Jewish Affairs



(Author: Gwynne Schrire, Vol 78, #2, Winter 2023)



Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time.


With these words Henry Longfellow, the American poet who wrote the Song of Hiawatha, suggests that everyone, not just the famous, should try to make the most of their lives and leave a legacy behind them.

As I grow older, I am often surprised to find that facts I thought everyone knew are no longer part of everyday knowledge. Jews have always made up a very small proportion of Cape Town’s population, yet there are so many things visible in the city that would not have been there had they not come here. This article will be focusing on some of these permanent, if often forgotten footprints.

How many are aware that Foschini is a play on the word sheenies, a derogatory name for Jews – as it was started by four Jews – four sheenies? [1] Similarly, UCT students wear with pride the nickname Ikeys, not realising that it is also a derogatory name for Jews that Stellenbosch University students coined in the 1910s because so many Jewish students attended UCT. And look how great a contribution those Jewish students have made everywhere they settled!

However, this article will not be concerned with the many economic footprints Jews have left, shopping at Pick ‘n Pay, Woolworths, Checkers, Ackermans, Truworths, Foschini, Cape Union Mart, etc. Instead, it records some of the artistic and geographical footprints Jews who lived in Cape Town left behind them. Contributions one can still see.

Jews have been in Cape Town for centuries. However, our early footprints were blown away by the winds of time, particularly as the earliest Jews had to be converted before they could work here. Thus it was with two Jewish soldiers in the service of the Dutch East India Company, Samuel Jacobson, who worked as a shepherd, guarding flocks from the Hottentots, and David Heijlbron, who was stationed on Robben Island,  were both baptised on Christmas Day 1669 –  leaving no traces of their existence. [2] 

Dutch Reformed Church baptismal register recording the baptisms of Samuel Jacobson and David Heijlbron, 1669

There was then no freedom of religion in the Cape; it was only in 1806, when the Dutch administration needed soldiers to fight the British that Muslims were allowed to worship publicly so that Free Malays could be enlisted. The British had occupied the Cape in the years 1795-1803, and we know they employed Jews because Lady Anne Barnard, who was in Cape Town between 1797-1802, complained that Mrs. de Costa, wife of the Jewish prison bookkeeper, had over-charged her for a rare plant for her garden.[3] In 1803 the Cape was returned to the Batavian Republic, as the Netherlands was then known and which had imbued the post-Revolution French values of liberty, equality and fraternity. Governor de Mist extended this freedom to all faiths through an ordinance of religious tolerance in July 1804. When visiting the Eastern Cape, he was hosted in a wooden hut built by a baptised German Jew named Herz Grunstadt, whose house had been burned down by the Xhosa. But we know nothing more of  Grunstadt.[4]

When the British took over the Cape again in 1806, they upheld freedom of worship. Now, at last Jews could come to the Cape as Jews. However, there were too few to provide brides, so the men mainly married out of the faith and assimilated, as had the tailor Jacob Joseph Pero [5] who arrived in 1771, and like the Solomon family from St Helena. Several of the 21 children of Nathaniel and Phoebe Solomon moved to Cape Town. The first was Benjamin, who arrived in 1806 [6] and became a court usher. In 1826, he was sent to deliver a summons to Dr James Barry, who had offended Lord Charles Somerset. Barry threatened to “cut off both his Jews’ ears with a sword”. [7] Only when Dr Barry died was it discovered that ‘he’ was a woman. By the way, she thought Camps Bay would be the ideal site to house lepers.

Later, in 1829, Benjamin Solomon’s nephew Saul arrived, followed by his brothers Edward and Richard in 1830 and his parents with remaining children Henry, Joseph, Margaret, Isabella and another Benjamin the next year. [8] There was so little Jewish structure in Cape Town at the time, that the children all converted while retaining a loyalty to Judaism.

Henry Solomon was to buy Sea Point Cottage west of Solomons Road (behind Spar) in 1844. One could consider Solomons Road as a permanent footprint. [9] Three years later brother Saul bought Clarensville which extended from Clarens Road near the pavilion to Cassel Road and from Regent Road to the seashore and had 60 pine trees in the grounds. [10] 


Saul Solomon (1817-1892)

Saul, the best-known Solomon, started the Cape Argus and the Old Mutual and was a long-serving Member of the Cape Legislature. Although very short, owing to a childhood illness, it was said of him that he was the smallest man in the House, but his mind was taller than the rest by a whole head. Saul was secular, saying he was “a liberal in politics and a voluntary in religion”. Though by then a member of the Anglican Church, he and his uncle Benjamin donated money to establish Cape Town’s first shul in 1849 and in 1856 he helped to bring from England the Rev. Joel Rabinowitz, with whom he maintained a warm friendship for over thirty years. From 1854 to 1875 Saul fought in Parliament to get the so-called Voluntary Bill passed, to abolish state aid to churches which would ensure equality of treatment to all religious denominations. Saul was called a ‘negrophile’, and opposed any legislation that might result in unjust treatment of the natives of the country. Unless destroyed in the January 2021 fire, his footprints can be found in Parliament in a portrait in oils by W. H. Schröder and a sculptured bust presented by his widow, who was the first principal of the Good Hope Seminary.

