The present representative structures of Australian Jewry emerged after bitter struggles for influence and authority within the community. In the 1920s the community was dominated by an Anglo-Jewish oligarchy which exercised control from the synagogues, as Medding has shown. He argued that ‘the struggle to organise a communal roof body… was basically a fight for supremacy within the community, in which control by the specifically religious institutions and their leaders was challenged and overcome by institutions and leaders committed to other aspects of Jewish identification’1.
The pre- and post-war Jewish immigrants from Europe transformed every aspect of Australian Jewry2. The newcomers were accustomed to more sophisticated forms of communal leadership in Europe. Faced with the growing ‘anti-reffo’ feelings from the general public, an overall hostile reception and the sense of alienation from Australian Jewry, they began a campaign to revolutionise Jewish communal leadership in Australia3.
It was these forces that contributed to the formation of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) in 1944, urged by vocal newcomers who were directly affected by the European tragedy. The extent of the catastrophe forced the Jewish leadership into realising the need for unified action. The other major issue facing Australian Jewry at this time was securing ‘the establishment of Palestine as a Jewish Commonwealth integrated in the structure of the new democratic world’4. The establishment of the ECAJ in August 1944 brought Australian Jewry into line with the centralised structure of the Board of Deputies/Congress in other Commonwealth countries such in South Africa, Canada and Britain itself.
Since its establishment the ECAJ has aimed at being an effective advocate for Australian Jewry with the priorities of relief and rescue of persecuted Jews, combating antisemitism and campaigning on behalf of the Jewish homeland remaining on the top of its agenda5. Recently, responding to the threat of terrorism and violence and combating incitement to hatred against the community, have become major additions to that agenda. The ECAJ has also been very involved with interfaith dialogue and community building within the broader Australian society.
(Reproduced from Professor Sol Encel and Professor Suzanne D. Rutland, Political Sociology of Australian Jewry, Australian Research Council Linkage Grant, 2003, with the kind permission of Professor Rutland.)
- Medding, Peter, From Assimilation to Group Survival: A Political and Sociological Study of an Australian Jewish Community, Melbourne, Cheshire, 1968, p.30.
- Rutland, Suzanne D. Edge of the Diaspora: Two Centuries of Jewish Settlement in Australia, second edition, third printing, New York: Holmes and Meiers 2001, pp.324-357.
- Rutland, Suzanne D and Caplan, S, With One Voice, Australian Jewish Historical Society Inc., Darlington,1998
- Sydney Jewish News, 11 August 1944.
- Medding, Peter, Note 1, p.55
Front Row: Max Nurock, Sid Einfeld, Abe Landa
2nd Row: Leibler sen., Ilse Robey, Ida Wynn, Sam Wynn, ??, Sam Roth
3rd row: ??, David Benjamin, Maurice Laserson(?), Alec Breckler, Gerald de Vahl Davis, Maurice Ashkanasy, ??, Julian Rose, Hans Wachtell, Horace B. Newman, ??, Harry Goldstein, Hyman (Bill) Wolfensohn