Theme Jewish Women

Written by Suzanne D. Rutland, The University of Sydney

Being Jewish is seen as a way of life, so that Jewish women have been active in many different spheres within their community, including philanthropic endeavours, education and cultural life, assisting Jewish refugees before and after World War II, and supporting Zionism. However, the status of Jewish women in religious life is similar to the situation of women in all the 'Abrahamic faiths', including Christianity, and particularly orthodox Christianity. It is also not dissimilar to that of women in the general Australian community, a subject of much critical commentary by feminist writers. More recently, however, key individuals have emerged as leaders in their own right, and both within progressive Judaism and Modern Orthodoxy, the role of women in synagogues has been changing. As well, Jewish women have played an active role in the feminist movement.

Women and Communal Life: Jewish Women and Welfare

Until the 1920s, the main contribution of Jewish women was either as helpmates to their husbands or in philanthropic endeavours. In Jewish tradition, 'tzeddakah' (charity) is seen as central, and here Jewish women quickly made their mark. One of the earliest Jewish charitable organisations created in Sydney was the Sydney Ladies' Hebrew Benevolent and Maternity Society, founded in 1844 to provide relief for distressed Jewish women (Porush, 1944, 77). The second women's organisation to be registered formally in Australia, it continued to function until 1981. In Victoria, a similar organisation, the Hebrew Ladies' Benevolent Society, was founded in 1857. During the depression of the 1890s, other such charitable organisations run by women were established. In Sydney, these included the Jewish Girls' Guild, founded to engage in non-sectarian work (Marks, 125-7), and the Help-in-Need Society, established in 1898.

The women who ran these societies were also active in the Montefiore Homes for the Aged, established in Sydney in 1880 and in Melbourne in 1885, and participated in non-Jewish charities. During World War I, the editor of a Sydney-based paper, the Hebrew Standard, referred to 'the many enthusiastic workers of the Jewish faith who identified with the Red Cross'. Some key women of this period were Ida Cohen (1867-1970) of Tamworth, who was officially recognised for her services to the Red Cross (Tilse,; Julia Levy (1886-1959), who arrived in Australia in 1935, having previously married a businessman and parliamentarian, Lewis Wolfe Levy (d. 1914) (; London-born Isabel Solomon of Adelaide; and Fanny Breckler (1877-1946) of Perth.

The most remarkable effort of Jewish women in Sydney in the 19th century was their assistance in the building of the Great Synagogue. A spectacular bazaar raised close to £5000, one-fifth of the total cost of the building (Porush, 1977, 37-8, Keysor, 469-85). After their initial input, women were not in evidence. They had no say in the synagogue's management, though a number of unsuccessful attempts were made to allow women to vote at its annual meetings. A women's auxiliary of limited membership was formed in 1936, and it was only in 1941, under the leadership of Bertha Porush, that it was opened to all female members (Porush, 1977, 181).

The example of the Great Synagogue reflected the general situation for women in Jewish communities throughout Australia. One exception was the Victorian Ladies Zionist League, HaTikvah, established by Rose Altson in 1906 not as an auxiliary to a male counterpart but as an autonomous group (Rubinstein, Hilary, 1986, 113). It operated for a number of years and, in 1908, resisted attempts to amalgamate with its male counterpart, the Victorian Zionist League. However, it fell on 'hard times' and petered out before World War I (Rubinstein, Hilary, 1991, 541).

After World War II, women became active participants in the work of the Australian Jewish Welfare Societies. In Melbourne, Frances Barkman was the honorary secretary, active in looking after Jewish orphans at the Larino Home. After her death in 1946, it was renamed the Frances Barkman Home (Bartrop, More recently, women have assumed key leadership positions in Jewish welfare, renamed JewishCare in the1990s. Eve Mahlab, who was involved in the Welfare Society in Melbourne, headed the 1986 welfare appeal, while in Sydney JewishCare was led by Eva Fischl from 1996 for 15 years. Born in 1944 in Hungary, Fischl was secreted away by her nanny and she survived in hiding. However, her father perished in Auschwitz. After liberation, her mother, who was also sent to Auschwitz, found that she was the only surviving member of her family. She married another Hungarian Jewish survivor and, with the communist takeover in 1948, the family managed to escape to Vienna. Two years later they migrated to Australia with the help of the American Joint Distribution Committee (Fischl, email, 23 December 2012).

Arriving without English, Fischl found her first years at school challenging, but she overcame this obstacle and went on to complete an arts degree at the University of Sydney. In 1979, she became involved in Jewish community activities with the Australian campaign, Let My People Go, to assist Soviet Jewry. In 1987, she was part of a small group, led by Professor Graham de Vahl Davis, who managed to breach the security for Soviet foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, and greet him on the tarmac of the airport in Canberra (Rutland, 1998, 233). In the 1980s, she was active in the United Israel Appeal and Women's International Zionist Organisation (WIZO), before becoming involved in JewishCare. In 2012, she became president of the newly established Australian branch of the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which assists Jews and non-Jews in need across the globe. She stated that she wanted to support the organisation that assisted her family to escape from Hungary after the Holocaust (McDonald, 2012).

