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    Updates on the Bulawayo Shul fire - 16th Oct 2003

    by Ronit Loewenstern   

    News 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 any sort.

    NB NOTE CORRECTED EMAIL ADDRESS FOR Mr Alan Feigenbaum , BHC President on figtree@mweb.co.zw

    Or the BHC secretary Mrs Jeannie Louth on barons@telconnet.co.zw

    so that your name can get logged into our data base.

    CALL 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 editor .

    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.

    DAVE 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:

    PO Box 1224 Kochav Yair 44864 Israel

    Many thanks so far to all of you who have sent in your kind wishes. More of your stories below:

    •  John and Jean (nee Anstiss) Andrews write:

    As 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.

    Your 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 ashes.

    • Ronald Gordon writes:

    I 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!

    The 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 grandchildren.

    • From Ilana Joselowitz (nee Jacobson) in Israel

    It 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.

    Seeing 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.

    Five 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:

    "The 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."

    One could only stand back in admiration.

    What 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.

    •  June Kaplan (Kingsley) in Port Elizabeth writes:

    The 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?

    •   From Simon Lewin in the UK

    Like 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.

    • Dorothy Raphaely (Lowenstein) from the USA writes:

    There 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 the 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 Father"....

    (click 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.

    •  Dorit and Arthur Simon in Canada write:

    My 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.

    For 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!

    • Zelda and Harry Zworestine and their sons Barry and Mark in Australia send the following message.

    We 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!)

    We 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 gone.

    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 buildings."

    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 build again.  

     

    For further updates on this story and photos click here....

    Barbara Nussbaum, USA, writes:

    ... 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.

    We realise 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.

     Sent  with warmest wishes

    Barbara Nussbaum

    Ojai, California

    From Jeanette 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 in shul.

    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.

    ___________________________________________________

    May 2003

    It is with deep regret that we report the passing away of Eric Brod, former Chairman of Central African Zionist Organisation (CAZO).

    Born and 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.

     Eric was an electrical engineer by profession and was known as a man of integrity, meticulous and a principled gentleman who served his community with tremendous dedication and energy.

     He was married to Mary (nee Passov) who preceeded him some 6 years ago. Eric was in his late eightees when he passed away.

     The 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 family.

     Dave Bloom

     

     Two articles below on Zimbabwe - one personal viewpoint and one from SAPA-AFP

    A heartfelt letter from a young member of the Jewish Community.....

    March 2003

    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 nice.
     
    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

    Danielle

    ______________________________________________________________________

    Sent: Saturday, April 19, 2003 3:14 AM

    Subject: It's no longer independence, it is now dependence

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------

     Zimbabwe: 'Never has the country been so isolated'

                Harare

             17 April 2003 

                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 them.   

                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 to wasteland."              

    A privately-owned weekly, The Zimbabwe Independent said: "Never has the country been so impoverished and isolated."

     Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president Lovemore Matombo said there is nothing to celebrate at independence this year.

     "It's no longer independence, it is now dependence," he said, referring to the levels of poverty he said workers had been reduced to.

     President Robert Mugabe himself last year acknowledged that poverty was on the rise.

     "Basic commodities are beyond the reach of many, poverty is increasing," he said in last year's independence day address.

     Since 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%.

     A 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.

     The 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 year.

     The opposition says young people in the country have nothing to look forward to.

     "Babies 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 leader, Tsvangirai.

     Despite 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 government.

     On 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.

     "There 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.

     In press 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 politics.


    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 about oneself," 

    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 against me."

    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 town
    of Bulawayo.

    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 ostracized internationally.

    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 Africa's Chief
    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 next."

    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 inside -
    No illusions, no dreams, no nothing, just lies,
    One word of the truth and I'd drop with surprise!
     
    Zimbabwe has taken long years from my life,
    From those of my friends and also my wife,
    We all stare in wonder at the loot and the plunder,
    A nation divided and torn right asunder.
     
    And never will I ever believe once again
    In good, simple people who speak truth out plain
    And all politicians now fill me with fright -
    They can't even define between wrong and what's right,
     
    And in offers of help that are clear, free from guile
    And in plain dulcet tones free from all bile!
    I'll never trust anyone ever again
    And maybe that's wrong but it might keep me sane.
     
    [And a friend from Israel telephoned me
    And you know what he said?  He said: "I agree."]       Phantom

     


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