Honouring Jewish spirit in Muizenberg

Helen Zille; Muizenberg Historical Conservation Society’s deputy chairman Glenn Babb, and chairman Chris Taylor; and Rabbi Ryan Newfield of the Shul.

By Gwynne Robins, Senior Researcher, Cape SAJBD

On 2 September, former Western Cape Premier Helen Zille unveiled a Blue Plaque, initiated by the Muizenberg Historical Conservation Society in commemoration of the great contribution to Muizenberg made by the Jewish community.

It is heart-warming in a period of shrinking numbers and influence that the South African Jewish community has received such recognition.

Muizenberg as a popular holiday resort was first put on the map in 1880 when Isidore Hirsch and his wife, renowned for her cooking, first opened Farmer Peck’s Inn. Muizenberg became a premier holiday resort with people coming from as far as the Congo to spend their holidays here, and to meet prospective spouses in the hotels or at the Snakepit. On the way the children would sing:

We’re off again on the early train on the way to Muizenberg,
It’s near or far by train or car on the way to Muizenberg,
From Jo’burg they come to shmek on the yam [sniff of the ocean] on the way to Muizenberg,
The mother and daughters they splash in the waters deep in the heart of Muizenberg.

Even Chaim and Vera Weizmann visited. By 1925, Jews owned or operated 17 of the 28 hotels and boarding houses; and a new immigrant sent a postcard in Yiddish home to his wife, “The houses you see are hotels… and on a Sunday, people from Cape Town come here in their thousands.” Convinced, she joined him two years later and they established a hairdressing salon.

As well as hotels, there were Jewish doctors, dentists, chemists, butchers, grocers, and three Bnoth Zion branches famous for their summer fete in the pavilion. City councillor, Bertie Stern, erected a children’s playground and established the Masque Theatre. There was a religious boarding school, Hillel College, and a beautiful impressive synagogue was established in 1924 with a large communal hall in Wherry Road and its own cemetery. Lois Karol, whose mother had run a boarding house there for a time designed its succah in 1955.

But, as fashions changed and young people started to prefer the cold waters of Clifton, the holiday season became too short to sustain the businesses and the community shrivelled. Muizenberg still swells each summer season when Gauteng guests arrive to shmek on the yam and admire the plaque honouring our community.

• Published in the PDF edition of the October 2021 issue – Click here to get it.

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