Kimberley, South Africa


Berman (Brown), Cherille

Cherille (née Brown) Berman

Picture of Cherille (née Brown) with husband Morris Berman 2019 The Berkshires USA

I was born in Kimberley on September 19,1948, the second of three daughters of Helen and Harold (Ikky) Brown. Both my parents were also born in Kimberley. My mother’s Maresky family came from Karelitch, near Minsk in Belarus and my father’s Brown family from Lokova in Lithuania.

Earliest Kimberley Memories

My earliest memories are of our first home, on Elsmere Road. My mother’s father, my Zeide, Jacob Maresky (see the Maresky, Jack story) lived with us and because he had studied at the Mir Yeshiva, he brought Torah to our home and to Kimberley. He was a staunch supporter of both the Grinner and the Memorial Road shuls. My Step-Granny on my father’s side, Clara Brown, (see the Brown, Harry story) was Shabbat observant and kept kosher, and was a role-model for us.

Here I am (above) with my grandparents Harry Brown (left) Jack Alter Maresky with Harry’s second wife, Clara, and their granddaughters, Helen and Ikky’s three little girls: Jennifer, Cherille and Delia.

My Father Ikky, as a young man received one of only a handful of passports issued by the British to go to Palestine. He was a chalutz, a member of a group of Jewish immigrants to Palestine who worked in agriculture. A subsequent visit to Kimberley, a few years later, coincided with the start of WW2, and he enlisted and served in North Africa and Italy. He wanted to be an Areal Photographer, but conditions were not suitable for developing photos in the desert, so he ended up being the mess supervisor.

Before my father went ‘Up North’ on war service, my parents got married in the Kimberley shul in December 1940. (See them at their wedding left.) After the War, Ikky returned to Kimberley and became a Director of the family business, Awerbuck and Brown.

My mother, Helen, was a very beautiful, brilliant and talented woman. There was always music in our home. The living room was dominated by a handsome Bechstein piano, played by my mother, and in later years, expertly by my younger sister, Jenny. My mother always played the piano at communal functions and events – which she probably had a big hand in organising.

We moved to 38 Carrington Road in 1955 when I was 7 years old. It was a wide double carriageway lined with special trees that would withstand Kimberley’s dry climate - the seemingly evergreen Karee Boom (right) on the pavements and with pepper trees on the central reservation.

I grew to love that gracious neighborhood, with grand historical homes from a bygone colonial era. Our house had belonged to a diamond magnate – partner of Sir JB Robinson by the name of Marcus. It’s now a national monument as it was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, the famous architect who designed the monument to the honored dead in Kimberley as well as important buildings in in Cape Town and Delhi. Many well-to-do Jews had gravitated there. Hannah and Jack Frank (an attorney) and their daughters Alma and Brenda lived next door at no 36. On the other side at no 40 was a well-known Kimberley gentile family the Hendersons, who owned a big department store in town. The Kretzmar’s (Geraldine’s parents) lived on the corner at no 42.

I also developed a curiosity about the diamond industry, since my Zeide, amongst other things, like prospecting for copper in Namibia in his younger years, and now running a dairy, was a diamond prospector. I remember asking him what he had in his pocket and he showed me the weeks findings – in a little glass bottle with what looked like little pieces of quartz.

My parents were proud Zionists My mother Helen was a leader in the Union of Jewish Women, the Women’s Zionist league, and many other Kimberley societies especially the Music Society.

She also contributed greatly to the cultural life in the city. She realized that in order to attain excellence in the arts, children needed to work towards a goal.

So, singlehandedly, Helen organized an annual Eisteddfod in Kimberley, the Northern Cape Arts Festival that drew several hundred entrants each year. She contacted De Beers and had them underwrite the costs of bringing in leaders in the fields of music, drama and dance to Kimberley each year, as judges.

