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Since the beginning of British colonialization of New South Wales in 1788, when between eight and fifteen Jews were among the convicts who arrived with the First Fleet, several waves of immigration have brought the Jewish population up to its present size. Between 1946 and 1954, seventeen thousand Jews, the majority of them Holocaust survivors, came from Europe and Shanghai. The next large wave of immigration, after 1976, brought immigrants from South Africa and the USSR, as well as some Israelis.
From the beginning of Australian history there have been a number of prominent Jewish women who have made their mark as individuals in many varied fields. Until 1945 there was a considerable level of assimilation in Australian Jewry which was reflected in high intermarriage rates, but the intermarriage rates for women were always much lower, reflecting their greater commitment to Judaism.
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries a number of well-known Jewish women played key roles not only in charitable endeavors, but also in the country’s educational system, the professions, business, music, literature and the arts. In the field of education Jewish women made significant contributions in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
In politics and in the professions, especially law and medicine, there were a number of pioneering Jewish women. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, a growing number of Jewish women have undertaken university studies and have played a role in academia. Rich-Schalit became involved in the women’s movement in 1922, when she met Millicent Preston-Stanley and agreed to be her campaign secretary while Preston-Stanley was seeking election to parliament. The art world, like that of music and culture in general, was greatly enriched by Jewish refugee artists, who not only developed galleries but became part of the art-buying public. Theatre and ballet also developed in post-war Australia, partly as a result of Jewish refugee actors, audiences and patrons.
Jewish women who have made contributions in the literary field include journalist Zara Aronson (1864–1944), known for her work in Sydney and Melbourne; Nancy Keesing (b. Children of immigrants have also chosen the medium of film to depict the Australian Jewish experience.
Sport is a central aspect of Australian culture and Jewish women have also contributed in this domain. The concept of combined Jewish interstate sports competitions—a central feature of Australian Jewish life—was introduced by a woman. The contribution of Jewish women to Australian development in the two largest centers has been highlighted by the research of Lysbeth Cohen (1926–1988) in New South Wales and Hilary Rubinstein (b.
Before the 1920s Jewish women’s main contribution was either as helpmates to their husbands or in philanthropic endeavors.
Julia Levy (1886–1959), who arrived in Australia in 1935 and married a businessman and parliamentarian, Lewis Wolfe Levy (d. The most remarkable effort of Jewish women in Sydney in the nineteenth century was their assistance in the building of the Great Synagogue.
Despite this contribution, women had no say in the synagogue’s management, though a number of unsuccessful attempts were made to allow women to vote at its annual meetings. After their initial input, women were not in evidence in any official capacity during the many years of growth and development of the Great Synagogue, the dominant institution of Sydney Jewry. The specific example of the Great Synagogue reflected the general situation for women in Jewish communities throughout Australia. The first move to organize Jewish women in a more formal way came with the creation of the Council of Jewish Women (CJW). And the best of all impressions to take back from this Conference to your states, your cities and your homes is, that the Council of Jewish Women stands above all things for the Law of Loving-kindness. In the late 1960s the NCJW experienced a significant change when its national office moved to Melbourne following the election of Mina Fink (1913–1990). Another key Jewish women’s organization, the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO), was founded initially in Sydney as Ivriah by Reike Cohen (1887–1964), a strong leader who was originally active in the NCJW.
Since WIZO was better known in Europe than the NCJW, it attracted many key leaders from Europe, including personalities such as Sydney-based Hannah Kessler (1909–1982) and Melbourne-based Dr. Women’s Zionist activities were further diversified in September 1939 with the establishment of Ezra. The post-war era saw the inception of other women’s organizations, including the women’s B’nai B’rith chapters, of which the Sydney chapter, established in 1945, was the first. As well as establishing women’s organizations such as NCJW, WIZO, and Ezra, and, more recently, Emunah, the religious women’s Zionist organization, Jewish women have contributed to the development of the community in a number of other areas, including immigration, Youth Aliyah, the establishment of convalescent and old age homes, public relations and sport.
Immigration was one area where women were in the forefront of all endeavors, proving more perceptive than men even in recognizing the need to escape from Europe. Eventually the family left Germany in time, thanks to Betty Lipton’s vision, and this story was mirrored in many other families.
