What It’s Like Being Jewish in Australia

Growing up within the Jewish community in Australia is both a blessing and a curse. Sure, we’ve developed a cute and approachable accent as well as a strong defense for creepy crawlies (of both the spider and human variety). But on the flip side, we’re 11,000 miles away from Russ & Daughters and have to pay at least $30 in shipping whenever we shop online.

We’re also severely outnumbered, with 91,000 of us existing in a population of 24 million, according to our latest census. That’s about 0.379%, if my (and Google’s) calculations are correct.

Yet, we’ve not simply survived down here, but have thrived. We’ve forged our own path, clasping at the matzah crumbs of the Jewish-Australian identity we’ve built for ourselves on this deserted island.

So, what’s it like down under?

1. To start, everyone knows everything about everyone.

Yes, Melbourne has a population of over 4 million, but that doesn’t stop at least the Jewish community here from feeling like a small town. In our community, information moves fast. No secret or story is safe. Like the news of new boyfriends and embarrassing breakups. Word will have travelled to the other end of the continent and back before you’ve had a chance to enjoy some healthy, post-break up sex… and the city reruns.

2. We’ve all dated each other’s exes.

With a smaller dating pool, it’s not uncommon to know your new boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. Or be cousins with her. With already slim pickings, this means traditional girl code is sidelined in case-by-case situations, often undergoing revisions. It also means an openness to dating outside the community. And if it’s not us, it’s our parents. With any new partner, if you haven’t had a thing with their friend and they haven’t had a thing with yours, then your mum definitely had one with their dad. It’s just a fact.

3. We’re also all related.

If you haven’t dated them, you’re probably related to them. Or, you’ve dated them, then found out at a later time that you’re distant cousins. Many Australian Jews have been here for generations, but a lot of families migrated at the same time from places like South Africa and Russia. So, with similar backgrounds, chances are you’re someone’s third-cousin, second-cousin, niece-in-law, or goddaughter, often without realizing it.

4. We often have to move cities (or countries) to fall in love.

After pashing (i.e. making out with) every boy and girl in the city, it’s not uncommon to pack our bags. Interstate is common, like Melbourne and Sydney. But a lot of us go to London or New York, usually under the guise of seeking new opportunities, AKA work. But who said business and pleasure have to be mutually exclusive? When selecting a new home, the more foreign the accent, the more attractive the prospects. Looking at you, Brooklyn.

5. We can spot another Jew in the wild.

Perhaps it’s their dark features accompanied by a puffy down jacket and Birkenstocks, even when temperatures reach below 50 degrees. It could just as easily be the obnoxiously loud conversation or the order of a salad with dressing on the side, thanks doll.

6. We know how to handle hair and humidity like queens.

Summer in Bondi? Heck, even winter in Bondi. We know how to handle our fros, from head to toes. We trade product recommendations like secrets, and when one of us has found the holy grail or newest, best treatment, everyone converts. God forbid we don’t manage ourselves and we bump into an ex. Or worse, their mother.

7. We secretly love all the dating apps.

Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, JSwipe. They’re our best bet at being informed about who’s single and that Jason with the serious girlfriend is now Jason without the serious girlfriend. You know, other than simply asking. While Tinder is more casual, JSwipe translates to being ready to settle down with a home loan and two cavoodles named Milo and Biscuit. And if you swipe right on more than one app? Mazel tov. You’re engaged.

8. We’re obsessed with going to Israel.

But it takes three planes, 20 hours in layovers, and ample medication. And that’s just the way there. In fact, to get anywhere that isn’t Bali requires a serious financial investment, an approval of annual leave at least six months in advance, and the foresight to get a mental health plan to mitigate the anxiety of turbulence upon return.

9. We rely on American television and film for Jewish representation.

I’m talking from Broad City to Seinfeld and everything in between. We love it. But it would be nice to see a seder complemented by a bogan accent. Or talk of the menorah accompanied with bikinis and budgie smugglers, as opposed to snowflakes and scarves.

10. Our community is small, but strong.

Our doors are always open to friends and strangers in need. Literally, because we never lock them. We’re quick to jump to our fellow Jew’s defense and are always willing to help them peddle their businesses and expertise. We can meet another Australian anywhere in the world and instantly connect over our collective values, culture, and appreciation of Sarah Silverman.

11. You’re either a Jewish Australian or an Australian Jew.

And whichever one you identity with, we’re united by the fact that we’re not so different from our cousins across the pond(s). We all have a strong sense of identity and boast it to anyone who will listen. We all value family above all else. And we all have insatiable appetites for good Jewish food. Or any food, really.

So you see, we’re not so different, you and I.

Carly Brand

Carly lives in Melbourne, Australia and aspires to be a game show contestant. When she’s not playing with other people’s dogs at her local dog park, you can find her working at Willow & Blake and redesigning her personal website. Again.

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