Southern Africa Jewish Genealogy SA-SIG
South African Jewish Communities
By Ann Rabinowitz
Editor: Dr Saul Issroff
Copyright © 2002 Saul Issroff, Mike Getz, SAfrica SIG
and Jewishgen Inc.
Revised: 10 February 2002
Two Excel spreadsheets accompany this text:
- simons_town_weddings.xls (18KB)
- simons_town.xls (25KB)
This photograph depicts Simon's Town in circa 1900 when most of the Jewish residents had settled there.
Click on the image to display a larger version
Small towns in South Africa very often do not have organized collections of information regarding the settlement of the Jews in their community. In fact, with the immigration of the Jews to larger towns and even out of the country, information pertaining to their residence has slowly disappeared or been moved to the South Africa Jewish Board of Deputies in Johannesburg and other locales.
What follows is an attempt to rectify that lack of information for Simon's Town. This includes a general history of the town, a brief history of the Jewish community with a Jewish community database (1880-1999), a Jewish marriage register database (1893-1923), photographs and a piece on two Jewish Simon's Town families - Wade and Juter.
SIMON'S TOWN HISTORY
Simon's Town is a small South African town and naval port situated on the Cape Peninsula, south of Cape Town, and on the western side of False Bay. It has a tremendously rich multi-cultural history.
The Cape was in the hands of the Dutch East India Company (DEIC) beginning in 1652 when they established a refreshment station at Table Bay (Cape Town). In 1687, during a survey of False Bay in order to search for a safe winter anchorage for DEIC ships, the DEIC Governor, Simon van der Stel (for whom the town of Stellenbosch is named), charted Simon's Bay and named it after himself. He recommended it as the safest place on the coast of the Cape Peninsula to establish a winter anchorage. The anchorage at Table Bay was not so safe as ships, crews and valuable cargoes had been destroyed there on a regular basis during the winter months.
After much bureaucratic dithering and a string of shipping disasters later, Van der Stel's recommendation was finally accepted by the DEIC. In 1743, Baron von Imhoff ordered the establishment of the winter anchorage at Simon's Bay and the building of the DEIC storehouses (which still stand today). The tiny settlement that grew up around the anchorage was initially called Simonsvlek and was, for the most part, inhabited on a seasonal basis by traders, merchants, farmers, soldiers, sailors, slaves and craftsmen and innkeepers. The building, which today houses the Simon's Town Museum, was erected in 1777 as a winter residence for the DEIC Governor of the Cape. Here, he attended to Company business and entertained important visitors to the Cape.
In 1814, after the second British occupation of the Cape (1806), the Royal Naval Base was moved from Table Bay to Simon's Bay. The town became known as Simon's Town and grew very rapidly as people streamed into the area in search of employment generated by the influx of ships and crews. In the early years, after the establishment of the Royal Naval Base in Simon's Town, the Royal Navy was engaged in the suppression of the slave trade and the guarding of Napoleon on the island of St. Helena. The number of ships in the bay fluctuated a great deal, escalating dramatically during times of conflict such as the Frontier Wars in South Africa or the later World Wars. In 1957, the Royal Navy handed the Naval Base and Dockyard over to the South African Navy after 143 of occupation.
The occupation of Simon's Town by the two great powers of the Dutch East India Company and the British Royal Navy resulted in a tremendously diverse population drawn from all over the globe as follows:
Indigenous people of the Cape, the Khoisan (pastoralists and hunter-gatherers).
Slaves who came with the Dutch (1652) who were brought to the Cape from East and West Africa, Indonesia, China, India, Ceylon, Madagascar and other places.
Sailors, soldiers, farmers, teachers, tradesmen came from Germany, France (French Huguenots), Scandinavia, etc.
Kroomen came with the first British occupation in 1795. These were the Kru people of West Africa and they were renowned for their seamanship. The Royal Navy employed them on a three-year contract after which time many of the men stayed on in Simon's Town as they had married local women.