Who are we to say that we are pleased that certain immigration restrictions will be placed on the admittance of our brethren into our country? Women met the refugees before the war and survivors after the war at the boats and planes and assisted them in integrating into society. Jewish women were also concerned with the care of the sick and the need to provide convalescent facilities for Jewish people. Another area where the initiative came from the dynamic leadership of a woman was Youth Aliyah, founded in Germany in 1933 and introduced into Australia in 1938 by Friedl Levi (d. As part of her work as publicity officer, she wrote two detailed pamphlets to assist understanding for the Jewish struggle for statehood: “Whither Palestine” (1947) and “Israel Reborn,” distributed immediately after the declaration of the state of Israel.
A number of Jewish women have utilized leadership skills which they developed in NCJW or WIZO in broader communal organizations such as the Boards of Deputies in the various states and the State Zionist Councils. The successful introduction of Progressive Judaism into Australia in the 1930s resulted from the efforts of a Melbourne widow, Ada Phillips (1862–1967), who came from a long-established Victorian Jewish family, the Crawcours.
Reform Judaism, at least in theory, offers full equality to women in both religious and lay leadership. An interesting example of Orthodox feminism is the establishment of the first Women’s Tefillah Group in Sydney in 1989, of which Gael Hammer was a founding member. The emergence of HaMakom reinforced the activities of the women’s tefillah group in Sydney and contributed to the development of a similar group in Melbourne. The development of women’s tefillah groups in Australia was assisted by the encouragement of Alice Shalvi, founding chairwoman of the Israel Women’s Network, who toured several cities in 1994 as guest of NCJW and the Australian Jewish Congress, and the support of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), whose founder, Blu Greenberg, visited Sydney as scholar-in-residence at Shalom College in 1996. Women in the hasidic world have also been seeking a more active role, particularly within Habad, the strongest hasidic sect in Australia.
Jewish women have played a disproportionately significant role in the development of Jewish education and culture. Women were also at the cutting edge of the development of the Melton Adult Education program in both Sydney and Melbourne, with women also constituting a higher proportion of the student body. Another area where Jewish women have been active is in the founding and running of Jewish genealogical and historical societies.
Australian Jewry also saw a flowering of museum culture, with women playing a key role at both the professional and voluntary levels. Despite significant advances over the last few decades, Jewish women in Australia do not enjoy full equality with their male counterparts. Decades of feminist activism have won women equal rights to participate in social, economic and political life in Australia, but equality has meant participating on men’s terms which assume workers, [sic] citizens are autonomous, mobile and free from domestic responsibility. Since most Jewish women today take their domestic responsibilities seriously, full equality is definitely elusive. Although Jews represent only a tiny proportion of the national population, they have made outstanding contributions and influenced Australian society immeasurably. By 1920, according to the census, David, Ida and Abe were living with Sarah who had married Sidney Sachsel.
In the 1910 census, Clara was married to Joseph Witkin, and were living at 104 Evergreen Ave. Ida married Harry Abels on October 27, 1927 in Chicago, IL, and in the 1930 census we see them living at 411 East Walnut St.
On June 5, 1917, Jack registered for the draft, and we have images of the registration card. In the 1920 census, Jack is married to Lillian and has a daughter Eleanor, who is 2 years, 9 months. By 1930, as we see in the census, Jack and Lillian are living at 72 Laundale Ave, and Charlotte Zucker has been born. Abe married to Leah Greenberg on March 14, 1920, and by the census of 1930, they lived at 17 N. The Anglo-Jews who arrived in the 1820s and began the Jewish communities that still exist in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and in the Tasmanian towns of Hobart and Launceston, were succeeded by a substantial number of European Jews who arrived at the time of the Gold Rushes of the 1850s.
A further ten thousand arrived by 1961, a significant number of them coming after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956—a year in which some Egyptian Jews also arrived. According to figures from the 2001 census, the thriving community numbers around eighty-four thousand, though community leaders believe the actual number to be around one hundred and ten thousand.
