Kimberley, South Africa


The Kimberley Jewish Community


The Kimberley Jewish Community

Jews, from Britain and Western Europe, arrived on the scene, soon after diamonds were discovered from 1868. Less than 10 years later, there were 1400 Jewish souls in Kimberley. Jews from Eastern Europe came in the early 20th Century. By the 1940s and 50s there were barely 150 families. Today (2017) only a handful remain. This website strives to remember and memorialise the Kimberley Jewish Community members, and their contribution to Jewish, economic, civic and national life. 

(To send your family story – go to the contact page.)

  1. 1Below, is a Time-Line of how the community developed from 1868 to 1911

  2. 2Read Cyril Haberfeld article about 100 years of the community 1873-1973 – click the poster at the bottom of this page. 

  3. 3Read how the community celebrated the 110th anniversary of the consecration of the Memorial Road Synagogue in 2012, hosting a weekend convention of the African Jewish Congress with prestigious events and many dignitaries attending

  4. 4Watch the SABC footage of the celebrations of 110 years

  5. 5Read Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft’s Kimberley chapter from his book The travelling Rabbi

  6. 6Read about Jewish Youth Activities in Kimberley in the 1950s and 60s

  7. 7Read Leon Chonin’s account of maintaining a kosher home in Kimbreley

  8. 8Read about the business activities and achievements of Kimberley Jews

  9. 9Read about the Kimberley Synagogues 

  10. 10See our gallery of Kimberley weddings  

  11. 11See the Kimberley Shul Facebook pages

Timeline: Origins 1868 – 1911

1868: Diamonds discovered along the banks of the Orange and Vaal rivers and in the surrounding veldt. Many Jews mainly from Britain and Western Europe arrived to seek their fortunes.

1869: Scarcely had the digging and sifting of diamondiferous ground began when Jews on the diamond fields met and formed a congregation for divine service praying in homes which were no more than tents.

1871: With many Jews living in difficult and insanitary conditions, the first real need was for a burial ground which was opened in 1871. The first burial was of Arthur Marcus aged 17.

1871: First tentative congregation established as the Griqualand West Jewish Association. Among its members were (later to become millionaires) Isaac Lewis, Woolf Joel and Lionel Phillips. A corrugated iron building was hired for the High Holydays and filled to overflowing with worshippers. The initiative was taken for this by Joel Myers (a pioneer of the domestication of ostriches in Oudtshoorn) supported by Rev Rabinowitz in Cape Town who sent up festival prayer books and a Shofar as a gift from the mother community.

1870s and 1880s: Jews were already well represented in the digger community and nearly half the brokers and buyers were Jews. There were also Jews who ran transport to the fields and who traded goods and services. They also took a prominent role in the social life of the diggings and emerging city. They featured significantly in boxing, racing, theatre, and other entertainments as well as in journalism.

1873: First permanent congregation (Griqualand West Hebrew Congregation) officially established with services taking place in a hired hall in Woodley Street. 

1873: First Jewish marriage in Kimberley celebrated of David Harris (later Colonel and a Sir) to Rosa Gabriel, 12 November 1873.  

1875: Cornerstone laid on 23 August for the first synagogue building. It was made from wood and iron and stood in Dutoitspan Road roughly where Cecil John Rhodes statue now stands. The site had been given by the London and South African Exploration Company. The stone was laid by Mrs C Sonnenberg, wife of the first president of the congregation. The event was attended by many Christian friends amongst them dignitaries such as Sir Henry Black (Governor of the Cape Colony) and Sir Richard Southey (Administrator of the Diamond Fields).

1876: First synagogue consecrated on 17 September - but it was already too small for the large congregation. (There were about 1400 Jewish souls in Kimberley by then).

1876: Reverend Berthold Albu, born Berlin,1825, appointed first spiritual leader of the Griqualand West Hebrew Congregation. (He was probably related to the South African mining magnates Sir George and Leopold Albu. Margaret Albu, grand-daughter of Reverend Albu, was a concert pianist. In 1931 she married John Logie Baird, inventor and developer of the world's first television system.)

1878: First permanent Minister, Rev Meyer Mendelssohn, appointed who held the post until 1884. He was followed for a time by Rev Joel Rabinowitz after he retired from service in Cape Town.

1884: Rev Abraham Ornstein appointed. He was much admired, but sadly died very young and was given a public funeral. He was followed by Reverends M L Harris, and E Joffe.

1890: Rev Harris Isaacs became Minister to the Griqualand West Hebrew Congregation.

1901: Building began on a larger synagogue on a new site in Memorial Road donated by the De Beers Consolidated Mining Company. The cornerstone was laid by Mr G.H. Bonas.

1902: The Magnificent Memorial Road Synagogue was consecrated on 14 September 1902 by Rev Isaacs.

1903: first marriage solemnised in the ‘new’ synagogue, 11 January of Aaron Rauff to Selina Satisofsky.

1911: By this time the great immigration from Eastern Europe had begun and Russian Jews who had been in the minority before now formed the majority of the Kimberley Jewish population. The newcomers were artisans and traders and many did not feel comfortable with the type of Anglo-German service or worshipping in the new Synagogue’s opulent surroundings and longed for a simpler house of prayer. So in 1911 the cornerstone for a second Synagogue built in the Eastern European Shtetl style and called the Beth Hamidrash Linas Hatzedek was laid in Baronial Street. Gradually the community integrated. In the 40s to 60s this building (also known as the ‘Grinne’ shul) was used for the congregation’s weekday services and the ‘big’ synagogue was used for the Sabbaths and Holidays. In the 1980s and 90s this building was sold and became a store room for a Jewish business. Subsequently it was demolished.

Click on these images below to read the documents relating to the Congregation Centenary.

For pictures of the development of Kimberley and its Diamond Mines see

Read about the Business Activity and achievements of Kimberley Jews