14 September 1902, Kimberley’s new synagogue on Memorial Road opens.
DID YOU KNOW
The Jewish Synagogue (Shul) on Memorial Road opened for services on 14 September 1902. It is generally considered the most attractive shul in the country and one of the finest synagogues, architecturally, in the world.
Designed by Daniel Greatbatch in Byzantine style, it is based on the synagogue in Florence, Italy. (Other sources state Venice), and was constructed by the well-known Kimberley firm Church and McLauchlin. Major benefactors to the erection of the Shul were Gustav Bonas, Sir David Harris and Cecil Rhodes, among many others. The De Beers mining company donated the land.
Main features of the Shul include the stained glass windows, the magnificent domed ceiling rising 13 metres from ground to the top of the dome which is depicted as blue sky with shining stars. Marble steps lead to the Aron Kodesh. There are 613 seats – more than ample for the 1400 members of the faith in 1902.
The Kimberley congregation is reputed to be the only one in the world that has a diamond tipped scroll pointer. Although not in use – it is in safe keeping for obvious reasons – the pointer (yad) has a blue-white diamond set on the fore finger, the yad being donated to the congregation by I.R. Triebex.
Within the Shul is a memorial tablet listing 127 Jewish soldiers who died or were killed fighting for the British during the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902. Sir David Harris, a prominent Jewish citizen of the city, commanded the Kimberley Town Guard during the siege of 1899-1900.
Although sources do vary there were undoubtedly members of the Jewish faith on the diamond fields by 1869, the Griqualand West Hebrew Congregation being founded in 1871, the third oldest congregation in South Africa behind Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. By 1873 there were regular services being held in Kimberley.
The original Shul was on the site where Cecil Rhodes’ statue now stands. That congregation moved to the present position on Memorial road.
Some of the ministers that served in the Shul were M Mendelsohn, A Ornstein, M L Harris, E Joffe, H Isaacs, J Matzner, S Kruglak, O Werner and M Silberhaft, the latter being known as the Travelling Rabbi.