I live in St Johns Road, Sea Point. The name refers to the former Round Church, or St John’s Church, known as Saul Solomon’s Temple in St John’s Road. It was an interfaith project, which uniquely hosted four different religions. This interfaith footprint was, demolished by the City Council in the 1930s [11].

The Old Round Church, aka Saul Solomon’s Temple (1906 postcard)

When the Solomon family arrived, there were only a handful of other Jews in Cape Town, all assimilated. They included a shoemaker, a copper smith, a few shopkeepers and some British soldiers. There was Sigfried Fraenkel a Danish ship surgeon whose ship spent a month in Cape Town in 1806 en route to Batavia. [12] Nine months later the birth of a child named Abraham Frenkel was registered. When his ship docked in Simonstown on its return voyage the following year, lacking social media and e-mail, they didn’t know that Britain was now at war with Denmark. The ship was confiscated, and the crew became prisoners of war.

On a wall in the Simonstown Museum is a mural of a young woman with a harp and a bearded man pouring something into a lake. It has been suggested that Sigfried might have painted this. If so, it is another footprint.

(Left): Simonstown Museum mural; (Right): Officer thought to be Sigfried Fraenkel, painting by his uncle, miniaturist painter  Liepmann Fraenkel 1802

As Sigfried had been born in Germany, not Denmark, he was freed and decided to remain in Cape Town. He befriended the Jewish tailor Jacob Joseph Pero, who was the guardian to orphans Johanna and Johannes Henckes. The next year Sigfried married Johanna in the Groote Kerk and set up practice as a doctor at 9 Roeland Street. Their five children were baptised in the Groote Kerk, went to SACS (of which Fraenkel was a founder) and were taught Hebrew. Two became district surgeons. When Johanna died, Sigfried bought the freedom of Nancy, a slave whose mother came from Bengal, and their child was baptised in the Anglican church.

So Sigfried had five Dutch Reformed children through Johanna and Anglican children through Nancy, as well as an illegitimate Muslim child. However, his non-Jewish wife and family did not disqualify him as a Jew in the eyes of the small Jewish community and when the Hebrew Congregation was formed in 1841, he donated to it, frequently led the services and read Ne’ilah  every Yom Kippur until his death.

Certainly, the early shuls are footprints. After the Napoleonic Wars, there was a depression in Britain so, to avoid riots, the government decided to settle unemployed people in the Eastern Cape at the same time strengthening the eastern frontier. Mr. Willson, the leader of one of 1820 Settler parties absconded in Simonstown with the group’s money. The British Government wriggled out of paying the full salary to his assistant, Rev Boardman, on the grounds that his group did not only contain Anglicans but included Methodists and Jews. [13]

One of these 1820 settlers was Benjamin Norden who, on 26.9.1841, hosted the first minyan for Yom Kippur, in his home in Hof Street, with the involvement of Dr Fraenkel. There is a plaque in the Mount Nelson Hotel indicating where Norden’s house had stood.

The following week the Society of the Jewish Community of Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope or Tikvath Israel (Tikvath meaning Hope), was established “for holding regular services on Sabbath and festivals and maintaining the Jewish religion in south Africa”. [14] The following year the congregation bought land in Albert Road, Woodstock, for a cemetery.  The first person buried there was Abraham Horn, one of the synagogue trustees whose posthumous child was the first recognised Jewish baby born in Cape Town. This year the cemetery was declared a national heritage site and a plaque is due to be affixed by the Minister of Arts and Culture. I have been involved in this.

Entrance to the Albert Road Cemetery, Woodstock

In 1849 the Jewish community bought, for £800, two houses and a store at the corner of Bouquet Street and St Johns Street (a different St Johns) adjoining the Lodge De Goede Hoop. Both Fraenkel and Saul Solomon contributed towards the purchase. The building Belvedere House next to Parliament has a blue heritage plaque reading “On this site stood a house which was used as the first synagogue in South Africa consecrated by the Reverend Isaac Pulver the first minister until a synagogue was built facing Government Avenue consecrated on 13 September 1863”.

In this St John’s Street there used to be houses of ill repute and the Alhambra Palace of Varieties – not the place to take your wife or daughter, but sometimes it showed a selection of flickering moving pictures, each lasting a few minutes. One programme  had a scoop – a ten-minute film of Queen Victoria’s Funeral – instant news! Imagine, one could witness the funeral procession without being present and only five weeks after the event! [15]

The wealthy people living higher up in houses that are still there did not like the snide comments they got concerning their address, so to avoid embarrassment not suited to their status in a class-conscious Victorian society they asked the Council to do something about it.  As it was easier to change the name of the street than to remove the brothels,  upper St Johns Street containing the smart houses, the  Gardens Shul, (Jewish Museum and Holocaust Centre) became Hatfield Street while the  IZIKO art gallery next door is   in St Johns Street. [16] If one has influence one can do this sort of thing. More about street names later.

