A History of the Australian Jewish Community
The first Jews arrived in Australia from England in the 1788, as part of the fleet of convicts sent there as a punishment for petty crimes. Between eight and fourteen of these convicts were Jewish. It is claimed that Joseph Marcus, a former convict, founded the Jewish community in Sydney in 1817, along with the formation of the Jewish Burial Society (Hevrah Kadishah).
It was only in 1821, however, that the first group of free Jewish settlers arrived in Australia. Reports estimate that by 1828, some 100 Jews were already living in the 'newly settled,' remote continent. By 1841, this figure had increased to 1,083. By 1844, the country's first synagogue had been built in Sydney, and this inspired many other Jewish communities to formally establish their own congregations in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth.
In 1850, gold was discovered and this attracted many immigrants to settle in Australia, including countless Jews. These new Jewish immigrants were involved in in the commercial trade of gold, setting up stores and acting as hawkers along the mining routes. Consequently, Jewish communities were established in these rural, country areas.
By 1861, 5,486 Jews had settled in Australia and this number greatly increased by 1901, when an estimated 15 000 Jews, mainly British, were settled. As the gold supplies began to decrease, these Jews decided to migrate to the cities: Sydney and Melbourne were the two major destinations.
Significant historical factors that impacted on the inflow or outflow of Jews to Australia
Australia is predominantly an immigrant community, including Jewish immigrants. Before the Second World War, thousands of Jewish immigrants arrived from Europe. The proportion of Holocaust survivors in the Australian Jewish community is among the highest in the world, although there was also post-war immigration from Egypt and India. There are two additional sources of recent large waves of Jewish immigration to Australia: South Africa (in the 1980s), and the former USSR.
A. The Shoah (Holocaust):
Australia's Jewish community is often referred to as a 'Shoah community.' Among the Shoah survivors in post-war Europe, there were many who wanted to put as large a distance as possible between themselves and Europe. For these, Australia was a popular option. The problem however, was that Australia had migration policies which heavily controlled and limited immigration to the country. The Executive Council of Australian Jewry fought the status quo, lobbying the government strongly to allow Jewish refugees from Europe to come and restart their lives in Australia. In 1945, the government relented, allowing 2,000 close relatives of Jews already living in Australia to come and settle in Australia on a humanitarian basis. The government's decision was much criticized. New limitations were imposed, including a percentage quota on the amount of Jews allowed to board passenger ships coming to Australia. As a result of further lobbying and pressure from the Jewish community, the quota was lifted in 1947 – once again, on humanitarian grounds. Between the years of 1947 and 1954, Australia received tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants.
B. South Africa:
The 1980s saw the arrival of thousands of South African Jews to Australia. These migrants, in search of a safer and more secure future was offered by their country of origin, chose Australia, largely for its similarities in climate, language and culture. They integrated quickly and many of the new South African immigrants have assumed leadership roles within the wider Jewish community. They have likewise expanded the Jewish community numerically, especially in places such as Perth, in which the Jewish community has grown from 3,000, in the 1980s, to 8,000 at the latest count.
C. Former USSR:
Jews from the former Soviet Union have arrived en masse to Australia, starting at the end of the 1970s, and escalating after the fall of Communism.
In many cases, these South African and FSU immigrants have formed their own sub-communities, within the wider Jewish communities.
Main Occupations and Professions
Australian Jews are generally found within the middle to upper class echelons of society. In 1986, when a survey was compiled of the 200 wealthiest individuals in the country, twenty five percent of the names were of Jewish industrialists, of whom many were of Eastern European origin.
These immigrants, who arrived in Australia with minimal material possessions, have developed valuable skills, which they have combined with a great drive and passion for success. Their commitment to education has enabled them to attain academic success, particularly in the younger generation. Jewish individuals have, and continue to be involved in the areas of business, law, medicine, textiles, academia, the arts, and finance.
