Kimberley, South Africa


Chonin, Leon

My Maternal Grandparents, Lipi and Hannah Weinstein

by Leon Chonin, Posted July 2014


Lipi and Hannah Weinstein (nee Erhlich) were born and raised in Wolamin a suburban area near Warsaw, in Poland. Lipi (whose Hebrew name was Lippa ben Yehuda Ariyeh Halevi) arrived in Cape Town on board the Toledo in February 1928 followed almost a year later by Hannah (whose Hebrew name was Chana Idel bat Shmaya Hacohen) and their four daughters and one son in March 1929 on board the Watussi. They had chosen Kimberley in South Africa because Lipi’s father Louis Weinstein had already emigrated and they had heard that it was a rich diamond mining town where fortunes could be made. Hannah’s family had emigrated to the United States of America but immigration quotas prevented them from entering North America. They chose to emigrate because of anti-Semitism and the poor quality of life in Europe for Jews who were restricted from participating as equal citizens. It would appear that Lipi’s father only emigrated after his wife died. Lipi had a brother but there is little knowledge of whether he remained on in Poland or emigrated. Lipi did have a niece who lived for many years in Denver, Colorado in the United Sates.  

Lipi was a skilled tailor one of the few trades that Jews were permitted to practice in Europe. They had six children but unfortunately the eldest son died at a very young age of consumption more commonly known today as tuberculosis and their youngest daughter was born with a hearing impediment that left her with very limited speech ability. When the family arrived in South Africa they could not speak English only Polish and Yiddish which remained their language of choice throughout their lives in Kimberley. On their arrival in Cape Town they declared their Yiddish birth names which were very difficult for the government officials to understand and record. Their entry records in the landing register did not reflect the correct names and ages of the five children. When Chaya their second eldest daughter started her schooling they were unable to pronounce or record her Hebrew name correctly and hence spelled it Geheli. This name struck with her throughout her life.

The children attended English schools until what was then known as standard eight school leaving certificate. Because there were no Jewish studies offered at the English government schools they had to attend chaida after school. The children were fortunate to have a home environment that observed the Shabat and all the Jewish holidays. The family had no means of transport hence they walked wherever they needed to go or relied on the generosity of other community members who had transport. They enjoyed a very humble yet safe and secure life in Kimberley far better than if the family had remained on in Poland. 

Lipi managed to continue his trade as a tailor opening a shop across the road from Roderick and Brook dealership and from Drs Perel and Portnoi’s rooms in Chapel Street where he made many suites and alterations for his loyal customers. Notwithstanding Lipi’s struggle to provide for his family he would never work on the Shabat but regularly without fail attended shul services. Hannah did not work but looked after the upbringing of their five children and maintaining a very strict kosher home. She was however active in the Union of Jewish Women and the Women’s Zionist League. Lipi and Hannah were very observant orthodox Jews bringing with them their Polish Jewish traditions and customs. They lived all their lives in Tapscott Street near the Kimberley Railway Station and diagonally across the road from the Zvi family. 

Lipi attended shul services every single night and being from Poland preferred the traditional orthodox services held at what the community called the “Grinna” shul in Baronial Street, near Klein Bros wholesale business. Its name was the Yiddish label given to the eastern European Jews who were regarded as less knowledgeable and sophisticated than those British immigrants who built the Memorial Road shul. Those traditional European Jews who regularly attended the shul were members of the Klein, Zvi, Benjamin, Sussman, Jawno, Brenner, Geller, Magid families. Lipi invariably conducted the services with the assistance from Mr Zvi and Edel Chonin who later became his son-in-law. Before and during the nineteen fifties, shul services were held during the week at the Grinna shul and only on Sabbat at the Memorial Road shul. But on most Jewish festivals services were held at both shuls. As the integration of the Memorial Road and “Grinna” shuls took place Lipi participated in conducting the services at both shuls. He became the chazzan sheini and very close friends with all the rabbonim including Reverend Goldberg and Rabbi Bloch, but his closest friendship was with Rabbi Oscar Werner who first moved to the Greenside shul in Johannesburg before emigrating himself to West Palm Beach, Florida in the USA in 1988 to live closer to his children. Lipi was one of the very few members of the Kimberley Jewish community who was able to enjoy his second barmitzvah at the age of 83, one year before his passing away.

