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Jews of Australia - Victoria

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Aron and Polack
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  • Solomon William Polack (1827 - 1918)
    Reference: FamilySearch Genealogy - SmartCopy : Aug 3 2021, 2:42:21 UTC
  • Ze'ev Akiva Wolf Aron (1918 - 1985)
    The origins of the Aron Family 1700’s - present>The origins of the Aron family cover much of the history of diaspora Jewry and encapsulate six decades of involvement in the Orthodox Jewish community of...


Museum - Victoria

History of the Jews in Australia



The history of the Jews in Australia traces the history of Australian Jews from the British settlement of Australia commencing in 1788.


The first Jews came to Australia as convicts transported to Botany Bay in 1788 aboard the First Fleet that established the first European settlement on the continent, on the site of present day Sydney. The majority are Ashkenazi Jews, many of them refugees, their descendants and Holocaust survivors arrived during and after World War II. Most of the convicts came from London, were of working class and male. The average age was 25 or older but ranged as young as 8.

The Church of England was the established religion in the colony and during the early years of transportation all convicts were required to attend Anglican services on Sunday. Similarly, education was Anglican church-controlled until the 1840's. The first move towards organisation in the community was the formation of a Chevra Kadisha (a Jewish burial society) in Sydney in 1817. In 1820, land was allotted for the establishment of a Jewish Cemetery created to enable the burial of Joel Joseph.

The first Jewish services in the colony were conducted from 1820 in private homes by emancipist Joseph Marcus, one of the few convicts with Jewish knowledge. Reverend Aaron LEVI arrived in 1830, a Sefer Torah (scroll of the Law) was purchased by subscription. Over the following decades, the community's numbers increased, primarily as a result of Jewish immigration from the United Kingdom and Germany. Kehillas (organized communities) began to be established in Sydney (1831) and Melbourne (1841).

Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe settled in Melbourne, and were highly Orthodox. In addition, thousands of highly observant Jews immigrated from South Africa and settled in Perth.

With the arrival of large numbers of immigrants in the 1850s, especially during the Victorian Gold Rush, construction of a large 600 seat synagogue at South Yarra commenced in March 1855. Other Jewish congregations were formed in Geelong, Bendigo, and Ballarat (1853). The East Melbourne Hebrew Congregation split from the Bourke St congregation in 1857.

Since the 1850s, Melbourne has had the largest Jewish population in the country. A religious court (Beth Din) was set up in Melbourne in 1866. Jews also began to assemble in the Port Phillip District (now Victoria) while other synagogues were built in Hobart (1845), Launceston (1846) and Adelaide (1850).

  • A large number of the new immigrants were observant Jews
  • The day-school attendance rose steadily
  • A new Sephardic community also emerged in the post-war period

Previously, Mizrahi Jews were generally not permitted to enter due to Australia's White Australia policy. However, following the Suez Crisis in 1956, a number of Egyptian Jews were allowed to enter the country. Over the following years, overtures from Jewish communities led the government to drop its previous stance on entry of Mizrahi Jews. By 1969, when Iraqi Jews were being persecuted, the government granted refugee status to Iraqi Jews who managed to reach Australia.

Polish immigrants

Many entrants were political refugees following the unsuccessful revolt against Austria in 1848. Most of these new arrivals were well educated and found work as engineers, teachers, artists and businessmen. By 1863 a Polish Relief Fund and a Polish Society was established in Melbourne.

The Polish community in Victoria remained small until several thousand Polish Jews came to Australia during the rise of Nazism. Following World War II, the majority of Polish immigrants arrived as Displaced Persons. There was also a significant intake of Polish soldiers who had fought alongside British soldiers in the War. The Poland-born community in Victoria increased five-fold between 1947 and 1954, to 21,428 people. This figure does not include many Polish immigrants born outside Poland during the post-war period.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, many immigrants from Poland arrived through the Family Reunion Program. The community increased slowly in size, then stabilized until the 1980s, when political and economic unrest in Poland saw the population rise to 24,638 in 1986.

In 2011, 16,384 immigrants from Poland lived in Victoria, while far more were proud to have Polish heritage. 68% of immigrants from Poland spoke Polish at home, and the majority were Catholic. There was also a significant Jewish population. In Melbourne today, Poland-born people mainly live in Caulfield, Bentleigh, Carnegie, and Gardenvale. Over 35% of Poland-born workers are employed as professionals; many others work in clerical, sales and production roles. The community is supported by organizations such as the Polish Community Council of Victoria.

Israeli Jews

Immigration of Israelis has continued to increase. In 2011 there were 4,064 Israel-born people in Victoria. Almost 75% were Jewish and 4% were Christian. Over half spoke Hebrew at home while one third spoke English and 5% spoke Arabic. The majority today live around the suburbs of Caulfield, Elsternwick, and St Kilda East. Most of those in employment work as professionals, managers and administrators, predominantly within the retail, property and business sectors.

The Israeli community of Victoria is enriched and supported by several organisations, including Hamerkaz Ha’Israeli – the Israeli speaking group, Hamerkaz Shelanu – the Israeli Synagogue, and a variety of other Jewish Community roof bodies supporting Israel such as Jewish Community Council of Victoria, State Zionist Council and Womens International Zionist Organisation – WIZO. The State of Israel is regarded with emotional attachment and reverence within both the Israeli and broader Jewish communities. A variety of social, political and fundraising functions are held in support of Israel and its people on a continuing basis.

  • Melbourne's most secretive Jewish sect, the ultra-Orthodox Adass Israel community, has opened its doors to the public for the first time.
  • Made up of about 200 families who live over a square kilometre block in Ripponlea, the conservative religious group honours ancient rituals dating back to biblical times and follows the strictest interpretation of the commandments in the Torah. The men wear mink fur hats and black silk coats. Women cover their hair in public. Boys and girls are segregated from kindergarten. Arranged marriages are common. Children in some families number in the teens. During the Sabbath, they refrain from using electricity – no phones, cars, lights. They don't own televisions. Most shun the internet.

Culture Victoria

This collection is housed in the Jewish Museum of Australia in St Kilda, Melbourne . The collection is maintained as a resource to explore and share the Jewish experience in Australia, as well as being of benefit to and reflective of Australia's diverse society.

The collection represents the major episodes of migration and settlement of Jews in Australia, exploring their pre and post migration experiences. It documents the experience of Jews in Australia and their contribution to Australian society.

Notes for adding profiles:

- Profiles of Jewish people born, lived or deceased in Victoriashould be added to this project.

- If the state in which people resided is unknown, please add the profiles to - Jews of Australia

- Resided in Australia prior to 1901 should also be added to - The Jewish Faith in Colonial Australia 1788 to 1901

About location:

Please add people who also lived in states other than Victoria to the relevant project :

Profile bio's

- Add a link to the profile of prominent persons in the Jewish Community and a short bio on them. (Examples only (not meant to limit profiles)  

- First Jewish settlers

- Significant member of Jewish society

Queries, please contact Leanne M (Volunteer Curator - Australia) 🇦🇺