UNIONDALE

My trip eventually took me to Uniondale – the furthest point eastward on my journey and pretty much the last stop before you leave the Western Cape. It takes a bit of doing to get to it, but the Uniondale shul was spectacular. No, not spectacular – it was something to behold. A small building, very understated, quaint, unassuming, as were just about all the shuls I’d seen. But inside, something I’d never seen before – the ceiling was painted, covered from end to end with puffy clouds, blue skies and beaming Stars of David, with a beautifully painted arc and pillars. Synagogues are traditionally unadorned. And certainly the old structures were austere, almost ascetic in their complete lack of decoration. The Uniondale shul was beautiful, almost whimsical with its stars and shining magen dovids, blazing across the ceiling. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was one of those buildings that made me take a breath in as I walked through the door.

Built in approx. 1901, either sold or given to the municipality in 1976, and bought by the Lions club in 1994, I still felt a sense of ‘presence’ about the place.

Some of the shuls I visited felt forlorn and sad – like Parow and Worcester, while some, particularly those that were now town museums, didn’t really feel like anything in particular. Very few gave me a feeling in my gut, in my soul. A feeling of connection to something greater than the building itself. Maybe it was a connection to spirit, maybe it was to a heritage, a cultural legacy, a tradition, that breathed life into these buildings and these towns once, and does no longer. Maybe it was the legacy that was not passed down to the children of those that created it, except for some stray traveller like myself, who happened to discover it, like some lost treasure, forgotten out in the back yard, waiting… 

I still have that feeling inside me, when the man from Lions club (who use the building for meetings) unlocked the door for me, and I stepped through thin spider webs and under that painted ceiling.

The town is also home to an Aloe farm, which I visited. I can’t remember why or if there was Jewish connection, but I’m pretty sure I had a good hamburger in Uniondale and then headed back toward the west.

Uniondale shul combined 1

Uniondale shul ext

Uniondale shul int iii

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CALEDON & RIVERSDALE

CALEDON

My last route took me through the interior of the Cape, from Cape Town going east along the N2. My first stop was Caledon, a tiny town not that far out of Cape Town, most famous now for its casino and spa. The Caledon shul is now a private home. I happened to come upon the current owner in his driveway, and he was generous enough to let me take a look inside – although in return, I conceded not to take any photographs. The ‘house’ has maintained its origin remarkably well. It would probably have made a cute shul too.

RIVERSDALE

From there I continued along the N2, through Swellendam to Riversdale. The shul was built in 1902, and was sold to a church some time around the early 80s. Well, truth be told, it did look a lot like a church anyway. On a grey day, the little grey and white building almost disappeared into the background of this rather grey little town.

The town is also home to the Julius Gordon museum. Apparently he donated a whole lot of antiques, furniture and artwork to the local museum, in return they named it after him. There is a roomful of religious artefacts and community memorabilia. But the current curators don’t really know what any of it is, so it isn’t organised in any way. But there is quite a bit if stuff there.

The story of how the town came to find its first rabbi is related from Arthur Markowitz’ article. “In 1901, although having outgrown the small house used for services, and was setting about the building of a shul, the community was without a rabbi. Mr. A Samuel, one of the town’s oldest residents who came to Riversdale in 1882, relates the story of how the problem was resolved. One day, while driving in his horse and cart, he happened to pick up a ‘smous’. The smouse’s name was Abelson, and he told Samuel that he was actually a shochet by trade. Samuel invited him to become the minister at Riversdale and he said “Allright, if you pay me £8 a month.” Though £8 a month was quite high at that time, Samuel agreed. He also received a house and a shop where he could run his kosher butchery. Evidently, the community was pleased with Mr. Abelson, as shortly thereafter his salary was increased to £11 and ‘free meat’.”

Mr. Samuel was a prominent farmer in the district and at one time owned 15 farms and produced wine and brandy. A Mr. Samuel also donated a stand for a new synagogue, and £100 towards the building fund. Whether or not this was all the same Mr Samuel, I was not able to determine. Other Jews of Riversdale were hotel-owners, shop keepers and town councillors. Riversdale was the home town of Gustave Ackerman, born in 1894, founder of Ackerman’s stores. Jews within a 50 mile radius came to Riversdale for services on high holy days.

Jews within a 50 mile radius came to Riversdale for services on high holy days. The town also has a cemetery, land for which was allocated for a cemetery in 1886, after Simon Silke, an early settler, died.