Many other women are active in Jewish welfare, both as volunteers and as professionals. In Melbourne, Leah Balter is co-vice president of JewishCare. She is a leading professional who has worked in banking, as a management consultant and on key strategic issues across a number of industries, as well as being active in the Jewish community (Jewish Care,, 23 December 2012).

Women's Organisations

The first move to organise Jewish women in a more formal way came with the creation of the Council of Jewish Women. This organisation was formed in Sydney in 1923 after Dr Fanny Reading (1884-1974) was inspired by the words of visiting American Zionist emissary Bella Pevsner. Its initial ideals, which continue to influence council philosophy, included loyalty to Judaism, support for Israel and service to all worthy causes-both Jewish and non-Jewish-in the fields of education and philanthropy, while endeavouring to further the interests and cater for the needs of women and children. Interstate branches were established by the late 1920s and, in 1929, the first interstate conference was held, leading to the creation of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) (Newton, 14).

For many Australian Jews, Dr Fanny Reading was a household name (Rubinstein, Born in Minsk, Russia, and emigrating to Australia as a child in the 1890s, she grew up in Ballarat, Victoria. After gaining her diploma of music in 1914, she studied medicine and graduated in 1921. Fanny Reading had a flair for organisation and was described in the council minutes of 1923 as 'a dreamer of great dreams with the courage to implement them even in the face of strong opposition' (Rutland, Lilith, 2002, 90). Like her gentile feminist colleagues of the inter-war years, she set about mobilising Jewish women at the grassroots level. Her concern with social welfare was summed up in the message she wrote personally on every conference program, 'that the Council of Jewish Women stands above all things for the Law of Loving-kindness' (Andgel, AJHSJ, 1998, 199). Vera Cohen (1902-1994) took over the leadership from Dr Reading in 1955 (Newton, 215-16).

The NCJW national office moved to Melbourne in the late 1960s, following the election of Mina Fink (1913-1990) (Markus, She had arrived as a young bride from Bialystok in Poland in the early 1930s, and worked untiringly as husband Leo Fink's helpmate, assisting Jewish immigrants. After his death, she devoted her efforts to improving the status of women, acting as a bridge on feminist issues between her own pre-war generation and that of her daughter, who represented the new attitudes of professional women in the 1970s (Newton, 49).

Since then, NCJW leadership has alternated between Melbourne and Sydney. Melbourne-born Sylvia Gelman was national president from 1973 to 1979; New Zealand-born Ray Ginsburg from 1979 to 1985; Romanian-born child survivor of the Holocaust, Malvina Malinek, from 1985 to 1991; Sydney-born Lynn Davies from 1991 to 1997; Melbourne-born Dr Geulah Solomon from 1997 to 2003; Sydney-born Robyn Lenn from 2003, followed by Rysia Rozen OAM (2007-2011) and Di Hirsh (2011-), both of Melbourne (Newton, 249-53).

Another key organisation, the Women's International Zionist Organisation, was founded in Sydney as Ivriah by Reike Cohen (1887-1964), a strong leader who was originally active in the NCJW (Rutland, As Marilyn Lake has commented, 'The history of Australian feminism was marked by a series of rivalries between strong women' (Lake, 157), and the split between Cohen and Reading is evidence of this. Ethel Morris established the Melbourne branch of WIZO in July 1934 and, in 1937, the Sydney-based Ivriah was renamed the Women's International Zionist Organisation. Ruby Rich-Schalit was elected its first federal president, a position she retained for three years (Groden, 1-14; Rutland, 2001, 306-07).

Ida Bension-Wynn from Canada was a key personality in the development of WIZO. A prominent Zionist leader, she first visited Australia in July 1938, and was responsible for creating a federal WIZO movement. She returned for a second visit in 1939, after which she married Melbourne winemaker and veteran Zionist leader Samuel Wynn (Freilich, 79). Since WIZO was better known in Europe than the NCJW, it attracted many key leaders from the European refugees, including people such as Sydney-based Hannah Kessler and Melbourne-based Dr Alice Benfrey. By the time of Ida Wynn's early death in 1948, Australian WIZO had a 4000-strong membership, making it one of the largest movements within the Jewish community (Rutland, 2001, 307).

Women's Zionist activities were further diversified with the establishment of Ezra in September 1939. Concerned primarily with improving maternity facilities in Palestine, Ezra was a response to the appeals for help of Rose Slutzkin, who visited Australia from Palestine with her daughter. Emunah, the religious women's Zionist organisation, was established more recently (Rutland, 2001, 307).

