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Census Maximus

August 2, 2011 – 9:57 pm21 Comments

The most interesting, and apparently controversial, census image that we could find

By Anthony Frosh

‘There’s this unspoken thing among Jews,” comedian John Safran was quoted in a recent interview published in The Age,  ”that no matter whether you’re kosher or not, you always ask for kosher meals on aircraft to help keep the demand up.”

Now, while I’ve never heard of this, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the rumour exists and if there are Australian Jews who do just that.

And while I generally order the Asian Vegetarian meal, I must confess that last Shabbos I was telling my machatonim to make sure they include Hebrew and Yiddish when they answer the census question on language spoken at home.

“But we don’t speak Yiddish at home,” my sister-in-law pointed out.

“What’s that got to do with it?” I retorted. “Do you want to be personally responsible for the cancellation of the SBS Yiddish language hour?”  I proceeded to impress on my sister-in-law and mother-in-law, who do frequently speak Hebrew to each other, that they should answer every question on the census with an eye to how the resultant data might be used.

“But we can’t lie!” they exclaimed.

“I’m not suggesting you lie. We do use Yiddish words and the bureau of statistics don’t provide a minimum quantity, so technically, you wouldn’t be lying.”

The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) believe that the Jewish community misses out on vital services and funds as the Jewish population in Victoria is not adequately represented in the census due to the voluntary nature of questions relating to religion and ethnicity, and low participation rates in the census.

John Searle, president of the JCCV stated,

“If you are Jewish, then be counted as a member of the Jewish Community by answering Question 19 on religious affiliation as – ‘Jewish’ or ‘Judaism’. Accurate representation ensures that effective planning and funding is allocated to the Jewish community by Federal, State and Local Governments. It also enables community services and organisations to adequately resource schools, healthcare, aged care, childcare and other essential services”.

And while on the topic of the underreporting of Jews, it is known that a number of Jews, particularly Holocaust survivors, and even some of the next generation, do not declare their Jewishness on the census, given the history of how census data was used by the Nazis to round up Jews.

I’d be interested to hear how you and your family approach the census.

Census night is this Tuesday August 9th .

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  • Emes says:

    good posting, though for the life of me i can’t understand the “controversial” image that you have used to accompany it. what census did J participate in that acts as a paradigm for current census participation?!

  • Doodie Ringelblum says:

    It is important to note that secular Jews – who make up about 40% of the Jewish community – may be uncomfortable answering “Jewish” or “Judaism” to Q19 which asks about religion, because they aren’t adherents to the religious aspects of Judaism.

    Answers such as “secular Judaism”, “humanistic Judaism” etc are rejected by the analysis, which I believe only counts one word answers (or the principal noun) for this question. (So I don’t think there is a distinct count of “Reform Judaism” vs “Orthodox Judaism”).

    HOWEVER, secular Jews can still affiliate with the Jewish community (and, critically, raise “our team’s” numbers) by answering Jewish to Q18 which asks about Ancestry. That question specifically seeks the cultural group that respondents identify with. (I believe that question also accepts two word answers eg Ashkenazic Jewish.)

    This approach should serve the needs of the community whilst allowing respondents to answer with integrity.

  • Joe says:

    Poor taste. This is the only was to describe the image used to illustrate “Cencus Maximus”.
    If the author is attempting to provoke controversy , it’s a poor and misguided effort .
    I find the image offensive.

  • Black Comedy? says:

    Good post but why do you have to spoil it by being such a “potz”. The pic is offensive, and if that demonstrates your sense of humour, it’s p**s-weak! Get rid of it.

  • Michelle says:

    Interesting, I may have also been reluctant to put down “Jewish” or similar. After reading the article I will now definately put down, ‘Jewish’, ‘Hebrew’, and ‘Yiddish’… and although not kosher may even go as far as ordering a kosher meal on my next flight.

  • TheSadducee says:

    For those who know me in real life they may be aware that my significant other has been involved in managing the online census (eCensus) this year.

    I would encourage readers to use the online census this year if they can!

    And I don’t have any problem with the attached image either.

  • Jo Silver, JCCV says:

    Hi Doodie, I understand your perspective about not all Jews identifying with being Jewish by religion. That is the case for many Russian Jews for example who associate by ancestry. The issue is that question 18 and 19 are not added together to represent the entire Jewish community in its entirety and this impacts on funding for services, representation and advocacy. It is a ‘muddy’ issue but for clarity in the ‘big picture’ answering question 19 is simplest. People can of course answer both.

    the category for qu 18, lists Judaism as Middle Eastern (a long way back for most) so ultimately it is just a survey and cannot represent all the intricacies of the real world!

  • Andrea Cooper says:

    Anthony, you’re spot on with the reminder for us to be counted.

    The numbers are not just for communal recognition (and ego) but more importantly critical to funding. I worked on the last Census (2006) behind the scenes as a communications/PR consultant. As a Jew I’m extremely aware of the role the data gather plays in terms of recognition and funding.

    Doodie, the government doesn’t care or discriminate if we are observant or secular,nor ashkenazi or shepardi they just need to know how many of us there are to allocate funds! A big part of the challenge in getting the is message through to ALL of us, especially to those of us who are not here or consume other Jewish media. A key target and concern needs to be the many (? majority) who don’t plug into the Jewish community at all/ on a regular basis, plus those who fear being labelled as ‘Jewish’.

    We need to spread the word on-line. We need to also remind people not to forget to make personal contact with those they know who don’t use computers!

