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Jewish Australia

The first Jews came to Australia as convicts transported to Botany Bay in 1788 aboard the First Fleet.

According to Wikipedia 8 convicts were transported on the First Fleet (however transportation records did not indicate a convict's religion). Over a thousand more people of Jewish descent are estimated to have been sent to Australia as convicts during the next 60 years.

At first, 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.

Background to the Australian Jewish Community

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. The actual allocation of land for a consecrated Jewish cemetery was not approved until 1832.

  • Reverend Aaron LEVI arrived in 1830, a Sefer Torah (scroll of the Law) was purchased by subscription and divine service was more regularly conducted.
  • In 1832 the first Jewish wedding in Australia was celebrated, being Moses JOSEPH and Rosetta NATHAN.
  • In 1835 Mr ROSE came from England and acted as chazzan, schochet and mohel. He was succeeded by Jacob ISAACS.
  • In 1844 the first synagogue was formed in York Street, Sydney
  • In 1878 the Great Synagogue was built on Elizabeth Street, Sydney
  • In 1895 the first Jewish newspaper, called the "Hebrew Standard of Australasia" was published in Sydney and is the forerunner of the Australian Jewish News.

Growth of the community

By 1901 it is estimated there were over 15,000 Jews in Australia.


In 1938, the Australian government allotted 15,000 visa's for "victims of oppression" and some 7000 Jews were able to take up the visa's before the outbreak of World World II stopped the program.

In the 1840s, Jewish congregations were established in Hobart, Launceston, Melbourne and Adelaide. Victorian Jewry expanded rapidly as a result of the gold rushes and increased from 200 in 1848 to 3000 people in 1861. When Queensland became a separate colony, a number of Jewish families left Sydney for Brisbane, where a synagogue was consecrated in 1886. The first Jewish community in Western Australia was formed in 1887 in Fremantle, then a synagogue was opened in Perth in 1897.

During the 19th century a high proportion of Jews lived in country areas. In NSW there were communities in Goulburn, Maitland and Grafton, and later in Broken Hill. These communities were too isolated from the mainstream Jewish centres to survive, and today the only reminders of their existence are the Jewish gravestones in country cemeteries and disused synagogues. (This need for geographical concentration is very relevant to Jewish identity, as in order to lead a Jewish life it is necessary to live in a community and close to a synagogue and other Jewish facilities.)

By the end of the nineteenth century, Jews were participating in every facet of civic, economic and social life of NSW.

  • Sir Saul Samuels was the Colonial Secretary of NSW during the 1860's and later Agent-General in London.
  • In 1886 Sir Julian Salamons was appointed Chief Justice of New South Wales, but declined to be sworn in "because of the hostility of the then current members of the bench." In 1917 the Legislative Assembly had to close on Yom Kippur because both the Speaker and Deputy Speaker were Jewish - this at a time when Jews in New South Wales made up only 0.4 per cent of the population.
  • During the First World War, 1914-18, 13 per cent of the Jewish community enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces, compared to 9.2 per cent of the general population. 57 Jewish ANZACS were killed in action at Gallipoli.

The Australian Jewish community is very supportive of Israel. There are a number of Zionist organisations which focus on fundraising and education, including Israel experience programs for youth and others. The community as a whole also seeks to promote a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the situations which face Israel and the Jewish communities of the world.

The Australian Jewish community has also been very active in issues relating to Jews in distress throughout the world. This included the campaign to give Soviet Jews the right to either practise their religion freely in their home country or to emigrate, and other campaigns on behalf of Jews living in Arab lands, and the Jews of Ethiopia.


About the project

This project is a top level project for Jews born, lived or died in Australia.
Profiles should only be added to this project if you don't know which state they were in.


If you know what state they lived in, please add them to the relevant project:


If members of the community were in Australia prior to 1901, they should also be added to