Lipi was honoured for his dedication as chairman of the Chevra Kaddisha for most of his life in Kimberley when he was made an honorary life president. As a tailor he was responsible for making all the burial garments tachrichim for which he never ever claimed re-imbursement as he considered it a mitzvah to perform this sacred act of service. Joe Brenner the vice chairman was his closest religious friend and both were elected as worthy brothers of the Kimberley Hebrew Order of David. There can be little doubt that Lipi and Hannah Weinstein were members of the pioneering Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe who assisted in establishing the Kimberley Jewish community which tragically has diminished today to a few remaining souls. The loss of the “Grinna” shul when it was sold and demolished would have been a devastating blow to both Lipi and Edel Chonin who attended their daily services and whose family thoroughly enjoyed the amazing Jewish festivals such as the Sukkot services with the brocha in the Sukkah.

All Lipi and Hannah’s children left Kimberley after completing their schooling except their second daughter Geheli who remained on when she married Edel Chonin another immigrant from Utian (formerly known as Utena) in Lithuania, arriving in the same year, September 1929 on board the Toledo. While Edel and Geheli continued the orthodox traditions of Judaism their other children and their families were far more removed from the practices that Lipi and Hannah had tried to instil in their children. Three of their children moved to live in Johannesburg and one settled in Klerksdorp. The legacy that Lipi and Hannah have left is they have thirteen grandchildren one of whom is deceased, twenty four great grandchildren one of whom is deceased, and at the last count twelve great, great grandchildren but unfortunately not all of them have followed in the Jewish faith. Their families are now spread across the world living in the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada, Israel, Australia and three grandchildren who remained in South Africa. They carried the torch of Judaism from the oppressive societies of Europe to Kimberley in South Africa so that their seeds could flourish and be nurtured in the free countries of the world. If they had not taken that very difficult decision to leave their country of birth just ten years before the outbreak of World War II with the horrific persecution of European Jewry and the savage murder of men, women and children during the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis, their offspring may not be spread across the globe. Edel’s only sister on the other hand fled from Lithuania with her husband to Russia but even with the assistance of the International Red Cross he was unable to locate her as it was believed that as illegal immigrants the Russian deported them to a Siberian concentration camp where they died either of the severe weather conditions or as a result of their ill treatment as Jews. 

The tragedy is, history had to repeat itself when so many of their grandchildren and their families were forced to leave South Africa perhaps because of slightly different reasons yet still having to uproot and start all over again. For the most, those who had emigrated retained their Jewish South African values and now have the opportunity to bring these same European based customs to their new communities. Lipi and Hannah would be proud to know that some of their great, great grandchildren are attending Jewish day schools and will be carrying on their love for Judaism, its customs and traditions. 

Louis Weinstein, Lipi’s father died at the age of 73 in July 1932. Hannah died at the age of 78 in July 1967 predeceasing Lipi who passed away in October 1973. Their son-in-law Edel Chonin passed away in May 1976 at the age of 63. All were buried at West End Kimberley Jewish cemetery. Geheli moved to Johannesburg after Edel’s passing to live closer to her children. Her children however eventually all emigrated and she was left all alone passing away at Our Parents Home in November 2011 at the age of 90 years and was buried at the Johannesburg West Park cemetery. All of Geheli’s siblings are also deceased.

Leon (whose Hebrew name is Eliezer ben Yehuda “HaLevi”), the elder son of Edel and Geheli (Chaya) Chonin was born in 1945. He attended Kimberley Boys High matriculating in 1962. His only major achievement on the school sports field was playing a few games for the first hockey team. He has very fond memories of growing up in Kimberley where he made long-lasting friendships but was forced to leave at the age of 18 to attend University in Johannesburg.