    Please feel free to circulate/adapt the following by email , Facebook etc.
    Andrea Cooper
    Jews Stand up and be Counted!
    • Do you feel that Jews are being increasingly ignored by the media and government?
    • Fact- Attention is given to the larger (and louder) groups in our population.
    • We are the oldest non-Christian minority in this country and have become complacent.
    • The Census is critical for recognition and government funding, especially in an aging society.
    • So in Q18 include Jewish as part of your ancestry and in Q19 say Jewish.
    • Also spread the word, by circulating this information and making personal contact with those you know who are not on the internet.

    Aussie Jews be in the Count
    The Jewish community is missing recognition and funding as many of us fail to stand up and be counted in the Census.
    This year BE COUNTED. In Q18 include Jewish your ancestry and in Q19 say Jewish. Also encourage others to do the same!

  • frosh says:

    Sorry, I can’t fathom a legitimate reason for people being offended by the image.

    Are some people so insecure in their Jewish identity that they are frightened by the re-publication of an interesting promotional poster for a census making reference to Jesus as a historical figure?


  • R B says:

    As an ex-Israeli, I wondered whether to answer “Jew” or “Israeli” for question 18 (ancestry)… and chose Jew.

  • Black Comedy? says:


    I’m certainly not insecure with my religion, If I was, I wouldn’t a kippah at work. Your cartoon, is simply “potzy” but as you are an attention seeker, I can understand your need to do potzy things, even if they are not offensive.

  • Black Comedy? says:

    R B
    Entereing “Israeli” is dumb. That’s not a religion. One could be an Israel Arab, who is a Muslim.
    I can’t understand why everyone has to be such an “uber-chochom”. The idea is to give the government a good idea of the number of Jews here so that best decisions can be made on our behalf. Instead of simply saying one is Jewish, nah..we have to be extra smart…orthodox, non orthodox,, Israeli, vegetarian etc etc. Who gives a rat’s arse? Just put down you’re Jewish, if you are Jewish. Gamarnu!

  • Sam says:

    Black Comedy?

    The last word of your later post; gamarnu. What in hell is it? Is it an obscure yiddish word that I have never seen before, or just something you invented to be a mr smart arse. Googling this, the nearest I could find was GAMMA NU PI. This is a fictional name of a fraternity in a D grade movie called “Fraternity Row”. That couldn’t be it, surely?

  • letters in the age says:

    The census is a way the ruling elite can use these statistics to get funding for various projects that benefit the community.

  • dave says:

    Absolutely, Sam.

    And what is Potzy? Give me a break, attention seeking black comedy?

  • R B says:

    Black Comedy:
    I was referring to question #18, which is about ancestry, not religion. Since there is a country named “Israel” and a group named “Israelis”, which shares language and culture, this is a legitimate answer for this question. For question #19 (religion), I answered “Judaism”.

    Gamarnu = “we’ve finished” or “we’ve done” in Hebrew.

  • MargB says:

    Re: the image – if there was a census going that night Jesus (or Joshua as he would have been known then) would have definitely checked the Jewish box on the form.

    I reckon if you read and actively participate in or care about what is written on a site like this and were born of Jewish parents you are Jewish. Even if you are an atheist. The funds John Searle refers to are for inoffensive and worthy things like caring for the Jewish aged and destitute. We don’t face the dilemma Christian-born atheists do, where putting Christian rather than atheist on the census form is used to justify the funding of Christian religious instruction in state schools.

  • Doodie Ringelblum says:

    Jo and Andrea – I don’t dispute the need for us to be counted. I do dispute that it needs to be under the “Religion” category. If the Australian government has not been made aware of the difference between Jews as a religion and Jews as a people, then the onus is on us to explain the distinction and why funding should be based on the latter, not the former. Despite the JCCVs and Andreas call, many Jews won’t identify with a religion question and the numbers will always be significantly under-represented. There’s a much greater chance of getting the numbers up under Q18 than Q19.
    Jo – it’s a pity the JCCV hasn’t been more active on this issue. In fact going back to the 1990s, the JCCV executive opposed the idea of the census including a question on ethnic identification, arguing that the religion question was sufficient and thereby effectively excluding the plurality of Jews who view themselves as some variation of secular.

  • Simon says:

    I think the pic accompanying this article is hilarious!

  • Jo Silver says:

    I take your point Doodie and a worthwhile discussion to be had with the ECAJ in the post-census debate

  • A couple of days ago my friend asked me to help them fill in the census as her command of English is not of a level that allows her to answer the questions. Her family had recently migrated to Australia from Israel as her husband is an Australian citizen by decent and has not been able to grasp the language. I told her that there are very personal details which I don’t feel comfortable she reveal to me and she contact the number of the census form, and ask for an interpreter to help her, She told me she did and was told there are no interpreters for Hebrew and that she should ask one of her friends to help her. I actually rang myself and was told that if I want a Hebrew interpreter I would have to pay for the services. I think this is outrageous, filling in the census is everyone’s civil duty, the recording on the phone number I was given to call 1300340120 has a recording of 10 languages, it then says that if your language is not included you should wait and be transferred to an operator, I was transferred and I asked for a Hebrew interpreter and was told there are none and confirmed what my told had told me that I would have to pay for one if I wanted the service.
    When a tax funded organisation such as the ABS undertakes such a huge task of surveying the entire Australian population it is required to be inclusive of all tax payers. The ABS is required to be inclusive of its entire target market i.e. the entire Australian population no matter how small. All sectors should be allowed to participate otherwise the whole exercise is futile and flawed, for the census serves the government and planning authorities with the information to provide better service to the entire Australian population, it cannot rely on this data if it flawed, even we are talking about 2 people who cannot take part, it is flawed.

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