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From searching for Sugarman to seeking out a ‘barmi boy’

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Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman once successfully searched for Sugarman (also known as the musician Sixto Rodriguez) and found him, so what are the chances of him finding an equally evasive Barmitzvah boy?

As depicted in the Oscar-winning 2012 documentary, Segerman isn’t one to give up. But he’s now setting his sights on a mystery a little closer to home: the identity of a Barmitzvah boy who appears in a photograph he found at a market in Cape Town a few years ago.

Writing to the SA Jewish Report, Segerman explained how he came across the photo. “I’m originally from Johannesburg, but have been living in Cape Town for the past 25 years. Over the past few years, it has become a tradition for us to go to the Milnerton Market on a Sunday morning to browse through the many different stalls that comprise this huge weekend flea market. There, we can find records, books, magazines, curios, and many other weird and wonderful bric-a-brac and tsatskes, all at reasonable prices.

“One Sunday morning, I was browsing through a stall, and I saw a framed picture of a Barmitzvah boy, seemingly from around the time when I had my Barmitzvah (late 1960s to early 1970s) judging from the suit, thick tie, siddur, haircut, and so on. There weren’t any other Jewish items at that stall so it was just sitting there on its own. I bought it for a few rand.

“It was still in good condition, but had no identifying features on it, apart from the name of the studio where the picture was taken, but the guy in the picture looked strangely familiar. I’m far more familiar with the Jewish community in Joburg, but I did mix with Cape Town Jewish children at Bnei Akiva machaneh, so maybe I had met this guy there.

“Anyway, we put the picture up on the unit in our dining room where all the other pictures of our family members are, and it fitted in perfectly. So much so, that over the years, whenever people came for a meal, they would ask who it was, and we would make up all kinds of different stories about who he was, and then we would tell them the story of how we found the picture. We gave him a few different names over the years. Someone once said he looked like a ‘Milton’, so that stuck for a while, but generally, he was known simply as ‘the Barmitzvah boy’. We told people different stories, like he was a distant cousin or a friend of the family, it changed every time, but we always then told them how he came to be on our unit.

“But, more recently, it has been bothering us, and I decided to try and find out what his name is, where he is, and what his story is. But, in spite of putting the picture on various relevant websites and Facebook groups, I haven’t had any success.” He hopes the SA Jewish Report can help him with his search.

Segerman sees parallels between this search and the search for Rodriguez, “but, contrary to popular reports, I’m not nor have ever regarded myself as a ‘musical detective’ or any other kind of detective. How the Rodriguez story began and evolved is still a source of amazement to me as it wasn’t planned or plotted, it just happened.

“I have always been naturally curious, and enjoy finding things like rare LPs, books, or tiny diamonds that accidentally dropped onto the floor of the jewellery factory in Johannesburg where I worked for many years with my father – but never missing people. But, may I add, that once I start looking for something, I don’t usually stop until I find it, no matter how long it takes.”

It was this natural curiosity that drew him to the market. “Since moving down to Cape Town, I always enjoyed browsing through Greenmarket Square and Greenpoint markets for music, books, and magazines for my own collection. But when I got involved with [his renowned Cape Town record store] Mabu Vinyl in 2003 [which has since closed down], I started looking around more seriously for second-hand LPs, 7-inch singles, CDs, books, and DVDs for our shop. Someone suggested that I try the Milnerton Market, and initially I went occasionally, but it soon grew into a regular Sunday morning tradition.

“Over the years, the market grew as more and more private sellers began to set up their little stores as a way to sell off spare stuff from home alongside regular stalls. Because a lot of people enjoy taking a stroll around this large market, it’s quite lucrative for these sellers, so they look for more and more stuff to sell. That’s why one can find such a disparate range of stuff, like this picture.”

So, although he’s not sure if he has a greater or lesser chance of tracking down the barmi boy than Sugarman, “at least with Rodriguez, we had plenty of information and clues from his records. With the barmi boy, all we know is that he was probably from the Cape, and the name of the studio where this picture was taken, which is ‘Brigda Studio’. But I can’t find any reference to it on Google, and even if I did, I doubt it would still be in existence. If it was, I doubt they would remember who this was after more than 50 years. So, that seems like a dead end, and I really have nothing else to go on apart from the fact that my son-in-law said that the siddur that the Barmitzvah boy is holding looks very similar to the one he was given for his Barmitzvah by his shul [in the 1990s].

“But, having said all that, I must admit that if we could find Rodriguez, then we can probably find anyone, including this barmi boy. I think it’s fair to say that, for me, the thrill of the chase, or the challenge of the search, is as important and exciting as the joy of finding what one is looking for.”

