Kimberley Shul shines in first wedding in almost 30 years

  • Horwitz Lieberman Wedding Photo 1
“I grew up in the Jewish community of Kimberley, and always dreamed of getting married in my own shul, surrounded by the people I know and love. It’s a magnificent shul that has a presence,” says Ida Horwitz, who married Zach Lieberman in the Kimberley Shul on Sunday, 15 September.
by TALI FEINBERG | Sep 19, 2019

The consecration stone for the Kimberley Shul was laid on 31 July 1901, and it opened just more than a year later, on the first night of Rosh Hashanah in 1902. That was exactly 117 years and one day before the wedding on Sunday, and this is the first wedding in the shul since 1991. This year, the 118th consecutive Rosh Hashanah will be celebrated at the shul.

“My aunt and uncle got married here exactly 72 years ago, so it was very auspicious, and we were surrounded by memories,” says the new bride. “Home is where your parents are, and I’m lucky that my home-town shul is still open.” More than 100 former members of the congregation descended on the town for the simcha.

“We were worried people wouldn’t come to a destination wedding, but 160 people flew in from all over the world or made the six-hour drive from Johannesburg. It lived up to my expectations 100% and more! It was very emotional. To see the shul so full was beyond beautiful. It’s a symbol of country communities. There is something magnificent and unique about these smaller communities – you grow up in a family, there are no divisions, and you mark every simcha and chag (festival) together,” she says.

The couple got engaged in January, and planning the wedding in just nine months was “quite an overwhelming undertaking”. In addition, the bride wrote her candidate attorney board exams three weeks before the wedding.

While the shul functions all year round, it didn’t have the capacity to host such a big function, so the families brought in Kosher Chef caterer Eric Stern and mashgiach Dov Klatsky, who is registered with the Beth Din. They catered the entire wedding weekend, and worked closely with venues and hotels to ensure that everything was done according to halacha. The family also had to hire and bring in all the kosher wine, cutlery, and crockery. They hosted a Shabbat dinner and brocha, a Saturday night havdallah and braai, and the wedding and reception.

Horwitz has known country communities rabbi Moshe Silberhaft since she was two years old, and couldn’t imagine getting married without him officiating the ceremony. “He has always been adamant that people must have rites of passage. He put us in touch with everyone, and facilitated everything. He really took a chance, and helped us make a beautiful kosher wedding weekend, meaningful ceremony, and electric atmosphere.

“This simcha was one of the highlights of my 26-year career,” says Rabbi Silberhaft. “Everyone who was there wanted to be there. There was an incredible atmosphere of community and warmth. To see the grand shul filled up like that was absolutely spectacular. It was like going back in time, witnessing what the country communities were like in their heyday.” This was the first wedding he has officiated in this shul.

Silberhaft says the Kimberley Jewish community has an important place in South African Jewish history, and many guests were former residents who had not been there in many years. “Many had their Barmitzvahs there, but they hadn’t been back in decades, and probably won’t return. I took a group of guests to the cemetery where they could pay their respect to relatives, which was very meaningful before Yom Tov.”

The Kimberley Jewish community is unique because mostly German Jews settled there, as opposed to Lithuanian Jews in most other parts of the country, says Silberhaft. The shul seats 613 people, and at one stage, there were two shuls and two kosher butcheries in Kimberley. At its height, the community had about 500 families – about 2 000 to 3 000 people.

The wedding’s Shabbat dinner was held at the Oleander Guest House, owned by the bride’s great grandfather. It was a moving experience to have Shabbos there, 94 years after his own Shabbat dinners under that roof.

The chuppah was presented to the shul in 1962 by the Union of Jewish Women, and has been housed there ever since. “It makes you think about how many couples were married there,” says Horwitz. Because it hadn’t been used for thirty years, the brass poles had to be polished and the cloth dry-cleaned. “Together with the chuppah, we found batches of old, blank ketubah (Jewish prenuptial agreement) papers – we used the background design for our ketubah.”

Kashering the Kimberley Club for a Jewish wedding reception was a particular highlight for Rav Silberhaft. “Despite being so influential, Jews were not allowed into the club when it was first built, so it felt like a great victory,” he says.

Special guests included Reverend Joseph Matzner, spiritual leader of the Kimberley congregation in the 1970s; Nachi Ash and Yosef Shishler, who have been conducting high holiday services in Kimberley for the past 19 years; and Rabbi Mordechai Rodal and Mrs Sara Rodal of the couple’s current congregation, Chabad of Norwood. “They all assisted as witnesses, saying sheva brochas (wedding blessings) and reading our ketubah respectively,” says the bride.

“People can learn a lot from country communities and how we have survived. I had an amazing childhood – it was just about being together. To see what this simcha did for my community, it was 100% worth it,” says Horwitz. “We will be going back for Rosh Hashanah, and the shul will be open for Yom Tov in addition to all year round. If you join us, you’ll get a front row seat! I hope our wedding inspires other small communities to host simchas once again. There are beautiful shuls all over the country waiting for celebrations.”

6 Comments

  1. 6 Marc Kopman 19 Sep
    Absolutely refreshingly different, heart warming and inspirational!!
    Having lived in Bloemfontein, Queenstown & now Krugersdorp there's obviously a special place in my heart!!
    Kol Hakavod & Mazaltov!!!
  2. 5 Alison Kidson 20 Sep
    Lionel would have loved this, I think it is so important to remember and revisit our roots and to think of bringing the community back together for such a happy weekend is really special. Must have been wonderful for everyone.
  3. 4 Ralph Ernest Schaefer 22 Sep
    How  very interesting,
  4. 3 Calli 09 Oct
    Amazing, as Kimberley was the root of my father, Harold Lewitte and his Father who was called back to Litva and the entire family was lost probably with the pogrom savagery. Horwitz father of Wilfred was his Uncle who took charge of most of the boys who came out, my Dad and his brother Isadore Lewitte and the two cousins from Germany, Oscar and Herman Macht. Born in Bultfontein and visiting Kimberley, those memories stand out in my mind, I was a very little girl then
  5. 2 Geraldine Auerbach 13 Jan
    if you wan tto see more about weddings in the Kimberley Synagogue, since 1914, Look at the wedding gallery on the Kimberley Kehilla lingks website  https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/kimberley/Weddings_1.html. (if you got married in Kimberley - or have any other kimberley connections send your picture or story to me at [email protected] 
  6. 1 Janis Fluxman 14 Jun
    Dearest Ida, my cousin whom I  met just a couple of years ago, what a wonderful wedding you must have had. This read brought tears rolling down my face. The description of your hometown community and your beautiful old Shul conjured up memories of my small community, big beautiful old Shul and youth growing up in East London. What a beautiful, special young lady you are to have thought of every detail and gone to the enth degree to celebrate such a milestone in your life with all those near and dear to you in the Shul you hold so dear. Bless you and your hubby, whose grandparents- Rob and Fanny ,we know so well as the most wonderful couple. Le Chaim to a young couple so embedded in their history. Bless you all

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