Cape Town, South Africa



Woodstock Cheder 1956

Woodstock Cheder 1948

Photos provided by Abe Gulis, K’far Sava

Abe Gulis’ Barmitzvah - Nov 1952 st the Zionist Hall, Hope St



Shulamith Levin

There was a great sense of anticipation and excitement as 170 people crowded into the Ruth Prowse Art Centre in Woodstock Cape Town for the Woodstock Shul reunion. It took place on December 20th, 2004.

Those present had spent their formative years in Woodstock during different periods of time. The reunion was originally conceived as a small “get together” of a group of friends from USA, Canada, Israel and England who planned to be in Cape Town at that time. As word spread about the forthcoming event there was a growing interest resulting in the need to develop an agenda and get a venue for the evening. A committee of Herschel Gelbart, Ada Sher (Boyd), Harold Idesis, Naomi Schroder (Boyd) and Joe Gatz was struck to organise a larger scale reunion The original fifty people turned into 150 who signed up, and the 170 who came to the standing room only affair.

The Ruth Prowse art centre is a beautiful old restored mansion in the heart of the area where the Jewish Community once lived. In earlier years it was considered by the children to be a scary “ghost house”.

It was a joyful gathering as many people who had not seen each other for many years got reacquainted.

Woodstock, Cape Town, South Africa was a unique community. In the 1920’s and 1930’s many Jews who had immigrated from Latvia and Lithuania settled there. At the height of the community the membership comprised over 200 families. Meticulous records of the membership and the committee meetings are preserved for posterity by the diligent recordings by Mr Alexander Rubin. He was the shul secretary in a volunteer capacity for over a quarter century.

The Woodstockers were primarily business people – shopkeepers. They formed a very close-knit community. Their homes and places of work were often in the same area and the shul and the cheder were the focal points of the community. This was the central theme that was alluded to in the reminiscences of the participants.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s the numbers dwindled as people moved out of the area and in the 1980’s the shul was sold, as a regular minyan could not be sustained. Today there are no longer any of the original Jews living in Woodstock.

The evening started with a humorous speech by Harold Idesis – the master of ceremonies. Michael Bagraim whose family came from Woodstock now the Head of the SA Board of Deputies followed, with Joe Gatz thereafter.

Naomi Schroder who is a professional caterer in Cape Town, catered the dinner in the true Woodstock tradition.

After dinner Herschel Gelbart passed around a roving microphone and various people recalled aspects of their lives. Invariably their memories involved the cheder teacher Rev Gulis who had a very great impact on their lives. Others recalled the dense population of Jewish businesses along the main road and recalled that when the businesses were closed for high holidays the streets would be deserted. Among those who spoke were Prof Solly Marks, Prof Isaac Marks, Mike Getz – Washington, Hannah Helman (Rosenthal) – Alabama, Wilf Levin – Toronto, Simon Gavish (Golshevsky) – Israel, Solly Sklar – Cape Town, and Ettie Binder – Johannesburg, who came down especially for the evening.

All expressed their pride at having grown up in the community and appreciation for the intense Jewish education they had received. They had a sense of belonging and they reminisced about community leaders and what the shul had meant to them.

As Joe Gatz mentioned in his speech we will never see the likes of a community such as this again. It was self-sufficient.

Today, as their fathers came to Woodstock to seek a better life, so too have their children moved on. It was evident that night that the bonds between the Woodstockers remain strong.

SA-SIG Newsletter, Vol. 5, Issue 3, March 2005 Page 19

Woodstock Shul Hall Nov 1952 - 25th Silver Wedding - Rev & Mrs Gulis