Digging Up Old Jewish Johannesburg

Poswohl Synagogue - Heritage Portal - September 2015 - 3
Photo by James Ball  – The Heritage Portal

During Ishvara Dhyan’s walking tour of Doornfontein in February, he mentioned the Poswohl Shul.


I did some follow up research and found some very interesting info from:

  • The Archives at Beyachad
  • Rabbi Silberhaft
  • Friends of Beit Hatfutsoth
  • James Ball’s Heritage Portal

I want to thank Naomi Musiker and Rabbi Silberhaft for giving of their time and sharing information; my appreciation to Rose Norwich for allowing me to use parts of her dissertation for her Masters in  Architecture in 1988; and to Elona Steinfeld and the researchers for the next two volumes of Jewish Life in the Country Communities.

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More details about the Poswohl synagogue on my Johannesburg KehilaLink website.

With permission from James Ball The Heritage Portal:

The Poswohl Synagogue – A Memorial to a Community that No Longer Exists

A captivating story appeared in the 1982 issue of Restorica. It was compiled by Hymie Amoils and traces the origins, history and significance of the Poswohl Synagogue in Mooi Street Johannesburg.

 In answer to Carol Hoffman’s query:

Tell me please, would this shul have been settled by Litvaks who had come from what is now known as Pasvalys?

From Rose Norwitz

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From Jewishgen.org

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With Rabbi Silberhaft







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Jewish Doornfontein – Part 4

We continue on Ishvara Dhyan’s walking tour of Doornfontein

Beit Street


Beit Street For many generations immigrant Jews would make their way to Beit Street, a supportive Jewish enclave in Doornfontein. Beit Street used to be the commercial hub of the suburb, crowded with kosher butcheries, shoemakers, tailors, blacksmiths, carpenters and barbers, interrupted by bicycles, horses and carts or trams making their way down the middle of the street. Hawkers and pedlars crowded the pavements, with live chickens, eggs, ice and coal on sale. (City of Johannesburg – Jews mark 120 years)

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

History of the Jews in South Africa

From Union through World War II

Although the Jews were allowed equal rights after the Boer War, they again became subject to persecution in the days leading up to World War II. In 1930, the Quota Actof 1930 was intended to curtail the entry of Jews into South Africa. The vast majority of Jews immigrating to South Africa came from diaspora communities in Lithuania. The 1937 The Aliens Act, motivated by a sharp increase the previous year in the number of German Jewish refugees coming to South Africa, brought the migration to almost a complete halt. Some Jews were able to enter the country, but many were unable to do so. A total of approximately six-and-a-half thousand Jews came to South Africa from Germany between the years 1933 and 1939.[12] Many Afrikaners (i.e., Boers) felt sympathy for Nazi Germany, and organizations like Louis Weichardt’s “Grayshirts” and the pro-Nazi Ossewabrandwag were openly anti-Semitic. During World War I, many Afrikaners, who had little respect for Britain, objected to the use of “Afrikaner women and children from the British concentration camps” in fighting the German territory of South West Africa on behalf of Britain. This had the effect of drumming up pro-German sentiment among a population of Afrikaners. The opposition National Party argued that the Aliens Act was too lenient and advocated a complete ban on Jewish immigration, a halt in the naturalization of Jewish permanent residents of South Africa and the banning of Jews from certain professions.[13] After the war, the situation began to improve, and a large number of South African Jews, generally a fairly Zionist community,[6] made aliyah to Israel. While it is understandable that many South African Jews would feel uncomfortable with formerly pro-Nazi Afrikaners rising to power in 1948, many leading apartheid-era Afrikaner politicians publicly apologized to the South African Jewish community for their earlier anti-semitic actions and assured it of its continued safety in South Africa.

During this time, there were also two waves of Jewish immigration to Africa from the island of Rhodes, first in the 1900s and then after 1960.[14][15]

The German Jewish Refugees – Elfreda Court


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The Jewish Government School

Education Several Jewish schools were built, and one, the Jewish Government School, now the IH Harris Primary School in Davies Street, Doornfontein, still goes strong. Yiddish used to be the only language heard in the playground. (City of Johannesburg – Jews mark 120 years)

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The Ottoman Consulate

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From Ishvara

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The Seven Synagogues of Doornfontein :

* Great Synagogue ( Wolmeraans St ) 1914
* Lion Shul ( Harrow Rd ) 1905
* Beit Hamedrash HaGodel ( Sherwell St ) 1931
* Altesheim Shul ( Louisa St ) 1927
* Chassidishe Shul ( Siemert St ) 1930
* Ponevez Shul ( Hilner St ) 1931
* Poswohl Shul ( Mooi St ) 1921


The Beth Hamedrash HaGodel is where famous Latvian Cantor Berele Chagy sang 1932 – 1941

Greeks in South Africa

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 The Greek community in South Africa numbers about 13,000 people, according to the US Library of Congress.[1]
Notable people

Johannesburg’s first Greek Orthodox Church 1913

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Marc Latilla’s excellent work on the old suburbs of Johannesburg.


