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Southern Africa Jewish Genealogy SA-SIG

Cape Town Orthodox Hebrew Congregation
Beth Hamedrash HaChodesh
Vredehoek, Cape Town

 

Editor: Dr Saul Issroff
Copyright © 2003-2010 Saul Issroff, Mike Getz, SAfrica SIG
and Jewishgen Inc.
URL: http://www.jewishgen.org/SAfrica/synagogues/18/index.htm
Updated: 4 June 2010

 
 
 
Ivor Kosowitz has written about his youthful experiences
at the Vredehoek Shul. Click here to read more
 
Rabbi Moses Chaim Mirvish - a Biography, written by Cecil Helman
"... There was scarcely any activity in the synagogic, charitable or educational spheres
of the Jewish communal life in which he did not play an important part."

 
 
During August 2003, Abe Sher wrote to Eli Rabinowitz as follows:

My grandfather Ansel Leib Sher, a schoolteacher in Lithuania, (among more eminent personalities) was one of the founders of the old Beth Hamidrash Hachodosh, situated in Constitution Street, District Six, Cape Town, not far from the City. It abutted on old farmhouse land which was vacant for a long time. It was owned by the Cape Town City Council, which intended to build flats for the poor coloured people of District Six, who had come to live there during the late 1920's and 1930's. Many Jews lived there from the time of their immigration from Eastern Europe during the latter part of the nineteenth century, but the Jews started to move away from this old area, which had become, in many parts, a slum.
 
The flats were built during 1936/37, also on the site of the above Shul, which was acquired by the City Council.
 
As a result, the Shul moved to Vredehoek, but retained its previous character, unchanged, until about the late 1980's-1990's, when it amalgamated with the now defunct Tifereth Israel (Formerly Roeland Street Shul, then Schoonder Street Shul.
 
I left Cape Town during 1936 and only returned after World War II, at the end of 1945.
 
From already the early 1920's, your grandfather Rev. Rabinowitz, a learned and respected scholar, was the Chazan, until his retirement as Chazan of the Vredehoek Shul, his place being taken by Chazan Lichterman, a Holocaust survivor.
 
Rabbi M. Mirvish, a great Scholar and Jewish Leader, was the Rabbi of the Shul. His name is also commemorated by the naming of the street alongside the Shul, 'Rabbi Mirvish Avenue'.
 
My memory is that of a devout and learned congregation and of the large long tables at the rear of the Shul, on Shabbath covered in snow white table cloths, and full on both sides with congregants, in deep, concentrated study of Ein Yaacov, Mishna and Talmud.

Golden Jubilee Souvenir Brochure
The legibility of the thumbnail images is negligible so please click
on an image to display a readable enlargement.

 

In 2003, Zeev Mankowitz, Jerusalem, wrote:

The President of the Shul sitting in the centre of the photograph of the Shul Committee 1942 [see below], z"l, Eliyahu Chaikel, son of Zeev Mankowitz, is my Grandfather.
 
According to the 1928 SA Jewish Register he then served as Vice-President of the Constitution Street Shul, played a leading role in the building of the Vredehoek Shul and went on to serve as President until his death in August 1944.
 
The English text on his gravestone in the Maitland cemetery reads:

In loving memory of
Elias Chaikel
Mankowitz
President
Beth Hamedrash Hachodosh
Cape Town
And Hon. Life President
Kowno Hebrew Friendly Society
Died 17th August 1944
Age 63 Years

As a young boy I would take great pride in the silver plaque honouring my Grandfather in the vestibule of the Shul.
 
The Choir
 
I sang in the Shul choir for a good number of years (I appear in the photograph). The Chazan Cantor Lichterman was the musical director and Mr. Okie Kurland our choir master.
 
When I was doing research in the YIVO Archives in New York on the post-war period some 30 years ago I came across an account of Cantor Lichterman’s survival in Auschwitz: Singing Ani Ma-amin on the way to the gas chambers - he was hauled out by the Nazis who sought to exploit his musical talents.
 
Okie Kurland, whose brother Ralph played first violin in the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra, was also a fine musician, and a committed Yiddishist. Our great debate when I was older was whether the Rambam knew Yiddish.
 
If I remember correctly we were paid 8 pence a month and received a special bonus for the first night of Selichot: a group outing to the cinema so that we wouldn’t fall asleep before the midnight services.
 
