Community in Australia - World Jewish Congress

The leading communal organization for the Australian Jewish community is the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), the Australian affiliate of the World Jewish Congress. Robert Goot, two-time past president of the ECAJ, is co-chairman of the WJC Policy Council and a member of the WJC Steering Committee.

WJC Affiliate
Executive Council of Australian Jewry

Executive Directors: Peter Wertheim & Alex Ryvchin

: 612-8353-8500

Social Media:
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Daniel Aghion, ECAJ President & WJC Vice-President

In 1788, European settlement began in Australia when the First Fleet arrived from Britain and established a penal colony in what is today the city of Sydney. At least eight Jewish men and women, and maybe as many as 15, were shipped in as prisoners. Most were accused of petty theft, such as 15-year-old Esther Abrahams, who was charged with stealing two lengths of black lace. Sentenced to seven years in Australia, she brought her infant daughter with her.

In the ensuing years, many more Jews came over as prisoners, middle-class free settlers, and then as part of the Gold Rush influx in the 1850s. By 1861, there were an estimated 3,000 Jews in the country, growing to 15,000 by the turn of the century.

By the 19th century, there was an established Jewish community, overwhelmingly made up of free settlers. This gave way to a greater concentration of Jews in Australia’s major cities, namely Sydney and Melbourne, as fear of assimilation caused the Australian Jewish community to consolidate their populations at the end of the century.

Prior to World War I, there was a second, greater wave of refugees from the pogroms in Russia and Poland that arrived in Australia in the 1890s and early 1900s. Further Jewish immigration occurred in the 1920s, mainly from eastern Europe.

In the late 1930s, about 4,500 German and Austrian Jews fled to Australia to escape the rise of Nazism. In addition, 2542 'enemy aliens' deported from Britain disembarked HMT Dunera in Melbourne and Sydney in 1940. Most were Jewish refugees who had fled Nazi persecution in Germany and Austria. They were interned in camps near Hay and Orange in NSW and Tatura in Victoria. Almost all of them remained and settled permanently in Australia after the war, with many achieving great distinction in academia, business, and the arts.

The late 1980s and ‘90s saw an influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union and consistent immigration from South Africa. Since Jews have been part of Australian society since its colonization and settlement, and many came from Britain and were therefore English-speaking, they quickly integrated and became part and parcel of Australian society without facing the antisemitism and roadblocks limiting Jews in many other countries. As a result, Australian Jews have consistently been involved in every facet of Australian life, holding important positions in the arts, education, philanthropy, politics, science, medicine, the legal system, and the military.

General Sir John Monash, a distinguished general and commander of the Australian Corps during the latter part of World War I, is considered by many to be the most famous military commander in Australian history. Sir Isaac Isaacs was the first Jewish Governor-General of Australia, serving from 1931 to 1936, and Sir Zelman Cowen held the position from 1977 to 1982. Mark Dreyfus is currently Australia’s Attorney General. Josh Frydenberg served as Australia’s Treasurer until 2022. Other noteworthy Jews currently holding high offices are Linda Dessau, Governor of Victoria, and Justice James Edelman, who sits on Australia’s highest court, the High Court of Australia.

The Years of the Holocaust

More restrictive Australian immigration policy, excluding non-British immigrants, characterized the post-war WWI years leading up to the Shoah. The Australian Minister for Trade and Customs at the time, T.W. White, summed up Australia’s view towards Jews with the following statement at the July 1938 Evian Conference, where Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany were the focus: “As we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one by encouraging any scheme of large-scale foreign migration.”

Behind the scenes, however, Australia quietly relaxed its immigration policies somewhat following the wave of antisemitism in Austria and Germany that was triggered by the German Anschluss with Austria in March 1938. Australia admitted around 7,000 Jewish refugees, mainly from Germany and Austria, in the late 1930s and from the Dunera in 1940.

In the postwar years, Australia’s Jewish community saw its largest influx—Holocaust survivors from Poland, Hungary, and other European countries—and the community expanded in size from 23,000 in 1938 to 60,000 in 1961. After the Holocaust, Australia admitted tens of thousands of survivors, and today, it has the highest percentage of Holocaust survivors of any Jewish community, outside of Israel, in the world. After the Holocaust, Australia admitted tens of thousands of survivors, and today, it has the highest percentage of Holocaust survivors of any Jewish community, outside of Israel, in the world.

Community Facts

1. One of the most distinctive features of the Australian Jewish community is its strong network of well-attended day schools, giving it the highest rate of Jewish children in Jewish schools outside of Israel.

2. As Southern Hemisphere Jews, we celebrate Chanukah in the summer, Sukkot when it rains, and Pesach in the autumn.

3. There is well-organized Jewish life in every state and territory of Australia, and the religious and cultural needs of the community are fully catered for. Even in the remote Northern Territory, which has no more than 200 Jews and no synagogues or other communal institutions, a Jewish Community Association was formed in 2024.


