Southern Africa Jewish Genealogy SA-SIG
The Ponevez Society of Johannesburg
1899 - 1949
by B. Yudelowitz © 2002
Editor: Dr Saul Issroff
Copyright © 2002 Saul Issroff, Mike Getz, SAfrica SIG
and Jewishgen Inc.
Date: 28 August 2002
The 'Ponevez Society' also known as 'The Ponevez Sick Benefit and Benevolent Society of Johannesburg' or 'Beth Hamedrash D'Chevrah Linat Haszedek Ugmilat Chesed. 'Dponevez' was formed by a group of Landsleit during the period the Jewish Community was being established in Johannesburg. This Society grew and developed together with the Jewish community in Johannesburg. Ponevez, Lithuania, once boasted an important Jewish community, renowned for its leading rabbis and outstanding Jewish institutions, no longer existed, the people so brutally murdered and exterminated by the Nazis........The Ponevezers, a People Gone but Never to be Forgotten.
COMMITTEE OF THE PONEVEZ SOCIETY in 1949
From left to right: A. Tankum, M. Levinrad, S. Shippel, H. Sher, M. Naar, M. Berolsky, I. Davidoff, M. Judelowitz.
Middle row: D. Kugel, H. Datnow, I. Stein,S. Zelikman, B. Collis, M. Zundelowitz.
Front row: H.Pirt, M. Garsh, L. Bricker, S.Shewitz, H. Davidoff, N. Blecher, J. Shubitz.
The photograph augments an article about SA Landsmannschaften by Ada Greenblatt at
Sadly as time went by the inhabitants of Doornfontein and the surrounding areas, which were once densely populated by Jews, the majority from Lithuania, moved to more modern areas and joined the suburban Synagogues. The Jewish Community had grown tremendously but few Jews remained in what was once a bustling Jewish area. The 'Ponevezers' dwindled. Eventually the Ponevez Synagogue was sold and later demolished, sadly the Society closed its files and doors and also ceased to exist.
The Synagogue had four scrolls, only two being accounted for, which were donated to the Israeli Army and to the Kensington Synagogue.
In 1899 a group of Landsleit felt the need for better organisation in order to create a friendly corner for themselves as well as for the 'new arrivals' from Ponevez. (They knew only too well their loneliness and suffering. The majority of Jewish immigrants of the early days were single and had no families, either they were bachelors or their families remained behind until they could afford to send sufficient funds to join them.) They decided the future immigrants would have an organisation to lean on, an organisation they could depend on, a Society that would offer medical assistance and show a brotherly concern in illness, and render material assistance when necessary.
The Society's objective would be to report on the welfare of its members at each meeting, thereby demonstrating its brotherly concern and affection for its Landsleit. It served as a home and meeting place of their Landsleit and gave them the opportunity to discuss various personal matters in an intimate and brotherly atmosphere. The Synagogue not only served as a place of worship, but also as a social centre and communal club.
The Founders of the Society were:
- Abraham Osher Rabinowitz, the first Chairman of the Society
- Jacob Moritz
- Leib Moritz
- M. Lube
- Yecheskel Margolis
- Isaac Mer
- Moses Teiman
- Moses Aron Feinberg
- Isaiah Feinberg
- Moses Yudelowitz
- Israel Feiveshowitz
- Isaiah Heifer
- Leib Truckman
- Michael Paswolsky
- Aaron David Kobrin
- Meishe Behr Stein
- A. Briker
- Leizer Sandler
- Feive Stertz
- Moses Perl
- Isaac Ger
- Isaac Neumark
- Avigdor Fram
- Mordechai Jacob Mirvis
The first premises were hired in the Morris & Reinert Building, Becker Street, Ferreira (this site is now occupied by the Magistrate's Court), which served as a Synagogue as well as a meeting place. At every Ma'ariv Service, a few dozen Jews from Ponevez could be found there, they had congregated to pray as well as to meet each other to discuss various matters and reminisce about their days in Ponevez. The first Rabbi of the Society, which then bore the name of Beth Hamedrash D'Linat Hazedek D'Ponevez, was Mr. Yisroel Mordechai Hirschon. Years later Mr. Sadowsky was appointed the Rabbi.
