By Tali Feinberg
The Transport Riders Museum in Ceres has extended their permanent exhibition to include a section on the Ceres-Wolseley Hebrew Congregation.
“The history of Ceres will not be complete without reference to the impact that the Jewish community had on especially the economical development of town,” says Bertdene Laubscher, manager of the museum.
“During the 1930 up to the 1950s, there were many Jewish store owners in town — not only Ceres but also in Wolseley and Tulbagh and Prince Alfred’s Hamlet. It was time to add more information on the families that lived here and to bring tribute to those who impacted and made a difference in our area,” she says.
Adds Jos Kahn, a resident of Prince Alfred’s Hamlet: “This addition covers information on the first Jewish families who settled in Ceres, Wolseley, Tulbach and Prince Alfred’s Hamlet, who made a real contribution. It also looks at the history of the two shuls in the area (the first shul having been destroyed by an earthquake nearly 50 years ago, in 1969) and the cemetery, which served all the villages. This project is a work in progress and new information will be added as it comes to hand.”
Kahn explains that there are only two resident Jewish families in the area — David Cohen in Ceres and his family. After the earthquake, a new shul was built in 1973 but the last service was held in 1996. Rabbi Nates served the congregation from 1927 – 1953.
“The furnishings then went to Wynberg Shul. Thereafter we rented the building out for a number of years, and as a result were able to contribute R300 000 to Jewish charities. About two years ago we sold the building to the Dutoit Farming Group. They have very tastefully converted the building into a conference centre and offices,” says Kahn.
He feels that “residents of country towns today would never have met a Jewish person, yet Jews played an important role in years gone by. In the towns of Picketberg, Malmesbury, Calvinia and possibly Springbok, the old shul is the town museum.”
He remembers many of the Jewish traders in the area. “Most were immigrants who didn’t know the language, had no political clout and nothing to lose. The first recorded Jew in Ceres was Adolf Arnholtz in 1865. By 1900 there were ten families.”
There was the Kirsch family who were traders and farmers and one of the founders of Ceres Fruit Growers; the Raskin family who sold mineral water; the Baum family (some may remember Sammy) who purchased one of the Kirsch shops and also owned property in Hamlet; and the Cohen family that started breeding horses and mules during World War I and the fourth generation has the largest race horse stud in South Africa.
Then there was the Fish family who were traders and leaders of the congregation; the Sarembock family who came from Prussia and owned the Klein Pruis farm; the Joseph brothers who imported trees from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and California, where they had learned the art of fruit growing; and Jock Levin who owned the Grand Hotel in Ceres.
In 2002, Kahn supervised the restoration of the local Ceres Jewish cemetery. It was established in 1925, and by 1963 there were 45 graves, one without a tombstone. Jews from the surrounding towns were also buried in the cemetery. There was some damage to the tombstones during the earthquake. On the suggestion of country communities’ rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, the vertical tombstones were laid down at a 30 degree angle.
“There is still an opportunity to add to our exhibition and if there are any family members that have more information or photo material available of people that used to live in Ceres, we would really appreciate it if they can contact the museum so we can make arrangements to obtain the material for scanning,” says Laubscher. “The museum invites all community members to visit.”