The desire of Jews to come together to worship and form a community, wherever they settle, has helped to preserve our identity over the ages and over the world. Stellenbosch is no exception.
As early as 1891, Jews had moved there. A contemporary report stated that “In Cedarland, Calvinia, Prince Albert, Swellendam, Stellenbosch… and similar dorps, there are likewise many well-to-do Jews.” Contacts were soon made with the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation, but it was not until 8 April 1900 that 24 people assembled in David Daitsch’s home for a Siyum HaTorah, after which they agreed to form a congregation to be called Agudas Achim. The first services were held in Mr. Brown’s home in Herte Street, after which they moved to premises in Plein Street. Two years later, they had outgrown that space and rented a small hall on Bird Street, which was opened as a synagogue by the Rev AP Bender of the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation on 11 February 1903. It was not long before the infant community built a mikveh and formed a Chevra Kadisha. That synagogue too was outgrown, and in 1923 Rev Bender laid the foundation stone for a purpose-built house of worship, the Agudas Achim Synagogue in Van Ryneveld Street. The good relations they had established with the local community could be seen in their guests, who included the magistrate, mayor, dominees and Paul Roos, the Springbok rugby captain.
The house next door was bought for the rabbi. Called the Skuinshuis — ‘the skew house’ — it had survived the great fire of 1803. A new road was laid out at an angle, leaving the house standing skew in the street. By 1932, a Communal Hall had been built next door. By 1956, the Stellenbosch Hebrew Congregation had 70 families, but with the country-wide move of the youth to the cities and overseas, the community started shrinking. Stellenbosch however, still survives, and although down to ten actively participating families, the community still functions as a cohesive centre of Yiddishkeit, with an active Union of Jewish Women and Bnoth Zion Association. They still manage to hold a service every Friday evening and on the High Holy Days. Visitors receive a warm welcome, and if you are in the neighbourhood on a Friday evening, please join them at 7pm.
Phone: Honorary Secretary, Dr. Gerald Rosendorff,
for further information: 082 824 1908.