The Jews of the Pacific
A cluster of 2 Jewish groups in Australia
Because of the uniqueness of their history and culture, Jewish people have a strong sense of identity. The Australian Jewish community is the largest in the Pacific region. In Australia's earliest days as a British territory, colonies were developed through the use of convict laborers. Jews were among the first convicts deported from the United Kingdom to Australia in the 1700's. By the 1800's, there was an established Jewish community, overwhelmingly made up of free settlers. Jews arrived in several successive waves of immigration, primarily from Britain and Eastern Europe. The gold rushes of the 1800's were one source of attraction for Jewish immigrants to Australia.
Both prior to and after World War II, thousands of Jews from Germany and Eastern Europe found sanctuary in Australia. The nation admitted tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors. Today, Australia has the highest percentage of Holocaust survivors of any Jewish community in the world. These immigrants have set the tone for contemporary Jewish communal life. Over half of Australia's Jewish population lives in Melbourne.
What are their lives like?
A number of phenomena characterize the Australian Jewish community and distinguish it from most other English-speaking Jewish communities. These include a high rate of enrollment in Jewish day schools (75% of all primary school pupils and 55% of all high school pupils) and a low rate of intermarriage with non-Jewsóless than 10%. Melbourne has the largest Jewish day school in the world. There are several Jewish newspapers and periodicals available. Each week Australia's ethnic radio stations feature several hours of programming of Jewish interest in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish. In the major cities, there are butchers, bakers, and restaurants that prepare kosher (traditional, acceptable) foods.
The Australian Jewish community maintains several Jewish museums, including two devoted to the commemoration of the Holocaust. Melbourne has a Jewish (often Yiddish) theater. Thousands of people of all ages participate in Maccabi athletic events, which culminate in a major carnival each year.
Several important issues face the Jewish community in Australia. One is the tension between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox sections of the community. This tension, at times, develops into open hostility. The status of religious divorce laws is also a source of conflict within the community. Jewish women can currently be denied religious divorce by their husbands, effectively isolating them from the community if they remarry. Anti-Semitism (discrimination against Jews) is not a serious problem in Australia's multi-cultural society, but there are a number of hate-groups that are carefully monitored.
What are their beliefs?
In Australia, there are dozens of synagogues affiliated with all major religious movements within Judaism, from Reform to ultra-Orthodox. About 75% of Australia's Jews are Orthodox and 25% are liberal, with a tendency for the liberal Jews to be from central European backgrounds. Few are non-religious.
What are their needs?
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Bethany World Prayer Center
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