Updates on the Bulawayo Shul fire
- 16th Oct 2003
by Ronit Loewenstern
to date: The
BHC committee met briefly this weekend to discuss the way forward. Many
suggestions were made and discussions were had over the community’s
specific needs such as prayer books, a Bimah and so on. Nothing
definite was decided upon as it was felt that the full community needed
to have a say in the matter. As such, a decision has been put off for
now. However, one thing is certain, a WAY FORWARD is being planned and
then there will be a need to call on all well wishers for donations of
NOTE CORRECTED EMAIL ADDRESS FOR Mr Alan Feigenbaum , BHC President on email@example.com
the BHC secretary Mrs Jeannie Louth on firstname.lastname@example.org
that your name can get logged into our data base.
FOR PHOTOS: Should
any of you have good photos (not matter how old), and have access to a
scanner, please download them to the ZJC
Please ensure you have all details
of the photos such as date, who appears in the photo (form left to
right), photographer’s name etc.
also asks if anyone has a nice selection of photos (inside/outside)
of the SHUL before the fire? If you do not have digital ones, or copies
(dont send originals) then send them to him in Israel and he will have them scanned.
His address is:
Box 1224 Kochav Yair 44864 Israel
thanks so far to all of you who have sent in your kind wishes. More of
your stories below:
former residents of Bulawayo from the ‘50s to the ‘70s we were
appalled to hear of your terrible loss, but are certain that some good
will come of this through the coming together of so many old friends now
scattered throughout the world.
ancestors came to Rhodesia with only the shirts on their backs but
contributed hugely to the business and artistic strengths of our dear
city. These same strengths and talents will help you rebuild from the
was quite fascinated to read your newsletter, which was send to me by Marlyn
Butchins (nee Bernstein). Many of the messages were a real blast
from the past! It’s comforting to note that my cousin Rose Richter
(nee Tobias) and my ex-neighbour Barbara Nussbaum are alive and well and
living in Israel and California respectively!
loss of the Shul is tragic and it is very sad but understandable that
the building will not be repaired or reinstated. (Ed note: this has
not yet been decided) The shul was a monument to the one-time,
large, vibrant, and successful Jewish community of Bulawayo. It was a
monument that most of us would have wanted to show our children and
was with shock and disbelief that we heard the news that the Community's
precious shul has burned down. The news reached us the following
morning, and it was too awful to absorb. Our thoughts and prayers have
been with you all as you have had to come to grips with this trauma.
the photos of the remains of the shul has cut through me and I have been
overwhelmed with sadness. Then, as now, the shul represented the heart
of the community. During my Yom Kippur prayers, my thoughts raced
through childhood memories of countless Yomtavim and shabatot spent
in the shul, bar Mitzvahs and simchas, my own Bat Mitzvah,
and many years later coming “home" to get married in my own shul.
years ago, having not visited Bulawayo for 20 years since my wedding, I came
back with my husband and children for a few days, for a trip down memory
lane. My family was astounded how, in spite of the diminished population,
the unshakable infrastructure of the Jewish community had remained. This was
the astonishing story that I brought back with me then to Israel:
Jewish spirit is indomitable, even in a dwindling community in the heart of
Africa. There is a daily minyan in the beautiful shul, Savyon lodge still
takes care of the aged, Carmel school still teaches the Jewish ethic, the
Jewish cemetery is maintained in immaculate condition, and the Chevra
Kadisha continues its sacred work."
could only stand back in admiration.
can one add about the bravery of Rodney Lepar and Raymond Roth in
miraculously saving the Sifrei Torah and contents of the Aron
Kodesh? (Perhaps it is the same force, which inexplicably empowers a
mother with supernatural strength to save her endangered child, or gives our
own Israeli soldiers the bravery to perform death-defying missions when the
odds are stacked against them.) The clarity with which Rodney and Raymond
saw their mission, and the G-d given strength that they received to perform
it, fills me with awe and still brings tears to my eyes. Our thoughts and
prayers are with you all. We pray that the same spirit, which has kept the
community alive for the past 100 years, will continue to give you strength
and unite you in these troubled times.
old Bulawayo Shul holds many memories for me – I spent my youth attending
all the high holidays with friends and families in it, remember clearly the
sound of the ice cream trolley bell ringing tantalisingly outside on Yom
Kippur, remember the beauty of the Shul itself, the warmth of community and,
of course, all the happy weddings I attended, including our own. Perhaps
this tragedy is a way for us to be reminded and brought together?
so many others, I was shocked to hear about the destruction of the Bulawayo
synagogue. There is so much history in that building and, despite all the
problems in Zimbabwe, I felt that it would always be there. I must say that
it feels like the end of an era to me.
were several ironies in the sadness I felt when I received the news while
spending Yom Kippur in Toronto (I live in Miami). Firstly I was with several
"landsman"- whatever the plural of that is - my brother Aubrey
Lowenstein, cousin Jonathan, and Lorraine Weinstock/Sandler.
