Cape Town

views updated May 18 2018


CAPE TOWN , legislative capital of the Republic of South Africa, capital of Western Cape Province. Founded in 1652 by the Dutch East India Company as a victualing station at the Cape of Good Hope, southernmost tip of Africa, the town had Jews among its early settlers. The rules of the company, however, allowed only Protestants as settlers; two Jews were converted to Christianity in Cape Town as early as 1669. After the British occupation of the Cape in 1806, a steady flow of Jewish immigrants came from Central Europe and England and later, in larger numbers, from Eastern Europe. As the oldest Jewish community in South Africa, Cape Town's organized communal life provided the pattern for the future development of South African Jewry. The Cape Town Hebrew congregation, the first in South Africa, dates back to 1841. The first synagogue, which still stands, was built in 1849. It was called Tikvath Israel ("Hope of Israel"), a reference to "Good Hope." Isaac Pulver was the first minister (1849–51). He was succeeded by Joel *Rabinowitz (1859–82), Abraham Frederick Ornstein (1882–95), Alfred Philip *Bender (1895–1937), and Israel *Abrahams (1937–68). As the Jewish community grew, other congregations and synagogues were established.

For many years, Cape Town was the principal center of Jewish communal life in South Africa. With the discovery of diamonds in Kimberley and the rise of the Witwatersrand gold fields, however, there was a northward shift of the population. In 1904, the Cape Jewish Board of Deputies was formed at Cape Town, a year after the corresponding body was created for the Transvaal and Natal. The two organizations merged in 1912 to establish the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. Among its most prominent members was Morris *Alexander. From the early days of the Zionist movement in South Africa, Cape Town was a center of Zionist activity. The Bnei Zion was formed in 1897 and was followed by the Dorshei Zion Association (1899) and the Bnoth Zion (Women's) Association (1900). One of the outstanding personalities in the Zionist movement was Jacob *Gitlin. Jews have made large contributions to the cultural and civic life of Cape Town. These include the Max Michaelis Art Gallery, the De Pass collection in the South African National Gallery, and the Mendelsohn Library, one of the most important collections of Africana, presented to the nation and stored in the Houses of Parliament. Hyman Liberman was the first Jew to become mayor of Cape Town (1903–07); others were Louis Gradner (1933–35), Abe Bloomberg (1945–47), Fritz Sonnenberg (1951–53), Alf Honikman (1961–63), Walter Gradner (1965–67), Richard Friedlander (1971–73), David Bloomberg (1973–75), Ted Mauerberger (1977–79), Louis Kreiner (1979–81), Solly Kreiner (1983–85), Leon Markovitz (1985–87), and Patricia Sulcas Kreiner (1993–95).

In 1969 Cape Town was the second largest Jewish center in South Africa (after Johannesburg), with a Jewish population of approximately 25,000 (out of a total population of 750,000). Cape Town was the seat of the provincial branches of national organizations with headquarters on the Rand. These included the Cape Council of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the Western (Cape) Province Zionist Council (representing the South African Zionist Federation), and the Union of Jewish Women. Although both the Cape Committee of the Board of Deputies and the Western (Cape) Zionist Council were a part of their national organizations, they preserved a considerable autonomy. Organizations situated in Cape Town, such as the Cape Board of Jewish Education and the United Council of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, were entirely independent. This emphasis on Cape autonomy from the more dominant Johannesburg Jewry characterized much of the later history of Cape Jewry but has diminished. In 1988, the Orthodox congregations in Cape Town joined with those in the northern part of the country to form the Union of Orthodox Synagogues of South Africa, under a single chief rabbi, and subsequently under a single bet din. The Reform congregations subsequently fell under the South African Union for Progressive Judaism. The Cape Board of Education in 1969 supervised 31 Hebrew schools and was responsible for a fine Hebrew secondary day school (Herzlia), three Hebrew primary day schools, and a hostel. In 1969 there were 12 Orthodox congregations in Cape Town and its neighboring communities and two Reform Congregations under a Council of Progressive Judaism, with its own school. Among the welfare institutions were a Jewish orphanage and old-age home. The Zionist movement, especially among the youth, was strong. The main charitable organization was the Jewish Board of Guardians, which subsequently came under the umbrella of Jewish Community Services. Apart from the Jewish museum based in the old synagogue building, various cultural Hebrew and Yiddish societies functioned.

At the turn of the century, Jews numbered approximately 18,000, about 22 percent of all Jews in South Africa. Half the population lives in a cluster of suburbs on the Atlantic coast; 21 percent in the southern suburbs and 11 percent in the City Bowl.

The United Herzlia Schools run a network of Jewish day schools, including four primary schools; a middle school and a high school, incorporating approximately 1,600 pupils. The Cape Council of the South African Jewish Board of Education supervises religious instruction for Jewish pupils who attend state schools and whose main access to Jewish education is through the Cheder program. Since by then well over 80% of Jewish children in the city were in the Jewish day school system, either attending one of the Herzlia schools or the small religious Hebrew Academy school, the need for this facility had significantly diminished. Hebrew and Jewish Studies is taught at the University of Cape Town which, in addition, incorporates the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Center for Jewish Studies and Research.

There are 17 synagogues affiliated to the Union of Orthodox Synagogues and three Reform temples. The Lubavitch movement was established in 1976. In 1995 Cape Town inaugurated its first yeshivah. The Cape Council of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies incorporates a range of cultural and welfare institutions. Zionist activities are coordinated by the Western Province Zionist Council. Two important new cultural institutions that came into being in Cape Town in the late 1990s were the Cape Town Holocaust Centre and the South African Jewish Museum, the latter focusing on the history of the Jewish community in South Africa.


G. Saron and L. Hotz (eds.), Jews in South Africa (1955); L. Herrman, History of the Jews in South Africa (1930); I. Abrahams, Birth of a Community (1955).

[Louis Hotz /

Milton Shain and

David Saks (2nd ed.)]

Cape Town

views updated May 29 2018

Cape Town City and seaport at the foot of Table Mountain, South Africa. It is South Africa's legislative capital and the capital of Western Cape province. Founded in 1652 by the Dutch East India Company, it came under British rule in 1795. Places of interest include the Union Parliament, a 17th-century castle, the National Historic Museum, and the University of Cape Town (founded 1829). It is an important industrial and commercial centre. Industries: clothing, engineering equipment, motor vehicles, wine. Pop. (2002) 2,686,000.

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