Where is Australian Jewry heading?

December 11, 2012 by Odile Faludi
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Last year we all filled out the ABS Census 2011 form. But what did the research say about the Australian Jewish community and what are the trends around the world? In this special interview, David Graham, Senior Research Fellow for the Institute for Jewish Policy Research [JPR] and JCA Demographer outlines the findings to Odile Faludi.

Odile Faludi

David believes, “The results from the ABS Census are far more accurate than any other survey carried out on the Jewish population by a very considerable degree. For the last 100 years, the Australian Government has insisted that everybody participate. It’s a universal survey. We are privileged in this country to have a Census every five years. It is very under appreciated. Most other countries, especially the United States and France, have no Census due to constitutional issues. Subsequently, they have to use very complicated methods to analyse Jewish communities.” David explained that even if one chooses not to tick the Jewish box, there are so many different questions that with the right analysis he can accurately work out if that person is Jewish.

The following questions were asked:

Odile:  How many Jews are in Australia?

David: The actual Census count is 97,000. We have done a lot of analysis on other interesting data (including funerals, school enrolments) and these serve as indicators. We estimate that roughly 9% don’t answer the religion question. There is also a small percentage who see the question and think, “Hey I am not religious, so therefore I am not Jewish” but answer they are “Jewish by ancestry.” Once all the sums are done we estimate the community is about 112,000.
Therefore, the Jewish population is 0.5% of the Australian population which is currently 22 million. One in 234 people is Jewish. This highlights in real terms how tiny the community is. We get surprised when we see these figures as we are a tight-knit community and live close together. It gives us the illusion that there is more of us!

Odile: If you had to do a break-up – state by state what are we looking at?

ABS Census 2011:
Jewish population by state (unadjusted)
% of Jewish population

% of Jewish population
Victoria                     45,148               46.4%
New South Wales   39,728               40.8%
Western Australia     5,856                 6.0%
Queensland                4,441                  4.6%
South Australia         1,088                   1.1%
ACT                                 674                  0.7%
Tasmania                       248                 0.3%
Northern Territory       148                 0.2%
97,331              100.0%

Odile: What is the trend for Australia in terms of Jewish population?

David: Frankly, it has been growing. In 1911, we only had 20,000. Every Census that has been taken for the last 100 years has shown an increase. It’s only 1% per year which doesn’t sound much but actually it is quite substantial. There are a lot of factors which affect the long-term health of the population. Obviously, in Australia’s case the big demographic change was the immigration of South African Jews over the last 20-30 years. The Jewish community has kept receiving gifts of new life. This turned around the demographics especially in New South Wales. Long term it is looking flat with little fluctuations either way. One thing for sure is the community is going to age. The community is getting older. There was a baby boom after Second World War and now those babies are heading towards retirement and in 20 years they will be heading into old age. Definite demands will be on the community in terms of old age care.
Odile: For the purpose of the survey what is your definition of Jewish?

David: Typically, we ask the question “Are you Jewish?” and leave it at that. If someone ticks the box that’s enough for us. Beyond that, we can then ask questions like, ‘Is your mother, father, grandfather Jewish and are you married to a Jewish person? This helps gather more detailed information. Then you can start to see “sub populations.” It comes back to identity and it is not black and white. There is no universally recognised definition. Each individual will have their own concept of what it is to be Jewish.
Odile: What is the current inter-marriage rate?

David: We only have figures from 2001. According to my colleague, Gary Eckstein, Demographer, it was approximately 22% for women. Among younger people the figure is higher. For women in their 20’s, 37% have a non-Jewish spouse whilst for women in their 40’s, 19% have a non-Jewish spouse. As time rolls by society assimilates, becoming more integrated into the majority of the population. You would see inter-marriage rates rising. So younger people are more into inter-marriage than the older.
Odile: What is the implication of inter-marriage for the Jewish community in Australia?

David: It’s very hard to assume anything. Inter-marriage does not mean exit from the community. Many women who marry-out still choose to bring up their children Jewish. This happens fairly often. We cannot be sure that those children will count themselves as being Jewish. There is another issue here – what attitude does the community take towards the non-Jewish partner? Does the community alienate that person or does the community try to embrace that person? There will be differences of opinion between the Orthodox and reform but in the long term if inter-marriage continues the community itself changes. It’s very difficult to say where will we be in 50 years. It’s actually impossible to say. I am absolutely giving no opinion as to whether I think this is good or bad. I can only state the facts. Note: inter-marriage rates differ according to where you live. De-facto inter-marriage rates is on the rise anywhere between 50-65%. New data for inter-marriage will be available in the next few months.
Odile: Therefore, what are your views on j-junction and its mission to preserve “Jewish continuity?”

David: Any kind of outreach and matchmaking service presumably will have the effect of enhancing “in-marriage.” If the aim is for Jewish people to meet and form families then presumably that is good news for the Jewish community.
Odile: What is the World Jewish population?

David: According to the 2010 World Jewish Report the World Jewish population was 13.4 million out of a global population of 7.046 billion. We are a pin prick. So Jews are rare. Based on these figures 1 in 525 is Jewish. Interestingly, there are 1.6 billion Muslims. Therefore, for every Jew there is 119 Muslims. Jews certainly punch above their weight. It shows how absurd it is that everyone blames the Jews for the world’s problems. Please look at the table below for the World figures.


Odile: What is the trend for the world Jewish population?

At the moment it is okay. The only indicators that count is America and Israel. Israel’s population is growing at a tremendous rate. In the last year or two Israel became the largest Jewish population in the world and that was a real milestone. Long term from a global perspective things are looking rosy because of Israel. As long as there are no calamities. Before the Holocaust we were 18 million Jews. A third of our population was eradicated. One in three. Demographically, it is an amazing turnaround that we have 5,703,700 million Jews in Israel when we look back at history.

Overall, Judaism is flourishing, both in Israel, where 43% of the world’s Jews now live, and throughout the Jewish diaspora. In October, when David Graham was interviewed he reported that Israelis, for all their problems, are the 14th-happiest people in the world, happier than the British or the French, according to a recent global happiness report commissioned by the UN. We must all wonder if that is still true?


One Response to “Where is Australian Jewry heading?”
  1. Reuven says:

    Worldwide, the Jewish population is increasing. On the otherhand, the non-Muslim German population is decreasing and may eventually disappear altogether. Hitler (the beast) must be very unhappy in hell.

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