Belvedere House, Cape Town (note blue plaque at entrance)

The South African Jewish Museum certainly shows our footprints and our legacy. It is housed in the first purpose-built synagogue. In 1861 the congregation, having outgrown the small synagogue, bought a house, stables and a large garden (formerly part of Van Riebeeck’s vegetable patch) extending back from St John’s Street onto Government Avenue. On this site a new synagogue was built and consecrated on Rosh Hashana, 13 September 1863, the 14th anniversary of the opening of the Bouquet Street building. The English architect Hogg, never having designed a Jewish house of worship before, designed it like an Egyptian Temple – one can notice the Egyptian pillars at the entrance to what is now the SA Jewish Museum. Flourishing in Van Riebeeck’s vegetable patch today is our community centre with the museum, Jacob Gitlin Library, Cape Town Holocaust & Genocide Centre, Gardens Shul and Cafe Riteve – all proud footprints of our community.

First purpose-built synagogue in Cape Town (1863)


The new Gardens Synagogue (1905)

Of course, there are other synagogues in Cape Town – 19 at present – not including some that once the congregation moved away were sold to become churches, interior decorators, even a Science of the Soul Study Centre in the old Wynberg Synagogue. These too are footprints.

The present Gardens Shul was opened by Cape Town’s first Jewish mayor Hyman Lieberman, who was the president of the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation. As a memorial, the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation installed beautiful stained-glass windows in the front of the synagogue. [17] Lieberman also inaugurated the City Hall. He was elected mayor three times (in 1904, 1906 and 1907).

There are two footprints that can no longer be seen as they disappeared under the heavy treads of the apartheid bulldozers which destroyed District Six, an integrated multiracial working class suburb. These were the Hyman Lieberman Institute and  the Isaac Ochberg Hall. The Hyman Lieberman Institute was established in Muir Street with funds left in Lieberman’s will (which the Cape Argus  noted was “an expression  of a generous mind and a public-spirited character”). It was opened by another Jewish mayor, Louis Gradner, in 1934. The Institute, which had the first free private library, a nursery school, lecture room and a social room as well as sporting facilities, encouraged discussion and debate, with plays staged and lectures given. It was also used by youth groups like the Boy Scouts.

The Hyman Lieberman Institute and Isaac Ochberg Hall welcomed the Eoan group, South Africa’s first grassroots opera, dance and theatre company founded in 1933.

An Italian footprint, the Eoan Group rehearsed its operas in the Lieberman Institute and its headquarters were housed in the Isaac Ochberg Hall – more about Ochberg later. [18] It performed dance, theatre and grand opera to packed houses in Cape Town and undertook well supported annual opera seasons and tours throughout South Africa and the United Kingdom. It was an uncomfortable reminder to the apartheid politicians of the falsity of their ideology of white supremacy that if ‘Europeans’ wished to enjoy European operas like La Traviata, La Bohème or Carmen they would have to turn to the talents of the supposedly ‘undeveloped’ Coloured community. As apartheid policies tightened, Cape Town’s then only opera company was no longer allowed to perform before mixed audiences.

In 1966 District Six was declared a white area and the Isaac Ochberg Hall and the Lieberman Institute were removed along with the population they served. Thus did these philanthropic Jewish footprints become victims of a government determined to take away from District Six any reminders that a flourishing multiracial community had lived there. Another Jew came to the rescue. Philanthropist Joseph Stone donated R100 000 to make possible the erection of the 500-seater Joseph Stone Auditorium, which opened in Athlone in November 1969. [19] This became the new headquarters of the Eoan Group School of Performing Arts.

Joseph Stone and the auditorium named after him

Another beneficiary of Lieberman’s will [20] – which fortunately remains for us to enjoy – is the Hyman Lieberman Memorial Doors in the IZIKO National Gallery’s Lieberman Gallery. Carved in Burmese teak by Herbert Vladimir Meyerowitz, a lecturer at the Michaelis School of Fine Art and Director of the SA School of Fine and Applied Arts, and his wife Eva, its detailed and beautiful carving illustrates the migration and persecution of the Jewish people from Biblical times until their arrival in the land of Peace and Prosperity, South Africa.

Hyman Lieberman, Cape Town’s first Jewish mayor, and the Lieberman doors

In 1943 the Meyerowitzes took up teaching posts at the Achimoto College in the Gold Coast (now Ghana), returning to England when the college ran out of funding. There Vladimir committed suicide on learning of the death of his mother during the war. Eva returned to Ghana where she lived for forty years and became a well-known anthropologist. She published a number of books on the Akan/Ashanti people and was made their ”Queen Mother” in 1950. [21]

The door is not the only artistic footprint that Jews have given to Cape Town. In the courtyard of the Old Town House, built in 1756, is a statue of Max Michaelis. That building was originally the headquarters of the Burgher Council and the Burgher Watch – which patrolled the streets at night – afterwards becoming the home of the Town Council before the City Hall was built? [22] What is a statue of Max Michaelis doing there? No longer the seat of local politics and security, the Old Town House now houses an art gallery which contains the valuable Max Michaelis collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings. The UCT art school, known as the Michaelis School of Fine Art, also has a Chair of Fine Arts donated by Michaelis. Originally from Germany, Max Michaelis came to Kimberley and became a diamond dealer, founded the Cape Diamond Mining Company (later taken over by De Beers), moved to Johannesburg where he became involved in Wernher, Beit and Co. and finally settled in Cape Town at Montebello in Newlands in 1919. Montebello is now a non-profit art and craft space. Established in 1993, it hosts over twenty craft workshops, shops, and artist studios and the Gardeners Cottage, a great little restaurant under huge trees, a piece of quiet serenity and good food.