When Leonora Kibel, Anne Loewenstein, and I were commissioned to design the
windows, we decided to each choose one primary colour field. Leonora chose
blues, Anne yellows, and red was my choice. I immediately thought of doing
burning bush as my major motif... and the quotation I used was prescient for
a multi-racial future – roughly: "Have we not all but one
here to see pictures of the windows)
If there is any nice outcome, it is of course our sharing and uniting
through the magic of the Internet.
family and I immigrated to Canada 23 years ago, yet it is with great sadness
that we have been following events as they unfold in Byo. As we stood in our
shul here in Toronto, Canada, for the rendition of Kol Nidre our
thoughts we were with you all in Bulawayo. The miracle was that no one was
hurt and I am sure that this tragedy has united the community even further.
I have wonderful memories of ‘our’ Shul and what it meant to everyone.
many years we (the Jacobsen family) lived next door to the Shul at 39a
Abercorn Street, (now Jason Moyo Street) which later became the Hebrew
English Nursery School. Also when I got married (to Arthur Simon originally
from Mufulira, then Northern Rhodesia) in 1962. We had to get married in the
Guild Hall because that month they were beginning to enlarge the Shul (the
community had out-grown the original building) and it was the first time
that we heard Cantor Asher Hainovitz sing!
were devastated to hear about the fire and would like to say that our
thoughts are with you all. The Byo Shul is a part of our lives. My
grandfather, Jacob Banet was a foundation member of the shul. My mother
Hilda and her sisters were married there and my marriage took place there in
1952 in that same shul. Barry and Mark had their bar mitzvahs there. (Ed
note: I remember – Ronit!)
are now all living in Sydney, Australia but I still have my cousins Val and
Ru Pilossof and their family in good old Byo. We miss our relatives and
friends and talk of the “good old days” at all occasions, but on this
occasion our hearts have cried with you. We admire the courage of those who
risked their lives to save our heritage and we thank you very much.
100 years of Jewish history up in smoke
‘Miracle’ saves torahs
By Ronit Loewenstern
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, October 5th
-- More than 100
years of Jewish history went up in smoke yesterday when the historic
Bulawayo Hebrew Congregation synagogue burnt to the ground.
Although priceless sidurim, Hagadot and
other Jewish books and relics were destroyed, no one was hurt in the
blaze. Even so, said a tearful Beilah Bloch, it was a "miracle that
our torahs were saved". Had it not been for the quick thinking of
congregants, Rodney Lepar and Raymond Roth, six old torahs and numerous
smaller ones would have perished as well. Also saved was the Arc curtain
made in 1725.
According to eyewitnesses, Mr Lepar and Mr Roth were
looking in through a window of the burning building when they each
"saw" a torah near the Arc. Although each saw a different
coloured one through the flames that was the ‘sign’ Rodney needed.
Despite protests from firemen and heedless of the burning beams and
thick smoke, he ran into the building. The steel doors of the Arc were
locked by a strong padlock, yet Mr Lepar some how managed to kick them
in, away from the concrete pillars. He then grabbed anything he could
lay his hands on and passed them out of the building.
Damage estimated in the millions (Zimbabwe $) came on
the eve of Yom Kippur, as the congregation was making ready to gather
with their new rabbi, Rabbi Nathan Asmouch, newly arrived from Israel.
He ran three kilometres from his home, as it was Shabbat, to be
with the grieving community. Most poignant of all was Rev Laizer
Abrahamson, who this year celebrated his 104th birthday,
(born April 2 1899). After the flames were doused, with water dripping
from the rafters, he only stand and stare, walking stick in hand,
Yarmuckah askew as he wiped tears away.
