas outside of Sydney and Melbourne to connect with the regional Jewish community.
"Our kids are a bit older now so we decided to settle here," he said. "A physical synagogue was a big thing for us, and the proximity to Sydney. I've been here about 20 times in six years and got to know the community very well."
Rabbi Rodal said while the congregation was only small, he believed there were hundreds of Jews in the Hunter. He hopes that new initiatives and events, including this weekend's Jewish New Year, Yom Kippur next weekend and the congregation's teens club, help to bring the community together even more.
"There are lots of Jews on different levels of affiliation," he said. "I've met with over 150 Jewish people in the area. Whether or not they want to be involved in a synagogue or social setting. I want them to feel a part of the community. To know there's a community there and they feel included."
Already Rabbi Rodal's presence has had an impact. Membership has grown and synagogue president Max Lenzer said the appointment had the potential to attract more people.
"It's a big thing for us to have a rabbi in town," Dr Lenzer said. "It's been very good. You don't need a rabbi to perform services but it may have held some people back. It certainly makes a difference to our community."
Judaism is undoubtedly a passion for Rabbi Rodal, who is originally from the United States, where he studied to become a rabbi. He also attended yeshiva in France before moving to Melbourne.
It was in Melbourne that Yossi and Malki ran Chabad of Rural and Regional Australia (RARA), to connect with Jewish people living away from major city centres.
The initiative was featured in a documentary, Outback Rabbis, which screened on SBS and internationally.
"The places were incredibly diverse," Rabbi Rodal said. "We were meeting with hundreds of different people, not only Jewish people either.
"It was challenging but satisfying. It was difficult sourcing Kosher food and it was an interesting experience with kids. There wasn't anywhere we wouldn't go."
Yossi and Malki now operate RARA's Chabad of the Hunter.
"We're bringing Judaism to the people," he said. "A lot of people see it as a chore but we're trying to bring out the beauty of it."
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