Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft
Spiritual leader to the - AFRICAN JEWISH CONGRESS


As a result of a proposal made by Reverend Dr Joseph Herman Hertz shortly after his arrival in Lourenco Marques on 14 December 1899, the town’s first Jewish congregation was founded. Rev Hertz (later to become Chief Rabbi of the British Empire) was forced to leave Johannesburg for British controlled territory because of his pro-British activities prior to the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War on 11 October that year. He arrived in Lourenco Marques, as he put it, “...armed with a free first-class railway ticket issued by the Government”. It is the week he spent there that interests us here. Given the dearth of contemporary documentation on the Lourenco Marques' Jewish community, it is worth quoting in its entirety the relevant section of Hertz' letter to the London Jewish Chronicle that appeared on 9 February 1900 (p11). That letter was entitled "The Boers and Religious Toleration, A Letter from The Rev. Dr. Hertz", and the section on Lourenco Marques reads as follows:

"Here I found Jewish conditions bad enough, but was not disappointed. As only one or two Jewish people have their families living with them, there is neither Schochet, congregation nor Beit Chayim (cemetery) in Lourenco Marques. My astonishment, on the contrary, was great when I found a prominent businessman a Shabbat observer, and another, a subscriber to the Jewish Quarterly Review.



The morning after my arrival I requested Mr. Leon Cohen, editor of the Lourenco Marques, "O Fortuno", to notify the Jewish residents, through his paper, that I desired to address them on some matters of vital importance to the community, on Monday night, December 18th. The attendance was good, and the thermometer not very much above 95 degrees. I impressed upon them the necessity of doing three things. First, immediately to elect a committee to interview the Governor-General of the province for the purpose of receiving a grant of land for a cemetery; that this committee have power to add to its number and as soon as possible constitute itself into a congregation; and lastly, that a sub-Committee be designated, who should co-operate with the Jewish Vigilance Committee of Johannesburg and the Jewish Society for the Protection of Women and Girls in London. This last suggestion of mine is, alas, rendered necessary by the fact that of late years the term "Jewess" has become a byword and a hissing on the East Coast of Africa from Delgoa Bay northward to Port Said. There must be, roughly speaking, (Aden, of course, excluded) some 750 Jewish women. Applied to 9-5% (sic) of them, the phrase, "the immemorial chastity of the Jewess," is something less than a name, and more even than a mockery.

The necessity of acting on these suggestions was unanimously agreed upon, and the following strong Executive Committee was elected that very evening:

Leon Cohen, President; Solomon Benoliel, - Jules Cohen, - Herman Cohen, - Moses Lazarus, - Isaac Levy, and Fortunato Cagi. The last named has on more than one occasion displayed statesmanship of no mean order. Presiding at the temporary services during the last solemn Festivals, he harmonised Ashkenazim and Sepharadim by dividing each day's service into some half-dozen sections and alternating the pronunciation so as to suit the two jealous, wrangling parties.

"On the 21st of December I left for Durban. It was only on the boat that I began to feel the "bitterness of exile," the full significance of the term, Rand Refugee....

"Arriving in Durban (together with Winston Churchill) I found the local Jewish Relief Committee doing excellent work in aid of all Jewish persons in distress." Etc....


The necessity of acting on these suggestions was unanimously agreed upon, and the following strong Executive Committee was elected that very evening:  - Leon Cohen, President; Solomon Benoliel, - Jules Cohen, - Herman Cohen, - Moses Lazarus, - Isaac Levy, and Fortunato Cagi.  The last named has on more than one occasion displayed statesmanship of no mean order.  Presiding at the temporary services during the last solemn Festivals, he harmonised Ashkenazim and Sepharadim by dividing each day's service into some half-dozen sections and alternating the pronunciation so as to suit the two jealous, wrangling parties.


 "On the 21st of December I left for Durban.  It was only on the boat that I began to feel the "bitterness of exile," the full significance of the term, Rand Refugee....