The Bulawayo Hebrew Community, which now numbers only
about 147 souls – down from more than 3000 at its zenith in the 1960s
– has a long and proud history. The ‘shul’ as the city’s
landmark is known, began in a canvass tent in 1894 and grew over the
years into a magnificent stained-glass structure. Its inaugural meeting
of 21 pioneers in then Rhodesia was held shortly after Bulawayo was
proclaimed a town. Emanuel Basch, Bulawayo Mayor and Congregation
President, laid the foundation stone on May 17 1910 and the building was
consecrated in April 1911. Years later, this synagogue was not big
enough to contain the growing community and overflow services were held
in nearby buildings. So in 1945 Leonora Granger, a well-known local
architect, drew up plans for a more ‘modern’ building. By the 1960s
the building consisted to two facades – the front a magnificent Cape
Dutch style originally designed through a competition and the stylish
red brick and stained glass modernist Granger side – Both are now
The small-standing community is justly proud of its
record – not a day missed in its history whereby a minyan was not
formed, then and now. Said the rabbi in 1929, Rev M I Cohen, "Since
the beginning (1898) we have never held a single meeting outside our own
Despite the tragedy, by Sunday morning, the congregation
was flat-out cleaning the torahs, their silver templates, washing the
white Yom Kippur clothes and gathering their strength from each other.
Services would now be held in make shift premises. Said David Lasker,
"The façade can be saved." Perhaps the community can
For further updates on
this story and photos click here....
many of us living in the USA ( and I'm sure, Israel, UK, Australia,
Canada) feel so deeply about the community, that we'd like to
find a way to support you during this difficult time. My sense is that
people have been touched so deeply that they want to reach out.
From an e
mail that I sent just to 16 people..............I have heard from
Harold Jacobs - a man in Canada who left Bulawayo, last saw my late
father in 1955. Someone had sent him my e mail and he wrote to ask if
I was related. I heard from Rufus Gruber, who lives 40 mins from
where I do...have not seen him in 35 years. I heard from Rena Lis -
now in New York....who I have not seen or spoken to in twenty years.
that you are probably very heartsore about a shul which you have taken
care of for so many years.........we are heartsore too. There is
clearly so much love for the shul and energy from many who have left
to want to help.
Korsen (nee Lessner) now living in the US
She would like to be
included in the re-construction of Our magazine. Any one who
wants to contact her, can write to me and I'll forward your good
wishes to her. She attended Townsend School and was married in our
shul in 1975.
From Rose Richter
(Nee Tobias -- hi Rosie!!) in Israel
I'm so flabbergasted at
what has happened to our HOME shul. We have all spent time in
the shul and many of us were married there, as were some of our
grandparents (my great-grandfather, the Rhodesian pioneer, Moses
Rabinowitz, was President and then honorary life member of the Chevra
Kadisha and I remember him living right across the street to the shul
so he could be there for shacharit every morning).
Quite unbelievable. I got
married there May 30 1976 by Rabbi Shlapak . It was the same day that
George Kaufman and Susan Chitrin got married - we shared the flowers
I last visited in July
1997 and Brian Sher kindly took me to the cemetery to see before I
made aliyah, the graves of my great-grandparents and grandfather, Dr
Lionel Bergson, founder of Revisionist Party in Rhodesia, and
"kind and wise physician" as is written on his tombstone.
It is with
deep regret that we report the passing away of Eric Brod, former
Chairman of Central
African Zionist Organisation (CAZO).
educated in Vienna, Eric came to Rhodesia in the 1930s to escape Nazism
and soon became involved in congregational and Zionist affairs.
He was a key
member of the Salisbury Synagogue Choir and as a General Zionist was
active on many committees of CAZO becoming vice-President in 1977 and
Chairman in 1980 before fulfilling a lifelong dream and coming on aliyah.
Eric was also elected as an Honorary Life Vice President of CAZO.
was an electrical engineer by profession and was known as a man of
and a principled gentleman who served his community with tremendous
dedication and energy.
married to Mary (nee Passov) who preceeded him some 6 years ago. Eric was
in his late
eightees when he passed away.
Chairman of CAZO in Israel, David Bloom and the Chairman in Zimbabwe,
Adolph Leon as well as former
members of CAZO and the Jewish community in Harare express their sincere
and heartfelt condolences to Eric's sister and other members of the
Two articles below on Zimbabwe - one personal viewpoint
and one from SAPA-AFP
A heartfelt letter from a young member of the Jewish
Well its Danielle here. Just thought an e-mail from me would maybe cheer
you up a bit !
Well things here are stressful. You wouldn't think we would still be
living here through these extremely tough times. I just hope that its
not for much longer.
I don't really know where to start because there is quite a lot to tell
but here it goes. maybe you should grab a cup of coffee and sit down and
get ready for a long boring e-mail. I just thought an update would be
The country! well that's a disaster. there has been no fuel for so long
that we are having to go with what we have and when its finished wait
until we can get some. It is rather scary knowing that we might not be
able to socialize on the weekends because there isn't enough petrol to
take us around. people have been queuing for over a week and still no
bousers have arrived. they have also started to designate petrol
stations for taxis and buses now which makes it even harder to get any.
