views updated May 23 2018


MELBOURNE , capital of Victoria, Australia. The 15 Port Phillip Association members who founded Melbourne in 1835 included two Jews. Melbourne is today the only Jewish community of any size in the State of Victoria. During the 19th century however a considerable number of Jews settled in other centers in the State, but the country communities practically disappeared. The Melbourne Jewish community was established in 1841.

Early Metropolitan Settlement

Jews clustered around shops and businesses in the center of the city in Collins, Bourke, and Elizabeth streets and in 1847 opened the first synagogue (Melbourne Hebrew Congregation) in that area. The influx in the 1850s and 1860s led to settlement in working-class districts in the suburbs adjoining the city – Fitzroy, Carlton, Richmond, and East Melbourne. The East Melbourne Congregation was founded in 1857 with Moses Rintel as minister, most of the congregants being immigrants from Germany and Austria. At the turn of the century this congregation was led by the patriarchal figure, Rev. Jacob Lenzer.

There were continuous movements of Jews from their first areas of settlement to new areas. In the wake of such a group movement the St. Kilda Synagogue was opened in 1872. In the period before compulsory education the Melbourne Hebrew School was established as a day school in 1874 and continued until 1886, when it was closed because of financial difficulties. In 1888 the three congregations (Melbourne, East Melbourne, and St. Kilda) established the United Jewish Education Board, which conducted part-time Hebrew schools in various centers. As they moved from area to area, the Jews ascended in the social and occupational ladder and by 1900 the most popular occupations were textile manufacturing, general dealing, and skilled trades such as tailoring, watchmaking, and cabinetmaking. Small draper shop-owners were beginning to acquire large retail stores. Carpenters were opening furniture factories. Less than 3% were in the professions. During the first decades of the 20th century there gradually developed a struggle for communal supremacy between the earlier immigrants who lived south of the Yarra River, and who were more prosperous and assimilated, and the more recent immigrants, mostly from Eastern Europe, who were concentrated north of the river, and who were Yiddish-speaking, with an Orthodox background, Yiddish culture, and strong Zionist leanings.

Concurrently, a change took place in the centers of Jewish activity. Whereas until the first decades of the 20th century life centered around the synagogues, in the next decades a shift took place, non-synagogal bodies being organized and gradually taking a more prominent place in communal leadership. The synagogues in the first decades of the 20th century were the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation (first at Bourke St. in the city; after 1930 at Toorak Road) and the St. Kilda Synagogue south of the Yarra, and the East Melbourne Synagogue and the Carlton Synagogue (established 1927), north of the Yarra. Some smaller minyanim had also been formed, notably the Woolf Davis Chevra, run by the family of J.E. Stone, and the Talmud Torah Hascola at North Carlton. A number of societies mainly in the hands of the south of the Yarra element were already in existence – the Philanthropic Society, Aid Society, Welfare Society, Sick Visiting Society, the Chevra Kadisha (founded 1910), the United Shechita Board, and the Beth Din. A number of bodies began to spring up north of the Yarra. In 1912 new immigrants had helped to form a center of Yiddish culture, the "Jewish National Library-Kadimah," which apart from its book collection held regular cultural meetings including Yiddish lectures and plays.

The Judean League of Victoria was founded in 1921 as a roof-organization for non-synagogal activity, sports, literary, cultural, social, and Zionist activity. Its headquarters in its heyday at Monash House, Carlton, was a vibrant center of Jewish activity every night of the week for three decades. Its founder and leading spirit was Maurice *Ashkanasy. The struggle between the two elements ended in 1948 with a democratic representation unifying the whole community and putting an end to the era of Anglo-Jewish patrician control and of the congregational dictatorship in communal affairs. The place of Melbourne (later Victorian) Jewish Advisory Board (established in 1921), a strictly synagogal body, was taken by the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies (in 1948) which gave a new direction to communal activities, and brought about the formulation of a community viewpoint on all matters affecting both local Jewry, such as public relations, immigration, and a deepening of Jewish cultural values, and wider Jewish issues such as Zionism and antisemitism. There was also a move from voluntary philanthropy to organized professional social services. It operated through the following committees: education, social welfare, immigration, public relations, appeals coordination, youth, organization and statistics, and congregational. The struggle was fought out on a number of points, including the question of the kashrut of frozen meat exported to Palestine, prepared under the supervision of the United Shechita Board and its chief shoḥet Rabbi I.J. Super (who served the community as shoḥet, mohel, and teacher for more than half a century), which was challenged by Rabbi J.L. Gurewicz, disciple of Chaim Ozer *Grodzinsky of Vilna and the respected leader of the Orthodox Carlton Synagogue in its heyday. The main issues however were the battle against anti-Zionist elements in the mid-1940s, the struggle for the establishment of a Jewish day school, the continuing cleavage between the Orthodox and the Liberals, a stubborn but losing battle for the greater use of Yiddish, the attitude to antisemitism, and the problem of public relations.