My most profound memory of those far off days relates to Yom Kippur. The choir nave above the aron hakodesh gave us a direct view of the women’s section and when we reached Unetanah tokef an insistent sobbing of the older women would accompany the prayer. No one would tell us why. I suppose they knew that life would teach us, soon enough.
 

Zeev Woolf Mankowitz,
Jerusalem.

 

 

On 30th May 2001, Lionel Michels, grandson of Mr. Abe Traub, Chairman of the Vredehoek Shul for many decades, tovli@ghi.org.il wrote:

The 1st Rabbi was Rabbi Mirvish followed by Duschensky and then Marcus. Reverend Rabinowitz was the 1st chazan. The shul opened in Jan 1939 & closed 8/8/1993. The contents of the shul went mainly to the Schoonder Street Shul. The Aron Kodesh remains in Vredehoek Ave. The bimah was dismantled - what happened to it I couldn't find out. The bookcases & Sifrei torah went to the Schoonder Street shul. The benches were sold.


Click on the image for a larger version. Then, click the BACK button to return here.

Captions:

LECTURERS - MAGIDEI HASHIURIM
round photographs:
row 1: Mr K. Sacks. The Late Rev. H. Sandler.
row 2: Rabbi N.L. Marcus. The Late Mr. M. Kanter.
row 3: Rabbi O. Lipshitz. The Late Mr. W. Resnekowitz.
rectangular photographs:
top/right: Rev. N.M. Rabinowitz, Cantor for 30 years (1920-1950)
middle/right: Rev. J. Lichterman, Cantor since 1950.
bottom/center: THE FULL-TIME CHOIR OF THE BETH HAMEDRASH ESTABLISHED 1950.


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Captions:

upper photograph:

GOLDEN JUBILEE COMMITTEE
Sitting (left to right): Messrs. L. Sebba (Treasurer), A. Traub (Vice-Chairman), M. Pineas (Chairman), P. Bub, I.M. Grusd, H. Pokroy.
Standing (left to right): Mr. Winkler, Mr. I. Kurgan, Mrs. S. Lampel, Mr. N.D. Reingold, Mr. Nochomowitz, Mrs. L. Sebba, Mrs. Nochomowitz, Mr. Felix Sachs (Secretary), Mrs. H. Sher, Mr. I. Yankelowitz, Mrs. H. Reingold (Chairlady, Women's Mizrachi), Mrs. B. Katz, Mr. J. Voloshen, Mrs. Silverman, Mrs. S. Sacks (Chairlady, Bnoth Zion), Mrs. I.M. Grusd, Mr. S.G. Buffenstein, Mrs. J. Voloshen, Mrs. H.M. Reingold, Mrs. M. Lichterman, Mr. H.M. Reingold, Mrs. R. Marks (Chairlady, Ladies' Guild), Mrs. Arelisky, Mr. M. Weintroub.

lower photograph:

BETH HAMEDRASH HACHODOSH COMMITTEE (1942)
Thirteen figures, two insets. The caption has been almost entirely lost. Of the remaining letter fragments only a few names may be guessed: I. or J. Yankelowitz, G. Lodon?? (Secretary), I. or J. Handler.


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Text:

UNITED ORTHODOX HEBREW CONGREGATION

CEREMONY MARKING THE CLOSURE OF THE BETH HAMEDRASH HACHODOSH

8 AUGUST 1993

ORDER OF SERVICE

  1. Mincha Service - Cantor Joel Lichterman with the Choir of the United Orthodox Hebrew Congregation under the direction of Mr Ivor Joffe.
  2. Ma Tovu - Cantor Joel Lichterman and the Choir.
  3. Welcome by the Master of Ceremonies, Mr H Phillips, Vice-President of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregation.
  4. Address by Rabbi S A Brodman.
  5. Address by Chief Rabbi C K Harris.
  6. Address by the President of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregation.
  7. Opening of the Ark.
  8. Procession of Torot.
  9. Prayers for the State of Israel and the Republic of South Africa - Rabbi S A Brodman.
  10. Memorial Prayer - Cantor Joel Lichterman.
  11. Closing of the Ark.
  12. Vote of Thanks - Mr L Glaser.
  13. Adon Olam.
  14. Refreshments.

