Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Bloemfontein, South Africa

BLOEMFONTEIN, capital of the Orange Free State, Republic of South Africa. Jewish families played an important pioneering role in the development of Bloemfontein. Isaac Baumann of Hesse-Cassel (1813–1881), one of the first settlers to buy land in the new township in 1848, established the first trading store. The earliest Day of Atonement services in Bloemfontein were held in his house in 1871. In 1873 marriages by Jewish rites were legalized in the Orange Free State. A Hebrew congregation was formed in 1876, and a synagogue built in 1903. The first president (1902–24) was Wolf Ehrlich. As the East European element increased the communal leadership gradually passed to them, a prominent part being played by Jacob Philips and Henry Bradlow. Jews also took an active part in municipal affairs. Baumann was the second chairman of the Bloemfontein municipal board, the forerunner of the town council. His son Gustav was the first surveyor-general of the Orange Free State. The Baumanns fought on the side of the Boers in the South African War (1899–1902). Moritz Leviseur, who took part in the Basuto War of 1865–66, helped to establish the town's first hospital and founded the National Museum. His wife Sophie wrote Ouma Looks Back, an account of the early days, and became known as the "Grand Old Lady of Bloemfontein." Wolf Ehrlich, a friend of the Boer leader General Hertzog (later South African prime minister), sat as a senator in the South African parliament. Jewish mayors of Bloemfontein included Ehrlich (1906–07 and 1911–12), Ivan Haarburger (1912–14), and Sol Harris (1929). The community had a well-developed network of institutions, including a fine communal center for cultural and educational activities. A large new synagogue was built in 1965. In 1956 the Hebrew congregation, Chevra Kaddisha, talmud torah, and the charitable institutions combined to form the United Hebrew Institutions of Bloemfontein. Other Jewish institutions included the OFS provincial committee of the South African Board of Deputies and the OFS and Northern Cape Zionist Council. There was also a small Reform group. The Jewish population in 1967 numbered 1,347 out of a total population of 119,000. Thereafter, in common with most other Jewish communities outside the main urban centers of *Johannesburg , *Cape Town , and *Durban , the Bloemfontein Jewish community declined steadily. In 1997, the synagogue was sold and the congregation relocated to the smaller premises of the now defunct Reform congregation. In 2004, the community numbered about 180 Jews.


G. Saron and L. Hotz (eds.), Jews in South Africa (1955), index.

[Lewis Sowden]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.