The Old Town House and Montebello

IZIKO galleries also contain the Alfred de Pass [23] collection of British and French paintings, drawings and prints; a room in IZIKO is named after him. De Pass benefited from an inheritance based on the sale of seabird poo. Groote Constantia Manor House also has furniture donated by the de Pass family.

Alfred’s grandfather Aaron arrived in Cape Town with his brother Elias in 1846. He developed the shipping, fishing, sealing, whaling and sugar industries, exporting guano from islands on the southwest Cape coast. He also built the first ship-repair facilities and laid patent slipways in Simonstown and Table Bay – footprints overtaken by more modern development. 

An ounce of Nitrogen-rich guano was at the time more valuable than gold. When the Ichaboe Island off the coast of Namibia was found to be 25-feet deep in guano, attempts were made to keep the source confidential. When the news leaked out, however, there was an international free for all, with competing sailors fighting each other, burying their victims in the guano. [24] When America decided to claim the islands, Aaron De Pass asked Queen Victoria to annex the islands, which she did in 1861. The De Pass brothers then built a special slipway at the Cape Town docks for ships – the most modern in the world at the time – and told the Cape Government that they could have it as a present if the De Pass brothers and no one else were allowed to harvest and collect the guano. The De Passes built roosts on the island to make the sea birds comfortable so that they would want to sit there and drop their gold in places convenient for people to collect. Today man-made fertiliser has replaced guano while Ichaboe Island is now regarded as one of the most important and densely packed coastal seabird breeding islands in the world; conservationists live there to study the birds.

Alfred de Pass was one of the founders and the first parnass of Cape Town’s first synagogue and also brought out the first Sefer Torah from England in 1847. His son Daniel exploited Ichaboe, had extensive diamond interests, established fisheries in South-West Africa and was the first to work a copper mine there. His son Alfred. a chemical engineer, worked in the family business, developed its sugar interests in Natal and became a keen art collector. He also left money for the care of the Jewish cemetery.

Alfred de Pass in uniform during 7th Frontier War (1846-7)

The IZIKO Museum also contains the Heller Collection of Cape Silver of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Collecting Cape silver became the passion of antique dealer David Heller, who wrote several books on its history from 1700 – 1870, as well as a book showing that most engraved Dutch East India Company glasses sold in South Africa are frauds made last century, probably in Holland.

One of the jewels of Parliament is the valuable Mendelssohn collection of Africana. Sydney Mendelssohn was the first person to collect Africana seriously and his two-volume South African bibliography, published in 1910, is still of major importance. Sydney came to South Africa in the 1880s to join his father, the Kimberley rabbi. He became chairman of the Bultfontein Mining Company, serving as such until its take-over by De Beers and chairman of the New Vaal River Diamonds. He was also involved in the Kimberley Musical, Literary and Debating Society. The collection is one of Parliament’s, and indeed the country’s most valuable collections of books relating to Africa and includes about 300 original paintings and artworks, caricatures and some manuscripts. Ingrid Henrici from the Parliaments’ Information Centre has written that “Mendelssohn’s aim was to collect everything ever written about Southern Africa with the vision of developing this collection into a national library of Africana. And it is for this reason that the Mendelssohn collection is of great historical significance and interest.” [25] Fortunately his collection was not destroyed in the 2021 fire. 

As well as the Jewish Museum, there is another museum dedicated to a Jew. When Irma Stern died in 1966, she left her collections in trust to the University of Cape Town for the encouragement and promotion of Fine Arts. UCT was reluctant initially to accept the responsibility of the bequest as her home, ‘The Firs’, was filled with varied collections whose value they did not recognise at first. Once they brought in experts, they discovered that they included valuable ancient Egyptian and Hellenistic Greek artifacts, 3rd Century Indian stone carvings, Chinese ceramics, pre-Columbian masks, 14th Century European church carvings, 15th Century European furniture and an extensive collection of African art, much of great value. A late 19th Century Luba Chief’s Caryatid Stool is worth millions. There is only one other like it in the world.

Buli stool and interior, Irma Stern Museum

Iziko, Parliament, Old Town House, Groote Constantia, Irma Stern Museum – it is unlikely that any settlers from Europe made so great a contribution to the preservation of South Africa’s cultural history and heritage as did its small Jewish community.

Now to something different. We take for granted our freeways, at one stage the best in the country, a road system ahead of its time. This was the brainchild of City Engineer Dr Solomon Simon Morris, one of the outstanding public servants of his generation. Morris won many international awards and accolades, a result of his determination to transform the mother city from a ‘quiet rural backwater’ (his own description) into a city of the future. [26] He is forgotten today, but not Solly’s Folly, the Foreshore freeway intended to create a ring road linking it to Buitengracht Street between Walter Sisulu Avenue and Wale Street. It was left half-finished high and dry, very high, in the 1970s when the money was diverted into more important grand apartheid projects like displacing people in the inner city. The City still plans to complete the Foreshore freeway as part of a Targeted Road Capacity Enhancement Project, but after 50 years, it is better to continue to wait and see.

