Jews have been in New Zealand since the earliest days of European settlement in the early nineteenth century. Quite a number arrived during the gold rush days and were to be found predominantly on the West Coast of the South Island. In 1890 Polish and Russian Jews arrived, fleeing oppression under the Tsar.
Then, prior to World War II, about 1,000 Jewish refugees from Central Europe settled in New Zealand. About 500 came to Wellington. Subsequent small waves of immigration were associated with the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and the attempts by HIAS (the Hebrew Immigration Assistance Society) to bring Jews here from the former Soviet Union. Most recently there has been a small influx from South Africa, most of whom settled in Auckland. A number of Israelis have also settled here in recent years.
The largest centre of Jewish population in New Zealand is Auckland, which, with a population of around 1.1 million, is New Zealand’s largest city. New Zealand’s total population is 3.7 million. Three quarters of the resident population lives in the North Island. The self-identified Jewish population is around 4,700 (1996 census) which is 0.13% of the overall population. Numbers have been higher (around 5 – 6,000) but many Jewish families, or young people, have moved to larger communities overseas (especially Australia).
While it is impossible to provide a good estimate, there are believed to be significant numbers of Jews around New Zealand who are not affiliated to any congregation and who do not participate in organised Jewish activity. There has been substantial assimilation, perhaps inevitable in a small diaspora community.
See our NZ web links page for Jewish NZ site listings.