Living a Jewish life in Tasmania certainly has its challenges, but there are many compensations. Apart from enjoying our clean air, beautiful scenery, historic townscapes, and lower property prices, you get to make an active commitment to being Jewish. The congregation doesn’t employ a rabbi, which means there’s a strong do-it-yourself spirit in the community, and support and help are readily to hand.
For specific religious queries and advice, externally-based Progressive and Chabad rabbis can be consulted.
Otherwise, many Jewish services and consumer items taken for granted in larger communities take a bit of organising. In particular:
Until recently, when the fishery protection regulations changed, it wasn’t even possible to import bottled schmaltz herrings!
All this means that many Tasmanian Jews derive great satisfaction from baking their own challahs, Hannukah doughnuts and other traditional treats. The congregation organises the supply of kosher l’Pesach foods from mainland Australia with the help of the Chabad movement. Kosher meat can also be ordered through Chabad. And until kosher wine became available in Launceston, visitors to Melbourne and Sydney were often asked to bring bottles back with them.
Of course, the advent of the internet has made some of the practicalities of Jewish living easier. Many items are obtainable at the click of a mouse, and b’nei mitzvot preparations can now be taught remotely from mainland Australia.
The congregation is the focus of most Jewish communal activities. We organise a communal Seder every year, as well as an outdoor Purim party and a Hannukah picnic.
Progressive services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are conducted in the shul, with Orthodox services usually arranged at other venues. Both Progressive and Orthodox services are offered for many other yomtovim.
Lifecycle events such as baby namings, b’nei mitzvot and aufrufs can be held in the synagogue under the auspices of our volunteer lay leaders (free to members), or of mainland rabbis hired for the occasion. Chuppahs must be performed by rabbis.
The only functioning consecrated Jewish graveyard in Tasmania is a section of Hobart’s inner-suburban Cornelian Bay cemetery. There is no Jewish burial society. However, the congregation is able to oversee the funeral process, in particular by ensuring halachic requirements are met, and by liaising with private funeral parlours so that Jewish funeral customs are respected. Our lay leadership also conducts funeral services, at no cost to members. As well, a Receiving House is located next to the Jewish cemetery and is available for use in funerals.
A statistical analysis of the 2011 Australian census estimated that 285 Jews lived in Tasmania (about 0.06% of the wider population) of whom 45% were aged under 45. This total had grown by 3.5% since the previous census in 2006. The largest concentrations of Jews were 163 in Hobart and 51 in Launceston. Unusually, there are no suburbs with particular Jewish clusters.
Compared to other Australian Jews, we have many fewer families where both parents are Jewish, many more Jews born in the UK and US, and far fewer in Eastern Europe. We are also relatively poorer than average, although better-off than Tasmanians as a whole.