The following article is excerpted from Rabbi Apple’s book, The Great Synagogue: A History of Sydney’s Big Shule (pp.121-122).
The names of most of the Synagogue’s longer-serving ministers still evoke warm memories for members of the congregation. Among them, Rev Isidor Gluck holds a special place. His warmth of personality endeared him to everyone, the emotional feeling he brought to the conduct of synagogue services carried the congregation along with him.
His 25 years as chazan, followed by several years of retirement in which he continued to be part of the lives of the countless families to whom he ministered in times of distress as well as moments of joy, were a highlight in the history of the Great. Perhaps paradoxically, his Eastern European background was specially appreciated by the old Australian families for whom one might have thought a voluble, sometimes excitable minister would have represented a culture shock.
But the old families were never outdone by the more recently arrived families, including the Holocaust survivors, in their love for “Gluckie” or “Sruly” – two of the names by which he was affectionately known.
Born in Transylvania in 1923, Rev Gluck was educated at various Continental rabbinical colleges and musical academies. He spent most of the Second World War years in labour camps. He was a cantor in Hungary in the immediate post-war period up to 1948, then at the Rashi Synagogue in Paris in 1949. From there he served the Hendon Adath Synagogue, London, from 1950 until 1951 and was chief cantor of the Dublin Hebrew Congregation from 1951 until 1964. From 1964 to 1989 he was chief cantor of the Great Synagogue.
Besides carrying out the usual ministerial, pastoral and educational functions, he was active in many varied fields of communal responsibility. He served as Jewish chaplain to NSW mental hospitals, visiting patients in Bathurst, Orange and Morriset, and providing through the Great Synagogue and B’nai B’rith clothing and amenities for those in need and for the chronically ill. He was Jewish chaplain to several metropolitan hospitals, including Sydney Hospital, Prince Alfred Hospital, and St Luke’s. He was appointed a life governor of Sydney Hospital in 1974.
Several times a year he travelled to country areas to give spiritual comfort and practical assistance to patients and their families. Wherever he went, he made his services available on an informal basis for patients and their families whose mother tongue was not English, making use of his knowledge of seven languages.
He was official Jewish chaplain to NSW prisons. He organised the provision (through the Great Synagogue) of comforts and kosher food to prisoners on the occasion of religious festivals and holydays. He was a trusted counsellor to ex-prisoners and their families, maintaining contact with prisoners, supporting them in re-establishing themselves in the community and becoming useful citizens.
Over the years he was a beloved bar-mitzvah teacher and mentor and trained many boys and young men to conduct services. He was a teacher for the NSW Board of Jewish Education, a musical tutor for cantors, choristors and officiants for other congregations, and a guest lecturer at conferences for social workers and chaplains.
The ABC and SBS frequently invited him to participate in religious broadcasts and he was often consulted on Jewish music by the media generally.
He and his wife Rochel (Rosalia) married in 1947. They had four sons – Johnny, who died in South Africa at the peak of a world-class cantorial career; Harry, an educator and minister in Melbourne; Joseph, an accountant and cantor in Sydney; and Nathan, a cantor in South Africa and later in London.
The love and warmth exuded by the Glucks permeated the congregation, and their hospitality was a legend. They were dear friends and wonderful colleagues to Rabbi and Mrs Porush and to my family.
On Rev Gluck’s 20th anniversary at the Great Synagogue, the then president, Orwell Phillips, wrote:
“Over the last 20 years our Synagogue has been blessed to have the Rev Isidor Gluck as its chazan.
“His wide religious education and musical training give him the formal qualifications to be a competent chazan, but his committed Jewish family tradition and his emotional warmth and depth add the dimension that can move a congregation and regularly give inspiration and uplift to our Synagogue services.”
(See also the eulogy delivered by Rabbi Apple at Rev Gluck’s funeral.)