SYDNEY, capital of New South Wales, *Australia. Founded in 1788 as a British penal settlement, it was the cradle of Australian Jewry. Several Jews were sent there from England as convicts in the first transport and others subsequently. After release they played their part, at times under conditions of great hardship, in the colonization of the country. Some of them prospered and became leading citizens. When in 1817 a Jew died in Sydney there was no Jewish cemetery, but a religious service was held and a ḥevra kaddisha formed. P.J. Cohen may be considered the founder of the religious community. He carried the chief rabbi's authority to perform marriages, one of the first being that of Samuel Cohen, founder of a family prominent in both Jewish and general affairs for three generations. When the first congregation was organized in 1832, Joseph Barrow Montefiore – a cousin of Sir Moses *Montefiore – who played a pioneering role also in Melbourne, Adelaide, and New Zealand, was elected president. Services were held in private homes and hotels which were often owned by Jews; in 1837 a house was hired and converted into a synagogue. Soon the congregation was again homeless, until in 1844, when the Jews in New South Wales numbered about 900, the Sydney Synagogue, the first to be specifically built as such, was opened. The Great Synagogue, still in existence, was opened in 1878, when some 3,000 Jews lived in the state.
In the 1850s there was an influx of Jews to New South Wales, still mainly from England but including a number from Germany. Many first settled in the rural areas, often to keep the local store, and in 1861 only 61% of the Jews in New South Wales lived in the metropolis; a century later, however, only 4% lived outside Sydney. The obstacles to religious life were formidable: lack of ministers, difficulty in maintaining observance, and scarcity of women; intermarriage was thus the gravest danger. A.B. Davis served as minister at the Great Synagogue from 1862 to 1905, and Rabbi F.L. Cohen, author of a standard work on synagogal music, from 1905 to 1934. Immigration from 1933 on did much to change the pattern of the community, in which Western European and British immigrants predominated. In 1933 Sydney had four congregations, all Orthodox, and in 1970, 17 Orthodox and two liberal congregations; the bet din was under the chairmanship of Rabbi I. Porush. The Rabbi L.A. Falk Library at the Great Synagogue with its 7,000 volumes is the largest Judaica library in Australia.
S.D. Rutland, Edge of the Diaspora: Two Centuries of Jewish Development in Australia (1998; rev. ed. 2001); H.L. Rubinstein and W.D. Rubinstein, Jews in Australia; S.D. Rutland and S. Caplan, With One Voice: A History of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies (1998); S. Encel and B. Buckley (eds.), The New South Wales Jewish Community: A Survey (1978); S.D. Rutland, Pages of History: A Century of the Australian Jewish Press (1995); idem., If You Will It, It is No dream: The Moriah Story, 1943 – 2003 (2003); I. Porush, The House of Israel: A Study of Sydney Jewry… (1977); L. Cohen, Beginning with Esther: Jewish Women in New South Wales from 1788 (1987); A. Andgel, Fifty Years of Caring: A History of the Australian Jewish Welfare Society, 1938 – 1986 (1988); G.B. Levey and P. Mendes (eds.), Jews and Australian Politics (2005).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.