On 30 January, the long awaited building of the shul for the Mevaser Zion community was initiated by the turning of the sod ceremony held in Tel Mond, a small town located in the beautiful Sharon valley. It was an important occasion not just for the congregation, many of whom are former South Africans, but also in its honoring the memory of what was one of South African Jewry’s leading country communities, the Pietersburg Hebrew Congregation. It is intended that when the new shul opens, it will contain the furniture of the old PHC, which formally closed down in 2002.

Amongst the more than 200 people who attended the ground-breaking ceremony were a number of former members of the old PHC, including Harold and Hillary Starkowitz, Joan Wiseman (Stein) and Charlotte and Dennis Wiener. Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, who was at the time in Israel for the World Jewish Congress conference, was also present. The Rabbi and Mayor of Tel Mond were amongst the speakers.

The link between Tel Mond and Pietersburg Jewry goes back to the very beginning of the decade, when the remaining members of the PHC, the last functioning Jewish community north of Pretoria, were engaged in the sad but necessary process of winding up their congregation’s affairs prior to its closure. It was a few years before this time that Nathan Mowszowski, of the Shivtei Yisrael Congregation in Ra’anana, suggested to PHC treasurer Dennis Wiener that through his agency, his community would donate two of their Sifrei Torah to Shiftei. This was readily agreed to, and in May 2001, the Sifrei Torah were formally presented to the Shivtei Congregation at a Hachnasat Torah ceremony.

Shortly after this, then Shivtei president Maish Isaacson informed Wiener of the proposed building of a new shul by the Mevaser Zion community of Tel Mond, the core of which comprised a young group of ex-South Africans led by Darren Platzky. Pietersburg, he suggested, could assist in this regard by providing the shul with the necessary furniture and appurtenances. This led to formal negotiations being entered into between the two congregations, whereby it was agreed that the PHC would donate its furniture while Mevasar Zion would in turn perpetuate the memory of the PHC by placing its plaques and foundation stones in a prominent position in the new shul and through an annual Shabat service to be held in the memory of its members and ex- members.

Early in 2003, the Pietersburg shul was dismantled. Its furniture was packed into two forty-foot containers and shipped to Israel, where it has been held in storage until now.