Jewish life in Australia began in the First Fleet in 1788, with over a thousand more people of Jewish descent sent to Australia as convicts in the next 60 years. In addition, Jewish free settlers were arriving in Australia as early as the 1820s. By 1901, it was estimated that there were over 15,000 Jews in Australia.

According to the last Australian census in 2021, 99,956 people indicated that they are Jewish in Australia, but based on undercounting, due to some Holocaust survivors and others not indicating their religion and the ‘no religion’ option remaining at the top of the list of ‘tick box’ answers (which many secular Jews might have selected) in the 2021 census, there are probably as many as 120,000 Jewish Australians today.

According to the census, 46,645 Jews are in Victoria, 40,249 in New South Wales, 5,669 in Western Australia, 4,815 in Queensland, 1,145 in South Australia, 886 in the Australian Capital Territory, 376 in Tasmania, and 163 in the Northern Territory. By region of birth, there were 55,860 Jews born in Australia, and the second most common birthplace of Australian Jews was sub-Saharan Africa (including South Africa), at 13,701.

Outside of Australia, a total of 7,711 Jews were born in southern and eastern Europe, 7,668 in North Africa and the Middle East, 6,296 in northwestern Europe, 4,179 in the Americas, 794 in southern and central Asia, 481 in southeast Asia, and 358 in northeast Asia.

Community Life

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), a democratically elected, cross-communal Jewish representative body that works as an umbrella organization for numerous Jewish bodies across Australia, acts as the representative organization for Australian Jewry. The ECAJ's presidency is the highest elected position of lay leadership in the Jewish community, and a skilled team of staff members with headquarters in Sydney handle the organization's activities, which include advocacy on behalf of Australian Jews to all sectors of Australian society. Currently, the organization’s main objectives include a focus on combating antisemitism, coordinating the physical security of the community nationwide, and supporting Israel. The ECAJ has also led interfaith relations and enhanced engagement with broader Australian society as well.

There are numerous other Jewish communal representative organizations in Australia, mainly regional bodies linked to the ECAJ as constituents, affiliates, or observers. Notable examples include the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, the Jewish Community Councils of Victoria, Western Australia, and South Australia, the Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies, the ACT Jewish Community, and the Hobart Hebrew Congregation, which are all constituents of the ECAJ. The Zionist Federation of Australia is an observer organization to the ECAJ, is devoted to fostering a connection to Israel among Australian Jews, and comprises other organizations linked to the broader ECAJ.

Other Jewish communal organizations in Australia focus on a myriad of initiatives, including social care and community bonding. Jewish Care, a significant provider for disadvantaged or vulnerable members of the community, and Hakoah Sydney City East FC, a semi-professional soccer team created by members of Sydney's Jewish community, are two notable Jewish organizations that help the Jewish community in Australia.

Religious and Cultural Life

Australia’s Jewish community is uniquely cohesive; members from the many different congregations, whose children attend different schools, and who may maintain differing levels of observance all meet at communal functions, personal celebrations, and social events.

The Hobart Synagogue was consecrated in 1845; it was built on land donated by Judah Solomon, a former convict turned businessman, although services were previously held in homes and rented premises. It is the only known shul to have had seats set aside for convicts, many of whom were granted permission to refrain from work and attend Shabbat services. The congregation also provided free Shabbat meals for the prisoners.

The Great Synagogue in Sydney is a magnificent work of architecture that was opened in 1878 and has often been regarded as the flag-ship congregation of the Jewish community for hosting official events with government and interfaith gatherings.

Today, there are an estimated 80 synagogues throughout Australia, most of them located in Melbourne, Sydney, and other capital cities. They cover all streams of Jewish religious observance and practice. Studies of the Jewish community over the years have indicated that about 22% of the community are shomer mitzvoth (4% Haredi and 18% Modern Orthodox). A further 30% describe themselves as “traditional” and observe the major Jewish holidays and life cycle events. About 15% affiliate with a Masorti (Conservative) or Progressive congregation, 12% regard themselves as “just Jewish,” and the remainder are secular or unaffiliated.

Jews are free to manifest their religion publicly and to wear religious clothing and ornaments. Public celebrations of Hanukah occur each year in Sydney and Melbourne and are popular with the community. Melbourne’s annual Chanukah in the Park event is attended annually by an estimated 10,000 people from across the spectrum of Jewish observance.

Kosher Food

Kosher Australia is Australia's most trusted Kosher certification agency; it was formed in 1994 from an amalgamation of Mizrachi Kashrut and Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick's Kashrut activities. Since then, their responsibilities have continued to expand with an ever-increasing number of businesses and services seeking a hashgacha (kosher certification). The largest kosher certification agency in Sydney is the Kashrut Authority

Australia has also exported live cattle to Israel to be halachically slaughtered and deemed kosher. Australia also exports live animals to other countries. However, animal welfare groups have campaigned strongly to halt live exports of cattle and sheep to any country, and the practice might be discontinued.