 " Arriving in Durban (together with Winston Churchill) I found the local Jewish Relief Committee doing excellent work in aid of all Jewish persons in distress." Etc.... 


On 25 April 1921 an institution was established called; HONEN DALIM” – CHARITY FOR THE POOR.


The first committee of comprised:

Chairman – Leao Cohen

Secretary – Marco Cohen

Treasurer – J. H. Muller

Vogals – Abraham J Levy, Reuben Barnett, Charles Cohen & L Rygor.


General Assembly;

Chairman – Abraham Caji

Secretary 1 – Leao Zugury

Secretary 2 – I Berman


The purpose of this Association was;


1.      To promote all means and get funds for acquisitions of ground and building of a Synagogue and school and maintenance of the cemetery.


2.      To help the native Jewish domiciliated in L.M. when it is recognised that such help is necessary, also any others in transit, in the same circumstances.


3.      To repatriate the indigents once only, to the nearest port.


4.      To help with their protection and influence all Jews who need it.


5.      The Management is competent to judge who are the Jews considered as indigents.

The site – building, where the synagogue was erected in Avenue General Botha street, formally Telegraph Avenue, was purchased from Delgoa Bay Land Syndicate 23 September 1921, and registered in the name HOM DALIM ISRAELITE BENEFIT ASSOCIATION.


Esther Muller, wife of John Henry Muller placed a deposit of 500 pounds as a guarantee of interest and others. 


It is worthy of note that in l925 the first Zionist meeting was held in Lourenco Marques, and in l926 the Lourenco Marques community gathered “in the interests of Keren Hayesod.” 




On 29 August 1926 Chief Rabbi Dr. J. L. Landau M.A. PHD, consecrated the Lourenco Marques first synagogue.


Amongst those present were Mr Abraham Cagi, who extended a welcome to visitors, Mr E Salm, who presented the Chief Rabbi with the key for opening the building, Mr Z H Muller, Honorary Secretary of the congregation, Dr Elisario Montoiro, President of the Camara Municipality, Mr R Barnett, Mr Cohen, Mr A L Hart, Consul – Commercial for Norway, Mr Moffat, Cosul for the United States, Dr Grave, Dr Lommelino, Mr Hugo Hoffmann, the Reverend T E Morton, Mr A E George, Mr L Rygor and many others.


Before entering the building the Chief Rabbi gave a short address and read from the psalms.

After the congregation had taken their seats inside, the two Sifrei Torah where placed in the ark by Mr Barnett and Mr Cohen. 

Rabbi Landau then delivered a consecration address making reference to the Jewish expulsion from Spain to Portugal in 1493. 

In conclusion the Chief Rabbi said,

“there are only a few of you hear, but you nobly set yourselves a task and have accomplished it in the building of this little shrine. Be not ashamed of it.”  

Mr Muller thanked the Chief Rabbi and his wife for his great kindness in coming over from Johannesburg to perform that ceremony. 

Mr Muller then detailed the circumstance under which the synagogue had come to be built. 


One outstanding example of the families arriving in Moçambique is that of Louis Rygor.  He and his wife, Marie, fled Odessa in l905 and, after some years in England, established themselves in Mozambique in l9l3. "During the years immediately preceding World War I the retail and wholesale trade of the seaport was largely in Jewish lands, while Jews were also prominent in the shipping companies which retained offices in Lourenco Marques and Beira." 


Rygor's commitment to the community led to his becoming the President of the synagogue, from its opening in l926 until his death in l948.  Beautifully preserved tombstones in the Jewish cemetery, inscribed in Hebrew and English, testify to their importance.


One Isaac Benoliel was the proprietor of a haberdashery.  


Ziggy Muller dealt in guns and ammunition, and Arthur May and Oscar Hoffman were engaged in general provisions.  Jocum notes that there were a "number of Jewish widows who ran small hotels or guest houses." No doubt some refugees in the late l930s stayed in these establishments as boarders.


