Kimberley, South Africa


Maintaining a Kosher Home in Kimberley

I thought this might be an interesting and informative article for those concerned about the religious life during the baby boomers period which would cover my youth in Kimberley.

I came from a religious orthodox family who were very observant Jews. My grandparents were from Poland and my father from Lithuania. My grandfather attended and invariably conducted evening services every single day of his life. My father not as often but nevertheless he was very observant.

In today’s world it is much easier to keep a kosher home but in Kimberley during my youth it was a challenge. In Toronto we have plenty of stores that specialize in kosher food and many that carry these products with their other produce. In Kimberley there was no such thing as a kosher store that I can remember and finding kosher food was a real problem.

Kosher red meat was readily available from the Sussman family butcher shop, Premier Meat Supply but kosher fresh chicken and groceries was far more difficult to purchase. For this reason both my grandfather and my father had a chicken coop in their backyards. This was not only a source of fresh chicken meat but also of daily fresh eggs. Fortunately the Kimberley community ensured that they always had a shochet (religious person who was trained in kosher animal slaughter). This practice was performed regularly at the rear entrance to the Sussman’s butchery. I often accompanied my father and grandfather to this ritual slaughter but as I grew older I found the practice unhygienic as it was the procedure to cut the throat of the bird to allow the blood to flow out but then to throw the poor bird on the ground to jump around in the dirt until it died. Once the chicken was brought home a whole process of koshering had to be performed. The feathers had to be
plucked and the fowl washed in salt water. The bird was then covered in coarse salt and allowed to soak for a few hours and then once again washed in salt water. The process was to extract all the blood from the chicken. The chicken was then either soaked or boiled in fresh water in order to remove as much of the salt as possible. It was now ready to be prepared either by grilling or frying. Red meat koshering procedure was exactly the same except the meat was not boiled but was just soaked in cold water for an hour to remove as much as the salt as possible. Today health practice is opposed to too much salt but does not appear to be too concerned about too much consumption of animal blood. Salt in the biblical times was a means of preserving meat and chicken products but today with freezers and refrigeration preserving these products has become far more efficient and healthier.

Fish kosher dietary rules were a little less restrictive. As long as the fish had scales and breathed through its gills it was kosher. Hence prawns, lobster, crayfish, squid and catfish were not kosher products but haddock, king clip and sole were edible. We did not from memory often have fish products as these were expensive but on the occasional Shabbat or Yomtov meal my mother would purchase fish from South African Fisheries on the Market Square. I don’t recall that there was a separate counter for kosher fish but there certainly was a separate counter for meat products at Sussman’s butchery.

My family purchased most of their fresh produce from the Farmers Market on Market Square and also from the Maresky family who owned a grocery store on Knights Street close to the Market Square. They were also very religious European Jews who had two sons Mannie and Lampie who both became doctors.  The difficulty was finding tinned kosher products and from memory there was only one major store, OK Bazaars, owned by the Cohen family from Johannesburg. Unless there was a Beth Din emblem with the label identifying the product as kosher, Jewish people who maintained a kosher home would not purchase the product. Our diet was therefore very restrictive to kosher red meat, chicken and fresh produce.

We also had to have separate meat and milk crockery and cutlery that had to be washed in separate wash basins. But since we only had one, a “fleishich” (meat) bowl and “milchik” (milk) bowl was inserted into the basin and the water discarded into the ground and not into the basin. When my father used the wrong utensils for milk or meat, my mother would insist that he inserted the item into the ground for a few hours to kosher the utensil. At times my back yard looked like we were growing knives and forks. For peisach we changed all our crockery and cutlery and went through the process of spring cleaning our kitchen. I can recall my father and I going around the house collecting the “chomitz” (bread) and then burning it as a ritual to ensure our home was kosher for peisach. Peisach was a real problem for me because we could eat nothing but meat, fish, chicken, matzo and vegetables that grew below the ground like potatoes and carrots but nothing above the ground like corn, peas, and beans. Obviously tined products that did not have the Beth Din label with Kosher for Peisach was banned from our home. My grandfather explained to me that the guiding principle of what we were allowed to eat was whether the product that grew above the ground could be turned into flour like corn and peas but the reason for tomatoes still baffles me but perhaps because it’s not a vegetable but a fruit it can be regarded as kosher for Peisach.

Maintaining a kosher home in Kimberley was in fact not that difficult if you were prepared to restrict your diet to the available products. It was also no more expensive that buying any other regular foods. When I moved to Jo’burg and married we decided to keep a kosher home because we wanted our children to experience the traditions of the Jewish people. It was also important to continue the practices they were taught at Jewish Day School in the home. However over time the kosher meat prices escalated beyond budget constraints and the quality of the prepared food was tasteless. Regretfully we stopped keeping a strictly kosher home but I am delighted that both my daughters continue to this day to provide their children with a kosher home. My sister and late brother also has kept a kosher home for their families. Perhaps my opinion over time changed that keeping a kosher home does not make you a better Jew but serves to remind one of the traditions of our people. Keeping kosher is lifestyle choice today, it’s easy as food products are readily available from many sources and at affordable prices.

Leon Chonin, Toronto, April 2018


By Leon Chonin