Organisations established after the war included the women's B'nai B'rith chapters, of which the Sydney chapter, established in 1945, was the first. Both the United Israel Appeal and, in New South Wales, the Jewish Communal Appeal created separate women's divisions.

More women entered the general leadership ranks after 1985. Janet Simons came through the ranks of the United Israel Appeal Women's Division to become vice-president of the organisation. In Perth, Tirza Cohen served as president of the Council of Western Australian Jewry, while Ruth Holzman was president of the Australian Capital Territory Council. In Melbourne, Zosia Mercer became president of the State Zionist Council of Victoria. Ann Zablud was elected chairperson of the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies in 1987 and, in 1995, was the first woman to head a federal organisation, the Zionist Federation of Australia. Diane Shteinman was elected president of the community's roof body, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), in 1995. Her Melbourne successor was lawyer Nina Bassat, the second woman and the first Holocaust survivor to hold this key position. Bassat had served previously as president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, a position she resumed in 2012. Jewish corporate personality Jillian Segal has played a leading role in the Jewish Communal Appeal in Sydney, and Penny Hurst OAM is a life governor of the United Israel Appeal, NSW, with Marcia Kresner another key woman serving on its Board of Governors. As individuals, these women have made important contributions (Rutland, 2001, 402-03).

Women have also been very prominent in what W.D. Rubinstein describes as the 'secondary level of Jewish leadership' (119); they fill most administrative posts of the Boards of Deputies, State Zionist Councils, ECAJ and Zionist Federation of Australia. However, this is largely because community posts tend to be less well paid and have lower status than top positions in the corporate sector.

Women and Religious Life

Orthodox Judaism takes a very traditional position on the role of women in the synagogue. However, there have been important developments to increase opportunities for orthodox Jewish women to participate in synagogue life within the religious framework. The most important of these is allowing women to vote and become members of synagogue boards, and even synagogue presidents. As early as 1933, a motion was submitted at the St Kilda Hebrew Congregation to alter the constitution so that women members could vote. Whilst this motion was initially passed, it was withdrawn in 1934, and an ongoing battle ensued, including efforts by Trevor Rapke in 1950, influenced by his mother, feminist Julia Rapke (Smart, However, the 1950 meeting was poorly attended and Rapke's motion was defeated (Rapke, 300).

In Sydney, the first attempt to permit women to sit on a synagogue board was made in 1946 at the Great Synagogue, but the motion to remove the word 'male' to enable women to stand for election was defeated (Apple, 271). It took almost another thirty years for the synagogue's constitution to be amended in 1974, and Sari Browne was the first woman to be elected. Ruth Wilson followed, but women were still excluded from the synagogue executive. In 1993, Rosalind Fischl was elected to the Great Synagogue Board. An experienced professional who had completed degrees in pharmacy and psychology with graduate qualifications in conflict management and creative writing, she immediately became involved in many of the synagogue's activities. When she expressed a wish to stand for the vice-presidency, an extraordinary general meeting was called in 2003 to vote on whether a woman could be a vice-president or president. In contrast to the vote in 1946, there was overwhelming support for the motion to allow women to stand. In the history of the Great Synagogue by Rabbi Raymond Apple, Fischl reminisced:

Not only was this motion carried by a large majority, but at that meeting many expressed the desire to discard gender barriers altogether for any position. It is evident that traditional ideas of roles for women and men in Judaism have given way to more enlightened viewpoints. As president, I can now look back with a certain amount of satisfaction at our progress, at the same time realizing that we still have a long way to go. (Apple, 271)

The Great Synagogue has introduced a number of other innovations for women that have now been accepted at most Australian modern Orthodox synagogues. Most important of these was the introduction in 1995 of individual Batmitzvah (Confirmation) ceremonies for girls, who give a Dvar Torah (talk relating to the weekly Bible reading) to the whole congregation at the end of the service either on Friday evening or the Sabbath day. In the same year, a baby-naming ceremony for girls in the synagogue, known as Simchat Bat (Rejoicing of the Daughter), was introduced, as well as a special Shabbat dedicated to women. Then, in 1999, women were permitted to carry the Torah scroll up into the women's section of the synagogue for Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Law), or to mark a special occasion for a female member. In 2003, this was done for the first time on the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement (Apple, 272).

The first Indigenous Australian woman to be elected president of an Orthodox synagogue was Lisa Pulver-Jackson, who has served in that position at Sydney's Newtown Synagogue since 2010. She has other 'firsts' to her name, including being the first Australian Aborigine to be awarded a doctorate in medicine from the University of Sydney. She is now the director of the Muru Marri Indigenous Health Unit at the University of New South Wales. In 2004, she completed an Orthodox conversion. As reported in the Jewish press, she believes that: 'There is a natural relationship between my Aboriginal spirituality and my Jewish religion ... The things that bring us together are our history of dispossession, a deep sense of family, community and tribalism, and a deep sense of what's wrong and what's right' (Goldberg, When interviewed, she stated that she keeps a kosher home, and makes her own challah (special plaited bread for the Sabbath) every Friday. She stressed that: 'I attend to cultural and spiritual practices of my grandmothers' [Aboriginal] cultures' (Goldberg).