The first was Esther Abrahams, a Jewish “First Fleeter,” who was found guilty of stealing two lengths of black lace, for which she received a sentence of seven years’ transportation. Jewish women’s involvement in these areas before World War II mirrored the high level of integration of Jewish men in Australian society. Gladys Marks (1883–1970), was the first woman lecturer in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Sydney in the 1920s, and for a short time acting Professor of French. In 1928, Julia Rapke (nee Levi, 1886–1959), a teacher of public speaking, became one of the first female justices of the peace, as well as being vice-president of the National Council of Women of Victoria and president of the Victorian Women’s Citizen Movement. Born in the country area of New South Wales as the fourth of six children, she narrates that her mother Ada told her that “she saw a snake slither from under a pile of wood beside the fire near which she was sitting. The 1922 campaign failed, but Preston-Stanley later became the third woman to be elected to parliament in Australia and the first in New South Wales. Helena Rubinstein (1870–1965) began her outstanding cosmetics career in country Victoria, producing creams to protect women’s skin from the harsh Australian sun. In 1939 Gertrude Bodenwieser (1890–1959), a Viennese refugee who had served since 1926 as Professor of Dance and Choreography at the Austrian State Academy of Music and Performance, introduced modern dance to the Sydney stage. 1923), who published a number of short story collections and novels, and became chair of the Australian Literature Board; poets Judith Rodriguez and Holocaust poet Lilly Brett. Sandra Levy, who joined the ABCV in 1972, was appointed director of programs for the ABC in 2001. Naomi Wolinski (1881–1969) became well known in Australia as lawn bowls champion and administrator.
In February 1924, in a letter to the Hebrew Standard, Hannah Hart (1894–1983) proposed such a competition as an extension of the increased interest in Jewish sport. 1936), an anthology of Australian Jewish writing, provides a brief biography of each contributor, a significant number of whom are women.


A spectacular bazaar raised close to ?5,000, one fifth of the total cost of the building, which was opened in 1878. The rejection of such motions was indicative of the conception of women’s role in the community. One exception was the Victorian Ladies Zionist League, Ha-Tikvah, which was established by Rose Altson in 1905, not as an auxiliary to a male counterpart but as an autonomous group. Mina Fink arrived as a young bride from Bialystok, Poland, in the early 1930s and worked untiringly as her husband’s helpmate, assisting Jewish immigrants. As Marilyn Lake has commented, “The history of Australian feminism was marked by a series of rivalries between strong women,” and the split between Cohen and Reading is evidence of this. An organization concerned primarily with improving maternity facilities in Palestine, it was a response to the appeals for help of Rose Slutzkin (1867–1945) who, with her daughter, came on a visit from Erez Israel. Both the United Israel Appeal and, in New South Wales, the Jewish Communal Appeal created separate women’s divisions. In many of these areas—particularly immigration and Zionism—women were innovative in their approach. I had read all the Sturmer magazines and so on because I wanted to be in the picture about what was happening. As Astrid Kirchhof has shown, the refugee women’s lives changed more than those of the men as a result of immigration, not only because they had to learn to cope without servants.
That we are glad that our task will be made lighter while our brethren languish for freedom and the right to live?
In the fight against government quotas, Jewish women joined with liberal feminists such as Camilla Wedgewood (1901–1955) and Jessie Street (1889–1970), both of whom were strong supporters of more liberal migration policies, as well as of the establishment of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine.
In Sydney the NCJW was closely associated with the development of the Wolper Jewish Hospital, which was one of the first mainstream organizations to have a female president, Lynn Davies. In 1952 journalist Caroline Isaacson was appointed Director of the Public Relations Bureau of the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies.
She also wrote plays and short stories, including The Snake Pit, the story of a Holocaust survivor, which was performed by the La Mama Theatre. Eve Mahlab, who was involved in the Welfare Society in Melbourne, was appointed to head the 1986 welfare appeal. In 1928 she attended a Progressive service in London and, impressed with their approach, decided to establish the movement in Melbourne.
However, there have been important developments to increase opportunities for Orthodox Jewish women within the religious framework. Melbourne-born, Hammer (nee Sage) had been deeply influenced by an incident she experienced as a university student during the 1956 Suez crisis.
In Jewish schools, most of the Jewish Studies and Hebrew teachers are female although previously, leadership and management were male.
This was a vital new development which has expanded rapidly under the leadership of Jerusalem Fellow Peta Pellach (b. The Australian Jewish Genealogical Society was founded in Sydney by Holocaust child survivor, Sophie Caplan (b. Women still bear the major responsibility for home and family, their traditional areas in Judaism. This book explores how the Australian Jewish community differs from others around the world.
