Next year in...Sydney
Israel is not the only popular destination for British Jews seeking a new life in the sun among others of their faith. It may not quite be aliyah — but Australia’s pull is rising
YOU ARE A twenty- or thirtysomething UK Jew, possibly married, possibly not, and you fancy a new life in another country. You are looking for a place with almost guaranteed sunshine, a laid-back, outdoorsy vibe, world-class Jewish schools and a vibrant Jewish life. You might think the obvious destination would be Israel — but for a significant number of young Jews, their “aliyah” is not to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, but to Sydney, Melbourne, or even Canberra, Perth or Darwin.
In 2006, a total of more than 400,000 people left the UK, up from 359,000 recorded in 2005 and the highest rate since current records began in 1991. Correspondingly, the latest figures from Britain’s Office of National Statistics — issued in November 2007 — reveal that Australia is still Britons’ favourite place to which to emigrate. Although it is difficult to find hard statistics about specific Jewish emigration to Australia, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to indicate that significant numbers of young UK Jews are drawn by the sun, sea, sand, the easy access to the great outdoors and the Aussie lifestyle.
The most compelling evidence is Project Sydney, a new community-sponsored initiative to help UK and South African Jews move to the city. A joint initiative by the New South Wales Jewish Communal Appeal and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Project Sydney was established towards the end of 2007 following data from migration agents that showed a hike in the number of Jews applying for visas to Australia. The project helps with job interviews, finding Jewish schools for immigrants’ children, and generally offering support to newcomers .
In February, the project’s director, Selwyn Shapiro, came to London, where he interviewed more than 50 Jews. He also spoke to a number of families from Manchester and Leeds by phone. He said the bulk of the people he spoke to were young, as “you are much more likely to get a visa to Australia if you are young and professional”.
The project’s mission statement explains: “Historically, Sydney’s Jewish community has been sustained by immigration, and the community recognises and appreciates the crucial role that immigrants play in our society. We welcome and encourage immigration as a way of enhancing and sustaining our Jewish life in Sydney.”
Many UK Jews decide to move to Australia after travelling around the country during gap-year or post-university trips. One of those is Glasgow-born Adam Kay, 37, a TV producer-director who is now head of programming for the Australian arm of British independent production company North One TV. He went to work at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 and returned soon after on a “distinguished talent” visa, lured by the beach lifestyle, the Australian ethos of “fair go” and the laid-back atmosphere. A Manchester graduate who lived in Muswell Hill, North London, Kay is a self confessed “sports and TV nut” who has produced and directed TV at the Commonwealth Games and African Nations Cup. He is now gearing up for the Beijing Olympics.
“I didn’t like the hustle and bustle of London, the incessant rush, the pollution and poor quality of life,” he said. “Sydney, by contrast, is all sun, sea, sand... and I like the outdoor sporting life and the opportunity to use my worldwide experience on TV to better the quality of television in Australia.”
A graduate of Habonim-Dror, he says he made countless Australian friends when he was on the organisation’s Shnat programme in Israel in 1988-89. “The transition from London to Sydney was easy,” he says, “because I had many friends whom I’d met back in 1989, thus providing an instant infrastructure.”
Another Brit lured by the combination of climate and sport, plus a vibrant commercial environment, is Martin Kelly, 33. Originally from Clayhall, Essex, he moved to Sydney just over three years ago, initially working with Ernst & Young and now in corporate development with Tower Australia. Kelly, who has an economics degree from Birmingham University and passed out from Sandhurst as a captain in the British Army, says the weather and outdoors lifestyle always appealed to him. “In Sydney, I am able to work in financial serv- ices in a challenging job, and yet also live by the beach and have a great time after work and at the weekends.
“There were things that were difficult, but considering it is an English-speaking country and its culture is largely British, moving to Australia is about as easy as moving countries can be. I like the lack of ceremony, the informality, working culture, great weather and the fact that the outdoor pursuits are easily accessible to all. There is also the sport, affordability, and the ferry commute to work.”
Kelly, who has an Australian girlfriend and cousins in Melbourne, says his employers and the large ex-pat community were very supportive in his early days in the country. But leaving his family in the UK was painful, he concedes. His sister, Pauline Nel, and her husband and children will be emigrating to Oz in a couple of months, and his parents are waiting for their visas.
“It was tough leaving them, and I am not sure how it would have turned out had they not decided to join me. But I am ecstatic they are coming. It will enrich my life and provide stability.”
The only down-side he sees is Australia’s remoteness from the rest of the world “which manifests itself, at times, in a fairly insular culture”. But despite that, he says he “wouldn’t move back to Britain for a million pounds”.
Other migrants make the move because they marry Australians. Jayne Wise, who grew up in Chigwell, Essex, married her Australian husband Dion in 1986.
Martin Kelly moved from Essex to Sydney. “I have a great time at weekends,” he says