Food supplies are endlessly short. bread is obviously short and now
rolls are becoming short so we either eat cinamon loaves or no bread and
just fruit. i don't mind it so much i just think that it is ridiculous
that you can't just walk into the shop and buy a loaf of bread or even
rolls. Up till now we have been lucky with rolls but not with bread. dad
finds rolls pretty regularly but apparently now they are going short.
for school we just do with what we have or we just take money for the
tuck shop but still it is very expensive.
All other food supplies are short but we still get through every day
even though we feel the tension. milk we now have access to but that is
only because dad has a connection but for sugar, flour, oil and mealie
meal we really struggle. when we went to South Africa during our
holidays we bought a whole truck load of stuff back but how long can it
last? sugar goes pretty fast and so does the flour but we have a lot of
flour still. oil once its finished is finished and mealie meal not for
us but for the staff is not accessible. we brought them back some mealie
meal when we came back from S.A. but theirs is now finished and so now
what do we do? we hopefully will find some but when is the question?
This country drives me bananas and so does all the racism here. school
also is a stress but now that i might be leaving to join you all there i
feel a little more relaxed.
School last year was such a stress as the international exams I was
meant to write this year changed to local and so they would not be
recognised anywhere in the world except for here. My "o"
levels are the most important exams here and the government have refused
to give permission for us to write the international exams. They said
that we can do it out of school for 50 pounds per subject and we would
have to go for extra lessons because they are teaching us the Zimbabwean
syllabus. 50 pounds is around $100 000 per subject which is
unaffordable. the education systems is falling rapidly because so many
of the good teachers are leaving and the black, non-english speaking
teachers are coming in to teach. its ridiculous.
this is now why israel has become an option for me........
love to you all
April 19, 2003 3:14 AM
longer independence, it is now dependence
'Never has the country been so isolated'
As Zimbabwe prepares to celebrate 23 years of independence from
Britain on Friday, deepening economic and social crises in the country are
certain to cast a shadow over festivities.
The country is due to mark its independence at a time when most
Zimbabweans are pre-occupied by the social and economic woes surrounding
Even as the country flounders in the grip of severe shortages of
basic goods and triple-digit inflation, the authorities this week nearly
trebled the price of gasoline.
At least 80% of the country's 11,6 million people live well below
the poverty line, and the recent fuel price increases are bound to plunge
many Zimbabweans even deeper into poverty and misery.
Unemployment rates hover at more than 70% and recurring power
outages have forced many industrialists to cut production time by at least
half, adding to the ranks of the unemployed.
Faced with huge debts accumulated by importing electricity and
threats of being cut off by South African and Mozambican suppliers, energy
authorities have introduced power rationing, a move that has further
disrupted manufacturing schedules.
In an independence message to his supporters, Morgan Tsvangirai,
the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader said:
"This nation has been robbed of hope and the country has been reduced
privately-owned weekly, The Zimbabwe Independent said: "Never has the country been so
impoverished and isolated."
Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president Lovemore Matombo said there is
nothing to celebrate at independence this year.
no longer independence, it is now dependence," he said, referring to
the levels of poverty he said workers had been reduced to.
Robert Mugabe himself last year acknowledged that poverty was on the rise.
commodities are beyond the reach of many, poverty is increasing," he
said in last year's independence day address.
the late 1990s the Zimbabwe economy has been on a downward spiral.
Inflation that averaged 18 percent in 1997 is now reported to have reached
a crippling 228%.
severe shortage of foreign currency, desperately needed for imports of
power, petroleum and food, has resulted in those commodities being in
short supply or priced beyond the reach of most Zimbabweans.
country's gross domestic product (GDP) has been on the downward slide over
the past few years, with GDP growth pegged at a record low of -11,9% last
opposition says young people in the country have nothing to look forward
are not even allowed a chance to start in life because they are being
slowly starved to death due to shortages of baby food," said MDC
tough security laws in the country that the opposition and civil society
say are designed to stifle protest, the MDC and the labour movement have
separately announced they will be staging mass action against the
Wednesday the ZCTU demanded the government reverse the fuel price
increases or face mass action, which it warned could see "a lot of
blood" being spilled.
shall be a lot of blood sponsored by the government because the government
has sponsored a terrorist structure within itself to terrorise
Zimbabweans," Matombo told reporters.
advertisements published on Thursday, a local rights group, the Crisis in
Zimbabwe Coalition (CCZ) claimed that since Zimbabwe's independence in
1980, Zimbabweans were now only "free to be intimidated, to be
tear-gassed ... free to be beaten, free to be silenced". - Sapa-AFP
Zimbabwe, fasting in the
midst of food shortages .... a small
enclave of Jews in Bulawayo observes Yom Kippur amid hunger and heated
By Danna Harman
From sunrise Sunday to sundown Monday, Jews around the world fasted,
reflected on the year just past and the one to come, and atoned for their
sins in observance of Yom Kippur. In Zimbabwe, in the midst of widespread
food shortages and a government policy that has whites feeling on edge,
the country's dwindling enclave of Jews observed this year's holiest of
days with mixed emotions. "To reflect ... does not mean to think
Rabbi Cyril Harris reminds the small congregation. "When your stomach
begins aching from hunger, remember that is the way a good proportion of
the Africans in your country feel every single day."
