THIS week’s newly released findings from the 2021 Census provide an interesting snapshot of Australian Jewry.
There are 99,956 of us, although estimates go as high as 120,000. That’s up significantly from the 2016 figure of around 91,000. Eighty-five per cent of us live in Victoria and NSW, with the southern state outpacing its northern neighbour by a few thousand. Jewish communities in the smaller states all recorded population increases.
Before we get too excited about our swelling ranks, we should heed some cautionary advice from JCA demographer Dr David Graham, who explained this week that the Census – taken during COVID lockdowns – might have produced a slightly skewed picture. Some young adults who might otherwise have been overseas were kept home by closed borders, and in their parental household on Census night, would have been recorded as Jewish in higher numbers than at other censuses.
In any case, Graham says the increase would certainly not have been due to a rise in Jewish births or immigration.
Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Peter Wertheim points to another factor – the unreliability of data drawn from the 2016 Census which faltered online during Census night. In 2011, the Census before that, there were around 97,000 Jewish Australians, and, aside from scepticism about the reliability of the 2016 Census, the decline in 2016 is difficult to fathom.
The Australian Jewish community continues to be diverse in terms of where we were born. The majority of us were born in Australia, a figure that contrasts sharply with the Jewish community of yesteryear, particularly after World War II.
Aside from wanting to know just how we measure up demographically, accurate numbers are important, as they enable Jewish organisations to plan ahead, which includes making their pro-rata case for government assistance where available.
It is for this reason our communal organisations advocated strongly last year for members of the community to ensure they answered the religious affiliation question in the Census accurately. Perhaps the increased number also suggests that call was heeded.