Return To Nasielsk


From: Glenn Kurtz

Dear Friends of Nasielsk!

I am very pleased to announce that the restoration and rededication of Nasielsk’s Jewish cemetery will take place this summer, from 3 – 8 July 2016.

You are invited to participate! Volunteers are welcome for all or any part of the project: a day, a few days, or the entire week.

As those of you who have visited Nasielsk know, the former Jewish cemetery is now a mature forest, overgrown and unkempt. Since no (or very few) headstones remain, our work this summer will be to clear the brush and the forest floor. We expect it will be a multi-year project. Once we have cleared the ground, we can discuss and decide on a memorial and a preservation plan.

We are fortunate and grateful to be partnering with the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (FODŻ), based in Warsaw, and the Matzevah Foundation, based in Atlanta. FODŻ, which has helped restore cemeteries and synagogues throughout Poland, will manage the legal and community relations aspects of the project, while the Matzevah Foundation will help with logistics and labor.

Each participant will be responsible for independent transportation to Warsaw. The Matzevah Foundation will collect a $300 fee to defray administrative and material expenses. Details regarding lodging, local transportation, etc., will be forthcoming in late April.

Our project has the support of Mayor Ruszkowski of Nasielsk and of the local community. We anticipate that high school students and other local volunteers will join us to assist with the clean up. Under the auspices of the cemetery project, we will have the opportunity to share the importance of Jewish history with local community members. As always, we hope our presence will encourage the local community to preserve the memory of Nasielsk’s Jewish history and to incorporate it into the school curriculum.

Finally, during our stay we may be privileged to participate in a ceremony honoring Helena Jagodzińska, sponsored by Yad Vashem and held at the new POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. Helena helped Nasielsker Maurice Chandler to survive the war and was named a Righteous Gentile in January 2016. Her family (who accompanied us to the Polin Museum in October 2014) will receive the official commendation.

Please contact me or Michael Valihora with any questions or if you would like to participate.

We hope you will join us!


Visit the Nasielsk KehilaLink

Jewish Doornfontein – Part 3


From the past when it was the Great Synagogue:


My thanks to Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft for giving me the book he compiled which included the above article.




A sound clip of Chief Rabbi Louis Rabinowitz, showing his style of oratory. It was part of the toast he made to our Rabinowitz family at my sister, Sorrel Rabinowitz and Gidon (Clive) Katz’s wedding in 1961. Here is the Chief Rabbi making the point that we were not related, and so aren’t most Rabinowitzes!

Louis Rabinowitz 1

The book about Rabbi L I Rabinowitz written by my late cousin, Rabbi Gerald Mazabow z”l

The Great Synagogue, Wolmarans Street is today The Revelation Church of God.


We continue on Ishvara Dhyan’s Walking Tour of Doornfontein;

On the outside:
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The scenes inside
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Some video footage of the remarkable scenes around and inside the building:







Marc Latilla’s excellent work on the old suburbs of Johannesburg.


Letters From The Pinsker Orphans Left Behind

Letters From The Pinsker Orphans Left Behind

Click on the link above to view the post.

There are several lists of names which are searchable in the WordPress search engine on the top of the sidebar on the right.

Should you wish to receive an email each time I post, please enter your email address and press “subscribe”. Confirm the email that you will receive. It is free!

Details about David Sandler and his books are available by clicking on the link above.

Jewish Doornfontein Part 2

Berele Chagy Soundclip


Ishvara Dhyan’s Walking Tour – the shuls in Doornfontein


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My thanks to Naomi Musiker of the archives at Beyachad for showing me this two volume set and to Rose Norwich for writing them and giving me permission to use extracts. Rose’s thesis has never been published. Hopefully someone will take on this project!

Rose and Naomi


Poswohl Synagogue
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Ponevez Shul
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Ponevez Sick & Benevolent Society 1949
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The First Chevra Kadisha on the grounds of the University of Johannesburg


Beth Hamedrash Hagadol – The Berele Chagy Shul. It is now a gym on the campus.


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Berele Chagy

Chagy – soundclip

ShtetLink logo



1. The world-famous cantor, Berele CHAGY (HAGGAI), was born in Dagda, Latvia on July 25, 1892. He emigrated to the United States in 1913.

(Information from Paul Silverman)

2. The famous Cantor (Chazan) Berele (Boris) CHAGY, the son of Yitzchak and Sheine CHAGY was from Dagda.

(Information from Eli Goldstein, Johannesburg, South Africa)

3. Berele Chagy was a great hazzan and officiated at Smolensk by 17. Later he had congregations in USA (New York, Detroit and Boston) and in South Africa (BETH HAMEDRASH HAGADOL). The last few years he was at the great Brooklyn shul Bethel (Bethel Synagogue created some rushes towards a movie of its great cantors). He went from Dagda to Riga to study, thence to Smoilensky (a cigarette case given to him with inscriptions in Hebrew “From the Hassids of Smolensk” is still in the family). Because of his youth he required special permission to be a cantor presiding there.

His father and his father’s father are supposed to have all been cantors. At nine he was accompanying his own father in singing and praying. One day he ran away to another village and was found davvening there!