Life in Kimberley followed a pattern. We rode our bicycles to Girls High School (seen below) each day, followed by Hebrew lessons at cheder in the afternoons, or elocution lessons with Mrs. Ray Sack. The weekends were spent with Gail Levinsohn, Brenda Geller and Ralene Jacobson, mostly hanging out at the Jacobsen’s home or walking into town, along Dutoitspan Road, to see a film matinee at the Plaza or Astra.

Leaving Kimberley

I left Kimberley aged 17 in 1965 for UCT and a degree in Drama, and then I went on to Wits where I graduated as a Librarian.

Many years later, I visited Kimberley and as a qualified librarian did a stint cataloguing the books in the De Beers boardroom, where I came across a copy of the famous (or infamous) Reminiscences of Kimberley, (see left) by the loose-tongued Louis Cohen. It was published in 1911 – and soon withdrawn. I sneaked it out and had it photocopied as it was the reason for the enactment of libel laws in South Africa.

Marriage and emigration

n this picture on the steps of the Kimberley shul, my parents Helen and Ikky Brown are on the right.

Following my marriage in 1972, to a wonderful man from Pretoria, Morris Berman, we emigrated to the USA. We have lived in 5 different cities, the first of which was Houston, Texas for 2 years, moving next to Chicago for 11 years, to Irvine, Southern California, where Morris was Dean of the College of Optometry for 31 years, and then on to Worcester, MA for 3 years, to head up the College of Optometry there. We moved to Boston just a year ago, and now live in Newton, which has a flourishing Jewish Community, and with four shuls within walking distance.

I retired in 2016, after working as a librarian for 40 years, My career followed an interesting direction: (Probably my testimonial from De Beers, or my Kimberley and family mining background steered me in this direction).

My first job was running the Mining and Geology Library at Wits. In Houston I worked as a reference librarian for Shell Oil in their corporate headquarters; in Chicago I worked in a similar capacity for AMOCO which later became British Petroleum. On the birth of our third child, we moved to Irvine, California. I was looking for more flexible hours, and decided to become a school librarian, with my last job running the High School Library for Tarbut V"Torah Community Day School.

We have three married children, Chloe, Malcolm and Glenda. Chloe Sugarman, was born 1978, studied finance, lives in San Francisco; Malcolm Berman, was born 1981, he has an MBA and lives in Israel; Glenda Savitz, was born 1985, lives in Boston. She is an optometrist. We have the additional blessings of seven grandchildren.

Family Reunion in Irvine, California

After my mother died in Kimberley in 1989, my father joined my sister Delia and her family as well as my sister Jennifer and her family all emigrating together (including Delia’s dogs) to the USA in 1990. We all lived in Irvine, and it felt like being back in the old days in Kimberley.

My Father, Ikky lived with my family, and made an incredible adjustment. He drove on the "wrong" side of the road, made new friends at the senior center and was a role model of flexibility. He accepted retirement from Awerbuck and Brown, adapted to living with a young noisy family, and embraced everything that Irvine offered and did not hanker for the past. He died in Irvine, aged 85.

We are currently living in Boston, and I am fortunate to be in close contact with my sisters who are now also living in different parts of the USA, Delia (in Baltimore) and Jenny (in Irvine) – and with our daughter Glenda.

Kimberley, being the place of my youth, has a special place in my heart. I often think of it with nostalgia. In 2010 I took a trip to SA and visited Kimberley. The number of Jewish families had dwindled to about five. I was sad to see that the cemetery wall needed replacing but the beautiful synagogue was sparkling and Barney Horwitz, the Chairman of the community, with a few stalwarts still runs services each Friday night. It is hard to accept that you can’t go back to a place that no longer exists as it was when we grew up.

Back Row: Malcolm Berman, Keiko Berman holding son Shogo, Chloe Sugarman holding daughter Neve, Morris Berman, Mark Sugarman, Cherille Berman, Glenda Savitz, Raphi Savitz holding daughter Samantha. Front row: Archer Sugarman, Poppy Sugarman

This family picture was taken at a reunion in Kennebunkport, Maine in 2017


Cherille (née Brown) Berman

Compiled by Geraldine Auerbach MBE from story and pictures supplied by Cherille and her family,

September 2020.