Over the past 10 years there has been a sustained but steady flow of Jewish families into Perth. Prior to that there were two particular “waves” of Jewish immigration; mainly from South Africa. Indeed the community previously developed an initiative called 10,000 by 2000, which, while not meeting its demographic objective, certainly assisted to bolster the size of the Jewish community, and still continues to return dividends today.
Over the next two weeks a delegation from Perth, led by Carmel School, and including the Principal, will be in South Africa promoting our community to prospective migrants. The proactive and positive initiative undertaken should be commended, however with certain caveats in place.
Firstly, it is vital not to engage in misleading advertisements about Perth as a Jewish destination. This is particularly so for very religious families who base Jewish education as the number one priority in thier choice of relocation. The standard of Jewish education in Perth is very high. I would argue that if Carmel School is not on par with equivalent schools such as Yavneh or Mt Scopus (in Melbourne), or Moriah or Masada (in Sydney), then it would exceed them in terms of the overall product. The additional learning that can be accessed that is extra curricular to Carmel School but supported by the schools program is also very important. However Carmel is not a Yeshiva school, and would not deliver a product that allows 20-30 hours of guided Gemara study every week. Families that want their children to learn Gemara for half a day and secular studies for half a day would struggle to cope with a Carmel School style education.
Beyond education is lifestyle. It’s been noted before on this blog that some years back Perth was an attractive destination because it is both affordable and delivers great lifestyle benefits. This remains true. For a while the affordablility of housing became a big barrier, and Perth was no longer cheaper than the Australian eastern States. However the market has corrected itself to a certain extent, and once again there is some relative balance. From a community point of view, including social, recreational and cultural needs, Perth remains very vibrant and attractive for Jewish families.
Finally, Perth is a very strong Zionist community. The message of many of the community members, particularly those who are religious Zionist, would be that if you are by circumstance seeking a Diaspora Jewish community in which to settle a young family for a period of time, Perth is a great option. However, if you are contemplating going to Israel, then this is the ultimate destination of all Jewish people (be it in this or a future generation), and there is no choice to make between Israel and Perth. A transition to Perth is simply a migration, but a transition to Israel is an Aliyah. That is a Mitzvah, and far more than just a migration.
Overall, it is pleasing to see that Jewish Perth is able to promote itself in South Africa, not just as a viable alternative, but as a more attractive alternative to other Australasian Jewish communities. The security and near crime-free environment of Perth is the main reason many of our South African friends have migrated. However beyond the surface there are many “pull factors” that need to be taken into account alongside the “push factors”. The support for integration into a new community is one of the key strengths that we have to offer.
Perth is not “desperate” for immigrants, in the sense that a critical Jewish mass already exists here and the survival of the community is dependent on new arrivals. We are a medium sized community with more than 1,000 Jewish children amongst us. Although our ability to grow and further develop is enhanced by a strong demographic influence, like any other Diaspora community it is the quality, not the quantity of Jewish life that sustains our presence.
Any prospective Jewish migrant owes it to themselves to find out a little about why Perth is an attractive option to consider. The development office at Carmel School is the best first point of contact. In early May the school is visiting both Johannesburg and Capetown, and investing a small amount of time to meet with them could well lead to a life changing experience.