The Obs-Mowbray Shul — a rich living heritage of this Jewish community

Walking into the Shul at 45 William Street, Obs-Mowbray one senses and experiences in real time, the timeless, rich simplicity of the architecture dating back 80 years to 1927, when the building was designed.

It is a sanctuary in time; like nothing has changed. Yet this is contrasted by the vibrant community still enjoying its sacred atmosphere.

Everyone is very contemporary, friendly and in touch with all that is our new, modern world. The familiarity of the unassuming village atmosphere, the superb acoustics and the spaciousness makes one feel at home yet elevated — relaxed yet excited to be here.

This must be one of Cape Town’s best kept secrets. Most people assume that Obs-Mowbray disappeared more than 20 years ago with all the other old shuls. Few know where it is. Once you have been, you wish everyone would visit it, at least once, particularly in 2008, its 80th anniversary year!

The foundation stone was dedicated in August 1928 by Mr. Stodel. Life President Cyril Jaffe had his barmitzvah that same year, while the building was still being completed, and in August, 2008, Tevya Shapiro, whose greatgrandfather was a founder member – and related to Jaffe — will be having his barmitzvah!

Over a century ago Cape Town’s Jewish community was migrating out of the central city, along the main transport routes, to the south and to the east. Many settled in Woodstock, Salt River, Observatory and Mowbray where new opportunities existed. Jewish shops and businesses flourished in this area and by the early 1920s the early synagogue in Observatory, on Lower Main Road, became too small and limited for the fast growing, shul-going community.

Two large ‘quiet’ plots were bought higher on the mountain slope between William and Liskeard Roads, providing a good view of the mountain and downwards to the Liesbeek River, with the Hottentots Holland Mountains to the east. The place was given the name ‘Mitzpah Israel’ — an observation point of Israel.

Photographs of the early and recent leaderships show that this is a community that is here for ‘the long haul’. Natie and Freda Altshuler were dedicated proponents of the shul from the’70s to the’90s, tirelessly keeping it going. The Myers family were also involved for many years. The secret of this small community is that all play their participates. There have also been various part-time rabbis and numerous chazzanim, young and old, including the amazing late Cantor Immerman, who ran its services.

UCT’s SAUJS students regularly had special Friday night services at the Obs Shul, followed by oneg shabbat dinners. SAUJS also produced their outspoken anti-apartheid magazine ‘STRIKE’ from our facility, and anti-apartheid activists such as Gaby Shapiro and family were dedicated participants, particularly in preparing for Sukkot and Simchat Torah.

The late Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris conducted the special 70th Anniversary (and 100th year of the community) service at the Shul. Numerous shabbatonim have been organised over the years for young adults and special interest groups. We also have an informal co-operation agreement with Rondebosch Hebrew community to support each others’ services.

We welcome you and your family to join us at our Shabbat and Yomtov services, offering a refreshing, open, relaxed, colourful and enriching atmosphere. Treat yourselves to a Special Friday Night — regular services begin at 6:30pm.


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