Kimberley, South Africa


Youth activities

Social life of Kimberley Jewish Youth 1953-1954. 

Memories presented by Leslie Stein

Although I was not born in Kimberley and during my adolescence lived there for only a few years, I harbour pleasant recollections of the many good times shared with my fellow Jewish teenagers. I came to Kimberley in 1951 first as a border at Kimberley Boys High School and then from 1953-4 I stayed with my aunt Helen Brown (nee Maresky.)  My mother’s maiden name was Maresky. She was born in Kimberley 1914, daughter of Jack Maresky and granddaughter of Avrom Leib Maresky who came to Kimberley in 1902 to work as a blacksmith. He died in 1969 and is buried in Kimberley. 

Formed our own association

Without any outside direction or support, we, a group of youngsters ranging in age from 15 to 17, formed our own association that ran along democratic grounds and on a purely voluntary basis. It had no rigid formal structure and membership was not defined, which meant that anyone simply attending a meeting had equal voting rights and access to the floor. Nonetheless, a three-member committee (Sarah Cohen (Goodman) Maureen Kroll (now sadly deceased and I) planned the content of our meetings, held on Friday nights in the function room of the Kimberley shule.

Members of the group

These are the people that I remember that attended our sessions on a regular basis– and where they are now – if known:

Barbara Dave (deceased, lived in Johannesburg), Maureen Kroll (deceased, lived in Chicago) Anna Cvi, Fay Goldberg (lives in Israel), Sarah Cohen (lives in Israel), Marcia Frank (now Collins, lives in London) Geraldine Kretzmar (now Auerbach, lives in London), Norma Levinsohn married Milton Friedman (now live in Los Angeles), Ephraim Pick (deceased) Bernard Frank (deceased) Eric Gershowitz (deceased lived in Cape Town) Bernard Melunsky (lives in London), Trevor Sussman, Anita Kaplan and myself. Norman Friedman was one of the Bnei Zion leaders but being in boarding school, he was unable to join us at night. If anyone is omitted, please accept my apologies, for as someone about to turn eighty, my memory is not as good as it used to be. I did however obtain some help from Sara Goodman (nee Cohen).

Our activities

For the most part, we identified with the nascent Jewish state and at our gatherings we expressed that identification by dancing the traditional hora and singing Hebrew folk songs. Our focus on Israel also encompassed the occasional lecture on Zionism or even a film depicting aspects of Israeli life. However, due to the local lack of people capable of addressing such issues, our main evening topics covered a broad range of non-Zionist subjects.

Examples that come to mind include a lecture given by doctor Apter on the health impacts of smoking and a talk by Jack Maresky (my grandfather) on the scientific evidence for the miracles wrought by God in Egypt.  Needless to say, the “cultural” aspect of our evenings was by no means the main drawcard. Attendance was mainly buoyed by the prospect of having some fun and accordingly humorous skits were devised along with playful games and other means of entertainment. All these required some imagination and a willingness on the part of our members to both participate in and initiate such activities. Fortunately, we were not lacking in that regard and our evenings were filled with laughter and general mirth. The enjoyment experienced by the group was in fact attested by the level of weekly attendance remaining constant, with virtually everyone always turning up.

At the end of each meeting, no matter how far, each girl was walked home by at least one of the boys. Such an arrangement was taken for granted, which well reflected our sense of responsibility. One might also add that while some boys smoked, alcohol was never consumed at any of our gatherings and drug taking was absolutely unimaginable. We lived in what was still an age of innocence, in which friendship and curtesy had some meaning. Compared with our Jewish counterparts in the big cities, we were natural, unpretentious, without any airs and with not a Jewish princess in sight.

Were we unique?

Looking back on the dynamics and the general functioning of the group, I imagine that it may well have been unique among South African Jewry. Kimberley, a comparatively small city with a relatively sparse Jewish community, (it was reckoned at about 180 Jewish families at the time) was probably conducive to the formation of a group such as ours. The girls all attended the same school and except for two, the same applied to the boys. Being in a situation whereby there were negligible social facilities and outlets for Jewish youth, we filled the gap by crafting a body of our own. For that we can be duly proud.

One of the most challenging feats that we undertook was the organization of a ball for the general Jewish community. On reflection, I do not know what got into our heads. Anyway, we secured the shule hall, hired a popular local band, publicised the event and prepared refreshments. On the evening in question, we stood at the door awaiting the revellers. When at first only two or three few couples appeared we feared that we were in for an expensive flop but eventually the arrival of a large contingent of Kimberley’s young Jewish adults saved the day. 

In addition to our Friday night meetings, on Saturday nights we all either partied at someone’s house, dancing to music emanating from Bakelite gramophone records or went en masse to the cinema. Staring among our dancers was Bernard Frank who had a natural bent in that area. On the odd Sunday afternoon, some of us would meet at Barbara Dave’s home, talking and lying on her front lawn. All these occasions were spontaneous ones. No specific invitations were issued.

Bnei Zion

In the course of time, four or five of us joined the Bnei Zion, the Zionist youth movement and recruited quite a large number of primary school pupils who attended meetings on Sunday mornings held at the back of the shule near the classroom block. On one occasion we participated in a Bnei Zion swimming Gala that took place at the Paterson Park pool in Norwood, Johannesburg. Travelling overnight by train, we were billeted in Johannesburg by various Jewish families. Accompanying us were also a handful of other members of our regular Friday night group. As luck would have it, we had a batch of very good junior swimmers who won all their races, which was rather pleasing.

Of our crowd both Sarah Cohen and Fay Goldberg settled in Israel. At one stage of my life I was hoping to do likewise. In fact, so imbued was I with Zionism, that at the end of standard nine I left school  to go to Israel. But after a year, I returned to South Africa and school (in Cape Town) and for various reasons, I followed a path in life that differed from what I originally conceived. Other members of the group either stayed on in South Africa (but not in Kimberley) or went to the UK, the USA, Canada, and as in my case, Australia.

Leslie Stein, Sydney Australia August 2017

To read what Leslie did after leaving Kimberley see his Stein family story