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Harvesting Brakpan Shul’s rich history




Brakpan Shul was built in the East Rand almost a hundred years ago, and thanks to the efforts of Yakima Waner, it could stand for a hundred more.

At a time when several historic South African shuls have fallen into disrepair, Waner has committed to preserving the rich heritage of the Brakpan Jewish community by saving its shul from neglect.

Together with her organisation, The Harvest Project, she is in the process of securing its status as a heritage site so that it will forever stand as an icon of Judaism on the East Rand.

“This shul is an icon for Jews who entered South Africa from Eastern Europe during the early 1900s,” Waner told the SA Jewish Report. “The Jews that came to the East Rand were more labour-skilled [like merchants and cobblers], a community which used their hands and had some business skills. They weren’t as educated as the Jews that went to Johannesburg.”

Waner is the founder and chairperson of The Harvest Project, a non-profit organisation which aims to uplift vulnerable people in need (especially children) and help them to overcome the consequences of war, inequality, poverty, health issues, and abuse. The project’s main goal is to teach those in need the value of self-worth through the therapy of harvesting their own food.

According to Waner, Brakpan Shul was officially opened in 1931, although the community itself was established in 1918. It was designed by Wolseley-Spicer, a recognised English architect who designed many landmarks in South Africa.

“The United Hebrew Institute of Brakpan [UHI] is in fact much older than the building,” said Waner. “It’s the heart of the synagogue and has kept it going all these years. It also looks after the Jewish section of Brakpan Cemetery.”

It was through partnering with the UHI that Waner strengthened her family’s bond with the shul.

“The partnership came about when we were given the opportunity to open our Blessings Eco Preparatory School on the surrounding shul grounds after we were denied the right to open the school in the community,” she said. “At the time, the shul was still running, and my father, Ernest Waner, and uncle, Jeffrey Waner, had been looking after the synagogue since 2001.

“They opened their loving arms to our project in memory of all the children that were oppressed and executed during the Holocaust.”

Jeffrey played an integral role in maintaining Jewish life in Brakpan over 15 years, assembling a minyan on Saturdays by bringing residents of Sandringham Gardens to the shul, and maintaining the Jewish cemetery. Tragically, he passed away early last year.

“Brakpan Shul has been a great part of my life since I was a child,” said Waner. “I was never regarded a Jew because my mother wasn’t, but that didn’t stop my connection with this sacred space. I will always remember my aunt, Matilda Rosowsky, speaking of its healing properties. She said the shul had healed many souls, including her own.

“For years, the UHI wanted to open a museum and convert the building into a heritage site so it could be a permanent icon that celebrated all the Jews of the East Rand, not just Brakpan,” she said. “I was honoured to look after this building in memory and celebration of all my ancestors.”

The Harvest Project has created a presence on the grounds through the school and the Harvest Centre of Judaism & Equality, promoting equality and diminishing deterioration or vandalism, said Waner.

“We keep the space clean and safe, and will be making the UHI’s dream of a museum and heritage site a reality,” she said.

“Today, there is still a caretaker who makes sure the site is clean, something which isn’t the case with other sites in the East Rand. Some Jewish cemeteries on the East Rand and in other metros in the country where Jews have left are in very poor shape. They are nothing but eye sores.”

Few Jews remain in Brakpan today, among them 93-year-old Monica Ressel, the secretary of the UHI, who still calls former Jewish residents of Brakpan to see how they are and to remind them of upcoming yahrzeits.

“There are a few Jews left from the past, but no youth have remained here,” said Waner. “During lockdown and now, The Harvest Project offers services to the elderly Jewish residents of Brakpan, and though the shul will always be a part of the Waner family, it has become sacred and precious to others too.”

Indeed, during the first lockdown in 2020, about 19 000 meals were provided to those in need from the shul grounds.

“This is what has become of Brakpan Shul,” says Waner. “It’s now a place of salvation and hope for all in the name of G-d.”

The plight of immigrants to South African and the less fortunate, often treated with hostility, isn’t unlike that of Jews who entered this country in the 19th century, Waner said.

“The Harvest Project sees every life as equal, and protecting this landmark is a step to promote equality for the formerly oppressed and the children who are oppressed today,” she said. “As long as this building stands, we won’t give up on the community which looks to us for salvation.”

With plans in place to secure status as a heritage site, Waner hopes to celebrate the building’s centenary by planting 100 fruit trees in the community via “The Harvest Plant a Tree Project” when the time comes.

“We encourage people from the East Rand to donate any artefacts to the shul museum,” she said. “Many Jews don’t understand the important of having a presence. They take it for granted. Many have criticised the UHI for keeping the synagogue open because they don’t see eye to eye with its open-mindedness.

“At the end of the day, the UHI looks after the forgotten ones. That’s a great honour in the eyes of Hashem.”