Judah Morris Barnett and his wife Mary had at least one child.  Isidore Morris Barnett was born in Lourenco Marques in l9l6 and sent to Johannesburg for a Jewish education.  He continued to be active in Jewish community affairs throughout his life. 



Jewish life in Lourenco Marques had never been generally of strong and solidifying content. A possible reason for such a state of affairs is that Lourenco Marques Jewry was composed generally of individuals of most diverse background, both geographically and otherwise. It will be agreed that a trend like this does not tend to encourage and desired communal cohesiveness.  An example to substantiate the above comment, these were the members of the Executive Committee of the Lourenco Marques Hebrew Congregation when Dr Landau consecrated the synagogue in 1926;

President – Mr E Salm, a Hollander

Treasurer – Mr L Rygor, a Russian

Hon. Secretary – Mr Z H Muller, a Rumanian

Committee – Mr J Barnett, a Britisher, Mr C Mosiff, a Pole & Mr Glazer, a Russian

Shamas – Mr Joseph Levy, a Jerusalemite.


From the time the synagogue opened, a rabbi was invited (from South Africa) to officiate at a wedding at least once a year, according to Hyman Jocum's interviews with elderly members of the community in the l960s.



The years preceding World War II brought another wave of refugees to southern Africa, this time fleeing the rise of Nazism.  Some 1,650, turned away from Palestine, were interned for more than four years on the island of Mauritius (due east of Madagascar) by the British government.


In South Africa, Jews had long been associated with Bolshevism, and in the l920s a virulent anti-immigration movement called for restricting Eastern European immigration.  In January l930, Dr. D. F. Malan, the Minister of the Interior, introduced the Quota Act to that effect.


With the rise of Hitler, South Africa produced a bumper-crop of home-grown pro-Nazi movements. The most prominent of these were the Grey Shirts, who agitated and lobbied in Parliament to halt the entry of German Jewish refugees. In l936 over 2500 German Jews arrived, including approximately 545 who arrived in October l936 on the S. S. Stuttgart. The arrival of this ship, chartered especially to enable German Jewish refugees to reach South Africa ahead of anticipated anti-immigrant legislation, provoked demonstrations in Cape Town, the port of entry.


The following year, the Aliens' Act passed by an overwhelming majority, and the flow of German Jewish refugees into South Africa almost ceased. From February l937 to the end of March l940, only 2915 Jews entered South Africa, the disproportionate percentage of whom had close relatives in the country. Between l940 to the end of l944 only 220 were admitted as permanent residents.


Moçambique therefore became yet again a shelter for reluctant refugees. Jews who succeeded in escaping Nazi occupied Europe travelled via Lisbon, it being one of the last neutral European ports, or even via Shanghai, Java (Indonesia) or Macao (another Portuguese possession) on Portuguese travel documents.


Not only were most of the new arrivals destitute, but Portuguese law prevented non-citizens from seeking employment of engaging in commerce, “with the result that the entire community was wholly dependent upon the Joint Distribution Committee.” Another source states that it is the Council for Refugee Settlement that supported these new arrivals and “built a synagogue, engaging a cantor....


“They stayed either in Maputo or Beira awaiting entry visas to South Africa or Northern or Southern Rhodesia, which also had restrictive immigration policies.”



In Beira, the Jews were “living in pitiable conditions...and were allowed to enter Northern Rhodesia on compassionate grounds.  They were part of a group of 40 families who were stranded in Beira and who narrowly avoided being returned to Germany.... They were saved by the prompt action of J. M. Barnett, Beira's only Jewish resident."  The problem centered around possibly forged documents from Germany.  While the fate of these 40 families was hanging in the balance, the aid of various consulates in Beira was enlisted resulting in visas being obtained for places such as Uganda, Kenya, a dozen for Northern and Southern Rhodesia and even Mauritius. 


Louis Rygor was also instrumental in assisting refugees in Lourenco Marques, and reportedly saving some 80 from being returned to Europe when he was able to arrange for their financial assistance through the good offices of the Council for Refugee Settlement, thus enabling them to disembark.  



