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 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

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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