Their success, initiative and achievements have made a significant contribution to the development of Australia as a whole. Former Australian Prime Minister, Robert Hawke, was quoted in 1987 as saying that 'the whole of Australia has benefited from the work of Australian Jews, which has been incalculable and invaluable.'
Streams and Movements of Judaism
Most Australian Jews have a strong Jewish identity, even if this does not necessarily express itself in religious expression. In a recent survey, 58% of Melbourne Jews recognize their Jewish identity as being 'very important,' against a mere 2% who feel that it is 'not important at all.'
The three main streams of Judaism are active today in Australia: Orthodox (Modern and ultra-orthodox), Conservative and Reform. Statistics are only available for the Melbourne community, but they are considered representative of other Jewish communities around the country. In Melbourne, 6% of Jews label themselves as 'strictly orthodox,' 33% as 'traditionally religious' and 15% are 'Liberal or Reform.' 43% consider themselves as 'Jewish but not religious,' whilst 1% are 'opposed to religion' altogether. Interestingly many of the Jews, who consider themselves 'Jewish but not religious,' still send their children to Orthodox Jewish Day Schools and are members of Orthodox synagogues, in their wish to preserve their Jewish identity.
As Dr. Suzanne Rutland explains, 'most Australian Jews can be best described as non-practicing orthodox.' This Anglo-Jewish community developed its own form of 'modern Orthodoxy' which remains predominant until today.
Hitler's ascent to power and the horrors of World War II also brought large numbers of refugees from central Europe and from the mid-1930's Temple Beth Israel in Melbourne became the basis of a Reform community because of its newly arrived German members. The Temple's German-born rabbi played an integral role in promoting the movement and, in 1938, when visiting Sydney, he established Temple Emanuel, which also attracted many German and other Central European Jews, who arrived in Sydney prior to the outbreak of the war.
The 1940s and 1950s witnessed the birth of ultra-Orthodox Judaism in Australia, with the rise of active Chabad Lubavitch communities in Sydney and Melbourne.
Education and Culture
The emphasis on Jewish education is one of the most striking characteristic of Australian Jewry.
In 1942, the first Jewish Day School and Kindergarten were formed in North Bondi in Sydney. Yet it was only just after the war years that in Melbourne, the first communal Jewish Day School, Mount Scopus College, was founded. In its inaugural year, the school had 120 students, and has today become one of the largest Jewish Day School in the Diaspora, with a peak of 2,800 students in the 1980s. The largest Jewish school in Australia today is Moriah College, in Sydney.
The Jewish Day School system offers an excellent academic, religious, Zionist, sporting and social experience. All in all, there are 19 Jewish Day Schools in Australia; in recent decades, the ultra-orthodox and Reform movements have established their own schools and community schools have also come on line. It is estimated that in Melbourne between 70% and 75% of all Jewish students attend a Jewish school. In Sydney, this figure is 62%. In 1996, over 10,000 Jewish students attended a Jewish school in Australia.
Jewish Day Schools in Australia are much more expensive than the government/state schools. Therefore, a number of state schools, especially in Sydney, have a large Jewish population. The Boards of Jewish Education attend to the Jewish educational needs of such students. As a result , several state schools offer Hebrew or Jewish Studies as elective courses. Further, the numerous education boards also attend to Jewish students in the smaller centers of Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra.
In addition to Jewish education at a school level, Australian Jewry opportunities for Jewish higher education. The University of Sydney and Monash University in Melbourne both offer full Jewish Studies departments, allowing students to study Jewish Civilization, Hebrew (Modern and Classical), Holocaust Studies, Yiddish and Zionism. Adult Jewish learning is also very popular in Australia, with the Melton Adult Education Program offering a variety of popular programs linked to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Multiculturalism as an ideology developed in Australia during the 1970s. During this period, Jewish cultural life expanded and was in some cases assisted by the government. There are numerous cultural and social organizations, Jewish radio shows and newspapers, and Jewish museums in both Melbourne and Sydney.
Welfare concerns rank high on the agenda of the Jewish community and are catered for through a number of Jewish organisations and institutions.
