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Paula Abdul, Nefesh Shul and the Building of a Dream…writes Deb Meyer

Apr 9th, 2014

by Deb Meyer, J Wire

I’m writing this on a plane to Israel, reflecting on the recent interview I had with Ritchie and Nechama Dina Moss – the Rabbi and Rebbetzin of Nefesh shul in Bondi, from the quiet recess of their home, normally a buzzing hub filled with 7 children aged 10 and under, with another due any day. An apt metaphor, as life for this busy couple is soaring to great heights.

These are exciting times, as Nefesh kick starts their grand building campaign, with Paula Abdul, at the height of her career, making a one-off appearance on Wednesday April 30. This just happens to be the due date for their 8th child, so renewal and birth are very much at the forefront of this dynamic couple’s mind.

At Moriah College’s auditorium, the audience will be treated to a talk show style set up, with the Jewish born Abdul being interviewed along side the charismatic Rabbi Chaim Mentz – the Rabbi of Bel Air, California, (a.k.a ‘Rabbi to the Stars’), who Abdul claimed ‘saved her life’. With his own cable TV show in the States, Rabbi Mentz is coming to Sydney especially to help promote Paula’s inspiring story.

According to Rabbi Moss, this is a great opportunity for the broader community to hear Abdul speak about how she overcame many obstacles, rising above the superficiality of fame to find depth and meaning in life.  Born with a physical disability and having experienced multiple set backs, Abdul became a world-renowned dancer, singer and choreographer, to the likes of Michael Jackson. She is keen to share her personal message, which will no doubt reverberate across generations.

The Moss’s communal message has found a similarly broad intergenerational appeal. They took an old shul, built by Holocaust survivors, and transformed it into a young and vibrant community, where grandchildren of the original members are among those who have reconnected to their Jewish roots. Singles, couples and young families from all backgrounds have been attracted to Nefesh, and now the shul is literally bursting at the seams.

The broad appeal and popularity of Nefesh is, in no small part, due to Rabbi and Rebbetzin Moss personal philosophy: all people are welcome to ‘come as they are’, they should feel ‘totally comfortable and accepted, with no expectation of observance or pressure’, and where ‘it’s very easy going’ and ‘everyone is on their own journey.’

It’s no surprise then that Nefesh needs to expand.  The Mosses have big plans and dreams very much grounded in the desire to allow for growth into the future – a place their own grandchildren can enjoy – and enhance the many programs they offer, while retaining the intimate feel that Nefesh is renowned for.

Such plans include building a second floor to house an educational facility of 7 to 8 classrooms , which can open up to be a second shul space for high holyday services – accommodating up to 350 people on each floor, more than doubling the capacity of the current shul. There are also plans to build an industrial sized kitchen underground and a roof top space above (pending DA approval), to allow for an additional children’s play area – with programs for children of varying ages, as well as a space for special functions.

With no communal building in Bondi since Hakoah closed, the building will also serve as a space for other Jewish organisations to utilize.

Personally for Rabbi Moss, this has been a vision for many years. Since the age of 14 he wanted to be a rabbi, but as a young Cranbrook School student and raised in a non-observant Jewish home, felt there was no shul where he could feel completely comfortable and where the service was explained to those who were unfamiliar. With a passionate belief that it didn’t need to be this way, Moss set out to create the kind of shul he would have wanted to attend – first starting out in living room in Bondi, then moving to Bellevue Road and finally to Roscoe Street, where he has kept the same intimate feel, while catering for growing numbers, ensuring the service is still vibrant and relevant.

Moss is hoping they will raise $2.5 million, the amount required to build the new shul, with plans to start building by the end of the year. But he acknowledges that the building is ‘merely a shell’ that houses the people, whose stories are really what Nefesh is all about.

This, however, will be no ordinary ‘shell’ on Bondi Beach. With Paula Abdul starting the promotion for Nefesh’s building plans, this new chapter for Nefesh is off to a flying start and with Rabbi and Rebbetzin Moss’s vision for growth, there could well be more of a birth than we bargained for.

Schmoozing with Paula Abdul (download brochure)
Wednesday April 30, 7pm
Moriah College Auditorium
Tickets – $30 (strictly limited)

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