Among old timers, the town of Oudtshoorn in the semi-arid Little Karoo was
known as the "Jerusalem of Africa". Lithuanian Jews were pioneers in the
ostrich feather trade and developed it into an important export business.
Two synagogues were built in Oudtshoorn. The older shul was the one in Queen
Street and this was regarded as too "Anglicised" by some of the newcomers.
This led to the building of the St John's Street Synagogue in 1892 which was
nicknamed the "Greene Shul", while the Queen Street Congregation was called
the "Englische Shul" Most of the congregants from Queen Street came from
Siauliai (Shavli or Shavel) in Lithuania, whereas most of those at St John's
Street Shul were from Kelme.
Jews from Kelme were among the most active in the feather trade and they
strove valiantly to re-create the atmosphere of their beloved home town
synagogue and graft it on to the veld. Many years later, when the synagogue,
which was originally in St. Johns Street (1896), fell into disuse, the
magnificent onion-domed ark was preserved in Outdtshoorn's C.P. Nel Museum,
which has a special Jewish section.
The Ostrich feather industry collapsed just before the onset of the first
world war. It was at its height in about 1907.