These include the Jewish old aged homes and hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne and the Sydney based 'Jewish Care' organization which deals with children and families of broken homes and/or financially distressed backgrounds.
Jewish Care was founded in 1935 to assist Jews against the background of antisemitic persecution in Europe. A year later, in 1936, the German Jewish Refugee Fund was established to assist Jews in distress. After the Second World War, this became the Australian Jewish Welfare Society, which assisted Jewish immigrants. Today, Jewish Care continues this help to Jewish immigrants to Australia, as well as providing welfare services for the needy in the Jewish community: the elderly, the physically and mentally challenged, familes and children at risk, people with mental illness.
Prior to 1933, the intermarriage rate in the Australian Jewish community was approximately 30%. This high percentage potentially threatened the future of the community. However, the arrival of Jewish refugees prior to and following World War II, changed the pattern of assimilation.
Demographic research indicates that the intermarriage rate dropped immediately after the war and that by 1971, almost 90% of Jewish men and over 90% of Jewish women were married to Jewish partners.
The 1996 census showed that the intermarriage rate for all Australian Jewry was 15%. Once again, the smaller Jewish communities appear to have a higher rate of intermarriage, with Melbourne's rate far lower than that of Sydney. Similar research, conducted in 1999 by Sydney's Jewish Communal Appeal, concluded that one third of that generation have a non-Jewish partner.
Along with intermarriage comes the physical relocation of many Jews, who prefer to leave the densely populated Jewish areas and the reservoir of potential Jewish life partners. In the rural areas of New South Wales for example, where only 5% of the State's Jewry reside, intermarriage rises to 84%. Even in the larger towns, assimilation and intermarriage vary from area to area.
Of the two most recent waves of immigration to Australia between 1986 and 1991, Jews from the Former Soviet Union seem to have a considerably high intermarriage rate, in contrast to the South African immigrants, for whom intermarriage is almost entirely unknown.
Physical Security and Antisemitism
Anti-Semitism was first experienced in Australia in the late nineteenth century. Until then, Australian Jewry enjoyed full political equality and was in no way oppressed or persecuted. The nineteenth century gave rise to Australian nationalism. The much-characterized racist nationalist movement, did not only target the Asian community and the Aboriginal people but also the 'foreign' Jews. The Bulletin, was one such nationalist newspaper that published many a caricature portraying Jews as foreign, stout and with large, hooked noses.
During the period of the great, global depression of the 1930s, the first organized acts of Ati-Semitism occurred in Australia. The 'New Guard' and the 'Australia First Movement' were two right-wing organizations that aligned themselves with Hitler's Nazism. In this light, and with the arrival of many Jewish refugees from Europe, a large-scale anti-refugee feeling was created. The new fad was colloquially called 'anti-refo.' Yet for the most part, this was only the start of a much greater anti-refugee sentiment which caused the government to limit Jewish immigration after the war.
The Australian League of Rights, founded in 1945, is possibly the most threatening anti-Semitic organization in Australia. The League, which markets Jewish conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial and anti-Zionism is most active in rural Australia.
In 1990, leaders of a neo Nazi group under the name of 'Australian Nationalist Movement,' were brought to trial in Perth. It was reported that many of their wrong-doings were outright anti-Jewish and pro Nazi. A year later, in 1991, in the wake of the Gulf War, escalated fears were met with the bombing of 5 synagogues in Sydney. In recent years, two political parties have been formed causing concern, the Australia First Party (which has close connections with Australians Against Further Immigration) and the One Nation Party, headed by Pauline Hanson which is under scrutiny for its racial and extremist perspectives.
246i-Semitic incidents which were reported in 1997. This figure represented an 18% decrease in incidents of this nature, from the previous year.
Violence, vandalism and threats are some of the more common acts of anti-Semitism experienced in Australia. Whilst vandalism has somewhat diminished over recent years, as a result of increased vigilance and investment in security in the part of the Jewish community, graffiti - bearing Nazi swastikas and offensive slogans - has been seen covering Jewish cemeteries, synagogue premises and private homes of Jewish communal leaders.