During the Boer War when the majority of immigrants had to leave Johannesburg for the Cape, the activities of the Society had to be interrupted. The members of the Ponevezer Society who settled in Cape Town founded there a Ponevezer Synagogue and Linat Hazedek. After the war the activities of the Ponevezer Society in Johannesburg were renewed and its premises were transferred to Maisel 's Building, Becker Street.
In 1904, The Chevrah Misna Ugmora was formed and the first Chairman of the Society, Abraham Osher Rabinowitz, acted as teacher.
On the 31st January, 1909, the Society formed its own Gmiluth Chesed. The amount loaned in 1909 was the sum of Five Pounds, by 1949 it had been increased to Two Hundred and Fifty Pounds. This section of the Society played a very important part in the life of the Society and assisted a great number of Landsleit to ease difficult times and help to establish them economically.
The First Committee of the Gmiluth Chesed were: Mr. A. Bentl (Treasurer), Mr. Jacob Shoshnowik (Secretary), Moses Isaacson (Member), Leib Berger (Member), Ber Katzin (Member). Special mention to Mr. Avrohom Krikler who rendered appreciable services to the Gmiluth Chesed. In 1913, Mr. Mordechai Naruskin was elected Chairman of the Society, which post he held until 1946.
A few members left due to a misunderstanding and founded a separate Ponevez Synagogue. According to a decision of Rabbis, the property of the Synagogue of the Society was divided between the two organisations. Years later in 1923 the two Societies amalgamated once again.
The Ponevezer Society then moved to its new premises on the Corner of West and Main Streets. In these premises the Society established a special Nursing Home for its sick members. This Nursing Home existed for an appreciable period of time and had its own Doctor as well as a few nurses.
In 1930 the Chevrah of Mishah Ugmora contributed Four Hundred Pounds to the fund of the Gmiluth Chesed, in order to enable members of the Misnah Ugmora, who were not members of the Society, to receive loans.
On the 21st May, 1911, it was resolved to purchase the premises where the Society resided, and on the 9th July of the same year, the Chanukath Habait of the Building took place.
At this important celebration speeches were delivered by the Chairman of the Society, Mr. S. Rogoff, Mr. Harry Grauman [later Sir Harry Grauman], Mr. Goldrich, Ben Zion Hersch (Editor), Mr. B. Danziger and others.
After the first World War, the Society participated in the special fund for war victims, which was conducted by organised S. A. Jewry, and also directly assisted from its own funds, Jewish cultural and Social Institutions in our home town, Ponevez. When the Rabbi of Ponivez, Rabbi Kahnaman visited South Africa in 1927 in the interests of the Ponevezer Yeshiva, he received the fullest support and assistance of the Ponevezer Society.
A turning point and the most important achievement in the history of the Society was the purchase of the stand in Doornfontein across the road from a park, where the Ponevez Synagogue was built. (It was later demolished to make way for the Harrow Rd/Sieveright Rd flyover).
By the erection of a Ponevez Synagogue in a densely populated area by Jews, opened the possibilities for added activities in the Jewish Religious and Social Spheres.
On the 26th July, 1931, Mr. D.I. Fram laid the Foundation Stone of the Synagogue and on the 21st October, 1934 the official opening of the Synagogue took place. This celebration was combined with a Siyum Hatorah, which took place simultaneously.
Mr. D.I. Fram handed a golden key to the Chief Rabbi Dr. J.L. Landau, who in turn handed the key to Mr. Sam Kruger, who performed the official opening of the synagogue. The following persons delivered addresses: Chief Rabbi Dr. J.L. Landau, Rabbi I. Kossowsky, Mr. I. Mervis and Cantor Kaminer (of the Doornfontein Synagogue). Mr. Ilchilchik conducted the Orchestra. Messrs. Z. Melamud and Mr. N. Narunsky conducted the Siyum Hatorah.