But President Robert Mugabe's program to evict white farmers from
their and has others feeling the persecution that their relatives
had come to Africa to escape. "I do feel badly for those starving
here," says Hilton
Solomon as he closes his store and heads to prayers. "But I have
become harder.... My empathy is low these days, for my country has turned
It wasn't always this way. The Jewish presence in Southern Africa dates
back to the early 20th century, when Jews fled the pogroms of Eastern
Europe. Others joined them, both from Europe and elsewhere, as they
arrived in droves throughout the1930s and 40s. By the 1960s, South Africa
had over 100,000 Jews; some 1,000 had settled in Zambia, and a few hundred
had ventured into Malawi and Botswana. Zimbabwe's Jewish community was
7,000 strong, divided up mainly between the capital, Harare, and the dusty
A school was built here, and an old age home was opened. Stained glass
windows were commissioned for the synagogue, and a kosher butcher was
flown in every few months from South Africa. At that time, whites were the
privileged minority, and there was little discrimination against the Jews.
The 250,000 whites living in what was then called Rhodesia were the
self-proclaimed kings of the land. They sat on huge tracts of land,
farming tobacco, raising livestock, and starting businesses. They built
large houses and belonged to country clubs that had spring balls. They
went fishing in Lake Kariba on the weekends, and generally felt fortunate
to be living in such a pretty paradise.
Even after independence in 1980, many stayed, agreeing - or at least
accepting - that black majority rule was right, and that some form of
land reform was in order. But Mr. Mugabe's fast-track land reform
program has caused commercial farming to grind to a standstill and the
economy to falter. Over 6 million Zimbabweans lack enough food to get them
through the next six months, and the country is tense, divided, and
Those who can are fleeing.
In better days, as many as 2,500 would turn out for prayers in
Bulawayo on the eve of Yom Kippur. Families were assigned to specific rows
and seats. Today, there are fewer than 300 Jews in town. Out of tradition
- or perhaps nostalgia - they still sit in those places designated years
ago. Their children have gone to seek better lives elsewhere. The
Brenner's have one daughter in South Africa, and two in San Diego,
California. The Roth's have a daughter in Sydney, Australia, and a son in
London. The Veisenbachers are moving next month. There are no children
running down the aisles in the
Synagogue. When Hilton Solomon's grandfather arrived in Bulawayo in the
1920s, he had nothing. The trading post he started has now become the
town's premier supermarket. These days the young Solomon is in
negotiations with a big supermarket chain, thinking of selling out. His
wife is sick of all the
uncertainty. "I love this country and do not want to leave," he
says. "But as time progresses, I feel more and more like a visitor,
an expat." Bulawayo's rabbi emigrated two years ago, and so South
Rabbi, Cyril Harris, flew over this year to lead Yom Kippur services. He
came, he explains, to encourage the community. "It has not been an
easy year here," he says, "and we do not know what is coming
In 1994, right after the first free elections in South Africa, Harris
spoke to his congregation in Johannesburg and offered a different sort of
encouragement. The apartheid regime was over, Nelson Mandela's government
had swept into power, and many whites were feeling insecure and frightened
that they might not be welcome in the new South Africa. "This country
needs you and wants you," Harris told them back then. "I urge
you not to leave."
He made no such plea in Zimbabwe this week.
"The Phantom" - from Harare
Zimbabwe has opened my eyes up so wide
That I no longer have any illusions
No illusions, no dreams, no nothing, just
One word of the truth and I'd drop with
Zimbabwe has taken long years from my
From those of my friends and also my
We all stare in wonder at the loot and
A nation divided and torn right asunder.
And never will I ever believe once again
In good, simple people who speak truth
And all politicians now fill me with
They can't even define between wrong and
And in offers of help that are clear,
free from guile
And in plain dulcet tones free from all
I'll never trust anyone ever again
And maybe that's wrong but it might keep
[And a friend from Israel telephoned me
And you know what he said?
"I agree."] Phantom