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Ninety-year-old clock has Springs in its step



A clock that has Hebrew letters instead of numbers and which used to hang in the Springs Shul continues to have an impact 90 years after it was first presented to the congregation. Many kilometres away and years later, on the Shabbat of the recent Comrades Marathon, the clock and the runners’ endurance were celebrated at Chabad of Umhlanga.

“The plaque on the clock contains the inscription: ‘Presented to United Hebrew Institutions [UHI] Springs by the President L. Gordon, 11-6-33.’ That’s 11 June 1933, so the clock turned 90 this month,” says Linda Gordon.

“The clock now hangs on a wall in my flat – it’s a prized possession,” she says. “President L. Gordon refers to my paternal grandfather, Louis Gordon, after whom my brother, Louis, was named. My grandfather was president of the UHI of Springs from 1932 to 1939, and during his presidency, he donated the clock to the Springs Shul.

“Volume 6 of the book Jewish Life in the Country Communities, which includes Springs, records that the first shul in Springs, the Springs Gates of Hope Synagogue, was consecrated on 3 May 1908,” Gordon says.

To cater for the growing congregation, “In 1933, an extension to the synagogue was built. Although the archive department of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies has been unable to locate in the records of the Springs UHI any reference to the clock, I believe that my grandfather, in his capacity as UHI president, must have specifically donated the clock in 1933 in honour of the newly built extension.”

In 1949, in order to accommodate the growing membership, “It was decided to demolish the old shul and construct a new building on the same site”, says Gordon. “In September 1951, the new shul was officially opened. That’s the shul which I and my brothers knew as the Springs Shul. But I never saw the clock hanging in that shul.”

In 1979, her family moved from Springs to Durban. “At that time, the clock was in the workshop of Springs Jewellers, owned by Teddy Levin, whose shop in 3rd Street, Springs, was next door to my dad’s shop, Louis Gordon’s Book & Stationery Shop, which had been started by my grandfather.

“The clock had been with Teddy Levin for decades, which is possibly why I have no recollection of ever having seen it in the Springs Shul,” she says. “When my dad asked Teddy to give him the clock, saying that he would find a watch repairer in Durban, Teddy replied, ‘That clock will never work again!’

“My dad found an elderly watch repairer in Durban who with loving care succeeded in getting the clock to operate. He also found a lady who restored the clock face by re-painting the Hebrew letters.”

And so, the clock ticks today. “It operates with a pendulum, and I wind it with a big key every two days. Initially, I was winding it every five days, but like many 90-year-olds, the clock is slowing down. It loses about five minutes a day, but I just move the hands to correct the time and it’s still going strong!”

In March, Gordon told Rabbi Shlomo Wainer of Chabad Umhlanga that she and her brother would sponsor the Shabbat brocha on Saturday, 10 June, in honour of the clock’s 90th birthday. “We subsequently discovered that that Shabbat formed part of the Comrades [Marathon] weekend and historically, Shlomo has always catered for Comrades runners on erev Shabbat and Shabbat day. Preference was also given to a visiting runner, Dr Yossi Unterslak, who wished to sponsor that Shabbat brocha.”

But, at the brocha, “Shlomo allowed me to share with those present the story of the Hebrew clock. There was a special link, which also served as a reminder of hashgacha pratis – that the hand of Hashem is always in our daily lives. Unterslak, whom I had never met, sponsored the brocha in honour of the yahrzeit of his father, Dr Rodney Unterslak. I remember Rodney and his parents, Toby and Dave. Rodney’s maternal grandmother – Yossi’s great grandmother – was Sophie Roberts, whom I knew very well. She was my grandfather, Louis Gordon’s, sister!”

And so, on Sunday, 11 June, Gordon paid tribute to the clock on reaching its 90th birthday. “I also paid tribute to all the Jewish runners and especially those who had been present at the Shabbat brocha in anticipation of them all successfully reaching and crossing the finish line after a gruelling race of nearly 90km.

“I reflected on the challenge of reaching the age of 90, especially in good health, and the parallel challenge of running 90km, both of which test the endurance of body, mind, and soul,” says Gordon.

“I was delighted that the clock had met that challenge, as would all the runners, because even those runners who wouldn’t manage to cross the finish line had met the challenge of reaching the starting line. I also thought of the challenge which my overseas-based brother, Darryl, had just faced and overcome, having successfully undergone double bypass surgery on Friday, 9 June.

“I silently saluted my dad for his perseverance and determination, the result of which the clock also successfully underwent ‘bypass surgery’ in 1979. Although it was just me and the clock alone at home celebrating the birthday – my brother, Louis, was away for the weekend – I knew that all the family no longer with us, especially my grandfather Louis and my dad, Charles, were spiritually with me.”

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