Not a freeway but a delightful walk is the 3.4-km out-and-back Kaplan walkway from Muizenberg to St James that runs along the sea front, funded by Mendel Kaplan who had a home in St James. Mendel was an industrialist, philanthropist and community activist who became honorary president of Keren Hayesod and was a former chairman of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors. Mendel had a keen interest in Jewish history, publishing a number of books on the subject including Jewish Roots in the South African economy as well as establishing the SA Jewish Museum and the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research at the University of Cape Town with its Kaplan Centre Library.

Another recreational footprint with Jewish roots is the Clovelly Country Club. Jews were barred from membership in other sports clubs, like Kelvin Grove, so in 1943 Michael Pevsner, chairman of Herman Carnard and Company and Gustave (‘Gus’) Ackerman, of Ackermans, bought Clovelly. The land was donated on the condition  ‘That the aforesaid land shall only be used for sporting and other activities of the Clovelly Country Club from the membership of which no European shall be barred by reason of race, religious denomination, or creed.[27] And in 1976 Raymond Ackerman, founder of Pick ‘n Pay who had taken over the chairmanship of Clovelly from his father Gus, managed to persuade Prime Minister BJ Vorster to allow all races to join Clovelly.[28] It was the only South African sports club in any sport that was willing to ignore apartheid ideology and open its facilities to anyone. Raymond Ackerman also established the Raymond Ackerman Golf Academy there as well as the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development at the UCT Business School – both of which are designed to aid in the upliftment and empowerment of the youth.

We take the Victoria Wharf shopping centre at the Waterfront, the Gardens Shopping Centre and the Golden Acre for granted. These were developed by architect Louis Karol who arrived from a Lithuanian shtetl in 1936, just before the passage of the Aliens Act which barred Jewish immigrants from Western Europe.  En route they spent the night in a hotel in a small town. I interviewed Louis Karol [29] who told me: “We discovered a toilet and while my brother was switching on and off the electric light, I was flushing the toilet and while I was switching on the light, my brother was flushing the toilet. If I could write, I would write a book  on the clients that I have worked with and the privilege that I have had of not only being so involved in the city centre (we built more buildings in the city centre than virtually all the other architects put together), but we had the privilege of being involved in projects like the Golden Acre, which changed the centre of Cape Town, and the privilege of working on a thing like the Waterfront which really put Cape Town on the world map. When I think that a few years before this I was running around in mud and abject poverty, my life has been very exciting.”

Louis Karol

There might not have been a waterfront development at all had such a concept not been pioneered by Stanley Dorman. Having obtained no bids at an auction for his Hout Bay boating shed as it was on the wrong side of the harbour, Dorman decided that it was on the right side for visitors to the beach and turned it into the popular Mariners Wharf. David Jack, managing director of the V&A waterfront related on national radio and in the Cape Times that when starting the waterfront development in the run-down Cape Town harbour was being considered, he had drawn on the knowledge of Stanley Dorman who had made a success of his Hout Bay project against daunting odds and asked Dorman to assist them in planning the waterfront development. [30]

Another architect who left a footprint in Cape Town is Jack Barnett. He had been employed at the new town of Ashkelon, Israel, before returning in 1954 to Cape Town where he was appointed Studio Master at the University of Cape Town School of Architecture. After Sharpeville in 1960 he and his wife Naomi were detained in terms of the State of Emergency as a member of the South African Communist Party at the time. He spent nine weeks in Roeland Street Gaol and Worcester prisons, fortunately together with his drawing board so he could spend his time in prison profitably. [31]

As a political dissident it was practically impossible for Barnett to obtain corporate or government commissions, so he participated in architectural competitions instead. These were opportunities to demonstrate excellence in design, and he had a series of successes. He was commissioned to design the College of Music at UCT which in turn led to the Baxter Theatre. For the Baxter Theatre, a beautiful building, he received the Award of Merit from the Institute of South African Architects.

When in the early 1980s the University of the Western Cape was allowed to appoint its own consultants, Barnett was appointed to design the University Centre and subsequently to redesign the Central Square, the Great Hall, a block of lecture theatres and seminar rooms. To UCT and UWC a spell in an apartheid prison was no disqualification. In his retirement he promoted the competition system as the only satisfactory means of combating corruption in political patronage.

For people like Jack Barnett, Mendel Kaplan, Louis Karol and Solly Morris, the words on Christopher Wren’s epitaph in St Paul’s Cathedral are perfect – “if you seek his monument, look around”.

Baxter Theatre

The Baxter Theatre and Joseph Stone Auditorium are not the only impact Jews have had on Cape Town’s theatre scene. In 1957 Bertie Stern, Chairman of the South Peninsula Dramatic Society bought a derelict roofless bowling alley and, with the help of his family, turned it (not without problems from the apartheid government) into the multiracial Masque Theatre. A keen scoutmaster, known as “Sandpiper“, he was one of the founders of Habonim and ran the Habonim Camps in the 1940s and 1950s [32]. Today the Masque Theatre is home to four Independent Dramatic Societies, and also presents professional shows, including the debut run of Taliep Petersen and David Kramer’s Cape Town Musical “Kat and the Kings”. It is still owned by the Stern Masque Theatre Trust.