Seedies, Muslim sailors from Zanzibar and other parts of the East Coast of Africa, worked in the town on contract. Relatively few of them settled in Simon's Town on a permanent basis.
Islanders from Tristan da Cunha and St. Helena took up residence in the 1800's and early 1900's. They started mostly whaling and trekfishing businesses and worked in the Dockyard.
Xhosas, black people from the Eastern Cape, began arriving in 1890. This was after the Frontier Wars at the time of the building of the railway line into Simon's Town. Initially, the Xhosas lived alongside the railway line, but then established a little settlement, Luyolo Village, on the mountainside nearby. The Xhosas were employed in building the East Dockyard (1901-1910) too.
Artisans, craftsmen and engineers were brought into Simon's Town from India, China, Italy and the United Kingdom for the building of the East Dockyard.
Indian tradesmen and businessmen had established businesses in the town from the late 1880's. Today, many of these families still live in Simon's Town.
Jews lived permanently in Simon's Town from the 1880's until the 1950's. There may have been Jews in the town prior to the 1880's, but there is no record of their residence. There were a few families who remained after the 1950's, but there are none living in Simon's Town today.
The town was renowned for its diversity of cultures and religions and the harmony that prevailed amongst the different groups of people. In 1967, the rich tapestry of history and culture of the town was devastated by the Forced Removals, under the Group Areas Act. All people of color were forced to relocate as Simon's Town was declared a white only area. The Indians were the only ones in this category who remained, purely because no designated township had been built for them yet. Until 1989, they were only allowed to live above their shops in the Central Business District with the threat of imminent removal hanging over them. This lasted until the power of the Nationalist Government began to decline.
NOTE: This history was provided by Cathy Salter-Jansen from the records of the Simon's Town Museum.
SIMON'S TOWN JEWISH COMMUNITY
In 1993, the Simon's Town Museum began to gather the neglected history of the people who were forcibly removed from the town. In 1996, a representative committee of these former residents was formed to assist the Museum to gather the stories, photos, and artifacts of all the ex-Simonites. This project included the Jewish community as well.
The Museum knew that there had been a relatively large Jewish community in Simon's Town, although they had very little information in their archives. The problem is that there has always been a decided lack of documentation for the Jewish community in Simon's Town. Due to many of the former residents either leaving the area or even the country, it has been difficult to gather the appropriate information.
Recently, there was a query by a visitor, Pat Robinson, about her grandfather, Carl Chenik, who was a jeweler in Simon's Town in approximately 1906-1908. This prompted the Museum to reach out through the means of the Internet to try and locate more former Jewish residents who could contribute their stories to the Museum. The Museum's Director Mrs. Cherry Dilley and Researcher Cathy Salter-Jansen, have attempted to organize what is available for interested researchers. The Simon's Town Museum has various pieces of limited information regarding the Jews who either settled or worked there. Such information includes newspaper articles and a few photos as well as information gleaned from brochure advertisements about Simon's Town printed in the early 1900's and from voter's rolls.
With Cathy Salter-Jansen's assistance, a database has been prepared that contains corporate or individual names of businesses known to have operated over a period of time ranging from 1880 to 1999.
It is not certain if all Jewish-owned businesses are accounted for, as the data is not taken from public, tax or property records. This means that the data is not necessarily totally accurate. The businesses are referred to either by a corporate or individual name. A number of the names are only last names or have only initials for the first name. The location of the business is not always provided and the years of operation are approximate.
The earliest notation of a group forming in the Jewish community is that of the Simon's Town Zionist Organization during the Boer War. Further, it is known that in the early 1900's, the Jewish community met in the Phoenix Lodge for religious gatherings. On a certificate presented to Carl Chenik, they called themselves "The Simon's Town Hebrew Congregation". The certificate was signed by E. Epstein, H. Levy, J. Freedman, F. Berman, A. Chenik, A. Kopfer, E. Peimor (indistinct), A. Abramson and A. Horwitz.