More recently, I discovered that Riversdale is also the home of Max Baise, an international rugby referee, and part of the extended group of the so-called Jewish rugby Springbok minyan (10 Jews who received their Spingbok rugby colours playing for the Springboks (Morris Zimmerman, Fred Smollan, Louis Babrow, Cecil Moss, Alan Menter, Joe Kaminer, Okey Geffen, Syd Nomis, Wilf Rosenberg and Joel Stransky, or, refereed (in the cases of Max Baise and Jonathan Kaplan); also noted are famous Jewish commentators – Archie Shacksnovis and CK Friedlander, who brought the game to thousands of listeners in the days before television.

Max tells the story of the 3rd test against the British Lions in 1968. He was selected to referee the match, but it also happened to be the day of his son’s barmitzvah. Luckily, the barmitzvah was in the morning, and the match was in the afternoon. He made it to the brocha – but didn’t take a schnapps.

The headline in the paper the next day was “Hats off to the Springboks and Max Baise”. He now owns a liquor and rugby memorabilia store in town.

Max in action in a match between UCT and the University of Pretoria, in a photo from Max to Cecil Moss.

 

 

 

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DARLING

Darling is in the Malmesbury district of the Western Cape, 75km north-west of Cape Town. The town was named after Sir Charles Henry Darling, (Lt. Gov. of the Cape from 1851 to 1854). It is well known for its beautiful spring wild flowers and more recently, that other perennial Cape flower – Pieter Dirk Uys and his alter ego Evita Bezuidenhout.

The town is much like what I know small-town South Africa by – wide streets, a butcher shop, a liquor store, a Pep store, a huge NG Kerk (Dutch Reform Church) and a sense of complete timelessness about it. The town is probably much the same today as it was fifty years ago. Darling feels like South Africa to me. I could picture what life here was like 40/50/60/70 years ago. There’s a sense of ease about the place. I drive slowly through its quiet streets. Two ducks peer at me imperiously as they wander along the pavement.

Jews had settled in Darling by 1910, the first congregation being formed in 1924. No synagogue (or cemetery) was ever built here, and services were held in the home of the local Rabbi who brought a torah with him from Lithuania. On some festivals, the church hall or the town hall was used for services. Rabbi Gordon would travel to neighbouring towns of Hopefield, Vredenburg and Saldanha every week to teach Hebrew classes and perform shechita (ritual slaughter). The congregation came to an end when he died in 1955. The children then went to Malmesbury to attend Hebrew classes. Around 1964-65, the congregation was incorporated into the Malmesbury Hebrew Congregation. The torah was given to the Marais Road Synagogue in Sea Point, Cape Town, where it is still in use.

The old town hall is now the town museum. The beautiful old building is well kept and has a wall devoted to the Jewish community. Items have been donated by former members of the community, mainly photographs, some with stories attached. Two donations – a map of Lithuania and a photograph of a village near Vrena (Leliunai) – ­give some clues as to the origins of these residents. The Jewish community shares the wall the business community, but I guess that’s OK because many Jews were in business.

The Jews in Darling were involved in the usual occupations – shopkeepers, dealers and traders, farmers and hoteliers. Some dealt in livestock, wool, hides and animal feed, or owned salt-pans. There was a tailor, a doctor, a manufacturer of jelly products, and for a short while there was a Jewish schoolteacher in the town.

There’s (a photo of) Mr. Becker standing in front of the renovated Royal Hotel, holding a photo of the original Victorian structure, an old tailor shop, family photographs, menus from the hotels. I’m looking at a black & white family photo, from when taking a photograph was special and pretty serious occasion. The family is formally dressed and arranged (men standing, women seated). I’m captivated by the beautiful girl sitting with her hands on her lap – what was she thinking, what kind of girl was she, what kind of girl would she have been today?

In the type of story echoed through many of these communities, Reuben Becker arrived in Darling in 1925, unable to read and write and speaking only Yiddish and Lithuanian. He came to own the Royal (later the Nemesia Hotel) and Commercial Hotels, assisted by his wife Mary and sons Hyman and Allan. Both hotels were subsequently owned by Hyman Becker, who was also a town councillor for eight years until 1980.

Many immigrants arrived in South Africa with nothing. They worked hard to give their children a better life than they had. Abraham Stoch owned a general dealer shop. His daughter became an assistant professor in the Psychiatry Dept. at the New York Medical College. Shraga Boruchowitz (later Brock) had a general dealer business in Darling. His son (Samuel) became a doctor and practiced in Darling for many years. This tale is true of many immigrant cultures around the world.