 

Vredehoek Shul building, Cape Town, 2001.
It now houses an antique dealer.

 

 

On 13th April 2001, Mike Getz MikeGetz005@comcast.net wrote:

My father died in Jan 1948. The tahara was performed (at his request to Mr Potash) by the Vredehoek Chevrah Kadisha. The gabbia at the time was Mr. Traub, Wolfie Traub's father (the latter lives in Camps Bay now). I remember Mr Traub and the Chevrah at our home in Woodstock. We were members of the Woodstock shul - which did not have its own Chevrah. Vredehoek's Chevrah had some revered members.

My grandfather Avrom Leib Gelbart was a member of Vredehoek, travelled to stay with his sister Gusta Richman in Scott St. during what we call the High Holidays.

Not mentioned were Vredehoek's wonderful choral services led by Cantor Lichterman, conducted by Mr Koorland with outstanding soloists, the late Abe Liff (tenor) and Jeal Futeran (baritone).

This standard of chazzan and choir was unique in Cape Town until the time of Simcha Kusevitky z"l at Schoonder St.

 

 

On 13th April 2001, Haim Pogrund pogrund@cc.huji.ac.il wrote:

[Rabbi] Duchinsky was without question the follower of Mirvish at the Vredehoek Shul.We were members of the Shul from the Constitution Street Days and year in and out attended the Bet Hamidrash Hachadash. In 1953 upon my father's death I said Kaddish there for a year.

We spoke virtually on a daily basis and he was there as large as life (he was a big man.) I did say that I think he went to Israel on his retirement. If I am not mistaken he may have taken on occasional part time posts in the Cape (including that at the Schoonder Street shul), as well as becoming Av Bet Din of the Cape before his departure (I was not in Cape Town after 1959).

The Constitution Street Shul completed its functioning in '39 or '40 (I stand to be corrected on the date by a year or two). It was replaced by a very large complex of flats for Coloured people which took the name of the original Dutch East India Co. name of Bloemhof after the original estate.

Of course, your father could have taken you to the old Roeland Street Shul (and probably did), the predecessor of the Schoonder street Shul, of which the building still stood up to a few years ago, and later became the HQ of the Order of St. John.

I remember this shul well. The Rav was a man called Kirzner who left Cape Town in the forties for personal reasons and I think went to Canada. I have an original Leng Dixon watercolour of this Shul on the wall of my study which I treasure.

Alternatively, Denis, your father could have taken you to the old Poneveze Shul in Maynard Street which functioned for a number of years. They used a large verandahed mansion situated on the right hand side of the street going down.

The original Poneveze Shul stood in Vandeleur street in District Six and again, upon departure of the Jews it became amongst other things a storehouse as well as a wholesale headquarters. It was an interesting building, small and jammed between two other buildings with a Corinthian pillared facade (of all things), it was in fact a 'shtibel'. I stand to be corrected here, but upon demolition of the historic District Six (our parents original stomping ground), it was left standing.

Haim Pogrund
Jerusalem.

 

 

On 12th April 2001, Haim Pogrund pogrund@cc.huji.ac.il wrote:

The Vredehoek Shul aka as the Beit Hamidrash Hachadash was exactly that.

It was the successor to the Constitution Street Shul which I do remember vaguely from my childhood. I remember the creaking wooden floors and the very special atmosphere which exuded from the old books as well as from the very religious members of the congregation. It closed down in 1939 or 1940 or thereabouts because of the change in ethnicity of the area and the movement of the Jewish population, and the Vredehoek Shul became it's successor.The Constitution Street Shul was the most orthodox shul in Cape Town and was true to the Litvak Misnagid tradition.

The first Rabbi of the new Vredehoek Shul and who came from the Constitution Street Shul, was the very revered and fine Jew, Rabbi M.Chaim Mirvish, a Lithuanian Rabbi in the true tradition. He was the Sandak at my Brit Mila and I recall subsequently visiting him just before my Barmitzvah with my mother to obtain his blessing.

Upon his death, his position was filled by Rabbi E.Duchinsky, a different type of Jew entirely, of Hungarian origin but very knowledgeable and erudite in his own way. He was a survivor of the Shoa.

An interesting story which is told by Phil Greenstein who was the Shul secretary at the time, I think demonstrates the nature of the man.

