Way back around 1968 a new book appeared at 95 Stuart Street Harrismith. I was fascinated. Nearly as fascinated as I’d been when cousin Jack read Valley Of The Dolls from the big wooden bookshelf in our long, dark, carpeted passage. That novel must have been good, as Mom actually physically took it from me, saying ‘You can’t read that’! Oh? Oh, well, back to the bird book:
I was fascinated by the orange Cock-of-the-Rock on the cover. Fifty years later the book was on my bookshelf in Westville and I was sad recently to discover other bookworms also liked it and had got into it in a big – and deep – way. It was riddled with holes. I copied the pages with the plates I remembered best before turfing it out. Hopefully a whole family of borer beetles went with it!
Valley of the Dolls – by Jacqueline Susann was about film stars, their raunchy pecadilloes and their use of ‘dolls’ – amphetamines and barbiturates. Time magazine called it the ‘Dirty Book of the Month,’ probably thinking ‘that’ll kill sales,’ but that and other anti-reviews made people think ‘that sounds interesting,’ and the book was a runaway commercial success, becoming the best selling novel of 1966. I mean, a review saying ‘Dirty Book of the Month’ might have made Mom Mary not buy it, but it likely had Dad head straight for the bookstore! So there it was: From one metropolis to another – New York to Harrismith – in no time.
By the time of Susann’s death in 1974, it was the best selling novel in publishing history, with more than 17 million copies sold. By 2016, the book had sold more than 31 million copies. In 1967, the book was adapted into a film. Like the book, the reviews were scathing, but it was an enormous box-office hit, becoming the sixth most popular film of the year, making $44 million at the box office. Author Jacqueline Susann had a cameo role in it as a news reporter, but she said she hated the film, telling director Robson that it was ‘a piece of shit.’ – wikipedia
Birds of the world: a survey of the twenty-seven orders and one hundred and fifty-five families, by Oliver L. Austin, (1961); Illustrated by Arthur Singer; Edited by Herbert S. Zim, New York, Golden Press; Many reprints were made and it was eventually published in seven languages over many years. I think ours was the 1968 edition published by Paul Hamlyn;
bookworms: The damage to books attributed to ‘bookworms’ is usually caused by the larvae of various types of insects including beetles, moths and cockroaches, which may bore or chew through books seeking food. Mine were little brown beetles. Buggers. I’m procrastinating about checking all my other books! Must do it . .
I just read a book (this was in 2014) The Traveling 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 was converted into offices by attorney Gerald Meyerowitz. Then converted again: car parts shop. That’s pretty hefty de-consecration! That’s like being smote!
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, the metropolis of Phillipolis, Bloemfontein, Bothaville, the ‘Hem, Sasolburg, Marquard, Marseilles (Marseilles?!), Heilbron, Winburg, Senekal, Ficksburg, Kroonstad, and other no-name-brand towns, 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 & Bebe 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. So Harrismith’s shul got elevated – unlike Beflehem’s descent into ignominy!
Sigh! But once again Harrismith got smoked by Bethlehem in the fame stakes. Something to remember: A possible cause: Harrismith was a big verraaier-dorp in the Anglo-Boer War: Its citizens that did so well for themselves (my ancestors included) in an independent Republic, WELCOMED and aided and abetted the invaders!! Not good. One of my ancestors was principled and was sent to Ceylon as a POW. The others benefited even more after the war from money the British army spent in the town. ‘War is hell, I’m not to blame’ –
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 his visits they probably ate pragmatically? Hey! Bacon. Some things are forgivable. Pigs have no chance of amnesty cos of bacon; I even have a best man who will occasionally wobble off the straight and narrow and into a bacon sandwich and that’s what forgiveness is for.
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.
Bethlehem cemetery picture is also Jono David’s. He’s also at
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!
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.
Brauer wrote: The travelling rabbi’s old man is my mom’s neighbour in JAFFA – the Pretoria Jewish old age home.
skrik – frighten them; put the fear of G_d into them; see that? I wrote the Jewish god G_d
dorp – village; dusty; not Harrismith
voetsek – bugger off; voetsak’d – sent packing
verraaier – traitor
Me: Wrote a little blog post about that book on Bethlehem where they battled to find three wise men.
Brauer: So the shul is a car parts shop? They probably sold the shofar as a much sought-after retro hooter (or horn).
Me: Couldn’t 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.
Me: Eish!! It just shrank and retreated to only eleven inches in the shade at the very thought. What the rabbis don’t know is my definition of minor surgery: Minor surgery is Surgery On Someone Else.
I’ll have to stick to driving the mobile wedding car – or, being the shofar . .
Here’s a lovely old picture taken inside the Harrismith synagogue!
We grew up next door to Gould Dominy on a plot outside town. Our plot was Birdhaven, theirs was Glen Khyber. We knew him as Uncle Gould and would watch fascinated as he drank tea out of the biggest teacup you ever saw. Size of a salad bowl. A flock of small dogs would be running around his ankles as he drank, seated on their wide enclosed and sun-filled stoep.
Then he disappeared and re-appeared years later at the hoerskool as religious instruction (RI) teacher. Seems he had been teaching music at some naff school in Bloemfontein all those years. St Andrews or St Somebody.
He had been very fond of me as a boy but he was re-meeting me as a teenager and that was about to change. Or would have had he not been such an amazingly tolerant and loving gentleman.
His classroom was at the back of the school in the row of asbestos prefabs. For the cold Harries winters it had a cast-iron stove in one corner.
We were terrible. We would saunter in while he caught a quick smoke outside, grab his sarmies and scoff them, move the bookmark a hundred pages forward in his copy of The Robe* (that he was considerately reading to us as our “RI” in lieu of bible-punching) and pull up our chairs around the black stove and sit with our backs to him.
Dear old Mr Dominy would come in and start reading while tickling the inner canthus of his eye with a sharp pencil till he couldn’t stand it any longer, would then “gril” and rub his eyes vigorously, flabby cheeks wobbling, and then carry on reading. Every so often he’d mutter “I’m sure we hadn’t got this far?” proving he was the only one listening to the story. Not even the girls, sitting in the normal school benches, would comment on the fact that we read ten pages a day but moved on a hundred pages at a time.
‘Tex’ Grobbelaar, meantime, would also have swiped one of his cigarettes. Rolling up a sheet of paper, he would set light to it in the stove, light the fag and smoke it right there, furtively holding it in the palm of his cupped hand in that ‘ducktail’ way and blowing the smoke into the stove opening.
What a lovely man. Gould. Not Tex. Nor the rest of us.
Here’s Ann Euthemiou combing Mr Dominy’s hair on a trip to Kruger Park back in 1968.
*The Robe – a historical novel about the crucifixion of Jesus written by Lloyd C Douglas. The 1942 book reached No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list. The 1953 film adaptation featured Richard Burton in an early role. (wikipedia)
hoerskool – house of ill repute; or place of learning if you add an umlaut;