When the Becker family left in 1980, there were no Jews left in Darling.

Darling tailor shop

Lunch at Evita’s.

I have lunch at Evita se Perron. It’s kind of an apartheid amusement park. The establishment was created by Pieter Dirk Uys in honour of his own creation – Evita Bezuidenhout. It’s really a monument to a number of things – kitsch, the colourful history of our nation and to the man himself. The place is packed with apartheid era memorabilia, such as HF Verwoerd lamps and Europeans Only signs, volk paintings depicting historic moments in Afrikaner history and the like, and a plethora of Evita Bezuidenhout paintings. In fact Evita appears on everything from paintings on the walls, the menus, even those little things with your table number on them. I’m sure you can purchase Evita T-shirts, videos and trinkets in the shop.

I made the mistake of walking into the kitchen, where I saw what looked like an excellent, authentic curry. “I’ll have one of those,” I tell the waitress. Turns out it was really authentic – that was her lunch, and it was not on the menu. I settled for a toasted sandwich.

In 2004, the story emerged about Pieter Dirk Uys’s mother (Helga Bassel). Born Jewish – the daughter of a cantor in a Viennese synagogue – she had hidden this fact from her family her entire life. She was a concert pianist in Germany in the 1930s, and though she converted to Christianity in 1933, under Nazi regulations, she was classified as “fully Jewish,” and was thus subject to the same persecutions and exclusions as all Jews. Her non-Jewish fiancé – Franz Michels, a professor of geology and a composer – was pressured by Nazi authorities to break off the engagement. In 1935 she was expelled from the Reich Music Chamber, an important professional body, and instead was named as a member of the Reich Association of Non-Aryan Christians.

Helga fled Nazi Germany, with Franz helping her to leave and take her piano with her. She settled in South Africa in 1936 and lived and raised her children (Pieter and Tessa) as Afrikaans Christians. Tessa recalled, “I once said to my mother, ‘I wish I had just a little Jewish blood in my veins like two Jewish girls I know.’ My mother said: ‘You don’t need Jewish blood. You have Afrikaner blood.’ I think she said that to protect me after what she had been through in Germany.” The issue of her mother’s faith was not discussed at home.
Tessa moved to London in 1967 to study at the Royal Academy of Music but returned frequently to South Africa, practicing on her mother’s piano, but she never delved into her mother’s old papers and documents.

It was only very recently that Tessa decided to finally go through her papers that she discovered her mother’s hidden truth. She decided the piano should return to Berlin, where it will be housed at the Jewish Museum.

Helga and Franz

Helga and Franz on the Bluthner piano at their Berlin home in the 1930s.
Photo from http://www.maestromusic.co.za/Tessa%20Uys.htm

 

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OUDTSHOORN

There’s an old saying – what happens when a Jew gets shipwrecked? He builds two shuls, because that one he won’t go to!

Many people might think this is a joke, but actually it’s a historical fact. It happened in Cape Town, with the old District 6 community, but that’s another story.

Take Oudtshoorn for example. Oudtshoorn’s Jews came mainly from two Lithuanian towns. The early immigrants came from Shavli / Shavel, a large, industrial, metropolitan city. The first Oudtshoorn shul was built in 1888, in Queen Street. Its first rabbi (Rabbi Woolfson) was from Russia, but had spent many years in England and as a result, had become very Anglicised. (In fact, many of South Africa’s earliest Jewish settlers were from England; while most of the later waves came predominantly from Lithuania.)

Later immigrants came from Kelm / Kelme, an old, deeply religious, and strictly orthodox community. The two groups had very different ideas about Judaism. The Kelm Jews felt the Shavel Jews were too Anglicised, not orthodox enough . . . .

. . .”The Kelm Jews gave less attention to the external and ceremonial religious forms, but accentuated the internal religious expressions in the form of daily services and frequent talmudist discussions. They felt that Rabbi Woolfson had too many Anglican practices in the synagogue and was subservient to many English and German influences. The Kelm Jews demanded a high degree of religious orthodoxy, while Rabbi Woolfson concentrated more on outward ritual.”