In the 1990s and 2000s, there have been further efforts to introduce gender equality. Most important of these is the establishment of Women's Tefillah (prayer) Groups, which also provide opportunities for Jewish learning. In Melbourne, Shira Hadasha ('New Song'), a new inclusive Orthodox prayer group, was established to foster gender equality. Its policy of permitting women to read from the Torah in a mixed but segregated prayer group resulted in initial vocal opposition from the more conservative members of Orthodoxy in Melbourne (Rutland, AJHSJ, 2002, 260-3).

Reform Judaism, at least in theory, offers full equality to women in both religious and lay leadership. The successful introduction of Progressive Judaism into Australia in the 1930s resulted from the efforts of a Melbourne widow, Ada Phillips (1862-1967), who came from a long-established Victorian Jewish family, the Crawcours. She attended a Progressive service in London in 1928 and, impressed with their approach, decided to establish the movement in Melbourne. She was supported by her two daughters, Isabella, a physician, and Millie, who became the first honorary secretary. From the beginning, women were accepted as equals in all facets of congregational life, including membership of the board of management (Rubinstein, 1986, 148).

The first female Liberal rabbi, American-born Karen Soria, was appointed assistant minister at Temple Beth Israel in Melbourne in 1981. Thereafter, two female rabbis were appointed in Sydney, while a number of female rabbis are active in communal life in Melbourne. Of these, two are Australian-born: Aviva Kipen of Melbourne and Jackie Ninio, who, originally from Adelaide, was appointed to Sydney's Temple Emanuel in Woollahra (Rutland, 2005, 114).

In addition, the difficult issues of the get (divorce) and marriage have been canvassed through petitions at both the national and international level, largely organised by the NCJW, with both Dr Geulah Solomon of Melbourne through the NCJW and Josie Lacey of Sydney playing key roles (Rutland, Lilith, 2002, p. 93).

Jewish Women in Culture and Education

Women have also been active in Jewish cultural and education life. The Australian Jewish Genealogical Society was founded in Sydney by Holocaust child survivor Sophie Caplan. In Melbourne, Beverley Davis served for many years as the honorary secretary of the Australian Jewish Historical Society; in Sydney, Louise Rosenberg was honorary secretary for 25 years and then honorary historian, while the position of honorary treasurer was filled by Phoebe Davis, followed by Miriam Solomon. Helen Bersten served as honorary archivist from 1979, whilst I was president from 1996 to 2004, when Sophie Caplan assumed the position, serving in this role until 2010.

Women played a key role at both the professional and voluntary levels in the development of museums. At the Jewish Museum of Australia, whose director was Dr Helen Light followed by Rebecca Forgasz in 2010, 90 per cent of the almost four hundred active volunteers were women (Rutland, 2009). Similarly, the Sydney Jewish Museum is dependent on volunteers, particularly Holocaust survivors, and again the majority is female. Many Jewish women work as volunteers in public institutions as well. In addition, women have been central to the development of Jewish education in schools, universities and in adult education in recent years.

On 15 July 2011, the Australian Jewish News listed the fifty most influential Australian Jews. The editor noted that 'in determining the list, the panel did not consider fame or wealth as qualifications in their own right; it considered individuals' contributions to society in general or within specific spheres, such as medicine and media, commerce and the community' (AJN, 15 July 2011, 12-13). Only seven women were included in the list, and most were chosen for their contributions to education and culture. They included two academics, namely myself and feminist and political activist Eva Cox, and three women who have made contributions as authors and editors: author and journalist Mia Freedman; publisher Louise Adler, who has run University of Melbourne Press since 2003; and editor Jackie Frank, who launched the Australian edition of Marie Claire in 1995, after working for the magazine in the United States and United Kingdom. Only two professional women in management and business were included: Jillian Segal AM of Sydney and Camilla Freeman-Topper, who is in the fashion business and was listed with her brother, Mark Freeman (AJN, 15 July 2011, 12-13).

Innovative Responses

Jewish women have contributed to the community in a number of other areas, including immigration, Youth Aliyah (a Zionist movement established to assist orphans and child refugees to migrate to Israel), the establishment of convalescent and old age homes, public relations and sport. In many of these fields-particularly immigration and Zionism-women have been innovative in their approach (Rutland, Lilith, 2002, 91-92).
In immigration, women were more prescient than men in recognising the need to escape from Europe. In her recollection of her family's departure from Nazi Germany in 1938 published in John Foster's edited volume, Betty Lipton commented:

A woman sometimes has a sixth feeling. I had read all the Stürmer magazines and so on because I wanted to be in the picture about what was happening. So I said to my husband, "You know, I think we will have to leave". He said, "No, you won't have a six-room apartment and two servants if we do that". But I said, "OK, then I'll have a one-room flat with you: but I want to be safe". He wouldn't believe me. He was terribly afraid to emigrate (Foster, 1986, 28-9).

