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Jews of New South Wales, Australia

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New South Wales

History of Jews in Australia

Israeli Australians

List of Oceanian Jews


New South Wales (known as NSW) is a state on the East Coast of Australia. It borders Queensland to the north, Victoria to the south and South Australia to the west. It has a coastline with the Tasman Sea on the east side. The Australian Capital Territory is an enclave within the state. New South Wales' capital is Sydney, Australia's most populous state.

The Colony of NSW was founded as a penal colony in 1788. The first Jews came to Australia as convicts transported to Botany Bay in 1788 aboard the First Fleet.


Prior inhabitants of NSW were the Aboriginal tribes who arrived in Australia 40,000 - 60,000 years ago and before European settlement there were about 250,000 people in the region.

  • 1788 British Settlement - the European discovery of New South Wales was made by Captain James Cook during his 1770 survey along the unmapped eastern coast of the Dutch-named continent of New Holland, now Australia. The first British settlement is known as the First Fleet, led by Captain Arthur Philip, who assumed the role of governor from 1788-1792.
  • Mid 19th century- Charles Darwin visited Australia in January 1836 and records his fascination with New South Wales, including his speculations about the geological origin and formation of the great valleys, the aboriginal population, the situation of the convicts, and the future prospects of the country.
  • 1901 Federation of Australia- at the end of the 19th century, the movement toward federation between the Australian colonies gathered momentum. Proponents of New South Wales as a free trade state were in dispute with the other leading colony Victoria, which had a protectionist economy. At this time customs posts were common on borders, even on the Murray River.
  • Early 20th Century - the Great Depression, which began in 1929, ushered in a period of political and class conflict in New South Wales. The mass unemployment and collapse of commodity prices brought ruin to both city workers and to farmers. Communist party remained small and weak.
  • Post war period - continued with a surge in industrial development and the construction of the Sydney Opera House. Over a thousand more people of Jewish descent are estimated to have been sent to Australia as convicts during the next 60 years.

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.
The first move towards Jewish organisation in the community was the formation of a Chevra Kadisha (a Jewish burial society) in Sydney in 1817, Jewish Cemetery, 1832
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 and divine service was more regularly conducted.
In 1832 the first Jewish wedding in Australia was celebrated, being Moses Joseph and Rosetta Nathan, two years later 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, the Great Synagogue was built on Elizabeth Street, Sydney in 1878 and 1895 saw the first Jewish newspaper, called the "Hebrew Standard of Australasia" published in Sydney. It was the forerunner of the Australian Jewish News.

The Jewish Culture

Today, there are three main streams of Judaism active 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 identify themselves as 'strictly orthodox,' 33% as 'traditionally religious' and 15% as 'Liberal or Reform.' 43% consider themselves as 'Jewish but not religious,' whilst 1% as '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 or are members of orthodox synagogues.

  • 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-1930s.
  • The Temple's German-born rabbi from Melbourne 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 saw the emergence of ultra-Orthodox Judaism in Australia, with the rise of active Chabad Lubavitch communities in Sydney and Melbourne. The first Sephardic synagogue in Australia was founded in 1962.
  • Today, there is also a small number of Jewish Aboriginal Australians, including some who practice both Jewish and Aboriginal traditions.
  • In 2012, the first Humanistic Jewish congregation, known as Kehilat Kolenu, was established in Melbourne, a similar congregation was established in Sydney, known as Ayelet HaShachar. The services are loosely based on the Humanistic Jewish movement in the United States and the musical-prayer group Nava Tehila in Israel.


Sydney’s Jewish community is considered one of the most thriving and dynamic in the diaspora. There are an estimated 50,000 Jews in New South Wales out of an Australian Jewish population of 120,000. Jews can be found throughout the Greater Sydney area, although approximately two-thirds reside in the eastern suburbs, from Vaucluse, through Randwick, Bondi and Double Bay, to Darlinghurst-East Sydney, where many of the service organisations are located.

Most of the remainder live on the upper north shore, predominantly in the suburbs situated between Chatswood and St Ives. Smaller but active pockets reside in such areas as Maroubra, Coogee, Leichhardt, Newtown and Marrickville.

One of the strengths of the Sydney community is the significant contribution by overseas immigrants, to the extent that over two-thirds of the Sydney Jewish population originates from South Africa, Hungary, the former Soviet Union and Israel.

Assimilation and demographic changes

The same social and cultural characteristics of Australia that facilitated the extraordinary economic, political, and social success of the Australian Jewish community have also been attributed to contributing to widespread assimilation. From 2008 to 2012, more than 400 Australian Jews moved to Israel and most of them have done compulsory military service. There was an almost 50 percent increase in immigration from Australia to Israel between 2009 and 2010.

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

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 Jewish immigrants, for whom intermarriage is almost entirely unknown.

Notes for adding profiles:

- Profiles of Jewish people born, lived or deceased in New South Walesshould 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

First Fleet Convicts 26 January 1788

First Jewish Free Settler in Australia 26 January 1788

Convicts - 1818

Sir Saul Samuel - First Jew to become a magistrate, to sit in a colonial Parliament and to become a minister of the Crown. In 1854 he was appointed to the New South Wales Legislative Council and subsequently was an elected member of the Legislative Assembly. He also served periods as Treasurer and Postmaster General.

Isaac Nathan - Wrote the first Australian opera "Don John of Austria", premiered on 3 May 1847 at Royal Victoria Theatre in Sydney.

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