Nearly 20% of Australian Jews living in poverty

Yet five of the ten richest Australians are Jews.

June 24, 2019 11:50

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Nearly one in five Jews in Australia live below the poverty line,according to an Australian-based ABC News report. The “stigma” that Jews are generally affluent cloaks the fact that many Australian Jews are struggling financially.

"There are a large number of people in the community experiencing [hardship], but it's not well-known because they try their best to hide it,” said Rachel Tanny, chief executive at Connections, Opportunities, Activities (COA), a non-profit in the Eastern Sydney suburb of Woollahra. The organization provides lunches two nights a week in Woollahra, debt counseling, phone calls for those who are lonely, and other services for the elderly Jewish community.

Many Australian Jews are struggling to keep their homes due to increased property values. "There are elderly people who have purchased a home decades before and it's now increased in value, it's worth millions, but their bank account is empty," said Ms. Tanny. She went on to explain how these Jews have “too many assets to receive the type of assistance that they require”. Because those who own their homes are elderly, they do not want to move and uproot their lives.

"Like a lot of refugee communities, [Jewish people] want to hang out where there are the synagogues and the other support services," Clare Vernon, chief executive of Jewish Care, explained, ”People want to remain in the home where they raised their families, and they have better health outcomes and longevity if they do age in place.”

Not all Australian Jews are struggling financially. According to the Australian Financial Review's annual list, five of the ten richest Australians are Jews. This is despite the fact that Jews represent a measly 0.4% of the population in Australia, according to the 2016 census.

"A very significant proportion of the Jewish community arrived in this country with nothing and were determined to realize their potential and embrace a second chance at life,” said Vic Alhadeff, Chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. One of those who has done this is Frank Lowy. "[Frank] and the partner John Saunders began Westfield ... as a small little deli out in Blacktown, and it's become the world's largest shopping centre conglomerate," said Alhadeff. According to the Financial Review Rich List, Lowy (who has moved to Israel), boasts a net worth of $8.56 billion, ranking seventh on the list.

Lowy and his family have donated to both COA and Jewish Care.

"And 15 years ago, Frank set up the Lowy Institute as a world-leading thinktank, and when he did so, he said, 'I'm doing this as my way of saying thank you to Australia, for giving my family and other Jewish Australians a second chance at life,’” Alhadeff said.

Lowy and others believe in the Jewish philosophy known as “tikkun olam,” which Alhadeff described as "'healing the world,’ and that is mandating Jewish people to do whatever they can, in their small way, to make the world a better place."

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