Southern Africa Jewish Genealogy SA-SIG
Recollections of the
Cape Town Orthodox Hebrew Congregation
by Ivor Kosowitz © 2008
Editor: Dr Saul Issroff
Copyright © 2003-2010 Saul Issroff, Mike Getz, SAfrica SIG
and Jewishgen Inc.
Updated: 2 June 2010
I have been reminded by other ex-Cape Townians that there was much more to write down about the Vredehoek and Schoonder Street Shules. As we were members of the latter, my recollections relate mostly to that, although I am sure that it applied to the former as well.
At Pesach time, many of us kids went to shul, mainly because our parents said we had to. Once there I doubt that many of us actually went inside. So the big event, outside of course, was to play "marbles" with hazel and walnuts. Who said we were supposed to eat them! The walnuts were the "goonies" and the hazel nuts were the "marbles". I recall that this was really big at the Vredehoek Shule as it had an enclosed courtyard at the front.
Succot was another special Chag. A large curved succah was built at the back of the "Round" Shule. After every service, large trays of delicious sponge cake were brought out. You could have wine and salty herring in addition to the cake. Some of us kids thought the cake was great, so we stuffed our tallis bags full of the stuff, to take home!
As we became barmitvah, we were invited to attend Gemorah classes after service on Shabbat mornings. The teacher was a Mr. Kooperman. As he mainly spoke Yiddish, and as the Gemorah is mainly in Aramaic and Hebrew, we kids never actually learned much. However we were introduced to "Bob". No not a person, but a Jewish dish made from broad beans.
Other mainly delicious foods which we grew up with were Taigelach, Imberlach, Pretzelah, Petcha (made from calf's hooves), Perogen, Kreplach, Henzel, Herring and Chopped Herring, Chopped Liver, Gefilte Fish, Kneidelach – boiled and baked, Bagels, Babkes, Bulkas, Hammantashen and Kichel. Some of these we still enjoy today. Only in South Africa, Challah is called Kitke. No one seems to know the origin and why this unique to SA.
Many maid servants became Kosher Cooking experts, and this was very desirable if they wanted to work in a Jewish home.
The Saturday night Slichot Service was the highlight of the year especially if you were in the choir. We arrived at about 8pm. A 16mm black and white movie was shown, usually a B-rate western "flick". We had to hire a projector in those days, and the movie was on large reels of celluloid. After that, a large spread was put on for us by the Ladies Guild.
As Shlichot is at midnight it was an effort to keep the sopranos (boys under 12) awake, and in any event they were tanked up with sugar so it was extremely difficult for the choir master, Jeff Koussevitsky, to keep them under control.
One Slichot service, my friend and I smuggled a cassette tape recorder into shul and put it under the bimah. This way we recorded the service which was full of amazing choral pieces. My friend, in Sydney, and I still have this recording today, about 43 years later. So the only two copies in existence, are in Australia!
When Rosh Hashana came around, the shules were full to overflowing with standing room only. I remember that every year, the Shamash, Mr Rivkin, blew the Shofar. Except for once, when our Rabbi decided to try. Well, he should have thought otherwise.
He could not get one note out properly. We, in the choir loft, above him could not contain ourselves, and just cracked up laughing ... actually rolling on the floor! What an embarrassment.
The choir was great, not the best though. The best choir was at the Gardens Shul.
We had the best chazzan, Cantor Simcha Koussevitzky. Anyway, we used to get paid for rehearsals and services. Two long serving tenors were Jackie Shwartz and Les Wexler. Mr. Herrison sang bass.
One person I almost forgot to mention, was Cantor Immerman also known as the "Blind Chazan". He held the position of Chazan Sheini. Sadly, he was blind from a very early age but had an incredible gift. He was able to retain the whole Torah and Siddur in his memory. He also taught many their barmitzvah portions, and could tell your name just by listening to your voice. He truly had a long life having lived to the age of about 95.
It was interesting that in the 50's, the "Gabbis" all wore top hats. This was a "hangover" from the English roots of Cape Town Jewry. Apparently, such hats are still worn in some of London's oldest shules, even today.
Those were the wonderful days that we were privileged to have experienced.
11 April 2008.