Though the high rate of assimilation in 1945 led demographer Joseph Gentilli to predict that the Jewish community would disappear by the twenty-first century, it actually quadrupled in size from 23,000 in 1933 to 110,000 by 2003 as a result of various waves of migration. Thus Australian Jewry doubled in size from a mere twenty-three thousand in 1933 to sixty thousand in 1965. Jewish women were concerned with this phenomenon and were aware of the traditional responsibility of Jewish women in the home and education of children as a counter to assimilation. Fanny Cohen (1887–1975) became headmistress of a select state school, Fort Street Girls’ High School, and was also a member of the Senate of the University of Sydney, while Sophia “Zoe” Benjamin (1882–1962), “a true dwarf,” founded the kindergarten movement and the Sydney Kindergarten Teacher’s Training College. Constance Ellis (1872–1942) was the first woman to qualify as a doctor in Victoria, while a leading communal figure, Dr. 1940) served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Sydney (1996–2001), and Sydney feminist and lecturer in the social sciences at the University of Technology, Sydney, Professor Eva Cox (nee Hauser, b.
Margaret Davis was the first Jewish woman member of parliament, in the New South Wales Legislative Council (1967–1978).
That precipitated my birth.” Shortly afterwards, her parents moved to Sydney, where she grew up with memories of the family entertaining on Friday nights.
Rich also became close to another leading Australian feminist, Jessie Street, whose (unsuccessful) election campaigns she coordinated. 1920), described as “Australia’s foremost artist.” Cassab’s story is one of struggle, determination and dedication to establish herself as a leading figure in a new land.
In 1984 she devised and produced a mini-series, “Palace of Dreams,” which was based on her family’s immigration experiences in Australia during the depression years. Daughter of a Polish-born rabbi, Solomon Herman, who served as rabbi of the Ballarat congregation in Victoria, Naomi married Ury Wolinski in 1903, thereby uniting two rabbinic families, since Ury’s father, Abraham David Wolinski, was for many years rabbi of the Great Synagogue in Sydney. The idea was supported enthusiastically in the columns of the Standard, and in January 1925 Sydney sent a cricket team to Melbourne. Lysbeth Cohen’s book, Beginning with Esther: Jewish Women in New South Wales is, to date, the only substantial study of the contribution of Jewish women in Australia. Other books which help to provide insights into the lives of individual Jewish women include Community of Fate (1986), edited by the late John Foster, which features five Jewish women’s stories.
One ex-colonial alleged in the London Jewish World that the majority of Australian Jewish girls, “while amiable, attractive and educated, do not know how to cook a potato, and hence can only start married life with a retinue of servants.” One way of combating the problem was to improve the status and increase the activities of Jewish women within the Jewish community in an effort to improve communal structure.
One of the earliest Jewish charitable organizations created in Sydney was the Sydney Ladies’ Hebrew Benevolent and Maternity Society, founded in 1844 to provide relief for distressed Jewish women. This was particularly remarkable in light of the fact that Australia was one of the first countries to give women the right to vote. It operated for a number of years and in 1908 resisted attempts to amalgamate with its male counterpart, the Victorian Zionist League.
Fanny Reading (1884–1974) was inspired by the words of visiting American Zionist emissary, Bella Pevsner. Born in Minsk, Russia, and migrating to Australia in her early childhood in the 1890s, she grew up in Ballarat in the country area of Victoria.
This was another progressive step, helping to reduce Australian Jewry’s isolation from the Jewish world. After his death, she devoted her efforts to improving the status of women and acting as a bridge on feminist issues between her own prewar generation and that of her daughter, who represented the new attitudes of professional women in the 1970s. In July 1934 Ethel Morris established the Melbourne branch of WIZO and in 1937 Ivriah was renamed WIZO, with Ruby Rich-Schalit being elected as the first federal president, a position which she retained for three years. The links established between Jewish and non-Jewish feminists in the 1920s and 1940s led them to work together on many issues of equality. Similarly, the Maurice Zeffert Old Age Home in Perth started as a Council project under the initiative of Edna Luber-Smith. For five years she traveled in Germany on fund-raising tours for the movement, while also assisting children to escape. Evelyn Rothfield played an active role in this area, especially as publicity officer of the Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Antisemitism in the 1940s and 1950s and through her work with the NCJW.
