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The smaller congregations

There were almost two dozen Reform congregations at the movement’s height (see map at front of the Mavericks book). Most of them closed down during the last two decades of the twentieth century, victims of population migration to the larger cities or abroad. Only East London remains. In most cases, archives and photographs of the congregations have been lost. Here are some pictures that could be found.
 Click on any spot in a picture below to see it enlarged.

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The American Jewish Yearbook for July 1955 to June 1956, made mention of the founding of two Reform congregations in South Africa, in East London and Bulawayo.


The Bulawayo Progressive Congregation, founded in 1956, changed its name to Temple Sinai in 1971. In 1957, Rabbi Curtis Cassell, left, was inducted as rabbi, remaining there for 20 years. Here he is with Rabbi Weiler and Mr Gelman (Weiler’s father-in-law, prominent in the local community) and Roy Welensky, the (Jewish) prime minister who would be swept from power by Ian Smith.


Una Braak of Port Elizabeth, looking a little unsure of herself (seated right), pays a visit to the women of the tiny Salisbury congregation in 1972. Braak, president of the national federation of Sisterhoods, presented a gift to Salisbury’s mayor, standing behind the women. Salisbury never had a rabbi, but Rabbi Cassell of Bulawayo paid a monthly visit.


Rabbi Weiler presides over a turning of the sod ceremony at the East London congregation in November 1957, just weeks before his own departure from South Africa.


Rabbi Weiler thrusts his spade into the East London soil. Looking on, according to a caption on the back of the photograph, are the congregation president, Oscar Cohen; B Schwartz; Rabbi Philip Rosenberg from Port Elizabeth; a man listed as unknown, but he might be SAUPJ president Victor Brasch; Sonny Benjamin, who would later become rabbi in Cape Town; I Weil, the vice president; and Solly Leventhal, the choir master.


Professor Tzilli Reisenberger of the University of Cape Town, who has been the unpaid spiritual leader of the East London congregation for some three decades, with SAUPJ president Steve Lurie and congregation chairman Alan Koopowitz.


Inside the East London sanctuary. At left is Rabbi Hillel Avidan of Durban, who often visited East London to help out, SAUPJ president Steve Lurie, Professor Tzilli Reisenberger, and Alan Koopowitz.


Interior of the Springs synagogue, yet another designed by leading architect Harold Le Roith. The congregation was called Temple Emeth, later shortened to Temple Emet. The Temple closed in the nineties, its assets passed on to a trust which continues to support charitable causes within the Progressive movement.


Group photograph taken a few years after the Springs congregation’s founding, probably in 1948. In front, from left to right are Elkin Simson, Colin Stoloff, and Louise Carr. In the middle are Jean Redhill (a niece of Jerry Idelson), Ellen (surname not known), Ian Stoloff, Bennie Rest, Sam Redhill (driving force behind the congregation, who would later become mayor of Springs) and Gertrude Fram. At the back are Dr Nathaniel Fram, Mr I Lockitz (the Hebrew teacher and lay leader), and Kenneth Stoloff, one of the congregation founders. (Photograph and caption courtesy of Ian Stoloff).

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On the 21st anniversary of the founding of the Springs congregation, the rabbis leading the procession are Rabbi Walter Blumenthal (who was for a short while the rabbi in Springs); Rabbi Arthur Super of Johannesburg at right with walking stick, and Rev Nathaniel Jacobs of Pretoria with glasses behind him. The rabbi with the beard has not been identified. Behind him are Courtney Ian Redhill (left), who was chairman at the time, and Maurice Shear, Hebrew teacher and lay leader of services.


The distant Klerksdorp congregation in the Western Transvaal was founded in 1964, also serving the mining towns of Stilfontein and Orkney. A decade later, it had raised funds to construct Temple David, consecrated in December 1975. In this cutting from the Jewish times, the consecration ceremony is conducted by Rabbi Isaac Richard of Durban, at right, with the congregation president, Mr J Appelbaum, besides him. Those on the left are the leadership of the visiting Johannesburg delegation. The congregation no longer exists.

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Interior view of the opening ceremony, with three local mayors in attendance. The rabbis with their backs to the camera are Rabbi M Shapiro of Bet El in Johannesburg, and Rabbi Richards of Durban.


Three members of the Klerksdorp Sisterhood make an appearance in a national Sisterhood photo album. A caption on the back lists them as, from left, Helen Green, Mae Lurie, Ria Levey and Joyce Steel.


The Bloemfontein congregation was founded at a city hotel in July 1958. In June 1965, a splendid modern synagogue, Temple Shalom, was opened before a large crowd, as shown in the photograph. Some three decades later, with numbers much reduced by emigration, Temple Shalom merged into the local Orthodox congregation.


Pioneers of the Bloemfontein congregation, in which Rose and Maurice Kibur were particularly active. There was no rabbi and services were run by lay leaders, with frequent visits from rabbis of other congregations. During the sixties, relations with the local Orthodox rabbi, Ben Isaacson, were friendly; he later (for a while) became a Reform rabbi himself.


Temple Sinai was a short-lived congregation founded in Germiston in 1965, but moved to Sandringham in eastern Johannesburg two years later. Despite a large Jewish population in the area, which houses the Jewish aged home and Yeshiva College, the congregation did not prosper, perhaps because it was too near to long-established Temple Shalom. This newspaper cutting announces the induction of the congregation’s only rabbi, the newly-ordained South African-born Charles Wallach, in October 1975.

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