Another Jewish refugee was the Rev.

Cantor Feivel Metzger, a Pole who had spent most of his life in Germany.  He had worked for two years with a South African Jewish congregation, but at some point was “stranded in Lourenco Marques on a visitor’s visa.” Eventually he was able to obtain a visa for Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia in August l939.  Establishing residency enabled him to locate his wife and two children Miariam & Alf    (via the International Red Cross), who were trapped at the outbreak of the war in September l939.  Metzger’s wife and children escaped via Switzerland to Trieste, Italy, and with Portuguese travel documents, which Metzger obtained through a Jewish contact in Lourenco Marques, arrived on the Italian ship “Palistone” at the port of Beira where Metzger met them. 

The ship, the S. S., Gerusalemme, continued to transport small numbers of German Jews to Moçambique up until May l940.  The family of Solly Israel (he was in Northern Rhodesia at the time) left Trieste on May 9, l940 and reached Beira during Pesach.  They arrived one day prior to Italy’s joining Germany against the Allies.  One of the daughter’s, Ellen, believes that had they arrived a day later, they would have been interned in Moçambique.  “After a night in Beira, where they were looked after by the indomitable J. M.  Barnett,” they took a train to Rhodesia where they were reunited with their father.  It was his birthday. 

It was during the middle of the war, that some 500 Jews celebrated Pesach, the festival of liberation, in Lourenco Marques.  This may mark the largest number of Jews ever (to be found?) in the Portuguese colony. After the war some remained to establish businesses. Others left for English-speaking countries in Southern Africa, and still others made aliyah or even returned to Germany. 


One member of the Maputo community was Moira, the granddaughter of Maurice (Moshe) Thal, a businessman and president of the small Jewish community of Broken Hill, Northern Rhodesia in the l920s and l930s.  She married Ze Forjaz, a "radical architect and member of Frelimo, who became a member of the first post independence government of Moçambique." Moira was a close friend of Ruth First. She has made a successful career as a film-maker and is currently operating an art gallery in Lisbon 



Pamela dos Santos was certainly one of the most interesting Jews in the Maputo community.  Exiled from South Africa because of a "liason dangereuse" with a

black man, she moved to Tanzania. There, she met Marcelino dos Santos, a young Frelimo activist.  They married and had a daughter.  Dos Santos was to become the head of Moçambique’s parliament and second in command to Pres. Joaquim Chissano.



On 3 September 1957 Mr Simon Lewis from South Africa contacted Mr Hawell who had been acting as Secretary for the Lourenco Marques Jewish Community for some years.


The position appeared that the whole community consisted of Mr Hawell and his wife, and another married Jewish couple; Mr Rygor and his unmarried sister, the son and daughter of a very old Lourenco Marques Jewish family, who carried on their parents business after their deaths. In addition, there was a Mr Amram, a Portuguese Sephardic Jew, and an elderly married couple of Jewish origin, whose children married into the Christian faith and who no longer regard themselves as Jews. It was therefore seen that the local Jewish community consisted of 4 males and 3 ladies.


Mr Lewis also reported that the synagogue was in an extremely dilapidated condition, but on an approach to Mr Schlesinger, he undertook the repairs without expense to the community.


The long history of this Jewish Community was interrupted at Moçambican Independence in 1975, when most of the community left the country. The synagogue was abandoned and turned into a warehouse. The cemetery fell into disrepair and was badly vandalized. Without the synagogue, and in a climate of official hostility to religion, organised Jewish life in Moçambique came to a halt. 



The abandoned synagogue, in spite of claims to the contrary, was not nationalised after independence. The property became a place for “bandits, prostitutes and drug addicts, and at some point was briefly used as a church.” The government took it over more by default than intention. People broke into the synagogue (as they did schools and any other abandoned structures) to scavenge wood for otherwise unavailable fuel to survive the deprivation of the years of civil strife.