Eventually the family left Germany, thanks to Betty Lipton's vision, and this story was mirrored in many other families. The refugee women's lives changed more than those of the men. They had to learn to cope without domestic servants, and most worked together with their husbands to rebuild their lives. Often the men were unhelpful or even a burden, as Astrid Kirchhof has described in her article From Germany and Austria to Australia. One daughter remarked, 'My father talked a lot, but my mother seemed to do all the work' (Kirchhof, 241).

Both the Council of Jewish Women and WIZO were very active in immigrant reception. The federal government introduced quota restrictions for European immigrants in 1928. While the Jewish male leaders welcomed these restrictions, Dr Fanny Reading wrote in the Council Bulletin in November of that year: 'Who are we to say that we are pleased that certain immigration restrictions will be placed on the admittance of our brethren into our country? That we are glad that our task will be made lighter while our brethren languish for freedom and the right to live?' Women met the refugees before World War II and survivors after the war at the boats and planes, and helped them integrate into society.

They were also concerned with the care of the sick and with providing convalescent facilities for Jewish people. In Sydney, the NCJW sponsored Wolper Hospital, one of the first organisations to have a female president, Lynn Davies (Newton, 87, 216-17). Similarly, the Maurice Zeffert Old Age Home in Perth started as an NCJW project owing to the initiative of Edna Luber-Smith (Rutland, 2001, 355).

Another example of dynamic leadership by a woman was Youth Aliyah, founded in Germany in the early 1930s and introduced into Australia in 1938 by Friedl Levi, who was associated with the movement from its inception. For five years she travelled in Germany on fundraising tours, while also assisting children to escape. The Nazis imprisoned her in 1938, whereupon she and her husband, Dr H.G. Levi, a lawyer, decided to emigrate to Australia (Rutland, 2001, 303).

Women have also contributed to public relations. Journalist Caroline Isaacson was appointed director of the Public Relations Bureau of the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies in 1952 (White,; Rutland, 2001, 334). Evelyn Rothfield played an active role in this area, too, especially through her association with the Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism in the 1940s and 1950s, and through her work with NCJW. The Jewish press, a crucial institution in the community, has had a number of women editors, including three editors of the Australian Jewish Times/News : Eve Symon (1965-1980), Susan Bures (1983-1996) and Deborah Stone (2000-2003). After her retirement from the Times, Eve Symon became chairperson of the Public Relations Committee of the New South Wales Board of Deputies and, shortly before her death, was elected vice-president (Rutland, 1995, 156-57; Rutland & Caplan, 296).

In recent years, women have been innovative in fostering interfaith activities and multiculturalism. In Sydney, Josie Lacey was instrumental in the formation of the Women's Interfaith Network, which brings together all the major faiths in Australia ( Peta Jones Pellach has also been active in this arena, and was part of the National Dialogue of the three major Abrahamic faiths-Judaism, Christianity and Islam-until migrating to Israel in 2010 (Pellach, 130-9).

In all these areas of innovation, women have been applying their desire for 'tikkun olam' (repairing the world), for, as Israeli psychologist Amia Leiblich has written: 'boys and girls have entirely different approaches to moral dilemmas. Boys use the principle of justice, while girls' morality attempts to minimise hurt for everyone, to take responsibility over the other's lot and to care for his or her wellbeing' (Leiblich, 273). Whilst Leiblich cautions against generalisations, research seems to indicate that women's approach is more relational, reflecting concern for the care of others, rather than individualism. This gender difference seems to be reflected in the areas of innovation introduced by Australian Jewish women.


Australia was one of the first countries to give women the right to vote, but Jewish women do not appear to have played a significant role in the suffrage movement, owing both to its close connections with the Christian temperance movement and to the Jewish community's patriarchal structures. Whilst both Vida Goldstein and Dora Montefiore had Jewish connections - Vida Goldstein's father was Jewish and Dora had married into the Montefiores, a well-known Sephardi family - neither was affiliated with the Jewish community.

In the inter-war years, feminists fought for greater equality and Jewish female leaders were directly involved. The most outstanding early feminist was Ruby Rich-Schalit (1888-1988) (Tate, Born in rural New South Wales as the fourth of six children, Ruby moved with her parents to Sydney, where she grew up with memories of the family entertaining on Friday nights: 'We used to stand in a row, introduce ourselves in rhyme and then put on a little play in costume' (Cohen, 1987, 218-19). She studied piano both in Australia and with Arthur Schnabel in Berlin and Raoul Pugno in Paris. Although she performed in London for a BBC Empire Concert, her father would not permit her to play professionally.

