it's about life, my life, quilts, midwifery, and whatever else occurs to me.

01 September 2011

The Aussie alphabet: J is for Jewish

Who's Jewish in Australia? That can be a tough one to sort out, when the big machers have last names like Pratt. For real. But, turns out his last name was Przecicki until his family moved from Poland to Oz in 1938, and anyway he lived in Melbourne which is definitively not Brisbane.

Melbourne is where the bagels I get in Coles come from. Melbourne is the home of the country's largest Jewish community, as a result of the mid-19th-century Victorian gold rush. It has whole neighbourhoods - sorry, suburbs - that are Jewish in flavour, mostly in the southeast. I've even visited one, Toorak, looking for a good bagel bakery with fresh, not-in-a-plastic-bag-in-Coles bagels. Found bagels - not that good - but walking around I felt like I was back on Avenue J in Brooklyn.

Wikipedia says there were at least 15 Jews who arrived with the First Fleet in 1788. The mishpocheh grew slowly until the gold rush, which saw a big increase. The Jewish population more than doubled between 1933 and 1955, as Oz set no limits on Jewish immigration (hey, they were white, so it was all good!).

Looking for more prominent Aussie Jews, I find Sidney Myer of the department store - yawn, although interestingly he converted in 1920, and Frank Lowy, of Westfield shopping centres fame. Nice to know that every time I spend money in the Temple of Consumerism, aka Indooroopilly Shopping Centre, I'm helping keep Frank near the top of the Rich List. Then Wikipedia surprises me by revealing that John Monash, war hero, honoured with an eponymous university, was a Yid! And as if that weren't enough, so is Zelman Cowen. Zel was the VC at UQ during the Vietnam War and has a building named after him. (I should add that I've wondered whether, with a name like Zelman, that Cowen wasn't a misspelling of Cohen.) Zel was also - shocker - Governor-General from 1977-1982. For those of you who don't know, the GG is the Queen's official representative in Oz, effectively the stunt Queen. And Zel wasn't even the first Jewish GG: nope, that was Isaac Isaacs in the 1930s, who was also the first Australian-born GG.

As for Brisbane, the Jewish population here is estimated at 1800 and change. More idle Googling reveals that there are two orthodox synagogues in Brisbane, one in the CBD (where almost nobody actually lives, so it must be like the one on 47th St in NYC, mostly for the weekday morning minyan) and one in Greenslopes, south of the CBD. There's also Beit Knesset, in Camp Hill, an eastern suburb, that's described as "Progressive." Oddly, the next Google listing after Beit Knesset is Langri Tangpa Buddhist Centre, so guess Google thinks Progressive Judaism is just Buddhism with knaidlach.

And all this Googling has uncovered a nearby source for frozen challah, and bagels that might be better than the ones in Coles: a deli in West End. I may just have to go there tomorrow. But tomorrow is Saturday...will they be open?