Leila Bloch of the South African Jewish Museum’s (SAJM) Jewish Digital Archive Project (JDAP) says that the archive exists for exactly this kind of material to be preserved and hopefully to trace the boy in the photograph or his family. “In fact, we were once given a bunch of letters found at the Milnerton Market, and we traced them back to a famous fashion designer who had written them to his family while he was studying in London. His whole family came down from Israel, and as they pored over the letters, they were so emotional.

“There is so much potential in finding and sharing such material. We collect photographs, film, and other material that is often discarded, and it finds a home in the archive. That’s the beauty of this ongoing archive – we are always discovering new connections. With enough time, we can try help trace the mystery Barmitzvah boy.”

SAJM director Gavin Morris adds: “The sad reality is that a large proportion of our community have left the country, in many cases leaving their parents behind. As their parents age and downsize, many of their treasured family memorabilia are discarded as the cost or hassle of sending it to their children abroad is prohibitive. These items find their way into all manner of junk shops, curio stores and markets.

“Stories of items such as this one are more common than you’d think. The SAJM is constantly contacted about some or other item of Judaica that has been unearthed. Unfortunately the museum is not in a position to purchase, or even safely store these items. For this reason we have launched our SAJMarchives.com website (which includes JDAP), so at least digital copies of these items will still exist for future generations.”

  • To share any information about the mystery Barmitzvah boy, email Stephen Segerman: sugar@sugarmusic.co.za
  • To contact the Jewish Digital Archive Project, email info@sajewishmuseum.co.za

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Terry BERELOWITZ

    Apr 8, 2021 at 8:01 pm

    My brother in law suggests it is Sydney Schneider ex vredehoek.

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Lost Barmitzvah boy finally finds his way home

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When Stephen “Sugar” Segerman started searching for the Barmitzvah boy whose photograph was on his mantlepiece, he didn’t imagine he would find out from someone half way around the globe that the boy had once lived a few houses away from him.

Last week, the SA Jewish Report described how Segerman – who once searched for and found the musician Sixto Rodriguez

– was now trying to identify the boy in a photograph he found at the Milnerton Market in Cape Town a few years ago.

Within a few days of publication and the story spreading around the world, the identity of the barmi boy as the late Arnold Kleinberger was revealed. Segerman had an emotional meeting with Kleinberger’s daughter, Aura Zartz, who lives in Cape Town, on Tuesday (13 April) this week.

“In the days following the story appearing in the SA Jewish Report, it was shared all over the world, judging from the enthusiastic responses I immediately received,” Segerman said.

“I started receiving a lot of emails from people who thought they recognised the barmi boy. One said, ‘My name is Cedric Reingold. I grew up in Highlands Estate and matriculated from Herzlia in 1978. I recently read the article, and recognised the person in the picture. His name is Arnold Kleinberger. He was in our third-grade year and if I’m not mistaken, left [Herzlia] sometime thereafter.’”

Speaking to the SA Jewish Report from Chicago, Reingold said that he was scrolling through the online version of the paper, when he saw the photograph and immediately recognised Arnold. He then confirmed it with others in his matric year Facebook group. “But actually, I was 100% sure, even though he wasn’t at Herzlia for long [he then went to Cape Town High]. I can’t explain it – I just knew.”

Said Segerman, “I was elated. I then started an online search, and found that Arnold Kleinberger was born in 1960, which meant his Barmitzvah would have been in 1973, fitting with the timeline. Sadly, he passed away at the young age of 37 in 1997. I found a photo of his tombstone from the Cape Town Chevrah Kadisha website, and studied it to find any clues.

“It said that he was mourned by his family, but only his mother Sadie was named. I found out she had passed away in 2015. Her tombstone said that she was mourned by her daughters Marlene and Anita, son-in-law Maurice, and granddaughters Nadine and Aura.”

He searched the name Kleinberger on Facebook, and found a Doré Kleinberger, whose mother had been Eva Wolovitz. That led Segerman to Wolovitz’s tombstone, where again, he saw the name Aura. Further googling lead to the birth announcement of Aura and Adam Zartz’s son on the Herzlia Alumni Association site.

At this point, Segerman turned to his daughter, Natalia, and son-in-law, Ryan Rabinowitz, who were visiting from London, and asked if they knew them.

“Ryan looked at me with great surprise and told me that not only did he know Adam very well, but they had sat next to each other at shul that very morning,” said Segerman. “He immediately contacted Adam, and we spoke to his wife, Aura, who confirmed that the barmi boy was her late father, Arnold.

“She said that Doré was her mother, and her aunts were the late Anita Shenker and Marlene Kleinberger. Marlene had lived in Milnerton and passed away a few years before. Anita had cleaned out Marlene’s house and sent numerous items to the Milnerton Market.

