Kimberley, South Africa


Goldberg, Rev Chaim


by Leon Chonin

Chaim Goldberg was the longest serving religious assistant to the Kimberley Jewish community where it has been documented that he offered his loyal service for 30 years from 1925 to 1955. He was a reverend which can be described as a religious functionary who lacked the full rabbinical qualifications (smicha) required to be called a rabbi. It would appear that the differentiation is peculiar to the British Commonwealth. Rev. Goldberg served under seven different religious leaders from Reverend Harris Isaacs through to Reverend Cecil M. Bloch (born in Ireland) but was never approached by the congregation to actually become the spiritual leader of the community.

He was a schochet, a mohel, a teacher, an assistant Torah reader and the chazan sheini. With such credentials it is very surprising that he was overlooked six times to the leadership role. I often approached my parents and grandfather why he was not our spiritual leader but they had no answer and suggested there may have been some political undertones within the governing body. It should be remembered that during his period the community had two shuls one for the ”grinnes” and another for the more aloof hence the weighting was towards immigrants with Anglo-Saxon backgrounds. 

He lived with his son Nathan, his daughter-in-law, Phyllis and grandchildren David and Maureen across the road from the Kimberley Hospital just off Park Road in a colonial style home.

He was the religious glue that held the community together because the six reverends appointed to full fill the leadership role only stayed for periods ranging from 2 years to a maximum of 8 years and that was Reverend Morris Konviser.

Many of my contemporaries owe Reverend Goldberg a deep level of gratitude for performing our brit milah to perfection. I can recall going to Hebrew school and being taught by Rev. Goldberg. I can also remember as a young boy going with my grandfather and my father to the back of Premier Butcher shop to watch Rev. Goldberg “slug” (religious slaughter) our chickens.

It is worth mentioning that many of the reverends that were appointed by the community did not have the range of skills that Rev. Goldberg provided the community. Many were neither a schochet nor a mohel until finally when Rabbi Werner joined the congregation as he was able to offer the community the full range of religious duties. Rev. Goldberg served the community during the height of the population strength when the membership probably reached its peak at around 150 families. It was probably necessary at that time that there were two religious leaders to take care of so many duties, required of a growing congregation ranging from brit milah, visiting the sick, funerals, sitting shiva, weddings, bar- and bat- mitzvahs, Hebrew school classes, the list goes on and on. 

Pictured is Reverend Goldberg’s matseva at the Muizenberg cemetery

It was only after Rev. Goldberg retired to Muizenberg that my grandfather, Lipi Weinstein became more involved with the Memorial Road shul because there was no one to assist the spiritual leader with davening (leading the prayers).

I have not been successful in tracing Rev. Goldberg origins as the only record in the South African Jewish Database of immigrant arrivals was a Chaim Goldberg, age 33, described as a dealer, country of origin being Poland, who arrived with his wife on November 8, 1921 on board the Durham Castle. While there seems to be similarities and the time period seems to correlate, no mention is made as to his final South African destination. Rev. Chaim Goldberg passed away on January 17, 1966 and was buried at the Muizenberg, Western Cape cemetery. He was survived by his wife, children and grandchildren.

May his memory be a blessing and may his contribution to the Kimberley community never be forgotten.

Leon Chonin, December 2017