In light of these irreconcilable differences, in 1892 the Kelm Jews decided to build their own shul, this one in St. John’s street. The Queen str. followers called it ‘the Green shul’, referring to their ‘new’ status in the community, while the St John’s str. congregation,  in turn, called Queen street ‘the Englische shul’, in reference to the anglicised nature of their services.

The St. John's str. shul

The St. John’s str. shul

Ultimately, the congregations united, first using St. John’s str. and ultimately settling in Queen str. The St. John’s str. shul fell into disuse and was eventually demolished.

The Queen str. shul (now Baron von Reede str.) is a charming, almost medieval-looking structure. If Robin Hood was Jewish he would have gotten married here.

 The Queen str. shul

The Queen str. shul

The CP Nel museum has a large and extensive section on the Jewish community of Oudtshoorn, covering the history of the community, Jewish-owned businesses, the two synagogues, and well-known personalities. There is also a panel with the history of the ostrich industry and the Jewish contribution to it. Oudtshoorn was the centre of the ostrich feather boom of the 1920’s, and many Jews were at the helm of the industry. The museum has a number of reconstructed shops of Victorian Oudtshoorn.

Most significantly, the museum is home to the arc from the St. John’s str. shul, which is an exact replica of the one in the Kelm shul. The original Jewish community of Kelm were all murdered by the Nazis, and the synagogue destroyed. It is the only arc in South Africa which is a replica of the one from which the original Jews of the town hail.

The seats, bima and the ark itself, were all built by members of the St. John’s Str. synagogue and are now in the museum. Most of the other decorations and ornaments in the synagogue were also made by the members and are therefore quite unique.

Oudtshoorn museum arc

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CAPE TOWN – Woodstock

The Woodstock shul (built 1910, refurbished 1950) lies in the heart of what would have been the centre of ‘old’ Cape Town. The area has long since been abandoned by Jews, and is now host to small business, light industry, and low income residential. * (see note below)

The shul itself was auctioned off in 1986 and when I visited, was in use as a factory of sorts. It looked like rows of knitting machines – but I suppose one row of ladies sitting at strange, noisy machines looks much like another. When I first visited the shul, it was that dirty grey colour buildings go after years of weathering and neglect. The buildings – the shul, hall and rabbi’s house – were all in a rather sorry state, as depressing from within as from without. The shul bore no resemblance to a synagogue – it had no ‘feel’ to it, just a fact. The balcony had been sealed forming a separate second floor, home to another set a machines and ladies mindlessly doing whatever they were doing. The only remaining sign of its spiritual heritage was the Star of David design windows – one large window in the centre of the building and two smaller ones on either side. But even these were difficult to discern – the large window now lay in between the two floors.

When I went past again, the entire complex had been rather creatively painted, showing off the architecture in an interesting fashion. At least there’s a fresh coat of paint on there, which makes the buildings an interesting feature in an otherwise run down, drab neighbourhood. Many of the original structures still stand in Woodstock and Salt River.  You can drive down the main road and picture what it might have been like 100 years or so ago.

* Recently, the area has seen a lot of revitalising re-development. Run down old office blocks are now trendy design and coffee centres, the Old Biscuit Mill market draws hordes of people from far more affluent neighbourhoods to peruse and sample organic chocolate and pricey wheat-free breads. It does have one of the best market food courts around, and is well worth a visit, if you can find parking.

The shul and its hall have also seen a change since my last visit. Now painted fresh white, I believe the hall is now a gallery.

Woodstock 2004 hall ii

Woodstock 2004 shul iii

 

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CAPE TOWN – Vredehoek

Vredehoek is a beautiful art-deco building, and is the only one like it that I’ve seen. Built in 1939, and closed in 1993, it is a most unusual and original structure.

The Vredehoek congregation moved from Constitution Street in District 6. The Constitution Str congregation was established in 1903, and moved to Vredehoek in 1940; the Constitution Str synagogue was replaced by a block of flats.

When Vredehoek closed, the congregation moved further over the mountain, to Herzlia. Many of the contents of the shul went to the Schoonders street shul, itself later demolished.

In 1947, Rabbi Mirvish collapsed and died on the shul steps. In recognition for his community work, the city honoured him by naming the street alongside the shul after him.

My Dad used to work for a guy who had an argument with somebody in shul and then died of a heart attack. Just goes to show, not everybody who dies in shul goes to heaven.

The building itself has been reasonably well maintained, and now houses an import/export, rugs and furniture dealer. When I visited, it had been painted rather gaudy red and blue. Many of the original fixtures are piled in odd corners around the building.

