Historian Andrew Markus discusses the public impact of Victoria's Jewish communities.
10 March 2009
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Given what the Jewish people have experienced down through the ages which hasn’t been such a fantastic history in the context of the Christian lands and the West, Jews have been to the forefront of community-wide campaigns for justice. So Jews went to the forefront for example in the United States in the campaign against racial discrimination in the southern states. Jews have been very significant within the trade union movement.
As some people saw that the answer to the difficulties facing the position of Jews was to actually improve the conditions of all peoples in that society. So within the socialist movement and the trade union movement, Jews have been very significant.
Another facet has been the development of community legislation and laws to protect specific ethno-religious groups. And to broaden the basis of society, such that society has become more pluralist, more understanding and accommodating themselves to difference. And also, say if we look at the history of Victoria and we look at the history of multiculturalism in Australia, what we find is that some of the individuals who were significant in that movement towards a more pluralistic, open, diverse society were people from the Jewish community. One very significant figure in the early stages of multiculturalism in Australia was Walter Lippmann. And he was very significant in Victoria in welfare provision within the Jewish community and then facing these issues in the wider community.
Walter Lippmann was a significant advisor in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, prepared like, government reports and so on, which sketched out the features and the parameters of multicultural policy and what would be involved. And the basic message was: that you’re not advantaging a specific group until you’re advantaging the whole society. You’re enriching the whole society. You’re freeing up potential, you’re freeing up human potential. Instead of people being locked away, denied opportunities, everyone benefits by opening up opportunities and by welcoming and recognising diversity. In terms of philanthropy, the Jewish population has been very significant. There’s been this attitude within the Jewish community that as you succeed in life you have to give back to the community.
And giving back to the community is understood in a very broad sense, so that Jewish populations, not only in Victoria but in all countries have disproportionately contributed to cultural institutions, to infrastructure, to universities, to learning.