Eventually the Red Cross, housed in an adjacent building, acquired the property for storage.  Only the weeds and wild grasses in the courtyard flourished. 

As the Soviet Union went into decline, Moçambique’s Government began to modify its economic and political policies - as well as its formerly hostile attitude towards religion. Samora Machel, then Moçambique’s President had renounced Marxism and began returning religious structures to their previous owners. Alkis Jorge Macropolous, a local non-Jewish businessman who had been raised among Jews, had started a campaign to have the synagogue returned. He ran an advert in Moçambique’s only newspaper, Noticias, seeking support, and sent letters to government and nongovernmental private charities. 

Regrettably, only four books were found on the premises when the synagogue was returned.  The oldest was printed in old Russian script in Latvia dating from the turn of the 19th century. 

Before long, in 1989, the synagogue was back in Jewish hands through the generosity and efforts of Mr Macropulos. Although no religious services were held for lack of a knowledgeable leader, a group of Jews gathered every Saturday to light candles, study Hebrew and sing Yiddish folk songs.  Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur were celebrated and successive seders were held. 

1993 and 1994 were years of milestones, including the establishment of regular Shabbat services on Friday nights, the first blowing of the Shofar in at least 15 years, and the establishment of diplomatic relations between Moçambique and Israel at which time there were around 80 people affiliated to the Jewish community.  



Another great milestone of this period was the reception of a Sefer Torah at the synagogue. When the community scattered in 1975-76, the two Sifrei Torah were sent by Mr Martin Moses for safekeeping to the South African Jewish Board of Deputies in Johannesburg. They were however found to be not kosher. 

South Africa’s Chief Rabbi C K Harris took it upon himself to solicit the donation of a Sefer Torah from the Schoonder Street congregation in Cape Town. Rabbi Harris personally delivered the Torah on 11 April 1994. The day happened to be Rosh Chodesh, the day beginning a new month on the Jewish calendar, making it possible to read from the Torah on that day. Among those in attendance were non-resident Ambassador of Israel to Moçambique, Alon Liel. 


On 23 August 1996 Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, Spiritual Leader of the African Jewish Congress officiated at the 70th Anniversary of the consecration of the synagogue.



Full diplomatic relations were re-stablished with the State of Israel and Rogerio Levy Fonseca was appointed Honorary Consul of Israel in Mozambique.



During June 2000, the African Jewish Congress held its annual congress in Maputo which was attended by 40 delegates. Among the participants were Chief Rabbi & Mrs Harris and H E Mr Itzhak Gerber, non-resident Israeli Ambassador to Moçambique.


During March 2007 a solidarity mission to Mozambique by the African Jewish Congress was led by its President, Mervyn Smith.




Although Rev Hertz appealed to the community in December l899 to acquire land for a "Beit Chaim,” Hyman Jocum, relates that in the l960s he visited the Maputo Jewish cemetery and discovered tombstones dating back to the l880s. Miss Rygor told him how she battled with the authorities for years to get these Jewish tombstones removed from the multi-denominational cemetery to the Jewish cemetery.

 The names on the tombstones testify to the diversity of the community: Rygor, Harrison, Barnett, Cagi, Vidra and Zaffrany. 

There are 2 tombstones in the Maputo Jewish cemetery inscribed with the names of the Barnett family.  Mr. Alec Israel, born in Rhodesia and for years an editor at the Jerusalem Post, well remembers J.M. Barnett, whom he met in the l960s and who served as a shipping agent for Israel's father's Indian textile import business.


The community has made great progress in restoring the cemetery.


When work started in 1992, the plot was a garbage dump and a homeless person lived in the Ohel, Chapel. The walls were raised, tombstones repaired and re-erected and tons of garbage were removed, in the process of which more graves were discovered.  Water was piped in and trees grass and flowers were planted.

Today, the cemetery is guarded 24 hours a day and is in the condition a place for Jewish Burial deserves