Then there are the annual Shakespeare-in-the-park performances every summer in the Maynardville Park. The open-air theatre began in 1950 with ballet performances to raise money for an Athlone pre-primary school. However, it really started to take off in 1956 when actresses Cecilia Sonnenberg and Rene Ahrenson, having agreed to establish Shakespearean seasons gained the support of Councilor A.Z. Berman to erect the necessary superstructure and it has never looked back. In February 1958 the Maynardville Open Air Theatre was finally declared a permanent institution by the Cape Town City Council. [33]

Let us return to street names honouring the contribution of Jews, like the Helen Suzman Boulevard and Joe Slovo Drive. Mayors Louis Gradner (1933–35) and Fritz Sonnenberg (1951–3) had roads named after them as did city councilors Martin Hammerschlag, Solly Freedburg and AZ Berman (who later became a United Party senator). There is also a Sol Cohen Road, possibly after a well-known doctor and a Raymond Ackerman Avenue.

I served on a city council street renaming committee to rename Gugulethu’s NY streets and we had to go through names suggested by street committees following certain rules. Several streets were named after Jews, including Rae Alexander, Joe Slovo, Zapiro  and, to my surprise, someone called Ruth Hayman. [34] I was surprised that the people of Gugulethu were honouring a Johannesburg-based Jewish woman of whose existence I had been ignorant. She was an attorney who through the Black Sash offered free legal advice and represented anti-apartheid activists. Hayman later moved to London after being served with a banning order and placed under house arrest. This, according to Sydney Kentridge, was “inexplicable save on the assumption that it was a punishment for her professional work.” This sent out a clear message to attorneys; the Transvaal Law Society refused to come to her aid. I then discovered that she and my mother-in-law had studied law together and had been close friends.

On the way to Herzlia Highlands – and our Jewish day schools are proud Jewish footprints – one passes Rabbi Mirvish Street. The first rabbi with smichah  in the Cape Colony, Rabbi Moses Chaim Mirvish arrived in 1908 to serve the Cape Town Orthodox Hebrew Congregation. He was deeply committed to Jewish education and welfare, serving as chairman of United Hebrew Schools and becoming a founder of the Jewish Aged Home. Recognized as a great Talmudic scholar, Rabbi Mirvish published two books of essays in Jerusalem to which Rabbi Abraham Kook contributed forewords – Zichron Yakov and Drushe HaRamach where he tried to adapt Lithuanian Judaism to the local African conditions. Rabbi Mirvish founded the Cape Beth Din, serving at one time with my great-grandfather Rabbi Yehuda Leib Schrire, was on the Cape Board of Shechita, on the Jewish Board of Deputies from its inception and was a keen Zionist. In 1939, this shul moved to Vredehoek and on its steps he died in 1947 after officiating at a wedding [35]. Some months after his death, the street alongside the shul was renamed Rabbi Mirvish Avenue by the City Council. So, street names do not only depend on the wealthy or politically involved but can also be named after the deserving.

A few roads up from Rabbi Mirvish Street is MH Goldschmidt Avenue leading to Herzlia Middle and High Schools. Meyer Hirsch Goldschmidt was one of Herzlia’s founders [36]. Born in Germany, he arrived in 1909 and made his mark in business and in the community, serving on the Board of Deputies, the Zionist Council and the Board of Education. He wrote, “It has been proved that in all countries where Jewish schools were established, the former pupils of these institutions constituted the mainstay of Jewish survival and the kernel of Jewish thought and Jewish culture. Unless we raise a generation that is really interested in Jewish history and Jewish tradition, we cannot hope to escape the ever-increasingly strong waves of assimilation [37].

According to the South African Jewish Times in 1984, “The changing of a street name is seldom agreed to by city authorities, who acceded to the school’s request in view of the great contribution by Mr. Goldschmidt [38]”.

Of course, for those developing streets on land they own, the choice of street names is theirs. As etymologist Mark Forsyth noted, “The great thing about creating something is that you get to give it a name.” (He goes on to add “Who would endure the expense and incontinence of babies, were it not for the fun of saddling another human with a moniker that you chose yourself?” [39])

When the Randlords decided to develop Camps Bay as a residential suburb, they put JR Farquhar in charge. Farquhar placed many restrictions on whom he considered to be suitable purchasers for the land and Jewish people were not suitable. So, what happened? Cape Marine Suburbs went bankrupt and its assets, including the whole of Camps Bay from the beach to the pipe track, were quietly bought up by Lithuanian immigrant Isidore Cohen who named some streets after his family – Rontree is named after his son Ronald and his wife Theresa. There is also Theresa Avenue and streets named for his grandchildren Barbara and Amanda, and after Ronald’s second wife, Susan (whom Ronald was to murder in 1970) [40].

The purchase was dubbed Cohen’s Folly by some. My grandfather was offered land by Cohen, but rejected it saying Camps Bay was too windy, investing in Muizenberg instead. That is Schrire’s folly, not Cohen’s. Cohen removed Farquhar’s restrictions, put in roads and facilities and made a fortune. He had arrived from Lithuania as a poor teenager, starting as a smous before opening furniture shops. He pioneered something called hire purchase, being one of the first to sell on credit in the belief that more people were honest than otherwise before branching out Into property.   

