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Op-eds

Preserving the heritage of SA Jewry

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) National Director Wendy Kahn and Parliamentary Liaison Officer Chaya Singer last week attended several budget speeches in Parliament, including treasury and the departments of international relations, public enterprises, and home affairs. It was encouraging to note that the comments by International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor on the Israel-Palestine issue were measured and balanced, and that overall, debate on the subject was much less vitriolic than in previous years. Hopefully, this will be the case when the subject comes up for discussion in the future.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Jul 18, 2019

Amidst the critical role the SAJBD plays in representing South African Jewry and ensuring that its safety and civil liberties are upheld, it’s often forgotten that the board provides a range of other important services to the community. One of these concerns our archives, compromising probably the most comprehensive and multi-faceted record of the Jewish presence in southern Africa anywhere in the world.

The newspaper cuttings collection, starting at the end of the 19th century, includes files on various aspects of South African Jewish history, including congregations past and present, communal organisations, Zionism, and prominent personalities, Jewish and non-Jewish. There is also a considerable number of books, original manuscripts, documents, correspondence, photographs, and bound volumes comprising all the important South African Jewish newspapers that have appeared over the years.

The archives, run for nearly thirty years by Naomi Musiker, offer a treasure trove of information that is regularly used by academics, genealogists, authors, and journalists, many of them from overseas. Not infrequently, it is consulted by ordinary members of the public simply interested in researching their family history. To give an idea of the sheer range and diversity of the requests that come our way, recent enquiries have included material on Jewish involvement in South African football; Jewish nurses in the two world wars; a leading haredi rabbi who worked in the country for a while; and the visit many years ago of legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz.

The archives also play a vital role in preserving and safeguarding documentation relating to Jewish organisations that would otherwise be irrevocably lost once the latter have closed down. These include the records of scores of former small-town congregations which have been used extensively by, amongst others, the SA Friends of Beth Hatefutsoth in its work. A most welcome recent addition is the archives of B’nai B’rith, one of Johannesburg’s most active Jewish communal bodies, which for more than three quarters of a century assisted the underprivileged of all races and creeds.

Sadly, the organisation finally closed its doors earlier this year, but past members at least have the assurance that the good deeds it performed, and the contribution made by the many good people associated with it, are being preserved for posterity.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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