Rabbi Philip Heilbrunn OAM, BA LLB, our Emeritus Chief Minister, was invited to become the spiritual leader of our Congregation in 1988 upon the retirement, of Rabbi Ronald Lubofsky AM. Building on the foundations laid by his long-serving predecessors, Rabbi Heilbrunn brought his own talents and warm welcoming style to St Kilda Shule. He motivated our Ministers, Board, the Shule administration and all our members to focus on furthering St Kilda Synagogue’s reputation as an inclusive congregation where all Jews feel at home. He reached out to all without judging them or their level of observance and warmly offered them opportunities to enrich the Jewishness of their lives. He endeared himself to the entire community and his great empathy with people brought joy to the many Simchas celebrated at our Shule while his caring compassionate approach were a great source of comfort in times of suffering and sadness.
Born in South Africa, Rabbi Heilbrunn was educated at the King David Schools, Linksfield Johannesburg, the South African Rabbis Training College, where he received Smicha (Rabbinical ordination), and Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand where he graduated with a B.A. in Legal Studies, Sociology and Industrial Sociology and went on to complete an LLB. He served as a Rabbi and lecturer in Jewish Studies in the Jewish Students University Programme in South Africa for several years.
The Heilbrunns, Pnina and daughters Gita and Talya, emigrated to Australia and Sydney’s North Shore Synagogue in 1979. Their daughters Estee and Adina are “Aussies” having been born in Sydney and Adelaide respectively.
Rabbi Heilbrunn was for six years the Chief Minister of the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation where he achieved great distinction in reactivating South Australia’s Jewish Community. He successfully represented the Jewish community in the wider South Australian community at many levels.
Taking the lead from Rabbi and Pnina, the entire Heilbrunn extended family have been wholeheartedly involved in the life and activities of our Congregation.
Rabbi Heilbrunn is widely sought after as a speaker and lecturer on Jewish subjects and often writes and commentates for the media. Rabbi Heilbrunn completed a long and successful seven-year term as President of the Association of Rabbis of Australia and New Zealand and as the official spokesman for the Australian Rabbinate. Rabbi Heilbrunn continued the legacy of Rabbi Lubofsky AM of blessed memory as a pioneer in interfaith work and laid many of the foundations for the current successes in this area. He is a President of the Council of Christians and Jews of Victoria.
In Melbourne and the wider Victorian and Australian Jewish Community, Rabbi Heilbrunn stands out as one of our most senior and respected Rabbinic leaders and spokesmen. He was extremely active on the Rabbinical Council of Victoria for close to 24 years, served as Vice President to the late Rabbi Chaim Gutnick for over a decade and was honoured as the Council’s first Patron.
Rabbi Heilbrunn serves on many committees, especially in relation to Jewish education and communal affairs. His advice and counsel is widely sought by our members and throughout the Jewish community as well as the broader Australian community. When there was criticism of Jewish Organisations taking legal action against members of the Jewish Community, Rabbi Heilbrunn freely volunteered to personally and successfully to assist them with arbitration and other ADR solutions undertaking more than 100 cases. He has also assisted many organisations and individuals with expert evidence in court and to Government authorities.
Rabbi Heilbrunn is also an outstanding Chazan with an International reputation, a role which complements his Rabbinic accomplishments. Together with our Choir, Rabbi’s renditions created an unsurpassed atmosphere of beauty and inspiration in our services. Rabbi Heilbrunn’s Cantorial talents are widely sought and freely put at the disposal of the Jewish community. He regularly appears on the Concert stage or in our Synagogue’s celebrated Chazanut Concerts with other Chazanim, artists and choirs from around the world to share his beautiful tenor voice with his appreciative audiences. Together with the late Rabbi Lubofsky, Rabbi Heilbrunn co-founded the highly acclaimed Melbourne Jewish Male Voice Choir as its Principal Soloist and has been its President for a dozen years. Recently Rabbi produced a delightful twin set of recordings of many of his favourite renditions
In 2011 Rabbi Heilbrunn’s outstanding communal service was recognised both in the Victorian State and Federal Parliaments with major citations. He was honoured with an award in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June 2011 for services to St Kilda Synagogue and the Jewish Community.
Rabbi retired on 31st July 2011 and he and Pnina were honoured with a testimonial Luncheon in recognition of their devotion to St Kilda Synagogue. As Chief Minister Emeritus Rabbi Heilbrunn has expressed his desire to remain close to our Synagogue and his friendship, assistance, experience and counsel are always available to the Congregation and his friends – our members.