As part of her work she participated in a regular weekly radio broadcast entitled “Axis Lies and Our Replies.” She used her knowledge of languages in her work at the Department of Information, monitoring broadcasts from overseas. After Eve Symon’s retirement from the Times she became chairperson of the Public Relations Committee of the NSW Board of Deputies and shortly before her death was elected vice-president. Janet Simons (1944–1997) came through the ranks of the United Israel Appeal (UIA) Women’s Division to become vice-president of UIA.
She was supported by her two daughters, Isabella, a physician, and Millie, who became the first honorary secretary.
Most important of these is the establishment of Women’s Tefillah Groups and opportunities for women’s Jewish learning. While the group is very small in size, it has attracted support from leading young feminist professionals in Sydney.
In order to create many levels of resonance, its founders chose the name HaMakom, both as one of God’s names and also for its meaning—“the place.” Its mission statement stresses that it “is a community which defines itself by its commitment to operating within a halakhic framework.
This changed radically in the 1990s, with women taking on significant leadership roles: the majority of Jewish schools in Melbourne had a female principal during that decade, and in 2001 three of the schools in the city were headed by female principals.
It traces the community's history from its convict origins in 1788 through Australia's contemporary vibrant Jewish culture, and highlights its social and cultural impact.
George Jonston, an officer with the First Fleet who rose to the position of Lieutenant Governor of Australia. More than five thousand “thirty-niners” arrived immediately before or at the outbreak of World War II. George Johnston, an officer with the First Fleet, who rose to become Lieutenant Governor of the colony and was later tried for his participation in the Bligh rebellion. At the same time, they did contribute to the general population, although in smaller numbers than their male counterparts.
Fanny Reading (1884–1974), was another early woman graduate in medicine from the University of Melbourne.
In 1926 Ruby became involved with the Racial Hygiene Association (later the Family Planning Association), which sought to educate women in sexual relations and the prevention of venereal disease. 1972), at first carved out a successful career in the cosmetic industry, but she went bankrupt in the early 1990s. Born in Vienna, she returned with her mother to her family’s native Hungary after her parents’ separation. 1953), a daughter of Holocaust survivors, published a well-received novel, April’s Fool, in 2001. Monique Schwartz produced a film about Jewish experiences in the inner Melbourne suburb of Carlton and in 2001 released “Mammadrama,” a study of the Jewish mother in film.
In 1930 Naomi and a number of fellow players established the NSW Women’s Bowling Association, in an attempt to create better opportunities for women’s participation in this sport.
This was the beginning of regular interstate competitions, which gradually included all sports.
From Strauss to Matilda, edited by Karl Bittman (1988), about Austrians in Australia, contains references to a number of significant Jewish women; while Neer Korn’s Shades of Belonging (1999) consists of interviews with various Sydney Jews, almost half of them women. Another was the creation of women’s organizations that would aim to educate their members in Jewish matters. The second women’s organization to be registered formally in Australia, it continued to function until 1981.


But Jewish women do not appear to have played a significant role in the suffrage movement, possibly because of its close connections with the Christian Temperance movement. Its initial ideals, which continued to dominate Council philosophy, included loyalty to Judaism, support for Israel and service to all worthy causes—both Jewish and non-Jewish—in the fields of education and philanthropy, while endeavoring to further the interests and cater for the needs of women and children.
After gaining her Diploma of Music in 1914, she decided to study medicine and graduated in 1921. There were, for example, close connections between Jessie Street and Jewish women leaders such as Dr. In 1938, on one such tour, she was imprisoned by the Nazis, whereupon she and her husband, Dr. In 1998 (together with her husband) she was awarded the OAM for her work in promoting peace and human rights, nationally and internationally. Lotte Fink, chairperson of the Committee for Overseas Jewry for the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, and Josie Lacey (b. In Perth, Tirza Cohen served as president of the Council of Western Australian Jewry, while Ruth Holzman was president of the ACT Council.
From the beginning, women were accepted as equals in all facets of congregational life, including membership of the Board of Management.