University campuses across Australia, are arguably the most affected in terms of Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. The Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) is actively involved in counter-acting the anti-Israel perceptions espoused by the media, as well as the blatantly anti-Semitic slogans often plastered around campuses.
Major problems on the agenda of the Jewish community
The 1991 Melbourne report indicates that 30% of respondents are primarily concerned about assimilation, intermarriage and the loss of Jewish identity.
Relative to other Diaspora communities, Australian Jewry experiences limited anti-Semitism. The concern is still great however, because of the nature of these attacks and because of the great security costs that it has incurred.
Meeting the needs of the youth is another concern of the community. Traditionally, the vast majority and funding, attention and resources have been invested into the Jewish Day Schools, though students themselves do not necessarily graduate from these schools with the much desired motivation and enthusiasm that they set out to create. A new approach is thus needed in terms of meeting these needs and inspiring the youth to continue the community's legacy.
Another concern is the 'black hole', a term used to denote the post-university age group, which is a cause of great concern for the stability of the community. Many young Jewish adults lose touch with the community, only to regain a connection when they themselves are parents and wish to send their children to a Jewish Day School, for example. The challenge to the community is to create a framework to ensure continuity of connection with these young people.
The religious divides within the community is an ongoing concern, with considerable tension and little co-operation between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox sections of Australian Jewry.
Lastly, deep concern has been expressed by Jewish religious women who are concerned about their role within Orthodoxy, and the Halachot regarding marriage and divorce.
The Future of the Australian Jewish Community
Australia's Jewish population continues to grow in size, activity and importance. Many believe that the large Jewish Russian presence in Australia, which has yet to be entirely catered for, may change the community's makeup in the near future, while at the same time, there is potential for this educated community to take more of a lead in international Jewish academia.
The quality of Jewish education holds the key to the continuity of Jewish tradition and life in Australia, as well as having the potential to reduce the rate of intermarriage or outmarriage.
The Jewish community of Australia has other advantages, too: Jews enjoy equal rights and religious freedom, in a progressive, democratic country and they are financially secure. The combination of all these factors indicates that the Australian Jewish community can look forward to the future with confidence.
The Connection to Israel
Australia has long been a stronghold of Zionist activity and support for the State of Israel and Zionism plays a significant part in community activities. It ranges from Zionist education, fundraising for Israel, successful Zionist youth movements and the promotion of Aliyah. All of the Zionist organizations are affiliated with State Zionist Councils in each of the main centers, who in turn, are affiliated with the umbrella Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA). The ZFA acts as the Zionist community's voice with Israel and other Diaspora communities.
The six Zionist Youth Movements, which represent all the different major religious and political positions on the Zionist spectrum, are united by the Australian Zionist Youth Council (AZYC).
An extraordinary 79% of the adult Jewish population in Australia are believed to have visited Israel which is quite extraordinary for a country so far away geographically. And approximately 9,000 Jews are believed to have made Aliyah from Australia.
The Jewish Community's Contribution to Australia
Australian Jews have grown up with Australia. They have played a significant role especially in the commercial and professional development of Australia. From the early 19th century migrant pedlars and small shopkeepers, they have been an important factor in the spread of trade and commerce within Australia and the international trade in which Australia is involved.
With the move in the last generation towards professionalisation, they have played a role in all of the major professional spheres of Australian life, including the law, the media and the academia. General Sir John Monash, Sir Isaac Isaacs, and Sir Zelman Cowan are examples of Jewish politicians who were formerly eminent specialists in various fields.
As Robert Hawke, the ex-Prime minister of Australia, said in 1987, 'the whole of Australia has benefited from the work of Australian Jews, which has been incalculable and invaluable.' It seems to sum things up.
Community history/ information
Community issues http://www.ecaj.org.au/Platform%202003%20agm.htm
See also: History