A member of the congregation had died and for one reason or another the Hevra Kadisha could not carry out it's function so that when Greenstein told Duchinsky of the problem, he said, "Come on Phil let's go," and off they went to the house of the deceased. While Greenstein stood petrified and sweating profusely in the far corner of the room, Duchinsky or "Dutch" as we affectionately called him,rolled up his sleeves and carried out this most important and holy task of Tahara or cleansing of the dead before burial.This, indicates more than anything the nature of the man.

If I am not very much mistaken he was followed by Reverend Marcus upon leaving for Israel.

The Reverend Rabinowitz you mention was a special individual and a fine Jew to boot. He was the Baal Tefilla or Hazzan Sheini of the Shul and his energetic but reedy "davening" on the High Festivals still rings in my ears. He sported a small white goatee with a little bit of fluff under the lower lip. He was not a rabbi. Among his great talents was the Shofar Blozzen which was enough to "awaken the dead or the fox from his lair in the morning." His progeny were very musical as well and were part of the local secular musical scene in Cape Town.

I hope that this answers many of your questions. I recall as well the various "Kamitte" members of the Shul and the genteel bickering that would go on continually over the years.

It is a pity that this Shul has died as have so many others of the South Africa that we knew. Sadly,this is the death knell of perhaps one the finest Jewish Communities in the Golah of the twentieth century.

"Yihieh Zichro Baruch"

Haim Pogrund
Jerusalem.

 

 

On 16th April 2001, Beryl Baleson wrote:

"In April, 1901, a "Beth Midrash" for study and prayer under the direction of an Orthodox Rabbi was suggested and started amongst the more Orthodox Jews living in Cape Town. Mr. I.J. Rowtosky was instrumental in getting this started and in 1903 the "Beth Hamidrash Hachodesh" was established in Constitution Street, Cape Town. The first officers were Messrs H.I. Cohen and H. Winnet.

In 1910 Rabbi M.Ch. Mirvish was engaged as Rabbi of the Community with Rev. N.M.Rabinowitz as "Chazan."

In 1940 this congregation moved from Constitution Street to Vredehoek Avenue, and was known as the "Beth Hamidrash Hachodesh" as well as "Vredehoek Synagogue."

Rabbi Duschinsky followed Rabbi Mirvish as Rabbi between 1949-1955. Cantor Lichterman who was born in Warsaw in 1909, came to Cape Town in 1947 and took over the position of "Chazan" to the Congregation.

In 1955 Rabbi Marcus became Rabbi in charge of the congregation.

The Shul closed down in the early 1990's.

Sources:
     The South African Jewish Year Book, 1929.
     South African Jewry 1965.

Beryl Baleson.
Ra-anana, Israel.

 

 

On 18 April 2001, Beryl Baleson wrote:
In order to clarify all doubts that have arisen about my research on the Vredehoek shul, where my family were members from 1940 until 1978, I have managed to obtain the 1929 South African Jewish Yearbook as well as South African Jewry 1965.

The 1929 Yearbook book states that Rabbi Mirvish was the first Rabbi when the Shul first opened in Constitution Street in 1903, as the "Beth Hamidrash Hachodosh" and Rabbi Rabinowitz was the Chazan.

This community moved to Vredehoek Avenue, Cnr. Buitenkant Street, Cape Town, in or about 1940 and remained there as the "Beth Hamidrash Hachodosh" but was also known as The Vredehoek Shul until it literally closed its doors in the early 1990's.

Cantor Lichterman who was a Holocaust Survivor came to the Vredehoek Shul as its Chazan after WWII.

The Gardens Shul, or "Cape Town Hebrew Congregation" was established in 1841 with Rev. A.P. Bender as the first Rabbi. Rabbi Abrahams was Rabbi at this Shul since 1937. There is no mention in either the South African Jewish Year Book 1929 nor the South African Jewry 1965 Book of Rabbi Mirvish being at any other Shul besides the "Beth Hamidrash Hachodosh."

But if anyone can shed light on what happened to the "Aron Kodesh" "Sifrei Torah" and "Bimah" when the Vredehoek Shul closed down, this information would be greatly appreciated.

If anyone has interesting facts about the Vredehoek Shul, being personal experiences on certain occasions, or any information of interest we would love to have this information for our SIG, as I am in the process of researching this Shul.

Beryl Baleson.
Ra-anana, Israel.

 

 

 

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