The Transformation of the Community

Between the late 1930s and the mid-1950s the Melbourne Jewish community was transformed, as were the other centers of Australian Jewish life, by a number of important interrelated events. Some of this change occurred before, when the traditional synagogues, mainly Anglo-Jewish in orientation, such as the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation and the St. Kilda Hebrew Congregation, which had provided communal leadership, were challenged by new synagogues representing either a stricter European Orthodoxy or the Reform congregation founded in 1930. A Yiddish-speaking component already existed, centered in Carlton, just north of central Melbourne, rather than in the traditional middle-class Jewish area of St. Kilda, south of the inner city. Institutions like the Jewish National Library–Kadimah, founded in 1912, and the Judean League, a center of cultural life and pro-Zionist activity, founded in 1921, emerged in Yiddish Carlton, whose inhabitants demonstrated the range of Jewish orientations and ideologies of troubled Europe.

There was no secular communal representative body until the foundation of the Victorian Jewish Advisory Board in 1938, an organization which changed its name in May 1947 to the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies (vjbd), and, in October 1988, to the Jewish Community Council of Victoria. Although all local synagogues which wished to affiliate to the Board could do so, it also included a plethora of secular bodies, including Zionist and Yiddish groups. These representative bodies took a much more visible and direct role in lobbying on behalf of Jewish interests to the government and the media than was previously the case.

While (with many exceptions) the old Anglo-Jewish-dominated Melbourne community had been notably lukewarm on Zionism, the new community was, by and large, enthusiastically pro-Zionist, and, in the decade before the establishment of Israel, defended the creation of a Jewish state against influential local Jewish non-Zionists such as Rabbi Jacob *Danglow and Sir Isaac *Isaacs. Perhaps the most important manifestation of the new Jewish assertiveness in Melbourne was the foundation of Mt. Scopus College, the first Jewish day school, in 1949. Mt. Scopus was coeducational, and moderately Orthodox and Zionist in its orientation. By the 1980s eight full-time Jewish day schools, representing various trends in the Jewish community, had been founded. The relatively large-scale migration to Melbourne of perhaps 35,000 Holocaust refugees and survivors, especially from Poland, dramatically changed the nature of the community, adding not merely to its pro-Zionist and Orthodox strength, but to its secular Yiddish and leftist elements. This in turn produced a number of major cleavages within the community, especially between the mainstream community and an allegedly pro-Communist communal defense body, the Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Antisemitism, which resulted in the Council's expulsion from the vjbd in 1952, and notably bad relations between the Orthodox synagogues and the Reform movement (which included significant numbers of German and Austrian refugees). As well, Yiddish persisted as a significant Jewish lingua franca in Melbourne for decades after the War. By the mid-1950s, however – and certainly by the 1967 War – the Melbourne Jewish community had been transformed into one which was enthusiastically pro-Zionist, religiously pluralistic but with a large Orthodox majority, out-spoken in defense of its interests, and keen to deter assimilation through the creation of a large Jewish day school movement. A number of individual activists responsible for these developments, such as Maurice *Ashkanasy, Alex Masel, and Benzion Patkin (1902–1984), the chief founder of Mt. Scopus College, should to be mentioned here. Visitors to Melbourne were often amazed at the breadth and vigor of its institutions and it was often known as the "shtetl on the Yarra" – Melbourne's river – for its extraordinary preservation of many of the cultural, linguistic, and ideological matrices of prewar Europe. Melbourne was also often contrasted with Sydney, which had fewer Polish Holocaust refugees but more from Britain and Hungary, and was widely seen as less assertively Jewish than Melbourne, at least down to the 1990s. The rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney was found in many aspects of Australian life, and, in the case of the two Jewish communities, probably owed something to the more extreme nature of Victoria's left-wing, often anti-Israel, stance which emerged in the 1950s from local political developments.

