Southern Africa Jewish Genealogy SA-SIG
South African Jewish Communities
Editor: Dr Saul Issroff
Copyright © 2003 Saul Issroff, Mike Getz, SAfrica SIG
and Jewishgen Inc.
Date: 9 November 2003
THE FOOTSTEPS OF TIME
SOME SNIPS OF CALITZDORP'S JEWISH HISTORY
by Bridgette Pacy-Tootell © 2003
Jews immigrated to South Africa from Lithuania between 1880 to 1930. [Lithuania is bordered by Poland and Latvia and has the Baltic Sea as part of its western boundary]. A stream of East European immigrants who fled Russia because of the increasing pressure on and the persecution of the Jewish communities of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia established the South African Jewish community, after the Russian-Turkish War of 1877. About 100 Jewish families arrived in Oudtshoorn between 1881 and 1890. In the beginning they gathered for worship in private homes, and at a later stage in the Feather Market Hall of the Town Council. In Calitzdorp there was no synagogue and religious services were held in private homes. In December 1888 the Queen Street [today Baron Van Reede Street] Synagogue in Oudtshoorn was inaugurated and is till in use today. The St John Street Synagogue is now in the CP Nel Museum, Oudtshoorn. At one time Oudtshoorn was known as the Jerusalem of Africa.
Isaac and Gertie Katz and their two children Barney and Lorna had a store in Calitzdorp in or about 1925/6 but went to live in Johannesburg in the early 1940's. They came from Lithuania originally. A great deal of Jewish people went to the Country Districts, which was Afrikaans populated, between 1900 - 1935, as it was in these little towns that they were able to open shops and mostly general dealer stores. Some Jewish people learned to speak Afrikaans long before learning English when they arrived in South Africa. In those days the Afrikaaners and the Jews had a lot in common as they were both 'people of the Bible', both were religious and the Afrikaaner in the small towns welcomed the Jews who came from Lithuania and Eastern Europe.
A note in the SA Jewish Yearbook states that at one stage there were 7 Jews in Calitzdorp. Their grandparents came out from Eastern Europe and settled in Calitzdorp circa 1890 to 1928. Once their children and grandchildren were educated, they generally moved to bigger cities from the 1950's onwards. There was once a large population of Jewish people in the country districts, but since the mid 60's they left the small towns for the larger cities i.e. Cape Town and Johannesburg. After Sharpeville, we see the first signs of emigration from first generation (born) South Africans of Liberal/Educated descent, moving to other English speaking countries, primarily such as Canada, Australia, England and USA, also some to Israel.
The Zionist Record of 24 December 1948 states: In 1891 there were about 300 Jews in Oudtshoorn and district, and a year later the extreme orthodox members of the congregation came together and decided to form a separate congregation. During the South African war a fair number of Jewish refugees from Johannesbureg settled in Oudtshoorn, and in 1904 the number of Jews there had increased to over 700. The Oudtshoorn Jewish Community grew in strength and spirit, Jewish life pulsated and its fame attracted more and more Jews from the Baltic countries. With the growth of the Oudtshoorn Jewish community other Jewish communities developed in the Little Karoo, the most important of which was Ladismith.
On their way from Cape Town to Oudtshorn some of the Jewish immigrants stopped at Ladismith and settled there where, in the early years of this century, there was already a Jewish congregation with a Reverend-schochet. In 1911 Ladismith Jewry numbered over 30 families. A synagogue and a Hebrew school were erected in 1913. With the exception of two shopkeepers and two tailors, all the Jews in Ladismith were feather merchants.
Some of the Jews who went from Cape Town to Oudtshoorn were stranded at Calitzdorp. Mr N. Kaminer, the oldest Jewish pioneer in Calitzdorp, said that on his arrival there in 1908 he found a large Jewish community which owing to discord, was divided in two congregations, with two Reverend-schochtim, one of whom was the Rev A.S. Israel. One of the presidents of the two congregations was Mr M. Isserman.
[Information received from CP Nel Museum, and various private sources. If any reader would like to share information on this topic, I would be most interested in hearing from them. Thanks, Bridgette.]