Community in Australia - World Jewish Congress

According to 2020 statistics, Australia boasts a population of 118,000 Jews - the eighth-largest in the world. Australia’s Jewish community is a diverse community comprised of both Ashkenazi and Sephardic ancestry, that is active in Australian society – notably high offices of the state and judiciary – and unique in its low rate of intermarriage - around 15%. 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

Telephone: 612-8353-8500
Fax: 612-9361-5888

Executive Director: Peter Wertheim

Jillian Segal AO, ECAJ President & WJC Vice-President

The history of Jews in Australia dates back to the original British settlement of Australia as a penal colony. Jews were among the first convicts deported from Great Britain to Australia in the 18th century. Considered amongst the founding members of the country, they were regarded as equal citizens from the outset.

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 Melbourne and Sydney – as a fear of assimilation caused the Australian Jewish community to consolidate their populations at the end of the century.

Australia experienced an influx of Jewish immigration from Europe early in the 20th century, resulting in an increase of Ashkenazi settlers in the established Jewish urban communities in Sydney and Melbourne. In the late 1930s, some Jews from Europe came to Australia, fleeing from the Nazis. After the war, Australia admitted tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors, and today Australia has the highest percentage of Holocaust survivors of any Jewish community in the world. After the war, Australia admitted tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors, and today Australia has the highest percentage of Holocaust survivors of any diaspora Jewish community in the world.

Jews have long been intrinsically involved in Australian public life. Sir Isaac Isaacs was its first Australian born Governor General (1931-36), and Sir Zelman Cowen served in that office between 1977 and 1982. General Sir John Monash was an outstanding commander of the Australian forces in World War I. Josh Frydenberg is currently the Federal Minister for the Environment and Energy, and Mark Dreyfus was Attorney General in the previous government. 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 – aimed at non-British immigrants – characterized the post-war WWI years leading up the Shoah. Australian Minister for Trade and Customs at the time, T.W White summed up Australia’s view towards Jews in a precarious situation in Europe 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.”

When news of the Nazi’s discriminatory behavior towards Jews reached Australia, the Jewish community and other supporters were vocal, even holding public protests. The Prime Minister at the time, Joseph Lyons, stressed that no formal petitions for the protests were to be forwarded by the government, as Australian officials urged that no direct criticism of Germany would be beneficial. Australia did however, relax its immigration policies somewhat, admitting around 7,000 Jewish refugees, mainly from Germany and Austria, in the late 1930s. 


According to the 2011 census, the Australian Jewish community numbered at 97,335 people out of 22,485,300 overall, constituting 0.43% of Australia’s total population. Other religious groups in Australia include; 13,150,672 Christians - 58.49% of the population; 528,976 Buddhists - 2.35% of the population; 275,533 Hindus – 1.23% of the population; and 476,291 Muslims – 2.12% of the population. 

The bulk of Australian Jewry is divided between the two cities of Melbourne and Sydney, with 85% of Australia’s Jews living in both cities. Smaller communities can be found scattered throughout the country in places such as Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, the Gold Coast, Perth, and Hobart. 

Community Life

The 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. Its presidency is the highest elected office of lay leadership in the Jewish community and the ECAJ’s work – which includes advocating on the behalf of Australian Jewry – is carried out by a professional team of staff based in Sydney. Currently, the organization’s main objectives include a focus on persecuted Jews, combatting Anti-Semitism, and supporting Israel. The ECAJ has also largely emphasized interfaith dialogue and enhancing the 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 Jewish Community Council of Victoria, Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies, and the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies. The Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) a cross-communal organization that represents the interests of Jewish students in both Australia and New Zealand, and the Zionist Federation of Australia, an organization devoted to fostering a connection to Israel within Australian Jews, constitute 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. Hakoah Sydney City East FC, a semi-professional soccer club formed by members of Sydney’s Jewish community, and Jewish Care, a major provider for impoverished or vulnerable members of the community, present notable Jewish organizations that contributes to the overall Jewish community in Australia.

Religious and Cultural Life

Religiously, the main streams of Orthodox (Modern and Ultra-Orthodox), Conservative, and Reform are all active in Australia. Though statistics are only available for the Melbourne community, they are considered representative of Australia’s overall Jewish community. Six percent of Melbourne’s Jews consider themselves “strictly orthodox,” thirty-three percent as “traditionally religious,” fifteen percent as “liberal or reform,” and forty-three percent as “Jewish but not religious.” A strong sense of Jewish identity is prevalent throughout the Australian Jewish community, regardless of religious expression.

Kosher food is available in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as other large cities, through a myriad of different stores, restaurants, butcheries, etc. Smaller communities may have less options than Australia’s major cities, but kosher food can be found in most parts of the country.

Jewish Education

There is a large emphasis on Jewish education amongst Australian Jewry, indicated by a high rate of enrollment in Jewish day schools. According to research conducted by the Jewish Communal Appeal (JCA) in 2011, approximately sixty percent of Jewish students at the infant/primary school level attend non-government/Jewish day schools, and seventy-six percent of Jewish students attend at the secondary level. The high cost of Jewish day schools, as opposed to government/state schools, has seen a number of state schools obtain a decent Jewish population, indicated by the twenty-seven percent increase of Jewish enrollment in government primary schools noted by the JCA. There are various Boards of Education, such as the NSW Board of Jewish Education or 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. 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.


Youth organizations are prevalent throughout the Australian Jewish community, with a focus on promoting Jewish values and contributing to the wider community. Moreover, the strength of Zionism in Australia can be attributed, in part, to a focus on an Israeli identity within Jewish youth groups. Betar Australia, part of a worldwide organization, offers 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 aliyahs, through various Jewish-structured events and activities. Chabad Youth 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 weeklies – the Melbourne and Sydney editions of the Australian Jewish News – and several other publications, including the Australia-Israel Review and the online service J-Wire that cater to the Jewish community. 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 new 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.

Relations with Israel

Australia and Israel have full diplomatic relations. This is manifest in the economic cooperation between the two countries in relation to “work-travel visas” for workers in each respective country.

Israeli Embassy
6 Turrana Street
Yarralumla, Canberra ACT 2600
Telephone: +61 2 6215 4500
Fax: +61 2 6215 4555


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