Thereafter, two female rabbis were appointed in Sydney while a number of female rabbis were active in Jewish communal life in Melbourne. In addition, the difficult issues of the get (divorce), halizah and marriage, have been canvassed through petitions at both the national and international level, largely organized by the NCJW, with both Dr. Izaak Rapaport, who in the course of a Shabbat service made an appeal for financial support. One of its central ideas is to facilitate the practice of and participation in Judaism for and by women in as many meaningful ways as is halakhically possible.” The congregation, which operates through a process that is, as far as possible, based on inclusivity, consensus and a lack of hierarchical formality, prays in a private home and has no rabbi, paid membership or executive leadership. 1972) , started a Women’s Circle at the Jewish Museum which influenced a group of Orthodox university students. Music has also been an important vehicle through which Habad women have been able to express themselves. In Melbourne Beverley Davis served for many years as the honorary secretary of the Australian Jewish Historical Society; in Sydney Louise Rosenberg (b. As well as looking at the emergence of a specific faith tradition, the book also explores how Jews, as the country's first ethnic group, have been assimilated into multicultural Australia. In the 1920 census where you'll find Leo listed as "Louis", he and his wife Esther are living on North Irving Ave. In 1940, a further two thousand refugee internees from Germany and Austria, together with two hundred former Italian Fascists and 250 German prisoners of war, were deported from England by the British government on the infamous boat, the Dunera, which had been built to accommodate only sixteen hundred passengers.
In 1933 she was elected president of the association, a position she filled for a record twenty-year period, during which the organization expanded rapidly. Valuable autobiographies which explore conflicting issues of Jewish identity and belonging include those by Nancy Keesing, journalists Amirah Inglis (b.
There was an interaction between these two approaches, and it was often the leaders of the Jewish women’s organizations who became involved in the general community structure.
In Victoria a similar organization, the Hebrew Ladies’ Benevolent Society, was founded in 1857. Founded to educate and involve women in communal endeavors, the Council proved to be a vehicle through which Jewish women could express their views and make their influence felt in a largely male-dominated community. She had a flair for organization and has been described as “a dreamer of great dreams with the courage to implement them even in the face of strong opposition.” Her boundless enthusiasm, energy and idealism activated Jewish women in Sydney and throughout Australia for over half a century. However, Ida Bension-Wynn (1896–1948) from Canada was the key personality in the development of WIZO.
She celebrated her ninety-third birthday by publishing a collection of short stories, Down The Years, by herself and her husband Norman. He announced that during times of crisis, if Israel was in trouble, funds could be collected from all possible sources including women, and he invited the women present to come up to the reader’s desk and make a donation. In 1999, they held a Sunday morning forum which established the Orthodox Women’s Network (OWN), with the aim of holding regular discussions of ways to incorporate women more actively into all the major life cycle events. 1950) was the head of Jewish Studies at Mount Scopus College, the largest Jewish day school in Melbourne, before going on to become the first female principal at Yavneh College. 1914) was honorary secretary and then honorary historian, while the position of honorary treasurer was filled by Phoebe Davis (1898–1986), followed by Miriam Solomon (b. The Museum was awarded a Cultural Awareness Initiative Award by the Victorian government, specifically honoring the volunteers’ work. Efforts to increase women’s abilities to take over leadership roles could be seen in the establishment of the Sydney organization, WomenPower, as a training ground for women. However, Esther Abrahams severed her links with Judaism; her children by Johnston were all baptized and she was married and buried as a Christian (Levi and Bergman, 23). 1911) was the third woman to qualify as a barrister in New South Wales and Mahla Pearlman (b. For many years the only Jewish name mentioned from cities other than Melbourne and Sydney was that of the Breckler family, whose firm was established by a remarkable businesswoman, Fanny Breckler (nee Masel, 1877–1946).
1940) also composed works, particularly in the 1930s, but her work was not adequately recognized. She spent the war years initially as an art student in Budapest and later, after the assumption of direct control by the Germans, disguised as a non-Jewish factory worker, separated from her husband in order to avoid deportation and death. Many of the new clubs established in this period paid tribute to Naomi’s formative role in their establishment.
By the end of the nineteenth century other Jewish charitable organizations run by women had been established. By the late 1920s interstate branches had been established and in 1929 the first interstate conference was held, leading to the creation of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW).
Like her gentile feminist colleagues of the inter-war years, Fanny Reading set about mobilizing Jewish women at the grass-roots level. A prominent Zionist leader, Bension first visited Australia in July 1939, when she was responsible for creating a federal movement for WIZO.