In 1933, Mr. M. Garsh erected at his expense a fence around the Synagogue. He also donated the electrical installations, fittings and supplied 'free globes' for a number of years.
Prayers were held at the Synagogue three times daily and the Chevrah Misnah Umgora daily studies a chapter of the Mishnah and G'mora. The Chevrah had been conducted since 1946 by Messrs. M.L. Rivlin (Vice-Chairman), M. Goldin (Vice-Chairman), Mr. L. Bricker (Treasurer) and Mr. M. Levinrad (Hon. Secretary).
The Rebbe of the Chevra was Mr. Isaac Goldsmith, who also performed various duties in the Synagogue. Rabbi Chaim Sher was the Rabbi of the Synagogue. The Synagogue also engaged first class Cantors and the congregates enjoyed their singing.
The Gmiluth Chesed of the Society continued to expand and extended the amounts of loans due to inflation and is being conducted by a Sub-Committee headed by the Vice-Chairman of the Society, Treasurer and Secretary. During the period 1937-1949 the Society has advanced loans to the sum of Ten Thousand Pounds.
In 1938 a 'Distress Fund' was formed to aid and assist needy members as well as destitute families of deceased members. This fund was managed by a special Sub-Committee.
The Society instituted one Saturday a year (Parsha Chukot) as a yearly Saturday of the Ponevezer Society, which is celebrated annually. Beside this annual Saturday, another Saturday (Parsha Mishpotim) was dedicated to the Chevrah Misnah Ugmora.
They participated in all Jewish communal and national activities and assisted in all campaigns, which were conducted here for South African and overseas Jewish institutions.
They were affiliated to the S. A. Jewish Board of Deputies, Federation of Synagogues of the Transvaal, Federation of Lithuanian Jewry, Israeli United Appeal and various other organisations. The Chairman, Mr. S. Shewitz was a prominent leader of the Israeli United Appeal.
In 1942, (during World War II) news reached South Africa regarding the catastrophe that had fallen upon our brethren in Lithuania. A special relief fund was formed, money and parcels were sent to Landsleit wherever they could be found and endeavoured to trace members of families of surviving Landsleit. Whenever an address was obtained they immediately rendered their help. It was instrumental in bringing a young girl from Ponevez to settle in South Africa and aided her in settling here.
The Ponevezer Society did not hesitate and participated in all local campaigns to assist Jewish victims of Nazism in Europe, contributed Two Hundred and Forty Pounds to the S.A. Jewish War Appeal and responded with particular warmth to the appeal to help the Yishuv in their fight for freedom and for a Jewish State.
In 1948 Six Hundred Pounds were contributed for the Haganah and Three Hundred Pounds were set aside for the building of homes in Israel for refugees from Lithuania. An ambulance was purchased and donated to the Magen David Adom. A further One Thousand Pounds was contributed to the United Israeli Appeal.
The work of the Ponevez Society must surely have evoked a feeling of satisfaction and pride in its members who must not be forgotten along with the memory of those who lost their lives so senselessly in World War II, the torch of Jewish culture must be kept alight.
The two appendices listed below are also available in Excel spreadsheet format.
- Building Fund of New Synagogue, May 1903
- Ponevezer Sick Benefit and Benevolent Society
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Building Fund of New Synagogue, May 1903
Banstick S. 1
Bricer E.L 10
Chaimowitz D. 3
Edelstein M. 10
24 Epstein N. 1
24 Fram M. 1
Fram D.I. 1
Gerber J. 1
Grebler M. 1
Isaac M. 1
Kaplan J. 10
Margolies Ch. 1
Namark J. 10
24 Perel A.M. 1
Pinetz B. 10
Rabinowitz A.O. 10
Raiman S. 1
Rogow S. 2
Rubin M. 1
Sack M.Z. 10
Sandler David 1
Sandler J. 10
Scklar B. 10
24 Scklar M.S. 1
Stein M.B. 1
Wainer S. 10
Yudelowitz B. 1
total: £28 / 00 / 00.
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Ponevezer Sick Benefit and Benevolent Society
Gerber Dr I.
Sher Ch. Rabbi
Shippel Dr .S