1923 – 2023: A century of Jewish religious life in Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch Synagogue and crowd for centenary celebrations

The Stellenbosch Hebrew Congregation celebrated its centenary with a meaningful Shabbaton on the 20th and 21st of October 2023, coinciding with Parashat Noach.

Revered Bender laid the foundation stone for this purpose-built house of worship on the 12th of December 1923. The Shul has since been the centre of Jewish worship, learning, celebration, and gathering for Jewish people in Stellenbosch, holding countless dear memories for many.

The Shul Committee, led by the President of the Congregation, Dennis Zetler, organised a Shabbaton with current and former Stellenbosch members. Former Stellenbosch members and expats travelled from overseas, including New Zealand, Australia, Israel, as well as locally
from Johannesburg, Milnerton and Sea Point to join in the nostalgia. 

The Shabbat activities began with photographs outside the Shul before Shabbat on Friday evening, followed by the Friday night Shul service and a sumptuous Shabbat dinner in the adjoining function venue. After the Saturday morning service, a lavish Kiddush Brocha luncheon was enjoyed by all who attended. Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, the Travelling Rabbi, officiated and delivered the sermons. The services featured different former and current members sharing in the davening of the services. This included Resident Chazzan at Stellenbosch Hylton Phillips, former member Ronnie Chorn and Raphi Ress. A first for Stellenbosch was a choir accompanying the services conducted by Sea Point’s Marais Road Shul Choirmaster, Josh Friedman (whose father, Michael Friedman, and grandfather, Joel Friedman, hail from Stellenbosch). This invitational choir was made up of choristers from different choirs who also participated in the centenary. The rousing renditions of the Choir and “Hatikvah” during the services brought tears to many, as past members recalled nostalgic memories.

The Shul remains operational, holding services on Friday nights and some Jewish holidays. Also in attendance was Daniel Bloch, Executive Director of the Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies, who said, “Fortunately, Stellenbosch is home to approximately 80 Jewish students with some students having attended the celebration. It is hoped that the energy and ‘gees’ that permeated the Shabbat will continue for another 100 years.” 

• Published in the November 2023 issue – Click here to start reading.

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