Jewish Cape Town snapped for worthy cause

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, a collection of 301 photographs is a legendary epic. The images which appear in A Handful of Sand – Jewish Cape Town 5779 collectively tell the story of the Jewish community in the mother city in a way words cannot.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Dec 05, 2019

Tony Raphaely, the man behind this venture, hopes that it will be a testament to Cape Town Jewry that will last millennia.

Published last month, the stand-alone volume is a pictorial slice of daily Jewish life in Cape Town at some point since Rosh Hashanah last year.

Commissioned and curated by Cape Town-born Raphaely, the book showcases its members in various stages of life, spanning from infancy to maturity and everything in between.

“History teaches us that no Jewish diaspora community has tenure,” says Raphaely. “To give historians of the future a pictorial window into Cape Town’s wonderful Jewish community, I decided to publish an image-only book showcasing a selection of the city’s diverse and dynamic Jewish citizens.”

With the number of Jewish residents in Cape Town dwindling annually, Raphaely, who is now based in London, felt it essential to present a cross section of everyday Jewry today. He wanted to tell a story not of the past, but the immediate present.

“I was trying to create a resource that in 200 to 300 years’ time will give researchers a window into Cape Town’s wonderful, though diminishing, Jewish community,” he says.

Armed with the brief to tell a story, a dedicated team of 17 photographers captured an array of pictures from across the city, moving from surgery to synagogue, wharfside to warehouse, and seeking out people from all walks of life.

Raphaely says virtually every citizen approached was eager to be part of the project, honoured to exemplify Cape Town Jewish life in all is diversity and colour.

In fact, only two individuals didn’t want to get involved. The rest took up the opportunity with fervour.

“One of them said that he was a low-profile person who didn’t do this sort of thing, and I suspect the other thought this was going to cost him money, even though I told him it wouldn’t be the case,” says Raphaely of the two who refused. “Almost everyone else said that they would be honoured to be in the book.”

Raphaely describes the Cape Town Jewish community as committed to Jewish values and strongly supportive of Israel, with about 480 of its members appearing in the book.

Although he suspects that the bulk of the books sold will be bought by those featured in it, he says he is heartened that the Cape Town division of the South African Board of Jewish Deputies (SAJBD) has already ordered copies to present to overseas visitors.

Published by Penguin Random House, the book will be on sale for R360 at four community venues in Cape Town, including the Gardens Shul complex, the bookshop adjacent to Café Riteve in Gardens, and the kosher counter at Checkers in Sea Point.

Funds raised by book sales will be used to fund the tuition fees of local university students. “As my wife and I are donating the total proceeds of the book sales to Jewish education in the Western Cape, we are hopeful that there will be in excess of R500 000 raised to assist in financing the studies of young Jews’ university level education,” says Raphaely.

With its depiction of the vibrant everyday life lived by Jewish Capetonians, the book will be a valuable resource for decades to come. “This book promises to be an enduring record of the dynamic range of professions and occupations represented by the close-knit community living at the southernmost tip of Africa,” says Raphaely.

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