Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Memories of Muizenberg, South Africa

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz
(Note:this is an update from an earlier post on this topic)


One of the most popular of the South African seaside resorts which were frequented by Jews was Muizenberg. It was one of the oldest resorts and a surfers’ paradise. When I visited the place in 1997, it was very much like what Miami Beach, Florida, had been like before it had undergone the massive renovations which made it into a world class beach resort.

As I watched the pounding surf and was buffeted by the breezy winds, I thought what a good dose of infrastructure investment and creative development would do for this historical setting. At the time, the lovely beach huts seen above were lacking in proper paint and stood forlornly adjacent to the surf. It was a faded beauty and a reminder of how something quite vibrant can lose some of it charm over time.

Despite this, it has remained enshrined in the memories of its former devotees and many South African Jewish families have fond and enduring memories of this place and the camaraderie and happy times they had there. In addition, there were also those who lived in Muizenberg and created a full and rewarding Jewish life amidst what amounted to a tourist environment.

The Muizenberg Hebrew Congregation was the center of Jewish life in the town and one of its most memorable religious entities for many years was Rev. Isaac Jacob Frank, who had been born in Kaunas, Lithuania.

Additional information regarding the leaders of the Jewish community is as follows according to Hedy Davis, Chief Researcher, Historian and compiler of the text for the Muizenberg exhibition:

“In 1924 Rev E. S. Walt was appointed to act as Rabbi to the community and at the same time Rev I. J. Frank, who spoke no English, was appointed Baal Teffilah and Schochet. When the need arose, Rev. Frank also performed the services of the Chasan. He served the community faithfully till he passed away at the age of 87 in 1965, a noble period of 40 years. In the intervening years many clergymen, including several Rabbis, ministered to the community. The longest serving of these was Rabbi Dr J Weinberg from 1948 - 1961.”


The tombstones in the cemetery in Muizenberg have been photographed by Ancestry24 and these images can be found on their site. This site also has many other cemeteries (both Jewish and non-Jewish) in South Africa including tiny ones such as for Bot Rivier which is where my family settled.

In honor of this special place in the history of South African Jewry, there is a nostalgic exhibit, “Memories of Muizenberg”, which is being held March 10 – June 11, 2010, at the Jewish Museum in the Gardens, Cape Town. Thereafter, it will transfer to the RHCC, at the Great Park Synagogue, Johannesburg, during August, in Cape Town, SA.

For those who might find this of interest, you can see a short YouTube piece on it below this post.

2 comments:

  1. brings back wonderful memories.
    we used to sit between the beach houses which were slightly more sheltered.
    my elder brother used to dig in the sand to his hearts content!
    i was forever in the water, with no fear of sharks or getting sun burnt in those days!

    the long drive on the old road to muizenburg was also fun. who can forget old spotty the dog..

    t sanzul

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  2. Does anyone know what happened to this exhibition after its run in Johannesburg? I'm trying to gather information on the different communities that have converged on Muizenberg over the years, and I'd love to know what drew this community (seemingly often of Latvian origin?) to Muizenberg and when/why it moved on...

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