On Thursday, I paid a lunchtime visit to Sydney’s “Great Synagogue”. Although I have been there once before – during the annual Sydney Open Day – I was curious to go back and have a “proper look”. The first thing I noticed, on entering the synagogue, was the security provisions, having to pass through an x-ray machine, and being asked where I was from and why I wanted to visit the synagogue. Inside, we were shown a video presentation which reflected on the history of Jewish people in Australia, going back to the convict days, with just a handful of Jews arrived on the First Fleet, through to the significant role Jews have played in the arts, sciences, professions, politics, industry and commerce, as well as in the armed forces and on the land. Famous Jewish citizens mentioned include Sir John Monash, Australian commander-in-chief in the First World War; Sir Isaac Isaacs, Chief Justice and Governor-General; and Sir Zelman Cowen, Governor-General. We then had an opportunity to ask questions. As many of the people appeared to be fairly liberal Jews, there were many questions about the involvement of women. We were told most synagogues in Sydney followed a traditional position, but that two synagogue were “liberal”.
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