After leaving school Leon embarked on a professional career in accountancy and qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1970. Because he had intentions of one-day perhaps settling in Israel he also completed his Israeli qualification becoming an Israeli CPA. Leon extended his academic knowledge in computer studies by completing a post graduate higher diploma in business data processing (H.Dip.BDP) and finally reading for a Master of Commerce all from the University of the Witwatersrand. Once Leon emigrated to Canada he also completed a course in taxation from the Ryerson University in Toronto at the age of 58.

Leon married Barbara Sandberg, a ballet teacher from Johannesburg (who was introduced to him by his close Kimberley friend Milton Jawno) on 13 December 1970 at The Oxford Shul, Johannesburg. Rabbi Bernard the then congregation spiritual leader officiated together with Cantor Moshe Kraus. Not only was Milton a pole-holder at their wedding but he also proposed the toast to the newly married couple. The reception was held at the Oxford Shul hall next door. Leon says: ‘Incidentally Archie Sandler who had moved from Kimberley to Johannesburg proposed the toast to my parents’.

Left to Right: Lipi Weinstein (groom’s grandpa), Edel Chonin, Geheli Chonin (Groom’s Parents), Leon Chonin, Barbara Sandberg Chonin, Ivan Sandberg, Elsie Sandberg (bride’s parents), Bertha Sandberg (bride's grandmother)

Back row: Milton Jawno (groom’s best friend, Kimberley), Sydney Loewenthal, Hugh Eiser (close friends of the groom), Geoffrey Mendelsohn (now married to Linda Sandberg)

Front row from left: Jennifer Chonin, Linda Sandberg (bride's sister), Leon Chonin, Barbara Sandberg Chonin, Seville Chonin (groom’s brother), Glynn Sandberg (Bride's cousin), Carol Mendelsohn (bride's cousin)

Leon and Barbara have two daughters, the elder lives in Cleveland, Ohio and is a clinical dietician and the younger is a speech pathologist living in Toronto, Canada. Both daughters have three children. They range in age from the eldest who is sixteen to the youngest who is seven.

Leon embarked on his professional career by first practicing as a public accountant before entering the commercial and industrial sectors. He worked in the mining, quarrying, motor, jewelry sectors before finally working for an international engineering company where he worked for 24 years to become the managing director of the company. He held this position for approximately eight years before emigrating to Canada. During his involvement with this engineering company at the time called Nordberg he helped to steer the organization in its achievement of winning the South African Non Listed Company Award. 

Since emigrating, to Canada, Leon has been employed as a financial analyst in one of the largest real estate investment trust listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

During his period in South Africa Leon has also written a few articles for the South African Chartered Accountant magazine.

Leon’s Father Edel, who was a tailor by trade, died in 1976 aged 63 and is buried in Kimberley West End Cemetery. His mother Geheli (Chaya) (nee Weinstein) who ran the family outfitting store together with his father died in 2011 aged 90 and is buried in Johannesburg.

Leon has written (below) about his grandparents Lipi and Hannah Weinstein (nee Erhlich) from Wolamin, a suburb near Warsaw. They arrived in Kimberley with four children in 1929. Lipi was also a tailor and a pillar of the community helping with conducting services in both synagogues. His grandmother Hannah died in 1967 aged 78 and his grandfather in 1973. Both were buried side by side in the West End Cemetery in Kimberley.

You can read Leon’s wide-ranging articles for this Kimberley community website here:

My maternal grandparents Hannah and Lipi Weinstein see below: (posted 2014)

Habonim in Kimberley 1961- 1963 (posted 2016)

Jewish Business activity in Kimberley c1930 – 1970 (posted 2017)

Maintaining a kosher home in Kimberley (posted 2018)

Chonin Family Re-unification (posted 2019)

Jewish Education In Kimberley (posted October 2019)

This profile originally posted 2014. Revised and posted May, 2019