Jewish set­tlers played a role

Per­haps be­cause of their small num­bers, not much is known about the early Jewish set­tlers who came to Port El­iz­a­beth but it is be­lieved at least 16 came out with the 1820 Bri­tish set­tlers, lured to this land by the same dream of a bet­ter life, writes Ivor

The Herald (South Africa) - - FEATURE -

JEWISH set­tlers who ar­rived in Port El­iz­a­beth in 1820 had much the same in­tro­duc­tion to their new land as those they ar­rived with – they were dumped on open land, given a tent and a piece of land to farm.

And so the Jewish sur­names Hy­man, Osler, Nor­den, Davis, Goldswain, Good­man, Jack­son, Ja­cobs, Lasky, Ox­ley, Palmer, Porter and Richard­son, now well known in Port El­iz­a­beth, be­came in­grained in the fab­ric of what is now a melt­ing pot of cul­tures and re­li­gions.

Most of the Jewish set­tlers strug­gled with f arm­ing and re­turned to their pre­vi­ous oc­cu­pa­tions in the larger vil­lages.

Most of the early Jewish set­tlers were from Bri­tain and Ger­many, and though few in num­bers, they con­trib­uted greatly to the de­vel­op­ment of Port El­iz­a­beth.

The now fa­mous merino sheep was first im­ported into the coun­try by a Ger­man Jew, Max­i­m­il­ian Thal­witzer, while an English Jew, Ben­jamin Nor­den, played a lead­ing role in the con­struc­tion of the first jetty.

Two other Ger­man Jews, Adolph and Joseph Mosen­thal, were in­stru­men­tal in 1852, in set­ting up a wool-trad­ing net­work be­tween merino farm­ers in the East­ern Cape and Euro­pean con­sumers, as well as ex­port­ing hides and skins, pro­vid­ing many jobs in the process. Adolph trav­elled to Turkey in 1856 and in­tro­duced An­gora goats to the coun­try.

And while Jews in Port El­iz­a­beth worked hard, they also en­sured their re­li­gion was ad­hered to within the pri­vacy of their homes.

As the Jewish com­mu­nity grew, the first mar­riage of­fi­cer, Al­bert Jack­son, later pres­i­dent of the Port El­iz­a­beth He­brew Con­gre­ga­tion (PEHC), ar­rived and took up res­i­dence in 1859. Three years later, 42 years after the ar­rival of the Bri­tish set­tlers, the PEHC was founded.

Within weeks, a house in Queen’s Street was fit­ted out as a synagogue with an ark and “bima” (read­ing ta­ble) and seat­ing for 60 con­gre­gants ar­ranged, just in time for the Jewish New Year cel­e­bra­tions on Septem­ber 25, 1862.

Three years later the Dioce­san Gram­mar School at the top of Whites Road was taken over and served as the synagogue.

In 1873, there were 20 Jewish fam­i­lies in Port El­iz­a­beth who were, ac­cord­ing to the London Jewish Chron­i­cle, “chiefly Ger­mans of the higher class, mer­chants in a very ex­ten­sive way of business, for this place is con­sid­ered the ‘London of South Africa’”.

A prom­i­nent mer­chant, Au­gust Hirsch, worked for Mosethals but in 1876 opened his own company Hirsch, Loub­ser and Co.

He was a mem­ber of the Har­bour Board and the Cham­ber of Com­merce and lived in a house called “Hill­side” in Bird Street, which later be­came part of Nel­son Man­dela Met­ro­pol­i­tan Univer­sity.

His wife Kate was the pres­i­dent of the Vic­to­ria Memo­rial Home.

His son, John Gauntlett Hirsch, was born in Port El­iz­a­beth and joined his fa­ther’s business.

He built and lived in the mag­nif­i­cent house “Har­land” in Annerley Ter­race in 1910, which later be­came the Mar­itime Club.

An ar­dent sports­man, he was a mem­ber of the first Spring­bok rugby team to tour Eng­land in both the 1906/7 and 1910 tours.

He also rep­re­sented East­ern Prov­ince at cricket and golf and asked for his ashes to be spread on the PECC pitch after his death.

Al­fred Ed­mund Marks (1879 – 1920) ran the lo­cal auc­tion house for many years.

His wife, Lil­ian, taught braille, and was in­stru­men­tal in the ad­vance­ment of the sign lan­guage in South Africa.

She was a mem­ber of the school board and sat on the li­brary com­mit­tee, the Vic­to­ria Home, and was a mem­ber of the Ladies Benev­o­lent So­ci­ety.

In 1874 there were two more Jews who did their com­mu­nity proud.

Simeon Ja­cobs was ap­pointed “at­tor­ney-gen­eral of the colony” and Hy­man Henry Solomon be­came the first Jewish mayor.

The Chron­i­cle wrote “He is the first Jewish mayor in the colony where there has been, and still ex­ists, a cer­tain amount of prej­u­dice against the Jews”.

Solomon served a sec­ond term as mayor and Ja­cobs was of­fered the po­si­tion of Di­a­mond Fields Judge – but de­clined.

A short while later the first min­is­ter, the Rev­erend S Rapaport, was “im­ported” to serve the com­mu­nity.

On April 17 1876, Jack­son laid the foun­da­tion stone of the new Western Road Synagogue. The build­ing was de­mol­ished in March 1958, after the con­gre­ga­tion moved to the new Glendin­ning­vale Synagogue.

As a re­sult of the pogroms in Rus­sia/Lithua­nia be­tween 1881 and 1884, Jewish im­mi­gra­tion to South Africa in­creased dra­mat­i­cally and to­day they con­sti­tute the vast majority of South African Jews.

Op­por­tu­ni­ties in an emerg­ing South Africa were far su­pe­rior to any­thing refugees could have found in East­ern Europe.

The di­a­mond and gold dis­cov­er­ies in 1886 at­tracted an es­ti­mated 40 000 Lithua­nian Jews (known as Lit­vaks) to the countr y.

Many Jewish refugees set­tled in ru­ral towns and opened small shops or ho­tels, utilised their skills as trades­men, be­came “smouse” (trav­el­ling hawk­ers), while a small num­ber founded the os­trich feather and cit­rus in­dus­tries.

Jews were not al­ways wel­comed and an un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt was made to limit their num­bers into the coun­try by declar­ing, in 1903, that Yid­dish, which was their home lan­guage, was not a Euro­pean lan­guage.

The Quota Act of 1930 was in­tro­duced to re­strict the num­ber of Jews en­ter­ing the coun­try by mak­ing “as­sim­i­l­abil­ity” a rea­son to re­ject ad­mis­sion.

More re­stric­tions were in­tro­duced with the rise of Afrikaner na­tion­al­ism and pro-Nazi sym­pa­thies, with the re­sult that only 3 600 Jewish im­mi­grants were al­lowed into the coun­try be­tween 1933 and 1936 and dur­ing World War 2 it was es­ti­mated that less than 500 were al­lowed into the coun­try.

HIS­TORIC BUILD­ING NO MORE: Adolph Mosen­thal & Co’s head­quar­ters build­ing which used to stand on the side of the Mar­ket Square, near the City Hall. This mag­nif­i­cent build­ing, opened on Fe­bru­ary 5 1905, was de­mol­ished in 1974-75 to make way for the...

JEWISH PI­O­NEERS MU­SEUM: The old Raleigh Street Synagogue was opened in 1912 by Chief Rabbi Dr Juda Leo Lan­dau. It is to­day the Jewish Pi­o­neers Mu­seum PHO­TO­GRAPH: IVOR MARK­MAN

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