On top of the world in Sydney

Famous Sydney borders a gorgeous harbor with a massive bridge that crosses over to its North Shore.

beach 311 (photo credit: Arthur Wolak)
beach 311
(photo credit: Arthur Wolak)
SYDNEY, Australia – Sydney, the largest city in Australia and capital of the state of New South Wales, is a picturesque jewel in the Southern Hemisphere.
Famous for its Opera House, beaches, and, of course, the uniquely Australian kangaroo, koala, and platypus, Sydney borders a gorgeous harbor with a massive bridge that crosses over to its North Shore.
Only the local English dialect seems to separate Sydney from superficially similar North American cities as San Diego, San Francisco, and Vancouver, but a closer look reveals distinctions worth further exploration, including Sydney’s Jewish community.
Despite various waves of Jewish immigration – especially German Jews following the 1848 discovery of gold in New South Wales; Russian refugees in the 1880s escaping pogroms and anti-Jewish laws under Tsar Alexander III; and Polish Jews after 1918 – Australia’s Jewish community remained small until the 1930s.
The population rose considerably following the World War II, with some Holocaust survivors arriving from Poland, and, following the 1956 Revolution, refugees coming from Hungary. A more recent source has been a large contingent of South African Jews.
Today, Jews account for 45,000 of Sydney’s more than four million residents. Its the nation’s second largest community of Jews after Melbourne in the neighboring state of Victoria.
Sydney’s most densely populated Jewish neighborhood is to the south in Bondi, famed for its beach. It‘s home to most of the Jewish stores, bakeries, and kosher restaurants in Sydney. The North Shore of the city has also seen substantial Jewish settlement.
The area’s growing Jewish presence led to the construction of many vibrant synagogues reflecting modern Orthodox, Hasidic (especially Lubavitch), and Progressive (Reform) shuls. There are also several Sephardic synagogues, two mikvahs – one in Bondi and another in the North Shore – and an eruv (established in 2002).
There are exceptional opportunities for sightseeing in Sydney beyond its Jewish sites. The Sydney Opera House, designed by Danish architect Joern Utzon, took 14 years to build (10 years longer than planned). Its sail-like roofs conceal a performance complex with several theaters and recital halls. The best view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge is from Mrs. Macquarie’s Point, a waterfront promenade near the Royal Botanic Gardens.
The Rocks, Sydney’s most historic area, was established after the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet bringing convicts to the new British Colony. Today this quarter is lined with cobbled streets, restaurants, shops and galleries. You’ll also find the Sydney Visitor Center, which offers a wealth of information on local history and tourist sites.
Sydney’s magnificent water views are accessible from nearby Circular Quay, where unforgettable scenic harbor cruises sail by remarkable waterfront homes. Take a transit ferry across the harbor to North Sydney’s renowned Taronga Zoo, home to giraffes, elephants, kangaroos, and koala bears.
Macquarie Street in Sydney’s central business district – extending from the Sydney Opera House at its northern end to Hyde Park at its southern point – is great for walking. While originally designed as a ceremonial street, it also served as the state capital’s preeminent residential address.
Today it is home to the Sydney Hospital, the headquarters of the Royal Australian College of Physicians, Parliament House (legislature), the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney Mint and the Reserve Bank of Australia. The street is next to the Royal Botanic Gardens, where Government House and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music are situated.
The cliff-top walk from Bondi to Coogee is a highlight of Sydney’s eastern suburbs, with opportunities to appreciate the weathered rocks characteristic of the region, while passing through several other stunning beaches – less busy than Bondi but just as attractive – such as Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly and Coogee.
After traversing Sydney from one end to the other, it is worth venturing north across the Harbour Bridge – the world’s widest long-span bridge – to North Ryde’s Macquarie Centre, a large and attractive shopping mall, and Macquarie University within the high-technology corridor known as Macquarie Park.
Among Sydney’s largest universities and one of its most idyllic, Macquarie University, just like the major street in downtown Sydney, was named after Lachlan Macquarie, an influential 19th-century governor of New South Wales.
More adventurous tourists cross Sydney’s Harbour Bridge the hard way. An enterprising Aussie got permission to charge visitors a fee to cross the bridge by climbing up and over the stairs in an arc formation. A decent telephoto lens will show a train of brave tourists marching like ants across the massive bridge, each tied with a loose harness to prevent an accident.
Sydney’s rich cultural mosaic has benefited from immigration. Every type of cuisine is represented, from Chinese, Thai, Japanese, French and Italian to Modern Australian, a mix of Eastern and Western recipes that have fused into something uniquely Australian.
There are some great eateries throughout the city, including some unique places at the Finger Wharf in Woolloomooloo Bay.
While Crocodile Dundee, the 1980s blockbuster film, helped stimulate a modern wave in Australian tourism, and the 2000 Summer Olympics brought Sydney even greater acclaim, Sydney attracts streams of tourists from all around the world because it’s a beautiful city with lots to offer.
In Sydney, spend time enjoying the blue waters and smooth sand at one or more of the many beaches, from Bondi and Bronte to Manly and Palm, but also visit its Jewish sites. Sydney should not be missed by any adventurous traveler.
Arthur Wolak is a freelance writer in Vancouver.
This article first appeared in Boston’s Jewish Advocate.