exploring the concerns of the south african jewish community
In this article, Irwin Manoim looks at what the recently launched Jewish Community Survey of South Africa (2019) suggests about the future of the South African Jewish community, offering insight into communal trends and the sharp distinction between the Cape Town and Johannesburg Jewish communities.
THE 1991 South African census, the last of the apartheid era, concluded that there were 65 406 Jews in South Africa. The leading Jewish demographer of the era, Dr Allie Dubb, was quick to dispute the figure as implausible.
Not only were there technical problems with the survey, he said, there was reason to suspect that in those frightened times, many Jews chose not to divulge their religion. Dubb scratched his way through the census data, and calculated that the actual figure might be 91 859. After consulting other non-census data, he revised that up to 106 000.
"And now we have a major research study, produced by the Kaplan Centre which tells us that by 2019, the Jewish population had fallen to 52 300".
RABBI Andre Ungar died aged 90 at his home in New York on 5 May 2020 after a long illness. Due to COVID-19 lockdown regulations, only three people were permitted to attend his funeral. Rabbi Ungar, who spent two years in Port Elizabeth during the mid-1950s, has been largely forgotten in South Africa. But as South African Jews continue to come to terms with the apartheid era, Rabbi Ungar deserves a special niche in our local history: he was the only rabbi to enrage the apartheid government to such an extent that they expelled him.
Eastern Province Herald, 10 December 1956
A Hungarian Jew, Rabbi Ungar spent his childhood hiding from the Nazis in Budapest under false identities in a non-Jewish part of town. The horror of Nazism, witnessed first-hand, would colour Ungar’s attitudes for the rest of his life and shaped his attitudes in South Africa, where he was offered his first job as a rabbi in 1955, at the Reform synagogue in Port Elizabeth, Temple Israel. Ungar found his new community friendly enough. He was given a bigger house than he’d ever lived in, complete with garden and servants. Ungar started asking his congregants questions about the silent, ubiquitous but invisible host of black servants and labourers in their employ. As he himself put it in an article later:
How did they live? What were the relationships between them and us? Naively, I voiced such questions before my new-made friends. That, I was told, is a lifetime’s study. You must be born here to understand it. Foreigners can know nothing about it. Besides, it is an unsavoury topic, a communist thing to worry about.