The story of Alexander’s chanukiya

Daniel Woiczek (GM of Friends of Zion Museum) receives the chanukiya from Tamar Lazarus (past president of WIZO South Africa)

By Gwynne Robins, Senior Researcher, Cape SAJBD

It is understandable that Rabbi Solomon Schechter, a Cambridge University lecturer in Talmudics and Rabbinics, meeting a bright young Jewish law student from the colonies, would invite him to his home.

It was not as understandable that his 12-year-old daughter Ruth would become so enamoured of this 23-year-old student, that she would make him promise not to get engaged to anyone else, but to wait for her to grow up and marry her!

Once qualified, Morris Alexander returned to Cape Town and immersed himself in communal affairs. He became secretary of the Jewish Philanthropic Society (now the Jewish Community Services) and the Dorshei Zion Society, gave sermons wearing his academic gown at the Zionist Roeland Street Shul, put together a deputation that successfully changed the law, allowing Yiddish to be accepted as a European language to enable East European Jews to immigrate to South Africa, formed the Jewish Board of Deputies in 1904 and was elected onto the City Council. He timed his June 1907 wedding to the now grown-up Ruth to include the Zionist Congress in The Hague in his honeymoon plans.

When Herzl’s successor as president of the Zionist Organisation, David Wolffsohn visited Cape Town in 1906, Alexander chaired the Reception Committee, and Wolffsohn invited him to visit him in Cologne while on honeymoon.

In Cologne, they were escorted to Wolffsohn’s home for dinner. Another guest at the dinner was someone who had accompanied Herzl and Wolffsohn to Palestine, the Anglican Rev. William Hechler whom Morris Alexander described as “a very interesting personality, Herzl’s friend, a charming non-Jew who had introduced me to many royal personages in Europe. He pulled out of his capacious pockets many maps packed with interesting international statistics which he expounded to us.”

Rev Hechler was known as the father of Christian Zionists. He had been the household tutor to the children of Frederick I, Grand Duke of Baden; and through his pupil Ludwig, he had developed a relationship with the Grand Duke’s nephew, who became Kaiser
Wilhelm II. In 1884, Hechler published a treatise titled The Restoration of the Jews to Palestine, calling for the Jews to return to Palestine as a pre-condition for the return of Jesus, and writing, “it is the duty of every Christian to love the Jews.”

When Herzl met him, Hechler spread out before him his chart of comparative history, and a large military staff map of Palestine in four sheets which, when laid out, covered the entire floor. “We have prepared the ground for you!” Hechler told Herzl, who confided in his diary that Hechler had shown him the coat pocket in which he planned to carry his big map of Palestine when they rode around the Holy Land together. These were probably the papers Hechler showed Alexander.

Alexander met up with Wolffsohn and Hechler at the Zionist Congress. Rev Hechler wanted to give Alexander something to remember him by, and bought him a little chanukiya. Hechler was indignant that the shop assistant did not immediately understand what a chanukiya was.

Alexander then returned to Cape Town with his new wife and his new chanukiya, and the Roeland Street congregation arranged a reception for them. They arranged another reception when it was their 25th wedding anniversary, but by then Ruth had tired of her older husband, who was now Chairman of the Board of Deputies and a Member of Parliament, and had fallen in love with a radical Irishman Ben Farrington (a UCT lecturer in Classics), and so they divorced.

On a trip to Australia Alexander met his second wife Enid, who wrote his biography, sharing the story of the chanukiya which she later donated to the original Cape Town Jewish Museum. When that museum closed, the Board of Deputies, as its trustees, became the owner. As for Hechler, the Zionist Executive provided him with a small monthly pension from the 1920s. He died in London in 1931.

When the Board learnt that a Friends of Zion Museum had been established in Jerusalem to celebrate Christian Zionists and their contribution to Israel, they thought it appropriate to donate the small lamp to the museum, where Hechler’s portrait appears on a large mural.

The chanukiya was presented to Daniel Woiczek, the museum’s General Manager, by Tamar Lazarus, immediate past president of WIZO South Africa. It will be displayed in a custom-made glass cabinet, along with the story behind it.

Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies website:, Instagram, and Facebook page.

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

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