The Contemporary Community


Melbourne has experienced considerable and continuing growth during the postwar period. The number of declared Jews in Melbourne, according to the optional religious question in the Australian census, rose from about 22,000 in 1954 to 26,409 in 1971 and then to 35,383 in 1996 and 37,779 in 2001. Since this is based on responses to an optional question of religious affiliation (rather than ethnic identity), the actual number is certainly much higher, probably in the range of 50–55,000, just under 2% of Melbourne's population of about 2.9 million. Most Melbourne Jews tend to live in a small number of well-defined Jewish neighborhoods. Among the 17 postal code areas (equivalent to zip codes in the United States, but somewhat smaller in size) in Australia with the highest number of Jews in the 2001 census, nine were in Melbourne, including three of the top five. The largest and most obviously Jewish areas of concentration are the Caulfield–St. Kilda East–Elsternwick districts, about five miles south of central Melbourne, where 18,216 Jews were identified in the 2001 census. This area contains many Jewish synagogues, institutions, and shops, and a large and visible Strictly Orthodox community. The other significant areas of Jewish concentration were adjacent to this core area: Bentleigh (2,667 Jews in 2001), to the east; the wealthy neighborhood of Toorak (1,611 Jews) to its north; and East Brighton (1,316 Jews) to its south. These neighborhoods became heavily Jewish just after World War ii and have remained very stable ever since. There is little or no sign of Jewish suburbanization, as in many other Diaspora societies, nor any equivalent of "white flight," as in the United States, away from decaying neighborhoods. The only major change in Melbourne's Jewish demographic pattern since 1945 has been the decline to the vanishing point of the former area of East European Jewish settlement in Carlton, immediately north of central Melbourne, which, until the 1960s, contained many Yiddish-based institutions such as the Kadimah, the leading Yiddish cultural and social center. The Melbourne Jewish community has grown chiefly by immigration, welcoming successive waves of German Holocaust refugees and a very large flow of postwar Holocaust survivors, especially from Poland, and then more recent groups of South African and ex-Soviet immigrants, as well as a continuing settlement of Jews from the English-speaking world and elsewhere for normal professional purposes. Nevertheless, the stability of Melbourne Jewry, and other social characteristics, have given it some very favorable features. A 1991 random sample survey of the community, for example, found that the Melbourne Jewish fertility rate was apparently above the replacement level, a notable accomplishment for a middle-class Diaspora Jewish community.


In terms of congregational affiliation, Melbourne had about 50 synagogues in the early 21st century, of which four were Liberal (Reform) and one Masorti (Conservative), one Independent, and all the others Orthodox of various strands ranging from moderate Anglo-Orthodoxy to Strict Orthodoxy. The postwar era has seen a vast expansion in the range of congregational affiliation beyond the Anglo-Orthodoxy predominant before 1939, especially at the religious extremes. Relations between the Orthodox and Reform components of the community have been notably bad, as have, to a lesser extent, relations between different strands in Orthodoxy. In part for this reason, no postwar Melbourne rabbi has been able to act as recognized spokesman for the whole community, in the manner of Rabbi Jacob Danglow before the war. A number of rabbis, such as the Orthodox *Gutnicks, Yitzhak *Groner, and John S. *Levi from the Liberals, have been viewed by many as notable leaders, but none has been regarded as a consensual leader.

