Saga of Pietersburg Jewry lives on in Telmond – 23 June 2013


Former members of the Pietersburg Hebrew Congregation, as well as of the Louis Trichardt and Messina communities joined the Telmond community for the official opening of their new synagogue. Keynote speaker for the occasion was Naftali Bennett, Minister of Trade Industry and Labour and leader of the Yisrael Bateinu Party. Other speakers included the Rabbi of Telmond, R’ Shlomo Tzadok, the head of the Telmond municipality, former Pietersburg committee member Dennis Wiener and Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, Spiritual Leader to the South African Country Communities.


For former Pietersburgers in particular, it was an emotional evening. Following the closure of the Pietersburg Hebrew Congregation in 2004, the Pietersburg Hebrew Congregation Trust decided to assist the Telmond community by donating a Sefer Torah, together with the interior furniture of the old shul, for its planned new synagogue. The foundation stone was laid some four and a half years ago, following which the benches (suitably modified), pulpit and bimah, as well as the Holocaust memorial, from the Pietersburg shul were shipped over from South Africa. All these have been incorporated into the new structure. A beautifully wrought timeline giving the history of the Pietersburg congregation and incorporating the original foundation stones of the various buildings used by the community over its more than a hundred year history has been erected in the foyer.


The evening commenced with a Hachnasat Sefer Torah ceremony, in which the Torah from the old Pietersburg congregation was formally ushered into its new home. All the speakers paid warm tribute to those who had involved themselves with the project, with special mention being made of the part played by former South Africans Darren Platzky and Paul Wineberg. Rabbi Tzadok commented that the dedication and passion shown in promoting the development of Telmond epitomised the commitment to Jewish communal life that South African Jewry was famous for.


Denis Wiener, the last Treasurer of the Pietersburg Hebrew Congregation (and the father of well-known radio journalist and author, Mandy Wiener) observed that it had been the fate of many of the defunct country congregations in South Africa to have become “a blip on the radar screen”, their shuls abandoned or sold and their furnishings destroyed. He and another former congregant, Wally Levy had been determined that their beloved Pietersburg congregation would not share the same destiny, hence their decision to assist the Telmond congregation. The generosity of the latter in hosting the memory of the Pietersburg congregation had enabled it to live on in perpetuity in Eretz Yisrael, he said. Like most of the former South Africans in attendance, Wiener now lives in Israel.


Rabbi Silberhaft, who has likewise been much involved in the process from the outset, commented that the pulpit at which he was speaking had been the very first pulpit from which he had delivered a drasha back in the days when the congregation was still active. He recalled the emotional valedictory service for the kehilla over which he had subsequently presided, and concluded with the prayer that the communal Neshama that had been so powerfully in evidence in Pietersburg would continue in Telmond.






Dennis Wiener presenting Darren Platzky with a copy of
“The History of the Pietersburg (Polokwane) Jewish community