Oy Vey!

I just read a book (this was in 2014) The Travelling Rabbi by Moshe Silberhaft. It was loaned to me by Pauline Shapiro, Montclair character of note. We got chatting – instead of doing her eyeballs – about how Durban had lost most of its Jews and Harrismith had lost all of its Jews.

Rabbi Moshe went around the country from 1995 to small dorps where the ever-diminishing number of Jews allowed them to live in peace and eat whatever they wanted till he came to give them a skrik and some guilt feelings. He tells me in his book that Bethlehem comes from Beit Lechem, which means House of Bread. His book has three pages on Bethlehem and the main talk is about Rabbi Altshuler, who died in 1983, and the de-consecration of the synagogue, which has now been converted into offices by attorney Gerald Meyerowitz.

With the closing down of the Bethlehem shul Rabbi Silberhaft did the rabbi stuff: “The three Sifrei Torah were removed from the Ark and carried out of the shul by Syd Goldberg, Saville Jankelowitz and Sam Jankelowitz, then aged 90, assisted by Dr Harold Tobias, who had a bad back, in a very solemn procession.”

Shockingly, Moshe didn’t mention my mate Steve Reed as an honorary Jew! Obviously he hadn’t heard Stefanus spin his yiddish. Even more shockingly, he leaves out my whole town! He writes of Parys, Brandfort, Phillipolis, Bloemfontein, Bothaville, Sasolburg, Marquard, Marseilles (Marseilles?!), Heilbron, Winburg, Senekal, Ficksburg and Kroonstad, but no mention of that jewel of the Eastern Free State Harrismith!

Amazing. He writes about all those flat dusty nothing-dorps and he omits the one shining light green oasis in the Vrystaat!
I suspect Harrismith “died” before the others? We grew up with the Chodos’, the Cohens, the Shadfords, Mrs Schwartz, Fanny Glick, the Longbottoms, Randolf & Bibi Stiller and others whose faces I can see but names . . my Mom and Dad and Sheila will remember . .
But by 1972 we were dancing to Creedence Clearwater Revival at discos put on by Round Table in the already de-commissioned synagogue – at least fifteen years before Bethlehem’s was closed.
Sigh! Once again Harrismith gets smoked by Bethlehem in the fame stakes.

The book has plenty amusing snippets. As the last few Jews die in the dorps, Silberhaft buries them, sometimes in cemeteries that haven’t had burials in them for yonks and decades. “Gave the cemetery a new lease on life” he says . . .

One oke’s Dad was scared of flying and specified: “Don’t you dare send me in a coffin in an airplane hold”, so his son rented a kombi and drove the body to West Park cemetery in Joburg. Silberhaft then buried him and wrote to the son “I know your Dad liked to jol, so I buried him near the fence in case he wants to get out and hit the town.”

Some okes had long given up the faith, so when he tried to visit them in their little dorp some skrikked and quickly – and maybe briefly? – became kosher again! Others were way past all that and “voetsekked” him! Sent him packing.

Seems Silberhaft had a big thing about strict kosher living and – especially – eating. He would make a big thing if people were kosher and a bigger scene if they had slipped off the strict and narrow – and slippery! – path. Even though to stay kosher meant you had to have your meat brought in from outside, or have a kosher slaughterer come to you to slit your animals! He would take kosher meat in his boot to give to people (which suggests that in between they probably ate pragmatically?).

Pictures of the Bethlehem shul by Jono David at jewishphotolibrary.wordpress.com. It’s now a car parts shop, but check the lovely pressed-steel ceiling and the chandelier.

The Bethlehem cemetery picture is also Jono David’s. He’s also at jewishphotolibrary.smugmug.com


On 2014/06/06 Steve Reed, Bethlehem Boy, wrote:

Thanks Koos, interesting stuff. We lived across the road from the Bethlehem shul. In a flat which was the subject of great intrigue to my school friends, all of whom had huge family homes in Oxford street and Cambridge street. The Tobias residence was in an even fancier part of town, along with the Meyerowitz residence, the Goldberg residence and others, high on the hill. Here you found swimming pools and things called “rumpus rooms”. I was an adopted member of the Tobias family, yes. From the wrong side of town, near Kraay’s Bakery. The Mann brothers, the paint magnates who lived even higher on the hill, referred to them as ‘Kraay the Beloved Baker”. Once again, the bread connection!

For Les Tobias’s bar mitzvah, I pitched up in my school (shul?) uniform as there was no way we could afford a suit. Having been a St. Andrews boy before moving to Bethlehem, this was an OK thing to do – presumably with the Saints fees, it was understood there was no money for suits. Must have got a few tongues wagging. Surprised we didn’t start getting food parcels from the Jewish community after that.
On 2014/06/08 Brauer wrote:
The travelling rabbi’s old man is my mom’s neighbour in JAFFA – the Pretoria Jewish old age home.


voetsekked – bugger off


correspondence followed:

Pete Swanepoel – Wrote a little blog post about that book on Bethlehem where they battled to find three wise men.

Peter Brauer – So the shul is a car parts shop? They probably sold the shofar as a
much sought-after retro hooter (or horn).
Swanepoel – Couldnt there be a market for a mobile jewish wedding car – with removable roof and twin shofars, with a floor to dance and smash things on? I have to think of something to make cash post-optometry. Could I be the rabbi, or would I have to use a rent-a-rabbi?

Brauer – Conditional. We’ll let you be the rabbi if you have the snip.

Swanepoel – Eish!! It just shrank and retreated to only eleven inches in the shade at the thought. What the rabbis don’t know is my definition of minor surgery: Surgery on someone else.

3 thoughts on “Oy Vey!”

  1. My great aunt was Fanny Glick mentioned in ths article. If you could share any more memories or information about her, I would be very grateful. Thank you.


    1. Hi John. I remember my gran Annie Bland being a great friend of Fanny Glick’s. I’ll check with my sister Sheila and my Mom Mary Bland Swanepoel – they’ll know a good deal more than me! Keep in touch here, or add your email address here and I’ll send you whatever I find. Did you ever visit her in Harrismith? Cheers Peter Swanepoel


      1. Hi Peter – Wonderful to be in contact. Yes, we used to visit great Aunty Fan in Harrismith every time we went on holiday to the coast. She was such a kind and loving woman and had been Free State Golf and Tennis champion for decades in her younger years. We stil have all her trophees.- there are hundreds. Aunty Fan had also been a school teacher and was the only Youngleson of her family to live in Harrismith all her life. Her father had been the local dentist, Ralph (Raphael) Youngleson. I’m trying to piece together the rcomplex Youngleson family history at the moment so any information you can help me with will be another clue or gem to record for future generations. Hopefully your mother and sister Sheila will remember more. Thank you SO much … John French email: john@johnfrench.co.za


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