Muizenberg, South Africa


Six Generations On:

The Batmitzvah of Sasha Sioux Magua


By Richard Emdin


 With thanks to Richard Emdin

Not much happens in Muizenberg on any given Saturday in October, except perhaps for the ongoing battle to get a minyan at the shul. However, on 27 October 2007 things were different. Sasha Magua had decided, in addition to a party, to observe her batmitzvah at the Muizenberg Synagogue (where I am a member with a poor attendance record). Her mother, (Michelle Emdin-Biederman) had arranged for a brocha to be held after the service.  Muizenberg is a small seaside village near Cape Town where many predominantly Lithuanian Jews settled, and  which used to be a popular Jewish holiday resort until the 1970’s. It is said that when Jan Smuts, then Prime Minister of South Africa, was asked to support the return of the Jewish nation to Israel, he promised to do so only if the Jews promised to return Muizenberg to South Africa. It is now a bit shabby, but slowly being gentrified because of its wonderful beaches.

Mrs Tokker, Chair of the Muizenberg Hebrew Congregation’s Ladies Guild, said that she would cater for Sasha’s family, plus 15 regulars, and 15 extras (as more folk often turned up when there was a simcha and a brocha).


I was at the shul by 08h50 and as soon as some committee members arrived, asked if they wanted Sasha to deliver her little 'dvar torah in the shul during the service, or after the service at the brocha.  This led to some discussion, as no batmitzvah had ever participated before in shul on Shabbat, and it was unanimously agreed that in shul would be a good idea, after the Ark was closed but before the end of the service. 


And so it was.  At about 11:15 (the portion for that Shabbat was very long!),  Sasha came down from the upstairs ladies section, stood in front of the pulpit under the Eternal Lamp, and in her inimitable way delivered a dvar torah on the meaning of that light. She then explained that the reason she had chosen this particular topic was that the Eternal Lamp above her head had been donated to the shul in memory of her maternal great-great-great grandmother, Celine Slesing, grandmother of Sasha’s great granny, Maisie Levitt, who was in shul that morning.  Sasha then explained further that the first minyan held in Muizenberg had been organised by her paternal great-great-great grandfather Nathan Guinsberg, and had been held in the home of her great great grandfather, Nathan Emdin, who was the first President of the Muizenberg Hebrew Congregation and her grandpa’s grandfather.

This caused quite a stir as well as a rush to congratulate great granny Maisie, who was sitting downstairs and not even behind a curtain! 

The snacks which followed at the brocha were indeed substantial, particularly the Danish herring and the cheesecake. And I have it on good authority that the chocolate cake alone was worth schlepping to Muizenberg for.

At the brocha Ziggie Saffer, President of the congregation, remarked that it was indeed memorable to be able to trace, without a break, six generations of members linked to the shul on both sides of Sasha’s maternal lineage, four of whom were present. He also said that it had been a great first for the shul having a batmitzvah deliver her dvar torah during the service - and that Sasha had done so very beautifully. There was then much applause from all present, some even putting their laden plates down for a moment to do so. 


Sasha's batmitzvah was perhaps more emotional for her than for others, as her father Steven Magua had unexpectedly passed away a few weeks before. But, as is the custom, the batmitzvah went on, she was just terrific and everyone was very proud of her.


On Sunday 28th, (her 12th birthday), Sasha had a disco party for her entire group from school (the rule is you invite all or none) at the Aquarium Predator Hall, which seemed to going really well when we left at eight to save our hearing, although some of the sharks swimming above seemed to be holding their fins over their ears and trying to bite the DJ through the glass.

  Richard Emdin (Sasha’s proud grandpa)

Four Generations

From Left to Right: Maisie Levitt, her daughter Hazel Levitt Emdin, her daughter

Michelle Emdin Biederman and her daughter, the batmitzvah girl, Sasha Sioux Magua