Rich-Schalit became involved in the women's movement in 1922 when she met Millicent Preston-Stanley, who was seeking election to parliament, and agreed to be her campaign secretary (Cohen, 1987, 219). The campaign failed, but Preston-Stanley later became the third woman elected to an Australian parliament. Rich-Schalit also became close to another leading Australian feminist, Jessie Street, whose 1943 (unsuccessful) election campaigns she helped to co-ordinate (Rutland, 1990, 150). In 1926, she joined the Racial Hygiene Association (later the Family Planning Association), which educated women in sexual relations and the prevention of venereal disease (Cohen, 1987, 222).

Rich-Schalit worked with and influenced Melbourne Jewish feminist Julia Rapke, who was active in the Victorian Women Citizens' Movement, the state affiliate of the Australian Federation of Women Voters, serving as its president in 1936, and the Australian Joint Standing Committee of Women's Federal Organisations (later the Australian Liaison Committee). She was also president of the VWCM successor organisation, the League of Women Voters of Victoria, in the 1940s. As her biographer, Judith Smart, wrote, in the 1930s she clashed with Ida Wynn, who claimed that she was 'unable to "steep herself in W.I.ZO." and that she was interested in Zionism "only in the most impersonal way" and that she devoted too much time to other organizations' (Smart, However, after World War II, she became actively involved in WIZO and served on the international executive, as well as being on the executive of the Zionist Federation of Australia and New Zealand (Rubinstein, 1986, 210).

These links established between Jewish and non-Jewish feminists led them to work together on many issues of equality during the second phase of Australian feminism after 1920. Nerida Cohen assisted Jessie Street in her battle for equal pay for women (Lake, 1999, 181, 185), while Ida Wynn established a close relationship with Greta Hort, philosopher and principal of Women's College at the University of Melbourne (Rutland, 2001, 307). In the fight against government immigration quotas, Jewish women joined with liberal feminists such as Camilla Wedgewood and Jessie Street, both of whom were strong supporters of more liberal policies as well as of the establishment of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine (Carr-Gregg & Maclean, 49-60; Rutland, 1990, 148-9, 154-6).

While NCJW leaders worked to upgrade the status of women and co-operated with other women's groups through the state National Councils of Women, radical feminism did not appeal to most Jewish women, who gave priority to home and family. As Marlo Newton commented in her history of the NCJW, Jewish women 'pursued a form of feminism which stressed the importance of women achieving within the context of the family and communal life … while opposing radical challenges to Judaism or the structure of the community' (Newton, 51).

A recent study by Barbara Bloch and Eva Cox of connections between Australian Jewish feminists and their Jewish identity shows a larger number of active Jewish feminists than has previously been acknowledged. A major factor in their attraction to the feminist movement was their sense of being 'an outsider in all its varied possibilities' (Bloch & Cox, 154). Bloch and Cox argue that Hannah Arendt's concept of the 'conscious pariah' is an appropriate way of understanding the women in their survey (Bloch & Cox, 150, 154-7). It is important to note that Professor Eva Cox (née Hauser), who was born in Vienna and lectures in the social sciences at the University of Technology, Sydney, herself played a leading role in the Women's Electoral Lobby, established in 1972. A more recent Jewish feminist is Sydney-born Elizabeth Grosz, an internationally recognised scholar in the fields of French feminist theory, cultural theory, psychoanalysis and the body. Her academic career has spanned the University of Sydney, Monash University (at the newly formed Institute of Critical and Cultural Studies) and Rutgers University, New York, where she is currently a professor in the Department of Women's and Gender Studies.


Despite significant advances over the last few decades, Jewish women in Australia do not enjoy full equality with their male counterparts. Since most take their domestic responsibilities seriously, full equality is definitely elusive. Women still bear the major responsibility for home and family, their traditional areas in Judaism. In addition, power and community leadership rest with those with money, who are mainly men. Efforts to foster participation of women in leadership roles can be seen in the establishment of Women Power, a Sydney training ground for women. Perhaps the next generation of women will come fully into their own in Jewish communal leadership.

Additional sources: Archival Resources Council of Jewish Women, New South Wales, Minutes, 1923-1960. Groden, Joy, 'A History of WIZO in New South Wales', typescript, archives of Australian Federation of WIZO, Beth WIZO, Sydney, 1-14. Leaders of Faith Communities Forum, Program, 'A Sense of Place: Victoria's Multi-Faith Religious Celebration', Melbourne, 2001. Light, Helen, Submission for the National Communitylink Awards, 2000. Melbourne Women's Tefilla Group's summary sheet of developments over the two years of its activities from 1999 for its second Sunday Morning Forum, 22 July 2001. Newspapers and Journals Australian Jewish Chronicle. Australian Jewish Herald. Australian Jewish News. Australian Jewish Times. Council Bulletin (National Council of Jewish Women). Hebrew Standard of Australasia. Ivriah, 1935-1939. Sydney Jewish News.