He married very early a young woman, Esther, who was very active as a Zionist, though they never made aliyah together and she visited only late in life. His sons became philosophers and pianists. His grandchildren are in the arts.

He had a hard time escaping the army and came to America. He died while praying in Newark, New Jersey, in l954.

(He is listed in many Jewish encyclopedias.)
(His students – or those who sang under him are – interesting: From Jan Peerce and Danny Kaye to others.)

(Information from David Shapiro, New York, USA)

Any further information about Berele CHAGY (HAGGAI) will be greatly appreciated. Write to: Elsebeth Paikin


Marc Latilla’s blog


Next time – The Great Synagogue, Wolmarans Street.

Doornfontein Walking Tour – Part 1


I have divided this outstanding 4 ½ hours walking tour of Doorfontein into separate posts.

Here is the first: Introduction and the Lions Shul.


I only found out about this tour a couple of weeks before leaving for South Africa from Lewis Chiat, who also lives in Perth.
I was lucky as the tour operator and guide, Ishvara Dhyan, only runs this tour three times a year and my dates in Jo’burg matched his next tour.
I was given a lift to Doornfontein by Marc Latilla, who writes a fabulous blog: Johannesburg 1912 Suburb by suburb research- see below.
We met the rest of the group in the parking lot of  Ellis Park rugby ground. It is quite safe to park there. Some of us left our cars in China City nearby.
There were 53 on this tour that day and Ish told me that he had to turn away a further 60.

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A few words from Ish

The Lions Shul

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The Lions Shul

The Johannesburg KehilaLink:

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My father z”l was Hachazan Yizchak Rafael Lerman and was born in the old city of Jerusalem into a family of chazonim and baalei tefilot  and very musical. He was in the famous Rivlin choir and often sang solo and gave concerts as well. My Abba z”l learned chazanut under chazan Mann of operatic fame. My Abba was Chief chazan of Herzliah and davened in the shul where chazan Leibel Glans was. In 1964, a few weeks before Rosh Hashana, my Abba came to South Africa and davened in the Germiston shul on Rosh Hashana and Yom kippur. My Abba got married in the Doornfontein Lions Shul, at which chazan Shlomo Mandel and Greenblatt afficated  My Abba was at the Lions Shul for 3 years, then moved to Glenhazel Shul in 1969 and was there for a long time. In between he davened at various shuls in South Africa 

My Abba z”l was a baker as well – the Lerman Bakery in the old city. He also taught Bar Mitzvah lessons in cheder and taught over 1000 bochrim their bar mitzvah. My Abba didn’t make any tapes,  but all the recordings were left in Eretz Yisrael. He taught people Nusach 

My Abba z”l was an excellent chazan and had a good voice and everyone enjoyed my Abba’s chazanut. 

My Abba z”l passed away 9 years ago and is buried on Har Hamenuchot in Givat Shaul in Eretz Yisrael.

My father comes from a chassidic and rabbinical family and was a 5th generation sabra Jerusalemite 

Chaim Lerman

March 2015

Published on Sep 7, 2014

The Lions shul is Johannesburg longest standing congregation.

It is a vibrant, active and dynamic congregation.

The 108 year old synagogue is in pristine condition and the chavershaft is warm and family oriented.

The house next door

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Marc Latilla’s blog: Johannesburg 1912 Suburb by suburb research


Next: The Beth Hamedrash Hagadol


Protecting Our Litvak Heritage

Two weeks ago I spoke on Litvaks on the Move at the Claremont Wynberg Shul in Cape Town:


This week I presented the Perth version of this Litvaks on the Move slideshow at the WA Jewish Historical & Genealogical Society at Noranda Shul.




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Some slides from the show:

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I included slides from my recent trip to South Africa where I visited the Kaplan Centre and Gitlin Library in Cape Town and the Archives and Friends of the Beth Hatsutsoth in Johannesburg.

I also visited the Liliesleaf Museum in Rivonia.

One of highlights was the 4½ walking tour of Doornfontein run by Ishvara Dhyan.

Posts to follow.

At the end of my presentation, Sue Levy presented me with a certificate and the customary book was donated to our local genealogical society library on my behalf.


I was blown away by what book Sue chose!

The title is “Preserving Our Litvak Heritage”, something I have been passionately working on for a while now. The name of the author – Josef Rosin z”l.

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In June last year, I noticed that the Birzh KehilaLink had not been updated for long time. I made some enquiries and found out that this website had been compiled by Josef Rosin, who had passed away in Israel in the previous November. When I showed interest in adopting the Birzh site, I was asked by Joel Alpert if I would be happy to adopt 25 others, all the work of late Josef Rosin.


I have spent the last eight months updating these Lithuania kehilalinks, the work that Josef Rosin had done so brilliantly over so many years!

A tribute by Joel Alpert to Josef Rosin:

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I have previously corresponded with Joel in early 2014. He wanted to use my image of broken matsevot at the Brest Fort for the cover of the new Brest Yizkor book. That photo was one of the slides I used in my Litvaks on the Move presentation – eerie or what!