The Jews of South Australia


[This is from a readers comment. Jan]

The reader wrote:

My experience is that people don’t care about jews or don’t like them. Most people don’t know any. I read somewhere that many jews left South Australia to join their communities in the eastern states. I used to party in a large nightclub right in the centre of Adelaide that used to be a synagogue. It was a huge stone building with impressive architecture. I have not been able to find out why the jews abandoned this building to move to the suburbs. The old synagogue could fit 100’s of people. Maybe it was too big for their falling numbers or it was too ostentatious for a people who wanted to hide their presence and influence. It is hard to find the truth. Certainly many prominent early South Australians were jews and were way over represented in politics.

"Over the last 40 years South Australia’s Jewish population has ranged from 985 to 1341 but without any pattern of growth. At no time since 1960 has the percentage of Jews exceeded 0.1%. This is small both absolutely and relatively when measured against national figures, with Jews making up approximately 0.4% of Australia’s total population. The only state with a lower percentage of Jews is Tasmania. A significant number of Adelaide’s Jews have gravitated to the professions, especially medicine, and they are well represented in academic life, industry and commerce."

From this url:

It reads:

The Jewish contribution to South Australia began with the appointment in 1834 of Jacob Montefiore to the Colonization Commission. The first Jewish settler was possibly John Levey, who arrived in September 1836. He was followed two months later by Philip Lee, a licensed victualler who helped found the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation in 1848. Jewish colonists, mainly from England, established a synagogue in Adelaide in 1850, a cemetery in 1852 and religious classes in 1862.

Nineteenth Century

Emmanuel Solomon was active in the early life of the colony and, in 1843, the South Australian Register praised him as a ‘patron of … literary and philanthropic institutions’. Among such philanthropic organisations was the Adelaide Hebrew Philanthropic Society, established in 1852. While a large number of calls on limited resources led to its demise in the 1940s, its function had been probably assured by the Welfare Committee. Abraham Tobias Boas, trained in Amsterdam but resident in England from the age of 23, arrived in 1870 to serve as rabbi. With his arrival, the consecration of a new synagogue in 1871, and a population of 435, South Australian Jewry had developed the infrastructure required for survival. By 1891, the Jewish population had increased to 840. Throughout the nineteenth century, those identifying themselves as adherents of Judaism hovered around 0.25% of the colony’s population, but their influence easily outweighed their numbers. Jewish pastoralists played significant roles, among them Gabriel Bennett, founder of pastoral company Bennett & Fisher Ltd. Of the five Jewish lord mayors of Adelaide, Sir Lewis Cohen was elected five times between 1889 and 1922. In education, three of the 65 original proprietors of the Church of England Collegiate School (1847), later St Peter’s College, were Jewish, and the Portuguese convert to Anglicanism, Benjamin Mendes Da Costa, was a significant benefactor. Another proprietor, Philip Levi, was also, with his brother Edmund, a foundation member of the Adelaide Club.

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