communal leadershipM

Instead, the leadership of the community has been vested in its representative body, known (1938–47) as the Victorian Jewish Advisory Board, then (1947–88) as the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies (vjbd); and since 1988 as the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (jccv). Its president (elected annually, and normally serving a two-year term) and other office-holders are regarded as the community's spokesmen to the media and government. The jccv is composed of representatives of many Jewish organizations in Melbourne, including most synagogues, Zionist bodies, fraternal, women's, and youth groups. There is no provision to elect individuals on a personal basis. The jccv has at all times represented a consensual position in the community, strongly supportive of Israel as well as multiculturalism and the Jewish day school system. It monitors and combats antisemitism and extreme anti-Zionism. By its constitution, no religious question can be discussed, since any debating of religious issues is likely to be divisive. The jccv, which meets on a monthly basis, works closely with the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ecaj), the national representative body of the community, and the Zionist Federation.


Probably the major reason for the relative success of the Jewish community in Melbourne has been the Jewish day school system. Since 1949, nine full-time Jewish day schools have been established in Melbourne. (See *Australia for list.) In 1962, 1,480 students attended these schools, a total which rose to 4,840 in 1982, 5,492 in 1989, and about 6,000 in 2004. The experience of Melbourne has clearly been that education there strongly discourages assimilation and intermarriage. One of the major challenges confronting the Melbourne Jewish community is the ever-increasing cost of education at Jewish schools (which are private and fee-paying, although they receive some state funding). No long-term solution to this problem is yet in sight. Jewish interest courses exist at Monash University, but the underfunding of the tertiary and research sectors compared with the Jewish school system is also a notable and unfortunate feature of the community.

There are a number of Jewish museums in Melbourne which would be of interest to tourists. The Jewish Museum of Australia (26 Alma Road, St. Kilda) contains exhibits on Australian Jewry history. The Jewish Holocaust Museum and Research Centre (13 Selwyn Street, Elsternwick) has used Holocaust survivors as tour guides. Melbourne's most prominent Jewish landmark is certainly the magnificent Melbourne Hebrew Congregation's synagogue at Toorak Road and Domain Road, South Yarra.

communal relations

Relations between the Melbourne Jewish community and the local state government of Victoria have generally been very good. Only very occasionally have difficulties arisen, for instance in the late 1970s when a strongly anti-Zionist and radical segment of the local Australian Labor Party supported a radical radio station, 3RC, whose license to broadcast to the Jewish community was questioned at a series of public hearings. By and large, however, relations between the Jewish community and successive Victoria governments have been harmonious. Relations with the local media are also good, although the community has protested many times when Israel is unfairly criticized, as has become common, especially in the liberal media and on "talk-back" radio. Relations with other groups in the wider community are normally also harmonious, despite the existence of antisemitic and anti-Zionist activists and the threat of terrorism, especially from extremist sections of Melbourne's growing Muslim community.


P.Y. Medding, From Assimilation to Group Survival (1958), incl. bibl.; L.M. Goldman, Jews in Victoria in the 19th Century (1954), incl. bibl.; I. Solomon, in: Journal of the Australian Jewish Historical Society, 2 (1946), 332–48; N. Spielvogel, ibid., 2 (1946), 356–8; R. Apple, ibid., 4 (1955), 61. add. bibliography: W.D. Rubinstein, "Jews in the 1966 Australian Census," in: Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, 14, Part 3 (1998), 495–508; idem, "Jews in the 2001 Australian Census," ibid., 17, Part 1 (2003), 74–83; P. Maclean and M. Turnbull, "The Jews [of Carlton]," in: P. Yule (ed.), Carlton: A History (2004). See also *Australia.

Israel Porush and

Yitzhak Rischin /

William D. Rubinstein (2nd ed.)]


views updated May 11 2018

Melbourne City and port on the River Yarra at the n end of Port Phillip Bay; capital of Victoria state, se Australia. Founded in 1835 by settlers from Tasmania, it was named after the British Prime Minister Lord Melbourne. It became the state capital in 1851, and later served (1901–27) as the seat of the Australian federal government. A centre of finance, commerce, communications, and transport, it is Australia's largest cargo-handling port. Manufacturing is also important. Industries: aircraft, motor vehicles, heavy engineering, shipbuilding, textiles, chemicals, agricultural machinery. Pop. (2000) 3,466,000.