A Day with Bloemfontein Jewry – March 2012
Nolan Pincus (third from left) viewing the vandalised grave of his
great-uncle Aaron Pincus.
If Bloemfontein Jewry is now the dowager of the South African Jewish community, she remains a feisty old lady. Fewer than a hundred souls now remain in the Free State capital, down from over four hundred families at the community’s height, and most of them are elderly. Despite this, communal activities continue on a regular basis, and what the community lacks in numbers it makes up for in solidarity and high levels of involvement.
In the middle of March Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, Spiritual Leader to the Country Communities, SAJBD Associate Director and a representative of the Community Security Organisation spent a day in Bloemfontein, meeting with the community and also following up on the recent vandalising of the old Jewish cemetery. They first met at the cemetery with local Jewish community members, including United Hebrew Institutions of Bloemfontein President Solly Kroll, and the police officers responsible for following up the case. Nearly 80 tombstones had been toppled, of which many were badly damaged. One such grave was that of Anglo-Boer war veteran Aaron Pincus, who fought in the commando of the legendary General Christiaan de Wet. The interior of the Ohel was also defaced with graffiti of an obscene, and occasionally overtly anti-Semitic nature.
In a statement to the local media, subsequently published in Die Volksblad, Rabbi Silberhaft deplored what he called an act of racially motivated hooliganism.
“A cemetery is a place of sanctity, where the earthly remains of those who rendered honourable dedicated service during their lives find their final resting place. We owe it to their memory, to those who knew and loved them, to their descendants and to posterity as a whole, to allow them to rest in dignity and peace” he said.
Next, Rabbi Silberhaft officiated at the ceremonial burial of Jewish religious texts (sheimos) at the new Jewish cemetery, for which occasion a minyan was present. This was followed by a luncheon with the local Jewish leadership at the premises of the United Hebrew Institutions in Danhof.
In the evening, immediately after Mincha-Maariv, more than half of the Bloemfontein Jewish community attended an address by Saks, which was preceded by introductory remarks by Rabbi Silberhaft and an overview of the security situation by the CSO representative. Saks commended Bloemfontein Jewry on their commitment to keeping their community active, saying that every gathering for a minyan and every communal function held continued to add to the honrable saga of Jewish life in the city.