With the local Jewish communities having long since moved on, and with little or nothing to expect in the way of upkeep by the relevant municipalities, the maintenance of Jewish cemeteries in the rural areas has become one of the primary functions of the SAJBD’s Country Communities Department. What has made the latter’s task even more difficult of late has been the increasing rate at which these cemeteries are being vandalised. Theunissen, De Aar, Vryheid, Aliwal North, Williston, Cradock and Nigel are just a few of the towns where serious damage to Jewish graves have been reported during the past 6 months.


In 1995 Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, Spiritual Leader to the Country Communities, undertook the photographing of every existing grave under his department’s aegis in order to capture the relevant information before it was irretrievably lost. In many cases, such photographs today provide the only means of identifying certain graves since tombstones are not infrequently removed altogether for use in building informal housing and for paving.


Since restoring cemeteries to their former state would only be an expensive exercise in futility, the Country Communities Department has embarked on a long-term project of laying all country cemetery tombstones flat in a bed of concrete to prevent future vandalism and looting, as well as natural deterioration from the elements. Not only small town cemeteries, but even those of the larger satellite towns of Johannesburg may in time have to be restored in this way. This is already happening in Springs, which no longer has a functioning Jewish community and whose large cemetery has similarly been twice targeted by vandals.


Rabbi Silberhaft is currently working with the trustees of the former Springs Hebrew Congregation in arranging for all 507 graves in the cemetery to have their stones laid flat. Thus far, some 170 family members of those buried there have come forward to assist, but he hoped that there would be others.


“Those involved in a project that aims to safeguard in perpetuity the final resting places of their loved ones, as well as preserve the historical information on each stone for posterity, are participating in a very great mitzvah. We hope very much that all those with a connection to the cemetery, and to Springs Jewry as a whole, will in due course make themselves a part of this process” Rabbi Silberhaft said. Once the restoration of the Springs cemetery has been completed, there will be a special rededication ceremony there, during which those who assisted in the project will be appropriately honoured. Those wishing to assist with the restoration project are invited to contact Rabbi Silberhaft on 011 645 2500 / moshe@beyachad.co.za