Thanks to Corina for the photographs.

Vredehoek shul front old Vredehoek shul inside old

The Schoonders Street shul – also called ‘the round shul’, for fairly obvious reasons  – at its opening in the early 1950’s (either ’52 or ’56 depending on your sources; by the look of the cars, I’d say ’52).

Schoonders Street was demolished in 2001.

Schoonders Str shul

(source SA National Library)

 

 

 

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CALVINIA

Calvinia lies at the foot of the Hantam Mountains in the Northern Cape, approximately 370 km north of Cape Town; the furthest point north on my journey.

Driving from Van Rhynsdorp to Calvinia there is absolutely nothing. There’s not a tree out here, not a thing to be seen for miles and miles; there’s nothing even near this place.  Why would people have trekked out here, with a horse and cart? Why would they have stopped anywhere? It’s hot and desolate, and it goes on forever. Up ahead I see a mountain and no sign of a town. The mountain draws closer – still no sign of life.

I look for a pass over the mountain, when I see a tiny patch of green against the empty brown sand. And there it is, Calvinia, a tiny green dot under the mountain, amongst the faceless grey-green-brown landscape. The town is pushed up against the Hantam Mountains. These people travelled thousands of miles across the globe, and picked this spot? It feels like the last road on earth. I almost feel like Mad Max, looking for a safe haven. Of course, for Mad Max, a synagogue wouldn’t be a safe haven, not anymore anyway. You drive for hours, through nothing, and then you get to this tiny little town. Why here? Who would have started this place anyway, what made them walk and walk with oxen and wagons, and decide ‘Here!’ The only reason they didn’t go any further is because there’s a mountain blocking the way.

The Calvinia cemetery is one of the loneliest I’ve ever seen. I feel like I’m the only person to ever visit these graves. The cemetery is down a dirt track on the edge of town, with barren land on three sides, and the town behind you on the other. A tractor churns up a cloud of dust on a far-off farm. A lonesome, sad little breeze blows as I write, a mean-looking wasp-thing buzzes through the headstones, like an airborne sheriff of the insect world, keeping watch. These people lived almost a hundred years ago, died before I was even born, who remembers them? Their families must be many miles and many years from here.

One of the oldest graves is that of Adolph Picard Bauman, a German Jew born in Cassel, who died in 1863. Another German Jew buried here is Louis Abt, who died in May 1873; it’s thought they were brought out from Germany to buy wool from sheep farmers in remote areas. During the Boer War, a Jewish soldier, Trooper E Horwitz (1901) was shot by Manie Maritz. His tombstone declares: “he died for the Empire”.

I’m struck again by the utter desolation of this part of the country and the sheer vastness of the country as a whole. Driving for mile upon mile without seeing another soul. Deserted houses and abandoned farm stalls – awaiting a story of your own making.

The town of Calvinia is a fairly charming place. The town is ancient, and intact. It still looks and feels now like what I imagine it did then. Quaint coffee shops serving scones and Earl Grey tea. The owner finds me a photo of a former rabbi of the town. I felt like I was going back in time in Calvinia. I could literally see what the town was like 50 years ago. It wasn’t hard – the place is much the same now as it was then. There is something about small South African towns. Something familiar.

The Calvinia synagogue was built in 1918 at a cost of £1 400.00, and opened in 1920. Used by the community for the last time in August 1968, the building was donated to the municipality for use as a museum in 1970.

Calvinia shul museum

The synagogue is an excellent museum, with a section devoted to the Jewish community; photographs of Jewish businesses, homes and local personalities, local rugby and soccer teams with Jewish members. Curator Maxie Hugo has extensive knowledge of the Jewish community. She drives me round the streets pointing out the Jewish houses, who lived where, what they did, and what happened to them.

My vast findings were a bit of a surprise for me. To find so much for these immigrants here, of all places. They seem to have thrived, everywhere was evidence of their successful lives.

I also found that it was damn hot in Calvinia. That must have been a surprise for them too, coming from Eastern Europe. Their first summer must have been a shocker.

Louis Heilbron was the first Jewish trader in Calvinia in 1843. Other traders came almost entirely from England and Germany before the turn of the 19th century. Louis Rosenblatt left Germany in the 1850s for America, but ended up in Calvinia, where he established a business which was to remain in the family for three generations. After 1880, the community was boosted by Jews arriving from Lithuania.

