Jewish Neighborhoods: Melbourne

The Yiddish Book Center's Wexler Oral History Project was thrilled to partner with the Kadimah Jewish Cultural Centre and National Library in February 2017 to record stories of Yiddish speakers, actors, and activists in ek velt (at the ends of the earth) in Melbourne, Australia. 

The first Jews arrived in Australia in 1788 with the First Fleet, English ships that brought convicts to the new penal colony. Jewish migration continued in the nineteenth century from the British Empire and Europe. Yiddish-speaking Jews arriving in the early twentieth century founded organizations in several cities, including Melbourne. The Kadimah, established in 1911, became a gathering place for those interested in Yiddish theater, literature, and culture. Other important meeting points included Yiddish schools, the Melbourne branch of the Bund (the Jewish workers’ socialist party), and landsmanshaftn, social and welfare organizations of Jewish immigrants from the same European town. 

After the Second World War, Australia had relatively lenient visa restrictions than other countries, and it accepted more Jewish refugees than any other after Israel. This influx of Holocaust survivors gave new life—and audiences—to the already established Yiddish institutions, spurred the expansion of Yiddish schools and theater, and led to the creation of Yiddish radio programs. 

Today, me ken hern a yidish vort—a Yiddish word can be heard—at the Kadimah's reading groups and talks; at meetings of SKIF, the Bund youth group; in the classrooms of the Sholem Aleichem College, a Jewish day school; on the radio; and in homes. 

Below, see some photo highlights from the twenty-nine interviews the Project conducted during its time in Australia. For more stories like these, you can browse our YouTube playlist of Melbourne stories.  

Backyard Sock Factory in Carlton

Sons of Bundist Seder Burstin David, z”l (1937–2021), and Ben Burstin share their memories of Carlton, a Jewish neighborhood in Melbourne.

Opening a Yiddish Kindergarten

Yiddish actress Helena (Chayele) Jacobs [Storch] talks about her mother's role in the Melbourne Jewish community and how she founded a Yiddish kindergarten.  

Yiddish Theater in Melbourne

Author and human rights activist Arnold Zable gives a brief history of Yiddish theater in Melbourne.

Yiddish Radio Programs

Danielle Charak, Melbourne-based Yiddish activist, teacher, and former radio host, describes some of the Yiddish radio programs that used to be, and some that still are, aired in Melbourne.

“Maybe the Best Place in the World”

Ken Frieden, B.G. Rudolph Professor of Judaic Studies at Syracuse University, discovered a vibrant Yiddish-speaking community in Melbourne, mostly made up of second-generation Holocaust survivors.

Bundism in the Modern World

Joe (Yossl) Tigl—son of Yiddish actor Shia Tigl—reflects on where the Jewish life, the Bund, and Bundist organizations have a place in the modern world.

Our khaveyrim, partners in Melbourne organized an in-person event around the oral histories we recorded in the community on August 20, 2023. Below is the reel of highlights they showed at the event, which was attended by many of those featured as well as family members and friends of those who had passed away since we recorded with them.

Cover image from the world première of Kadimah Yiddish Theatre’s bilingual adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Yiddish literary classic Yentl at the Arts Centre Melbourne in March 2022 was met with overwhelming critical and popular acclaim, culminating in four Green Room Awards including Outstanding Performance (Jana Zvedeniuk in the title role) , Outstanding Writing and Outstanding Set and Lighting Design.

L-R: Nicholas Jaquinot as Avigdor, Jana Zvedeniuk as Yentl/Anshl, and Evelyn Krape as Yeyster Ho’re (The Evil Inclination).

To see more photos from the Wexler Oral History Project's trip to Australia, visit the Yiddish Melbourne album on the Project's Facebook page.