“Jewish life in the S A Country Communities – Volume 1”
19 February 2003


Speech delivered by Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft @ the book launch




For over half a century, the Country Communities Department of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies has extended a helping hand to the Jewish communities of the small town and country districts, providing spiritual guidance and logistical assistance for scores of isolated and numerically dwindling Jewish centres. It is my privilege to be the seventh in a line of Country Community Rabbis who have served these outlying communities in this way.


There are many aspects of the role that are deeply rewarding and make it all worthwhile many times over. Not least is the privilege of being in constant touch with country Jews themselves. Overwhelmingly, I have found them to be warm, caring, down to earth and largely unaffected by the kind of factors that make big city living an often impersonal and alienating experience. I have also been moved by the degree of unswerving loyalty to Judaism and Israel I have encountered and the extent to which these small pockets of country Jewry have been prepared to make sacrifices to maintain a Jewish life, despite being so far removed from the main Jewish population centres.


To all those remaining families and individuals, I extend my warmest commendation, as well as the assurance that the Country Communities Department will always be there to extend a helping hand to those who, against the odds, remain committed to continuing the saga of country Jewish life.


Ladies and Gentlemen: Yesterday I officiated at the funeral of Wally Levy. He was a member of the Pietersburg Jewish community for 81 years, from the day he was born when his father registered him as a member until two weeks ago, when sadly but necessarily, the Pietersburg shul was formally closed. The life of this man ticked to the spiritual clock of the community into which he’d been born and lived throughout his life.


Mr Levy was buried in the Pietersburg Jewish cemetery. As you all know, my Department under the auspices of the SAJBD is responsible for, among other things, maintaining and where necessary restoring Jewish cemeteries throughout rural South Africa.


The spiritual and historical components of this work are closely related. Every stone is a memorial to a unique life that is interwoven with the collective Jewish experience. While each stone tells some stories, they are silent about others.


The publication of Jewish Life in the South African Country Communities is a truly significant memorial of another kind. While, for example, the Pietersburg shul no longer exists, this book will enable people to remember and learn about that community, its institutions and its people.


Both Danzig’s Produce Market [the photo on the front of the book] and African Stores [the photo on the back] were Jewish-owned businesses in Pietersburg. On page 148, you will read that the new shul hall, built in 1995 was named the Wally Levy Hall "in honour of the man who had served as chairman of the Pietersburg Chevra Kadisha for nearly 36 years".


May this book be the first of many such publications that enable ourselves and future generations to know not only the names of people and towns in which they lived, but also the values they learned from their parents that continued to shape every day of their lives.


I would like to publicly salute the dedicated team who have been researching and gathering information on the S A Country Communities, in which Jews played a vital role in the establishment of the South African economy and whose members carried the banner of Judaism proudly and with love wherever they settled.


Kol Hakavod and well done.