In 1904, the Simon's Town Jewish community joined the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.
By the 1940's and 1950's, the Jewish community began to diminish and major religious festivals were celebrated in Cape Town or Muizenberg. According to Beryl Juter Baleson, a niece of Reuben Juter, one-time Mayor of Simon's Town, the Simon's Town area was considered part of the "False Bay Coast" and was located along the coast of the Cape Peninsula. It incorporated the towns of Muizenberg, St. James, Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek and Simon's Town. The Jewish community in the 1940's and 1950's had only one shul and community center in the area and it was located in Muizenberg, the largest town. The other towns of the "False Bay Coast" had only a sprinkling of Jewish families such as the Shaskolsky family of Kalk Bay who eventually moved away to the Claremont area. The mother of the family, Jane Miller Shaskolsky, originally came from Lithuania to Paarl, S.A.
Many of the Jews worked or had businesses in Simon's Town, but lived in Fish Hoek as Beryl Baleson's family did. Her uncle, Reuben Juter, lived in Fish Hoek, but his pharmacy was in Simon's Town. The Wade family had a general dealer's store in Simon's Town, but also lived in Fish Hoek. There was another family by the name of Goodman who had a pharmacy in Simon's Town and they too lived in Fish Hoek.
Also, Beryl remembers another resident of Simon's Town, "Just Nuisance," the mascot of the Navy. He was a famous dog who rode the Simon's Town-Cape Town train on a daily basis. His statue can be found in Simon's Town today.
For those of you who have family from Simon's Town, please review the information provided and contact me with additions and/or corrections. You may also contact Cathy Salter-Jansen at the Simon's Town Museum, email@example.com, for more information.
SIMON'S TOWN JEWISH MARRIAGE REGISTER
The Cape Archives holds a Simon's Town Marriage Register for the period April 6, 1893 through August 9, 1923. There are seventeen Jewish marriages recorded with only one, Isaac Buirski, marrying out of the faith.
A database has been prepared which extracts the information from the Marriage Register. In the Marriage Register, the records are numbered and contain the name of the bride and groom. Unfortunately, other data such as age, occupation, where the bride and groom are from and the name of the witness, are not always available for all of the records. In addition, there is no mention of the names of the parents of the bride and groom.
A comment section has been added for data such as marital status or miscellaneous information on the family.
NOTE: The marriage register was located and obtained by Paul Cheifitz, Cape Town, a cousin of Elsa Gertrude Lewin Katzen, one of the brides. The database was compiled by Ann Rabinowitz. The material is also available at the Simon's Town Museum along with other Jewish holdings there. You may contact Cathy Salter-Jansen, Simon's Town Museum, firstname.lastname@example.org, for further information.
TWO JEWISH SIMON'S TOWN FAMILIES - WADE AND JUTER
First, a note about Jack Wade, General Dealer. He started his shop after his return from military service in North Africa and Italy during WWII. Most of his trade was with the black people living in Simon's Town in the location near the railway station and Dido Valley. When the Nationalist Government forced them out of the area, he lost many of his customers and a major part of his business. His shop closed shortly after this upheaval.
Jack was a friendly and jovial chap and a keen sportsman. He served a spell as President of the bowls section of the Clovelly Country Club and was a supporter of the Cape Town City soccer team. In fact, he actually had a stroke at one of the exciting games and that killed him. A good way to go.
He married Rhoda Taback and his wife worked in the Simon's Town shop. She was a sister of Sadie Taback Juter. Both the Juters and the Wades lived in Fish Hoek and the husbands had businesses in Simon's Town. The two sisters took part in the activities of the Fish Hoek Horticultural Society and also the Hand Craft Center. Sadie Juter was a prime motivator and founder of this center. She was probably motivated by her own physical handicap and her efforts to overcome it.