Published Resources


  • Apple, Raymond, with members of the congregation, The Great Synagogue: A History of Sydney's Big Shule, University of New South Wales (UNSW) Press, Sydney, New South Wales, 2008. Details
  • Cohen, Lysbeth, Beginning with Esther: Jewish Women in New South Wales from 1788, Ayers & James Heritage Books in association with the Australian Jewish Times, Sydney, New South Wales, 1987. Details
  • Freilich, Max, Zion in our Time: Memoirs of an Australian Zionist, Morgan Publications, Sydney, New South Wales, c.1967. Details
  • Inglis, Amirah, An Un-Australian Childhood, Heinemann, Melbourne, Victoria, 1983. Details
  • Keesing, Nancy, Riding the Elephant, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, New South Wales, 1988. Details
  • Lake, Marilyn, Getting Equal: The History of Australian Feminism, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, New South Wales, 1999. Details
  • Levi, John & Bergman, George, Australian Genesis: Jewish Convicts and Settlers, Rigby, Adelaide, South Australia, 1974. Details
  • Mitchell, Susan, The Matriarchs: Twelve Australian Women Talk about their Lives, Penguin Books, Melbourne, Victoria, 1987. Details
  • Newton, Marlo L., Making A Difference: A History of the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia, Hybrid Publishers, Melbourne, Victoria, 2000. Details
  • Porush, I., House of Israel, Hawthorn Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 1977. Details
  • Rosenthal, Newman, Look Back with Pride: The St Kilda Hebrew Congregation's First Century, Thomas Nelson, Melbourne, Victoria, 1971. Details
  • Rubinstein, Hilary L., The Jews in Victoria, 1835-1985, with an appendix by William David Rubinstein, Jewish Museum of Australia, Melbourne, Victoria, 1986. Details
  • Rubinstein, Hilary L., Chosen: A History of the Jews in Australia, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, New South Wales, 1987. Details
  • Rubinstein, Hilary L., The Jews of Australia: A Thematic History, Volume I, 1788-1945, Heinemann, Melbourne, Victoria, 1991. Details
  • Rubinstein, William David, The Jews of Australia: A Thematic History, Volume II, 1945-the Present, Heinemann, Melbourne, Victoria, 1991. Details
  • Rutland, Suzanne D., Pages of History: A Century of the Australian Jewish Press, Australian Jewish Press Pty Ltd, Sydney, New South Wales, 1995. Details
  • Rutland, Suzanne D., Edge of the Diaspora: Two Centuries of Jewish Settlement in Australia, Brandl & Schlesinger, Sydney, New South Wales, 2001. Details
  • Rutland, Suzanne D., The Jews in Australia, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 2005. Details
  • Rutland, Suzanne D. and Caplan, Sophie, With One Voice: A History of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, Australian Jewish Historical Society, Sydney, New South Wales, 1998. Details
  • Sawer, Marian and Simms, Marian, A Woman's Place: Women and Politics in Australia, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, New South Wales, 1993. Details
  • Wetherell, David & Carr-Gregg, Charlotte, Camilla: C.H. Wedgewood, 1901-1955: A Life, The University of New South Wales (UNSW) Press, Sydney, New South Wales, 1990. Details
  • WIZO Department of Organisation and Education, Who's Who in WIZO, 1966-1970, Women’s International Zionist Organisation, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1970. Details
  • Wynhausen, Elizabeth, Manly Girls, Penguin Books, Melbourne, Victoria, 1989. Details
  • Wynn, Allan, The Fortunes of Samuel Wynn: Winemaker, Humanist, Zionist, Cassell Australia, Melbourne, Victoria, 1968. Details

Book Sections

  • Andgel, Anne, 'The Welfare Ladies Auxiliary', in Anne Andgel (ed.), Fifty Years of Caring: The History of the Australian Jewish Welfare Society, 1936-1986, Australian Jewish Welfare Society and the Australian Jewish Historical Society, Sydney, New South Wales, 1988. Details
  • Bloch, Barbara and Eva Cox, 'Mending the World from the Margins: Jewish Women and Australian Feminism', in Geoffrey B. Levey and Philip Mendes (eds), Jews and Australian Politics, Sussex Academic Press, Eastbourne, United Kingdom, 2004, pp. 145-59. Details
  • Leiblich, Amia, 'Time, Place, Gender and Memory: From the Perspective of an Israeli Psychologist', in Judith Tydor Baumel and Tova Cohen (eds), Gender, Place and Memory in the Modern Jewish Experience: Re-Placing Ourselves, Valentine Mitchell, London, England, 2003. Details
  • Pellach, Peta Jones, 'Interfaith Dialogue and the State of Israel', in Michael Fagenblat, Melanie Landau and Nathan Wolski (eds), New Under the Sun, Black Inc., Melbourne, Victoria, 2006, pp. 130-139. Details
  • Rutland, Suzanne D., 'The Changing Role of Women in Australian Jewry's Communal Structure', in William David Rubinstein (ed.), Jews in the Sixth Continent, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, New South Wales, 1987, pp. 101-26. Details
  • Rutland, Suzanne D., 'The Jewish Connection', in Heather Radi (ed.), Jessie Street: Documents and Essays, Women’s Redress Press, Sydney, New South Wales, 1990, pp. 147-163. Details