As for the antisemitic Farquhar, the takeover was too much for him. He had a heart attack and died a few months later.

Isadore Cohen

Here is an interesting bit of trivia. Camps Bay at one time belonged to Attorney-General Sir Anthony Oliphant whose son Lawrence was born there. Lawrence became interested in Zionism and kabbalah and in 1880 published a book, The Land of Gilead, proposing that Jews should colonise Palestine. He employed as private secretary a poet Naftali Imber who knew Hebrew and the kabbalah, and with Imber moved to Haifa in 1882, donating 1000 rubles to Yesud HaMa’ala and helping establish Rosh Pinna and Zichron Ya’akov. In 1886 Imber published his first book of poems, Morning Star (Barkai), in Jerusalem, dedicated to Oliphant. One of the poems in the book was Hatikvah.

Then there are the streets named for family members by property developer Isaac Ochberg, who in 1929 bought 117 hectares of land in Claremont and Newlands. Thus, there are streets named after Angelina, Bertha, Isabel, Noreen, Robinson and Princess, the pet name of his daughter Ruth who died tragically aged 17. A keen Zionist, Ochberg also named Balfour Avenue, after the Balfour Declaration. Ochberg was Life president of the Dorshei Zion Society. He represented South Africa at the 16th World Zionist Congress in Switzerland and made generous bequests to purchase land in Israel and to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. When he died in 1937, he left what was then the largest single bequest to the Jewish National Fund, the money being used to redeem land which became the Kibbutzim Dalia and Gal’ed in the Megiddo district. He was on the executive of the Board of Deputies, worked for the Helping Hand Society, the Old Aged Home, and was President of the Jewish Orphanage. His daughter Bertha Epstein wrote that he did not confine himself solely to the alleviation of distress among Jewry but was always ready to proffer help whenever and wherever it was needed no matter what the creed, race or colour of those needing it.

But this is not what Isaac Ochberg is primarily known for.

When the British Chief Rabbi sent out a report that there were 300 000 Jewish Ukrainian children orphaned as a result of the Russian Civil War, Ochberg obtained permission from Prime Minister Jan Smuts to bring out 200 children. At great personal risk to himself, he travelled the war-torn country for three months rescuing 187 Jewish orphans and bringing them safely to South Africa where they were placed in the Jewish orphanages in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

This leaves the street names as his only local footprints, but in Israel there is an Isaac Ochberg Memorial Park, inaugurated in Megiddo in 2011 with messages from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Jewish Agency Chairperson Isaac Herzog. The names of the children he rescued are embedded on plaques on the Hill of Names.

The Jewish community has probably contributed more to the city than any other minority group. Its contributions have not only been through their entrepreneurial ability, but also through their vision, their creativity, their generosity, their philanthropy and opposition to discriminatory laws.

Attempts were made to prevent Jews from coming to South Africa, as with the Cape Immigration Restriction Act (1902), the Quota Act (1930) and the Aliens Act (1937) which finally closed the door to South Africa to the Jews left in Europe.

How many more such contributions could have been made had more Jews been allowed to settle here, many of whose lives were to be lost during the Holocaust as they had been denied a safe shelter at the foot of Africa and elsewhere.

Hopefully, this article will encourage people in other cities to look out for their own footprints left by Jewish people, many of whom have been forgotten, but whose lives have left permanent, positive imprints in South Africa.



Gwynne Schrire, a veteran contributor to Jewish Affairs and a long-serving member of its editorial board, is a former Deputy Director of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies – Cape Council. She has authored, co-written and edited over twenty books on aspects of South African Jewish and Western Cape history.




[1]         Krawitz, Philip, “A Light unto Nations” – the Role of Jewish Business in South  Africa, Jewish Affairs, Vol 71, No 3, 20156, 33

[2]         Herrman, Louis, A History of the Jews in South Africa from the earliest times to 1893, Victor Gollancz, London, 1030, 55-6

[3]         Ibid., op cit, 67

[4]         Ibid., op cit, 67

[5]         Ibid., op cit, 92

[6]         Ibid., op cit, 73

[7]         Ibid., op cit, 73

[8]        Ibid., op cit, 83-89

[9]         Murray, Marischal, Under Lion’s head: Earlier Days at Green Point and Sea Point, AA Balkema, Cape Town, 1964

[10]      Kaplan Centre web exhibitions, Schrire, Gwynne, The Green and Sea Point Hebrew Congregation from its origins to 2010,

[11]          South African History Online › place › sea-point; Wikipedia › wiki › File:Round_Church

[12]       Friedman-Spits, Clara, The Fraenkel Saga, The South African Medical Association, 1998. Also thanks to Cathryn Salter, Simonstown Museum Manager, who has confirmed that the mural is still there (e-mail. 8 June 2023)

[13]       Herrman, op cit, 99

[14]       Herrman, Louis, The Cape Town Hebrew Congregation 1841-1941: A Centenary History, (Mercantile Atlas, Cape Town, 1941); Abrahams, Israel, The Birth of a Community: A History of Western Province Jewry from Earliest Times to the end of the South African War 1902, Cape Town Hebrew Congregation, Cape Town, 1955