There is also a traveller’s guide to Kosher food in Victoria.

Jewish Education

The Australian Council of Jewish Schools, which works closely with the ECAJ, represents 19 Jewish schools throughout Australia. Each school also operates an early learning center. These schools accommodate 10,000 students in the foundation year-to-year 12 programs, with a further 3,000 students in the early learning activity associated with each school

The high cost of Jewish day schools, as opposed to government/state schools, has seen several state schools increase their Jewish population, as indicated by the 27% increase in Jewish enrolment in government primary schools noted by the Jewish Community Appeal (JCA) in a 2011 report. Countless Jewish overnight camps and youth groups boast strong attendance as well.

There are various boards of education, such as the NSW Board of Jewish Education and the United Jewish Education Board, that attend to the Jewish educational needs of students in both state and non-government schools.

In terms of Jewish religious tertiary education, the Rabbinical College of Australia and New Zealand, or Yeshiva Gedolah, is the main rabbinical studies center for the Orthodox community and Australia in general. However, some of the larger Orthodox shules have brought in Modern Orthodox rabbis from the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

Jewish higher education can also be found in several secular institutions, with full Jewish Studies departments offered at the University of Sydney and Monash University in Melbourne. There are also options for adult Jewish learning, with the Melton Adult Education Program working in conjunction with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to provide a variety of Jewish literacy programs. The Australian Catholic University, with six campuses across Australia, offers a full program in ancient Israel archaeology and ancient Hebrew language, including organized digs in Israel. The program is supported financially by the Jewish community. It attracted 1,000 students in 2023, most of whom were non-Jewish.


Youth organizations are prevalent throughout the Australian Jewish community, with a focus on promoting Jewish values and contributing to the wider community. The Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) is a cross-communal organization that represents the interests of Jewish students in both Australia and New Zealand. Moreover, the strength of Zionism in Australia can be attributed, in part, to a focus on an Israeli identity within Jewish youth groups.

Habonim Dror and Betar Australia, both worldwide organizations, offer a recreational atmosphere that emphasizes Jewish values and the importance of Zionism. Bnei Akiva focuses on instilling the importance of the Torah and Israel, especially the idea of making aliyah, through various Jewish-structured events and activities. The Chabad Youth organization focuses on child care, offering a variety of camps, activities, and events to foster Jewish values and a sense of pride in one’s Jewish identity.

Jewish Media

Australia has two Jewish weekly editions of the Australian Jewish News, circulated in the Melbourne and Sydney editions, and several other publications, including the Australia-Israel Review and the online service J-Wire, that cater to the Jewish community. The ECAJ publishes a weekly roundup of events, as does the Australian Jewish Quarterly. Additionally, Australia’s ethnic radio stations, namely SBS Radio, feature several hours of programming of Jewish interest in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish each week.

Information for Visitors

Australia’s Jewish sites include various synagogues of all streams, notably the historic Great Synagogue of Sydney and the Hobart Synagogue. There are also Jewish museums in both Sydney and Melbourne that contain notable collections of Jewish artifacts and Holocaust material, in addition to exhibits on Jewish-Australian history. There are now Jewish museums in every other state capital and in Canberra.

Relations with Israel

Israel and Australia have maintained diplomatic relations since the Australian government of Ben Chifley recognized Israel on January 28, 1949. The Liberal-Country Party Coalition supported Israel during and after the 1967 Six-Day War. This is manifest in the economic cooperation between the two countries in relation to “work-travel visas” for workers in each respective country.

Australia has a warm and close relationship with Israel, which is strongly supported by its active Jewish community. The relationship has a strong historical dimension, dating back to the First World War, when Australian forces fought in the Sinai-Palestine campaign alongside their Allied counterparts against the Ottomans, including the iconic charge of two Australian Light Horse regiments during the Battle of Beersheba on October 31, 1917, two days prior to the Balfour Declaration. Australia was the first country to vote in favor of the 1947 UN partition resolution, which ultimately led to the creation of Israel as a nation-state. Australia established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1949 and, in the same year, presided over the vote admitting Israel to the United Nations.

Australia is committed to a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state coexist in peace and security within internationally recognized borders.

Australia is strongly opposed to the unfair targeting of Israel by the United Nations and other multilateral institutions. However, it makes clear its concerns about Israeli actions that undermine the prospects of a two-state solution and continues to urge Israel and other actors to respect international law.

Australia continues to broaden its bilateral cooperation with Israel. In recent years, there has been significantly increased engagement across a range of sectors, including innovation, security, and defense.