Nerida Cohen assisted Jessie Street in her battle for equal pay for women, while Ida Wynn established a close relationship with Greta Hort (1903–1967), philosopher and principal of Women’s College of Melbourne University. Sydney’s Hannah Kessler became a vocal spokesperson on all issues and chaired the Education Sub-committee of the Zionist Federation of Australia and New Zealand (ZFA).
1920) was elected chairperson of the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies and in 1995 she became the first woman to head a federal organization, the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA). The members pray together, but separate for the Torah readings to enable women to read from the Torah. At university level, a large proportion of lecturers are Jewish women, and between 1992 and 2001 three of four presidents of the Australian Association of Jewish Studies were female. Similarly, the Sydney Jewish Museum is dependent on volunteers, particularly Holocaust survivors, and again the majority are female.
Perhaps only the next generation of women will come fully into their own in Jewish communal leadership.
1937) was one of the first female judges in New South Wales, also becoming president of the New South Wales Law Association. Widowed in 1912, with four children still in her care, she established her first shoe store, The Dainty Walk, in Perth and later founded the shoe stores Betts and Betts and Cecil Brothers. Miraculously reunited after the war, both sole survivors of their respective families, the couple migrated to Australia in 1951. She played an active role in the NSW Women’s Amateur Sports Council and the Australian Women’s Bowling Council, being elected the latter’s founding president in 1947. In Sydney these included the Jewish Girls’ Guild, founded to engage in non-sectarian work by the wife of Reverend Joseph Hirsch Landau, assistant minister of the Great Synagogue in Sydney and the Help-in-Need Society, established in 1898. She returned for a second visit in 1939, after which she married Melbourne winemaker and veteran Zionist leader, Samuel Wynn. In 2000 a separate Torah reading was held for women on Simhat Torah and in 2001 the WTG also read the Megillah on Purim. She continued her interest in music and fought for the needs of underprivileged women throughout her long life, dying at the age of ninety-nine.
Initially, Cassab taught art to earn money to buy equipment while her husband, a chemical engineer, struggled to build his career.
The women who ran these societies were also active in the Montefiore Homes for the Aged established in Sydney in 1880 and in Melbourne in 1885, as well as participating in non-Jewish charities such as the Red Cross. 1908), who served from 1979 to 1985, and then by Romanian-born child survivor of the Holocaust, Malvina Malinek (b.
By the time of her early death in 1948 Australian WIZO had a four thousand-strong membership, making it one of the largest and most influential movements within the Jewish community. 1936) was elected president of the community’s roof body, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ). Also very active in interfaith activities, Rabbi Kipen served as secretary of the Leaders of Faith Communities Forum in Victoria as well as being program director of its religious celebration of Australia’s Centenary of Federation. In 1999 the Gandel Besen synagogue in Melbourne followed suit, creating an enormous outcry among the Orthodox leadership, but thereafter a number of synagogues introduced the practice.
With the development of women’s participation in prayer, with girls celebrating their bat mitzvah through the group, some reading from the Torah, women saying kaddish, and an increased role for women in the wedding ceremony. Following her initial exhibition in 1953, she developed a fine reputation, twice winning the prestigious Archibald Prize for portrait painting. During World War I, the editor of a Sydney-based paper, the Hebrew Standard, referred to “the many enthusiastic workers of the Jewish faith who identified with the Red Cross.” Ida Cohen (1867–1970) of Tamworth was officially recognized for her services to the Red Cross.
Her Melbourne successor was lawyer Nina Bassat, the second woman and the first Holocaust survivor to hold this key position. In 1959 she visited Alice Springs in the Australian interior for the first time and was struck by its uniqueness and spirituality. She felt that this was the reason she had migrated to Australia: in the ancient, surreal landscape of Aboriginal outback, Cassab had found her subject and was able to break down cultural barriers in Australia. Rubinstein describes as the “secondary level of Jewish leadership” with most administrative posts of the Boards of Deputies, State Zionist Councils, ECAJ and ZFA being filled by women. However, this is largely because community posts tend to be less well paid and have lower status than top positions in the corporate sector. While these Council leaders worked to upgrade the status of Jewish women, radical feminism did not appeal to most Jewish women, who continued to consider home and family a priority.




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