A hot day, but not so hot numbers

While those of us are sweltering in temperatures that reached 44 degrees today, there are some hot topics around town.

The numbers that came through recent Jewish population statistics are not hot at all.  In fact, according to Prof Gabi Sheffer of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, over the past 30 years the Jewish population has barely grown.  We are 13 million people, and grow by an average of 0.06% per year. 

Australia’s Jewish population is a statistically insignificant 100,000.  In Perth we are less than 10% of this.  However, when it comes to Jews the world over it is quality and not quantity that counts. In Perth, every single person counts, and does make a difference.

Today some of my friends were lamenting that several religious orthodox young families are leaving Perth in time for the new 2008 academic year.  Their prime motivation is to provide a higher level of religious Jewish education to their children, of the style and type that cannot be found in Perth, and is unlikely to be extended here in the forseeable future.  As always, any family that leaves for the sake of strenthening their Jewish identity, particularly when they are shifting to Israel, receives our best wishes for success.   We cannot begrudge individual families their opportunities or lifestyle choices, even though we are sad to lose quality chevra from amongst us.

Seeing people leave is nothing new.  Over the past decade dozens of observant families have left Perth.  Many would like their children to be in a school system where gemara and textual based learning is provided as part of the regular curriculum, at a level that sometimes involves a half day study or more.  There are few people within the school’s management and administration that understand this, or feel the flow-on impact of this. Religious emigration due to the lack of educational facilities will remain a problem and an issue for Perth in its pursuit to strengthen religious committment.

It is also important that this community recognises its limitations and does what it can to meet the needs of its religious population.  However this community has also been transient for a long time.  As much as several families are leaving, there are also several new families arriving in the new year, and ultimately we will be able to balance the numbers out.

This is fortuitous, especially as Perth is not the attractive destination it was some years ago.  Previously Perth was a good lifestyle option and a cheaper alternative to Sydney or Melbourne.  However now it is just a good lifestyle option.  The cost of living and housing no longer works in our favour.

If every religious family that has left Perth in the past decade was still here we would have at least 100 more students in the school, and a very strong core Orthodox community.   There would be a critical mass that would naturally lead towards a fully religious day school education.

It is time for the leaders of the Perth Jewish community to raise the bar on Jewish education.  Much has been done, but there is even more to do. 

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