Bringing Torah to Tasmania

July 25, 2023 | Nomi Kaltmann
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Earlier this month, Yisrael Meir Lau, the former chief rabbi of Israel, paid a visit to Tasmania, which—given its location off the southeastern coast of Australia—rarely gets to host prominent rabbis. Nomi Kaltmann provides some background:

Tasmania has . . . always had a Jewish population in its capital city of Hobart, which was set up in 1804 as a penal colony for exiled British convicts. Eight Jews were tallied among the original 270 convicts who settled there. The state is also home to Australia’s two oldest continuously operating synagogues: Hobart Hebrew Congregation, built in 1845, and the Launceston Synagogue, built one year later.

The history of Jews in Tasmania is long and checkered. In the 1940s, before the state of Israel was established, an explorer looking for a potential Jewish homeland scouted out the island’s coast but died on his mission. Over time, the number of Jewish people living in Tasmania has also ebbed and flowed; increases in immigration occurred during World War II, as European Jews fled Nazism, and in the 1980s, as a wave of Jews emigrated from South Africa.

Today, Tasmania’s Jewish community is once again growing. The 2021 Australian census showing a growth of almost 50 percent, from 248 people in 2016 to 376 in 2021. No one has studied the reasons behind the increase, but housing in Tasmania is significantly cheaper than in major cities, such as Melbourne and Sydney. Tasmania is also known across Australia as a retiree hotspot, especially for those fond of a quiet life and hiking.

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