“Aura was nine when her father passed away. She confirmed that his Barmitzvah was on 13 January 1973, and she had recently been given his Barmitzvah book by Anita’s husband, Maurice Shenker, which contained the same photo I had. She then told me that her father had grown up in Oranjezicht.”

Segerman and his wife have lived in Oranjezicht for the past 24 years, and it turns out they live just four houses away from where the Barmitzvah boy grew up.

In addition, Arnold’s parents’ domestic worker, the late Lettie Gal, would sometimes work for the Segermans. This is just one of many other coincidences linking all the people connected to the story.

Zartz, whose first-born child, Allegra, is named after Arnold, said that her father was always “elusive” to her. Her parents divorced when she was three, and she didn’t see her father much in the years before his death, which were marked with difficulties.

She said that when Segerman phoned, she felt like she was on some kind of ‘Candid Camera’ show – it didn’t feel real. In some ways, she felt heartbroken that her father’s photo had landed up in a stranger’s home, “but then I felt a huge amount of comfort that he was so close to where he grew up”.

She spent much of her childhood in her late grandmother’s home, and feels closely connected to it. Segerman emphasised that he has always felt very protective of the photograph, which meant a lot to Zartz.

Her mother, Doré, is the last remaining Kleinberger. She said Arnold’s father, Ernest, came to South Africa from Germany in 1936 when he was 13. “He had his Barmitzvah on the boat!” His mother, Sadie, was born in South Africa. She understands that Arnold was quite a “troubled child”, but also had many happy moments in his parents’ home and general goods stores, where he would help himself to chocolate.

“Their home was always warm and welcoming – a central meeting place that people gravitated towards,” Kleinberger said. “Arnold had a tough exterior, but was the kindest person. I think he had a difficult time in the army. But he loved Formula One racing and motorbikes, and would time keep at Killarney. He also loved to braai and surf. For our honeymoon, we went up the coast with his surfboard.”

Segerman was deeply moved by these revelations and in the days after finding all of this out, he went on his regular walking route, which passed the house that Kleinberger grew up in.

“Today my walk was different – more special and emotional than ever before. I stopped at both gates and thought about Arnold and all that has happened these past few days.” He has decided that he will say Kaddish for Arnold on his yahrzeit.

Zartz said that when Segerman first called, “I thought, ‘What is my father trying to tell me?’ And when I heard Stephen say he lived in Forest Road, I realised that he was just trying to make his way home. I don’t want to keep the photograph. I give it to Stephen with a happy heart. This story means that my dad is exactly where he needs to be.”

Correction: In the 9 April edition of the SA Jewish Report, we wrote that Stephen Segerman’s Mabu Vinyl store had closed. This is an error – it has not closed but has moved to new premises at 285 Long Street, Cape Town. We regret the error.

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Change is vital, Sydenham rabbis say

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On Shabbat morning over Pesach, Sydenham Shul passed the leadership baton from the incomparable Rabbi Yossy Goldman to his successor, Rabbi Yehuda Stern.

For the first time in the history of the shul, there was a lectern on either side of the pulpit, and the two rabbis gave a joint drosha on the theme of transition.

They spoke of the need to hold onto our history and tradition, yet innovate. They spoke of building on what they had learnt so well until now to create an even more successful future.

“Just like the Jews of Egypt, we must always hold onto our history and traditions, and we must ensure these qualities remain with us for future generations,” Stern said.

“But while we cherish our history, we must continue to build our destiny. Innovation and creative planning for the future is vital if we are to continue to be the premier congregation in this country,” Goldman said.

He recalled a conversation with Issie Kirsh, who started Radio 702, and changed the format a year after launching the successful station. “I remember asking him, ‘Issie, if it’s not broken, why are you fixing it?’ You know what he answered? ‘In this business, if you don’t innovate regularly, people get tired and move on. As good as it may be, it needs to be refreshed frequently. It’s very easy to change stations.’

“I don’t think it’s as easy to change shuls as it is to change radio stations. But we, too, need to innovate.”

Goldman told the community it had “nothing to fear” as he would still be around for many years, but he asked it to “embrace the change”.

“Nothing is broken here either,” he said. “We’re strong, and will only grow stronger.”

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UJW announces winners of mobile meals donation drive

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Jane Klein won first prize in the Union of Jewish Women’s Kosher Mobile Meals (KMM) Donate and Win Pesach Appeal – a three-night stay at Savanna Private Game Reserve valued at R75 000. The prizes were awarded by the UJW outside Kosher Pie Works in Sandringham on 6 April. KMM supplies cooked meals to 110 mostly elderly and often very lonely members of the community who are unable to cook for themselves. These meals, packed and delivered by volunteers once a week, are made possible by donations and fundraising initiatives. Second prize went to Melanie Burman; third prize to Ann Smith; fourth prize was won by Yvonne Rimer; and fifth prize went to Shelly Stein.

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