Vale William (Bill) Rubinstein – Researcher Extraordinaire of Australian Jewish History

By Professor Suzanne Rutland OAM

William (Bill) Rubinstein passed away on Sunday 30 June 2024, leaving a significant gap in Australian Jewish intellectual life. From the time that he settled in Melbourne with his wife Hilary, he sought to improve Jewish academic research.

An American political scientist, he immigrated to Australia together with his librarian-historian wife Dr Hilary Rubinstein, whom he met in England, where he had spent some time before migrating to Australia. After Rubinstein worked for two years at the Australian National University, the family moved to Melbourne where he took up a position at Deakin University in 1978.

His initial academic forays into Australian Jewish research were in Association with Isi Leibler. After working on two research projects, with Hilary’s involvement, he suggested that Australian Jewry needed a think tank to allow for more strategic forward planning. Isi Leibler encouraged him to develop a proposal for an Australian Jewish think tank. Rubinstein made his initial pitch in October 1980.

After he and Hilary returned from a visit to Britain, he presented a follow-up report recommending that the proposed Australian Jewish think tank be modelled after the London-based Institute of Jewish Affairs, then directed by Dr Stephen Roth. Meanwhile Isi pulled together funds to start Rubinstein on his research and writing. From then, until he took up a position at Aberystwyth University in the mid-1990s, there was close collaboration between Leibler and Rubinstein. Isi Leibler created the Australian Institute for Jewish Affairs (AIJA), and Rubinstein conducted several important studies on Australian Jewry which were published by the AIJA.

Bill also became deeply involved with the Australian Jewish Historical Society and in the late 1980s took over editing its Journal, filling the position as Melbourne editor until he moved to Wales.

He was also one of the key founders of the Australian Association for Jewish Studies, served on its committee, and was deeply involved with the affairs of the AAJS while in Australia.

He has left a monumental body of published works, including the first history of Australian Jewry published in 1985 as part of a series on ethnic groups in Australia, as well as the second volume, with Hilary writing the first, of the monumental Jews in Australia: a thematic history published in 1991.

In addition to his academic publishing, Rubinstein was a regular contributor to the Jewish press and general press, and was a powerful, if at times controversial, voice for the Jewish community. He was a personality who was larger than life and will be greatly missed.