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Oudtshoorn

OUDTSHOORN

OUDTSHOORN , town in the Cape midlands of the Republic of South Africa. For many years Oudtshoorn was the center of the ostrich-feather industry, and Jewish immigrants played an outstanding part in its development. Arriving in the area about 1880, approximately 30 years after the town was founded, Jewish traders mainly from Lithuania mastered the methods of ostrich-farming and helped to develop world-wide markets for the feathers. Among the pioneers and recognized experts in the industry were men like the Rose brothers, and the eldest, Max, who came from Lithuania in 1890, was known as the "ostrich feather king." When the market collapsed shortly before World War i, the Roses fought hard to save the industry from ruin. At the height of the ostrich boom, Oudtshoorn had the largest Jewish population in rural South Africa, numbering 1,500 in 1913. Because of the intense communal and religious life of the Oudtshoorn community, it was sometimes called the Jerusalem of Africa. A Hebrew congregation was formed in 1883; the first synagogue was built in 1888 and another in 1896; one of these is now disused. Other communal institutions, including Zionist and philanthropic societies and a Hebrew day school, were established. The Jewish community produced many professional men and business leaders, and Jews were also prominent in the civic and cultural life of the town, in several cases serving as councilors and mayors. After the decline of the ostrich-feather industry, the Jewish population was considerably reduced. In 1968 they numbered about 300. By the turn of the century the total had fallen below 60. The Oudtshoorn Hebrew Congregation, still active despite its small numbers, celebrated its 120th anniversary in 2004, with Jewish leaders from all over the country participating in the festivities.

bibliography:

G. Saron and L. Hotz, Jews in South Africa (1955), index; L. Feldman, OudtshoornYerushalayim d'Afrike (Yid., 1940); M. Gitlin, The Vision Amazing (1950), index; I. Abrahams, Birth of a Community (1955).

[Louis Hotz]

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