SA’s Garden Route Jews form association

Jewish families living in South Africa’s Garden Route have formed a Jewish association.

The Garden Route Jewish Association last weekend formally affiliated with the umbrella body of South African Jewry, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies.

The Garden Route area, some 250 miles east of Cape Town, comprises the towns of George, Knysna, the Wilderness, and Plettenberg Bay, surrounded by forests and mountain on the one side and the Indian Ocean on the other.

Jews originally moved into the area towards the end of the 19th century.

About 30 miles inland, lay the town of Oudtshoorn across a mountain pass in a semi-arid area, where Jews moved to join the ostrich farming boom of the 1880s that lasted for some 30 years. In 1882 there were 240 Jewish souls in the town, followed by the building of the first of two synagogues. Oudtshoorn is known as “Little Jerusalem.”
The Oudtshoorn Jewish community, numbering several hundred at the start of World War 1, rapidly shrunk as ostrich feathers went out of fashion after 1914, with only 16 families remaining today.

The once flourishing communities in the other towns declined over many years, but from the late 1980s Plettenberg Bay and Knysna experienced a Jewish revival, with over 500 families now resident in the area and hundreds more frequenting holiday homes and resorts there in the summer.

“The Travelling Rabbi” Moshe Silberhaft, with the national chairman of the Jewish Board of Deputies, Mary Kluk, put the Board’s official stamp of approval on the new body.

The association is the brainchild of Myron Rabinowitz, chairman of the George Hebrew Congregation and now of the Garden Route Jewish Association. He drew the analogy of “taking the Jews out of the Wilderness” and approached the neighboring Jewish communities in 2007, when he was given the mandate to draw up a constitution.

Lexie Comay, the remaining resident of one of the oldest families of the Wilderness and George, gave a history of the area, explaining that the Wilderness had taken its name from a farmhouse built in the 1870s, with plots later being sold off and the original Wilderness Hotel built in the 1920s.