[15]      Gutsche, Thelma, The History and Social Significance of Motion Pictures in

             South Africa 1895-1940 Howard Timmins,54

[16]      Berger, Solly, The Prehistory of the Great Synagogue: The Cape Town Hebrew

Congregation 1841-1905 in The Centenary of the Great Synagogue, Gardens, 1905-2005, Liquid Crystal Design, Cape Town,  2005, 6

[17]      There is a plaque in the foyer stating: “The stained glass windows placed by the congregation in the front of the Great Synagogue represents a memorial to the late Hyman Liberman JP who served the Jewish community with unsurpassed ability and with single-minded zeal and devotion throughout a long and conspicuously honourable and distinguished career. His work for the mother synagogue will remain forever a cherished heritage of the members of the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation and an example of self-sacrificing devotion to the highest ideal of patriotic duty to the Jewish citizens of South Africa.” Bloomberg, David, The Chain Gang: Mayors who served in Cape Town’s City Hall, Ampersand, Newlands 2011, 27

[18]      Roos, Hilda & Muller, Wayne, EOAN – Our Story, Fourthwall Books,2013

[19]       With thanks to Dr Sally Frankenthal and Dr Veronica Belling, He also donated Stone Villa as an after care home for graduates of the Oranjia Orphanage, later sold. Belling, Veronica: From Cape Jewish Orphanage to Oranjia Jewish Child ad Youth centre, “ Oranjia Jewish Child and Youth Centre,2014, 93; Rosenthal, Eric, The Story of the Cape Jewish Orphanage, Cape Town, The Orphanage,1961, 11-16

[20]      Bloomberg, David, op cit, pp20-30

[21]      Schrire, Gwynne, The German Jewish Immigrant Contribution to Art in South

              Africa,  Jewish Affairs, Vol 65, No 2, 2010

[22]      Fehr, William, The Old Town House: its place in the History of Cape Town

written at the request of  the Board of Trustees of the Michaelis Collection and of the Council of the City of Cape Town, Cape Times, 1955; Wikipedia › wiki › Max_Michaelis

[23]      There is much about the de Pass family in Herrman, Louis, op cit.

[24]      Wikipedia › wiki › Ichaboe_Island

[25]      Henrici, Ingrid, Parliamentary Information Centre,  “The Relevance of Rare & historical collections to today’s parliament”, paper presented at the 31st IFLA Pre-Conference for Library & Research Services for Parliaments, 12-14/8/15

[26]      Obituary Dr Solomon Simon Morris a man of vision, Sabinet African Journals

     › doi › pdf › AJA10212019_16097;

              OPINION | Bridging the gap: Time to rethink Cape Town’s .

[27]      Dickson, Pat, Short History of the Clovelly Country Club, Clovelly Country

              Club, 1974; The Clovelly Country Club Story – GoSouth,,  

     › the-clovelly-country-club-story

[28]      Clovelly Golf Club, Pevsner and Ackerman’s

transfer were subject to the following conditions: ‘That the aforementioned share only be used for the sporting and other activities of the Clovelly Country Club, from the membership of which no European shall be barred by reason of race, religious denomination, or creed … And that in the event of a breach of the above, Michael Pevsner or Gustave Ackerman or their Executors, Admini­strators, or Successors shall have the right and be entitled to receive a half share of the above land to be re-transferred to each of them free of any conditions whatever.’ The current Constitution states  ‘The Club is formed to fulfil all the usual objects of a Sports and Country Club … on the estate donated by Mr G G Ackerman and Mr M Pevsner, without regard to nationality or creed.’

[29]      Interviewed 9 January 2007

[30]      Schrire, Gwynne, Embracing Hout Bay: (Over a Century of making things  happen from Dorman & Son to Mariner’s Wharf and Fisherman’s World, (2010)

[31]       South African History Online. › people › jack-

              barnett, BARNETT, Jack Judah – Artefacts

[32]      Cape Jewish Chronicle › 2020/03/01 › habonim-dror-

southe… JewishGen › muizenberg › T...

When I returned to UCT in my forties to complete amajor in Jewish studies, feeling very old, I was delighted on my first day to get a hug from Bertie Stern, then in his 80s, who had decided to get a B.A.

[33]      Wikipedia › wiki › Maynardville_Open-…

[34]      Wikipedia › wiki › Ruth_Hayman

[35]      Helman, Cecil, A Bridge between the Old Country and the New: Rabbi MC

Mirvish, Jewish Affairs, Vol 59, No 1;  Mirvish, Sydney, The Harris Family: From Poland to South Africa and Beyond, Copycat, Omaha, Nebraska, 2008, 28-29

[36]      Rhodesian Study Circle, › m-h-goldsc

[37]      “Meyer Hirsch Goldschmidt”, in Robins, Gwynne, South African Jewish Board of Deputies ( Cape Council) 1904-004, 5664-5764: A Century of Communal Challenges, Citi Graphics, Cape Town, 2004, 52

[38]      Feinberg, Tali, “Where the streets bear our names”, South African Jewish Report, 27 February 2020

[39]      Forsyth, Mark,  The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language, Faber and Faber, London, 2016,47

[40]      Schrire, Gwynne: Camps Bay; An Illustrated History;