Since 2017, Australia and Israel have expanded cooperation on national security, defense, and cyber security. Defense officials began annual strategic talks in 2018 and, in early 2019, Australia appointed a resident defense attaché to the Embassy in Tel Aviv. Leveraging Australia and Israel's respective areas of expertise, cooperation on national security continues to develop, including on aviation security, with Home Affairs as the lead Australian agency. In January 2019, following a series of reciprocal visits and dialogue, the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on cyber security cooperation.

Australia’s bilateral economic relationship with Israel continues to grow. In 2021, Israel was Australia's 46th largest two-way trading partner and 54th largest export market. In 2021, two-way goods and services trade amounted to approximately $1.34 billion, of which Australian exports were worth $325 million and imports from Israel were worth $1.02 billion. In 2020, Australian investment in Israel totaled nearly $1.6 billion, and Israeli investment in Australia was $585 million, mostly centered in the innovation sector. Major merchandise exports to Israel include live animals, beef, plastic products, pearls, gems, and aluminum. As of November 2022, 19 Israeli companies were listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX), making Israel the third-largest source of foreign company listings.

Since the Israel-Hamas War:


A motion was moved by Australia’s Prime Minister in the House of Representatives on October 16, 2023, and seconded by the Leader of the Opposition. It read:

That the House—

(1) unequivocally condemns the attacks on Israel by Hamas, which are the heinous acts of terrorists, and have encompassed the targeting and murder of civilians, including women and children, the taking of hostages, and indiscriminate rocket fire;

(2) stands with Israel and recognises its inherent right to defend itself;

(3) condemns antisemitism and recognises that generations of Jewish people have been subjected to this hateful prejudice;

(4) calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages;

(5) recognises that Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people, nor their legitimate needs and aspirations;

(6) acknowledges the devastating loss of Israeli and Palestinian life and that innocent civilians on all sides are suffering as a result of the attacks by Hamas and the subsequent conflict;

(7) supports justice and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians alike;

(8) supports international efforts to establish and maintain humanitarian access into Gaza, including safe passage for civilians;

(9) reiterates Australia's consistent position in all contexts is to call for the protection of civilian lives and the observance of international law;

(10) supports Australia's engagement with countries in the Middle East and beyond, at all levels, in support of the protection of civilians, and the containment of the conflict;

(11) supports the Government's ongoing efforts to provide consular assistance to affected Australians and to facilitate the departure of those who want to leave the region;

(12) acknowledges what has unfolded is deeply distressing for many in the Australian community, close to the heart of many, and it is important that we maintain respect for each other here at home as people express their views;

(13) condemns all forms of hate speech and violent extremist activity, including Antisemitism and Islamophobia;

(14) recognises an attack on any religion is an attack on all religions and that we all share a responsibility to unite, condemn and defeat such an attack on our common values and way of life;

(15) notes that undermining social cohesion and unity by stoking fear and division risks Australia's domestic security; and

(16) affirms in the strongest possible terms that hateful prejudice has no place in Australia. 

The motion was passed by 110 votes to 4; the 4 against were the Greens MPs. The same motion was put forward and overwhelmingly supported in the Senate.

On the Houthis:

Australia condemned the Houthi interference with navigational rights and freedoms in the waters around the Arabian Peninsula, particularly the Red Sea. The numerous attacks originating from Houthi-controlled territories in Yemen, including the December 3 attacks against three commercial vessels in the Southern Red Sea connected to 14 nations, threaten international commerce and maritime security. The Houthi-led seizure of the Galaxy Leader on November 19 and the detention of its 25-member international crew, who remain unjustly detained, are appalling. Such behavior also threatens the movement of food, fuel, humanitarian assistance, and other essential commodities to destinations and populations all over the world. The undersigned further encourage all states to refrain from facilitation or encouragement of the Houthis. There is no justification for these attacks, which affect many countries beyond the flags these ships sail under. We again call on the Houthis to release the Galaxy Leader crew and ship immediately and to cease additional attacks on commercial vessels in the region's vital waterways.


As of March 15, 2024, Australia will lift its temporary pause on funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), following steps to strengthen the integrity of UNRWA operations. The decision to pause an additional $6 million in funding was taken after serious allegations were made, resulting in UNRWA's dismissal of staff alleged to have been involved in the Hamas terrorist attacks of October 7. The nature of the allegations warranted an immediate and appropriate response. The Australian Government has been working with a group of donor countries and with UNRWA on the shared objective of ensuring the integrity of UNRWA's operations, rebuilding confidence, and ensuring aid flows to Gazans in desperate need.

Israeli Embassy

6 Turrana Street

Yarralumla, Canberra, ACT 2600

Telephone: +61 2 6215 4500

Fax: +61 2 6215 4555

Israel Trade Commission in Australia

PO BOX 2626, Bondi Junction, 1355

Telephone: +61 2 9388 0382

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