Jewish Settlement in Australia

The first Jews in Australia arrived as convicts aboard the First Fleet. The 717 convicts who sailed from England and landed at Botany Bay in 1788 included about a dozen Jews. Jewish communal life in Australia was officially established in 1828 with the founding of the first congregation. The first Jewish welfare society opened in 1841 and a Jewish newspaper in English was first published in 1851. The first Jewish school opened in the mid 1860s. The early Jewish settlers were overwhelmingly of Anglo-Germanic background and the first Yiddish speakers began to arrive in small numbers following the discovery of gold in the 1850s. More Yiddish speakers came seeking refuge following the pogroms and failed revolutions in Russia. The Kadimah Jewish Cultural Centre and National Library was founded in 1911 and Yiddish theatre began performances about the same time. The first Yiddish newspaper appeared in 1937 and the pioneer Yiddish writer, Pinkhas Goldhar, began publishing his stories about Australia a year later.

Following WWII and the Holocaust, which resulted in the deaths of six million European Jews, the majority of them Yiddish speakers, a new wave of Jewish migrants and refugees resettled in Australia. Amongst these were a few thousand Holocaust survivors and by then about 10,000 Yiddish-speakers were located mainly in Melbourne and Sydney. They established a small Yiddish speaking community and with further growth of migration, Melbourne soon became one of the most active post-WWII centres of Yiddish culture in the world. This migration flow also re-invigorated and diversified the Jewish communities of Australia. Now, an estimated 100,000 Jews, 90% of whom live in even proportions in Sydney and Melbourne, comprise their own multicultural community with members of about 80 different linguistic and geographic origins. This diversity has necessitated English to be the common language of the Australian Jewish community. Notable figures from Australia’s Jewish community have included Sir Isaac Isaacs, the first Australian-born Governor General, Sir John Monash, a First World War Allied Armies Commander and Sir Zelman Cowan, a recent Governor General of Australia.

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