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See what is happening in your area for Purim.

Chevrah Kadisha: The Greatest Purim Drive-Thru! The Chevrah Kadisha is throwing open its doors at its premises in Long Avenue, Glenhazel, for the first time in a year to give you the Greatest Purim Show. On 26 February, from 11:30 to 15:00. Drive through the winding maze to see mind-blowing acts and attractions, all from the comfort and safety of your car! Lots of surprises and competitions for the whole family in this free Purim extravaganza.

Sydenham Shul: SydShul’s Spectacular Purim Carousel. Between 12:45 and 14:00 on Friday, 26 February at Sydenham Shul (enter at Main Street balloon arch). Free of charge, all welcome. Kids gifts and a raffle.

Ladies Purim Shiur (on Zoom): “Purim – a story of self-transformation” with Rebbetzin Estee Stern. Sunday, 28 February, 09:30. Meeting ID: 813 028 4050. Password: sydshul

Great Park Shul: Has an exciting COVID-19-safe carnival, with balloons, treats, and lots more. Friday, 26 February from 14:00. Book your children for the best fun ever! Go to the Facebook page, Great Park Shul, for more information or to book.

Greenside Shul: Women For Women – reading of Megillat Esther outside. At 14:30 on Friday, 26 February. RSVP shul office 011 788 5036.

Chabad of Greenstone: COVID-19 friendly Megillah readings on 25 February at 19:00 and 26 February at 17:00. Email: for more information.

Sandton Shul: Sandton Shul presents a fun, COVID-19-friendly Purim drive-thru and car dress up on 26 February. Dress up your car to win prizes. Chip n dip and slush available. From 12:45 to 14:00. Here’s the internet link for all Megillah readings in Johannesburg:

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Benevolent to the fore



For the past 128 years, the Jewish Women’s Benevolent Society (JWBS) has been working under the radar, assisting those in our community in need. However, since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, it has come to the forefront.

To date, the JWBS has provided more than 3 000 packs of essential winter and summer clothing. Since March 2020, it has donated funds to Africa Tikkun for sanitiser and masks; the Chevrah Kadisha for purchase of personal protective equipment; and Camp Kesher for activities and security. It also sponsored Yad Aharon’s soup kitchen for a week.

Beautiful blankets, in conjunction with nonprofit organisation Warm The World, have been knitted by our talented group of knitters; and the elderly and lonely received gifts and activity packs.

Boxes of books were given to various facilities in Johannesburg and to Jaffa Jewish Aged Home in Pretoria. Some residents have even started their own book clubs.

The men who work so tirelessly at Westpark Cemetery in Johannesburg received vouchers and gifts from the JWBS. Arrow, the German shepherd security dog and his handlers at Westpark were spoiled too.

All this and much more has been accomplished since the start of lockdown by the hard work and dedication of our staff and volunteers. The generosity of the community has enabled us to fulfil this vital task. We ask you to please partner with us so that we may continue to help those who need assistance during this difficult time.

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Jews around the world call for Moshiach



For 3 000 years, Jews have been praying for Moshiach (the messiah) to come, but this weekend, the Jewish world is upping its game with a communal prayer demanding that “G-d send Moshiach now”.

So says Rabbi David Masinter, who heads up Chabad House in Johannesburg, and who is behind the prayer to be said at 18:00 (South African time) on Sunday, 21 February.

“One thing COVID-19 has taught us is how vulnerable we all are,” says Masinter. “It’s been a time of introspection. It’s a time of realisation that we need Moshiach. This is how this worldwide Moshiach project was borne.”

According to Masinter, a businessman in Miami came up with the idea, and a universal prayer was formulated.

“Two powerful ways to hasten the coming of Moshiach is through unity of our nation and charity. Therefore, we are encouraging everyone to stop what they are doing, say this worldwide prayer together, and give a little charity at the same time. When Jews all around the world band together for a shared goal, the power is immeasurable.”

Masinter says belief in the coming of Moshiach is a fundamental principle of the Torah, and that we have to yearn for him to come. “This is one of the fundamental principles of our faith,” he says.

“We believe that one day, Moshiach will come, and g-dliness will be revealed on earth. There will be no more war, no more suffering. There will be peace among nations.”

The following prayer should be said at 18:00 on Sunday, 21 February:

“Master of the universe

We, your beloved children

United together around the world at this moment

Are crying out to you in prayer

Please accept this prayer with grace and kindness

We sincerely thank you for all your daily blessings,

But we implore you from the depths of our hearts

To send Moshiach immediately to redeem us with mercy,

From this long exile and suffering

And to bring peace to the world

We can’t wait anymore!

We desire your great name to be revealed

Your dominion in the entire world

And your presence returned to the Beit Hamikdash – the Holy Temple – now!”



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