Circles and cycles

Jewish Australian Families

Circles and Cycles

The myth of the Jewish family rests on the notion of a strong family in the centre of a united community. The family unit, not the individual, is the atom of Jewish life. The process of living an Australian Jewish life begins, and ends, with the doing of Jewish things. Whether this is as tenuous as meeting as a family once a week, or as strong as living one's life by the 613 commandments of the Torah, it is the participation in Jewish communal life that counts.

In Australia, the presence of about 12 Jews in the first fleet ensured that Jews have been present from the very beginning of European settlement. In this country Jews are not alien intruders but part of the landscape. Our most notable retailer Myer began as a Jewish general store in the goldfields. Our most famous general, Sir John Monash, was Jewish, as were two governors-general, Sir Isaac Isaacs and Sir Zelman Cowen. This ease of absorption into general society (with the exception of a few reactionary golf courses), and the relaxed attitude towards religion in this country, have made the task of keeping the Australian Jewish family a definitive entity a difficult one. In a culture where Saturday sport is a religion, how does the synagogue compete? And in a landscape of tolerance for minorities and acceptance of multiculturalism, what barrier can or should a Jewish family erect against a child wanting to marry outside the faith? What arguments can they rustle up for 'marrying in'?

The text above has been abstracted from an essay Circles and Cycles: myth, reality and challenge in the Australian Jewish Family written by Marlo Newton with Helen Light for the publication The Australian Family: Images and Essays. The full text of the essay is available as part of this story.

This story is part of The Australian Family project, which involved 20 Victorian museums and galleries. The full series of essays and images are available in The Australian Family: Images and Essays published by Scribe Publications, Melbourne 1998, edited by Anna Epstein. The book comprises specially commissioned and carefully researched essays with accompanying artworks and illustrations from each participating institution.

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