Edited Books

  • Bittman, Karl (ed.), Strauss to Matilda: Viennese in Australia 1938-1988, Wenkart Foundation, Sydney, New South Wales, 1988. Details
  • Foster, John (ed.), Community of Fate: Memoirs of German Jews in Melbourne, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, New South Wales, 1986. Details
  • Grove-Pollak, Fay (ed.), The Saga of a Movement: WIZO 1920-1970, Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO): Department of Organization and Education, Tel Aviv, Isreal, 1970. Details
  • Hammer, Gael (ed.), Pomegranates: A Century of Jewish Australian Writing, Millennium, Sydney, New South Wales, 1988. Details
  • Korn, Neer (ed.), Shades of Belonging: Conversations with Australian Jews, Harper Collins Publishers, Melbourne, Victoria, 1999. Details

Journal Articles

  • Andgel, Anne, 'The Laws of Loving Kindness: A Tribute to Dr Fanny Reading, Founder of the National Council of Jewish Women of Australian in 1923', Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol. 19, no. 2, June 1998, pp. 199-257. Details
  • Carr-Gregg, Charlotte & Maclean, Pam, '"A mouse nibbling at a mountain": The Problem of Australian Refugee Policy and the Work of Camilla Wedgewood', Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol. 31, no. 1, 1985, pp. 49-60. Details
  • Cohen, Lysbeth, 'Not Merely Housewives', Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol. 9, no. 1, June 1981, pp. 8-24. Details
  • Cohen, Marise Lawrence, 'Caroline Chisholm and Jewish Immigration', Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol. 2, no. 2, 1944, pp. 67-77. Details
  • Goldflam, Lita, and Shush Masel, 'The Ladies of the Perth Hebrew Congregation', Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal: Perth Hebrew Congregation Centenary Issue, vol. 9, no. 5, 1992, pp. 800-07. Details
  • Hyams, Bernard, 'Women in Early Australian Zionism', Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol. 15, no. 3, November 2000, pp. 441-9. Details
  • Keesing, Nancy, 'The Story of Miriam and Adolphus Hertzberg: An Interesting Sidelight', Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol. 2, no. 7, 1974, pp. 524-9. Details
  • Keysor, A.A., 'The Sydney Hebrew Ladies' Bazaar, 1875', Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol. 2, no. 9, 1953, pp. 469-85. Details
  • Kirchhof, Astrid, 'From Germany and Austria to Australian: Experiences of Jewish Women Refugees in the 1930s', Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol. 15, no. 1, June 2000, pp. 237-51. Details
  • Marks, Hilda V., 'The Jewish Girls' Guild: Fiftieth Year', Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol. 2, no. 3, 1945, pp. 125-7. Details
  • Ochert, Morris, 'Dr Fanny Reading v. Smith's Weekly', Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol. 13, no. 2, June 1996, pp. 308-42. Details
  • Ochert, Morris, 'My Mother's Folk in Russia, China, Australia, Canada and the USA', Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol. 14, no. 3, November 1998, pp. 406-16. Details
  • Porush, I., 'Retrospect of a Century-Old Charity', Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol. 2, no. 2, 1944, p. 77. Details
  • Rapke, Trevor, 'The Pre-War Jewish Community of Melbourne', Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol. 7, no. 4, 1973, pp. 291-301. Details
  • Rosenberg, Louise, 'A Rich Heritage: Colleen Rich and her Family Circle in Australia since 1853', Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol. 12, no. 4, June 1995, pp. 782-804. Details
  • Rosenberg, Louise, 'A Jewish Pioneer Woman: Gwen Green', Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol. 15, no. 2, June 2000, pp. 216-21. Details
  • Rutland, Suzanne, 'Perspectives from the Australian Jewish community', Lilith: A Feminist History Journal, vol. 11, 2002, pp. 87-101. Details
  • Rutland, Suzanne D., 'Jewish Women and Adult Jewish Education: The Australian Jewish Experience', Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol. 16, no. 2, June 2002, pp. 250-64. Details

Newspaper Articles

  • McDonald, Shae, 'Vaucluse's Eva Fischl to head up Jewish humanitarian organisation', Wentworth Courier, 25 November 2012. Details

Online Resources