I am amazed by the diversity of their occupations. Of course there were the traditional roles – hoteliers, general dealers, professions like doctors, pharmacists, lawyers, town councillors and businessmen, a mayor and a magistrate. But they were also farmers, photographers, owned cinemas and theatres, motor dealerships and garages.

The first pharmacy in Calvinia was owned by Jacob Berelowitz (son of Rev Berelowitz), who also manufactured Neurosan headache powders. Ben Berelowitz owned Calvinia Motors – a Chev dealership – now a Delta dealership. He and his wife Pauline were among the last Jews to leave Calvinia in 1965. Leon Helfet owned Helfet Motors, a Ford dealership. He also served on the Town Council.  M & D Sack had a store which still bears their name.

These Jews were thoroughly bilingual, speaking Yiddish and Afrikaans – no English. And everywhere I go, they are well-remembered, well-thought-of and loved.

Calvinia B Klein 5 Roses store

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Malmesbury

Malmesbury lies in a region known as the Swartland, the heart of the country’s wheat farmland. There’s a definite porridge smell about the place. Anybody who ever had Pro-nutro for breakfast as a child cannot mistake that smell, or taste for that matter. It’s a thick, oatsie smell. If you make your porridge right, you can stand your spoon up straight in the bowl. That’s what this town smells like.

The town evidently benefited (economically) and suffered (architecturally) from a great deal of, by the looks of it, 1960’s development – giving it a kind of bastardised feel. The old section of town is crowded in by a new, industrial zone with huge factories and soulless shops, dominated by grain silos. Malmesbury is a town you like to get out of.

Driving past the enormous silos, pasta factories and other industrial sprawl as I head toward the centre of town, one building standing by itself catches my eye. It is a beautiful yellow and white structure standing lonely but proud in a cul-de-sac, facing you as you approach. It’s the old synagogue.

Malmesbury shul

Built in 1911, and used until the early 1970’s, the shul dominates the space around it.

Jews first settled in Malmesbury in the late 1800’s. The town was the regional centre for Jewish life, and Jews from nearby towns such as Kalabaskraal, Philadelphia and Darling would come to Malmesbury for services on high holy days and festivals. The town even had a mikvah – a ritual bath. In later years, when other synagogues in the region such as Mooreesburg and Piketberg began to close, their congregations were merged with that of Malmesbury.

On April 29, 1974 the Malmesbury synagogue was deconsecrated and transferred to the local municipality. The Torah, bimah and chairs were donated to the synagogue at Herzlia Highlands School in Cape Town. Since 1991, the building has been used as the town museum and has been cared for and well maintained.

Inside is the history of the town – the usual small-town memorabilia, old wedding dresses in glass cases, things I imagine were used to make milk or cheese before you could just buy the stuff in plastic wrap at your local Spar. There is also a section on the Jewish population of the town. It is a comprehensive display, and considering the community officially ended in 1974, the display shows there was a lively, fullyfledged community here not too long ago.

There’s a leaflet documenting the history of the Jews of the town and an explanation of various items, ceremonies and festivals. I read the story of Tobias Kretzmar, a Lithuanian Jew, who apparently walked from Cape Town to Malmesbury in 1901. He had left his family in Lithuania, to join him later. He was probably the first Jew to settle here and later owned a shop in Main Street.

Malmesbury’s Jews were general dealers and traders and hoteliers; they were doctors, pharmacists, lawyers, farmers, town councillors and mayors; there were salt traders, a law professor and a mining engineer.

Across the road from the shul stands what remains of the communal hall, now the back end of a supermarket. An ornate air-vent with Magen David design beneath the old gables is your only clue.

Malmesbury hall ext detail

The town also has a Jewish cemetery, located just beyond the local Correctional Services, which I imagine fits in well with some people’s ideas of what correctional services should be. The cemetery was founded in 1922, when a local farmer – Piet van Rensburg – donated land on his farm for the Jewish cemetery.

Standing in the cemetery, I looked out over the brown hills of last years’ crops, when I heard a familiar but unexpected sound. I strained to hear and then check the sound – it was the Moslem call to prayer (the Azaan) rolling across the churned up fields, mingling with the ghosts among whose graves I stood.

It was an unexpected melding of cultures – red African earth, the blue-gums against a blue sky, Jewish graves and Moslem prayers, old and new cultures blending in the wind.

There are no Jews currently living in Malmesbury.

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