The two sisters were well-known figures in Fish Hoek, supporting each other in many activities and often a driving force in the two societies. The Fish Hoek Music Society also benefited from their efforts.
Religiously, today, one would call them Conservative, though they attended the Orthodox synagogue in Muizenberg on the holidays. They were active in the Guild, especially in decorating the shul for shavuot. Both were active WIZO members and were visible at the annual sales, erecting and manning stalls, soliciting donations, and doing all the things an active Jewish woman does. Rhoda died of cancer in 1987 in Fish Hoek and was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Muizenberg. She had two daughters, both married with children and grandchildren. Hilary Super lived in Windhoek, Namibia, and Gillian Rappaport lives on Kibbutz Ramat Rahel, Jerusalem, Israel.
In regard to Sadie Taback Juter, she was born in Oudtshoorn in 1914 and married Reuben Juter in 1939 in Pretoria. At that time she came down to the Cape and set up home in Fish Hoek.
Mayor Reuben Juter
in his mayoral robes
(Photograph donated by the Simon's Town Museum)
Click on the image to display a larger version
Ruby, as he was called, was born Reuben Cecil Hyman Yuter in 1911 in Pumpian (or Pampenai as it is called now), Lithuania. His father Barnard Yuter had spent a few years in South Africa breaking ground for the time when he could fetch his family to their new home and a new family name of Juter. In 1921, Mr. Juter sent for his family and Ruby came to South Africa with his mother, Leah Sandler Juter, brothers and sister, and they settled in The Strand, on False Bay.
At his school, Hottentots Holland High, Ruby had the honor of being the first Jew to be awarded the Victor Ladorum at his school. He studied pharmacy at the Cape Technical College. In 1937, he bought a pharmacy opposite Jubilee Square, first in the St. George's Building and later in the old municipal office (now Patel's) in Simon's Town, an attractive, small, naval and fishing port on the False Bay coast of the Cape Peninsula. He ran his business until he died in 1983.
Ruby played the violin in his younger days and for sport he played bowls. However, his chief interest was municipal affairs. He served for many years as a Council member, was Deputy Mayor for several terms and was Mayor from 1960-1963. Apart from a short break, he served on the Council until his death.
During his life as a small town pharmacist and councilor, he witnessed many historic events in Simon's Town. To name a few, he saw the comings and goings of the Allied naval ships during WWII, as well as the closing of the British Naval Base, the formation of the Republic of South Africa, the expansion of the dockyard and subsequent growth of the South African Navy.
And most traumatic, he lived through the forced removal of the black people from Simon's Town. I remember being in the pharmacy at that stage. Ruby was also the local newsagent and we could clearly feel the disgust and frustration of the Indian and Coloured customers coming to the pharmacy to get the daily newspapers.
On the lighter side, as Mayor, Ruby and his wife and daughter enjoyed the series of cocktail parties given by captains of visiting foreign ships and the organizers of the tuna fishing competitions when the bluefin tuna were still around. He had a beat up old van that he used for work and getting around, as the municipality did not have an official car for taking the Mayor and his wife to official functions. His biggest embarrassment came when the Admiral insisted on personally escorting Mr. Mayor and his family to their car after one of these functions.
Simon's Town circa 1950 at the height of its growth.
Click on the image to display a larger version
Apart from her duties as Mayoress of Simon's Town, Sadie Juter was very concerned and active in promoting the interests of all women. She will probably be remembered more for her activities in the cultural and aesthetic life of the residents of Fish Hoek.
Ruby died of cancer and was buried in Pinelands, Cape Town. The pharmacy closed down and the building was sold. His daughter Shirley Singer had immigrated to Israel with her husband and children in 1979. His son David lived in Newlands with his family. In 1989, Sadie Juter sold the house she and Ruby had lived in since 1939 and went to live with her daughter in Israel.
(Taken from the 2001 reminescences of Solly Singer, son-in-law of Reuben Juter.)