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Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

BULAWAYO, one of the two main commercial and industrial centers in *Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia). Jews were among the earliest pioneers in Bulawayo. The first white child born there (April 1894) was Jewish, and the first newspaper (March 1894), the Matabele Times and Mining Journal, was owned and edited by a Jew, William Francis Wallenstein. A Hebrew congregation was formed that same year and the foundation stone of the synagogue building was laid in 1897. A Chovevei Zion society was established in 1898. In 1900, when there were 300 Jewish residents (76% of the total Jewish population of Rhodesia), Moses Isaac Cohen (1876–1939) from London became minister of the Bulawayo Hebrew Congregation. He was an active Zionist and the acknowledged leader of the Jewish community. An authority on general education, he helped plan the system of public education in Rhodesia and was also a mediator in industrial disputes.

Despite its remoteness, Bulawayo Jewry was notable for its active communal and cultural life, and especially for its strong Zionist affiliation. In 1958 a Jewish primary day school, Carmel, was established, which in 1968 had 158 pupils (57% of total Jewish school attendance). A Progressive congregation, with its own rabbi, was established in 1956. In addition to local communal institutions, two national organizations had their headquarters in Bulawayo, both formed in 1943 – the Rhodesian Zionist Council and the Rhodesian Jewish Board of Deputies. The Jewish population declined precipitously following Rhodesia's Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965 and the white-black civil war that ensued. The conclusion of the war and the ushering in of black majority rule in what was now called Zimbabwe in 1980 did not halt the exodus. From the mid-1990s, Zimbabwe entered into a prolonged period of political strife, authoritarianism, and economic collapse, resulting in the small Jewish community declining still further. Carmel School, whose pupil enrollment had become almost entirely non-Jewish, finally closed at the end of 2003. The historic Bulawayo synagogue burned down in a freak fire that same year and services are today held on the premises of the Jewish old age home, Savyon Lodge, and in the hall of the now defunct Reform congregation. The Jewish population in 2004 numbered 140, with an average age of over 70.

Jews established many of the light industries in the former Rhodesia, and predominated in the furniture and clothing sectors. Many were prominent in commerce and Jews were well represented in medicine, dentistry, law, and accountancy. They also took an active part in civic affairs. The first mayor of Bulawayo was a Jew, I. Hirschler (1897–98); later Jewish mayors have been E. Basch (1907–11), H.B. Ellenbogen (1927–29), C.M. Harris (1934–36), A. Menashe (1965–67), and J. Goldwasser (1968– ). Cecil Isidore Jacobs (1896–1967), prominent in communal and legal circles, was president of the Rhodesian (later Zimbabwe) Jewish Board of Deputies for seven years. The Hon. Abe Abrahamson represented the Bulawayo East constituency in parliament from 1953 to 1965. During these years he served as a cabinet minister from 1958 to 1962, initially holding the portfolios of Treasury and Housing and later of Labor and Social Welfare and Housing. Abrahamson was also extensively involved in Jewish communal affairs, inter alia serving as president of the Rhodesian Jewish Board of Deputies from 1956 to 1958 and from 1964 to 1979, and as chairman of the South African Zionist Federation following his relocation to South Africa in 1986.


G. Saron and L. Hotz (eds.), Jews in South Africa (1955), 264–5; 272–3. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: B.A. Kosmin, MajutaA History of the Jewish Community in Zimbabwe (1981)

[Maurice Wagner / David Saks (2nd ed.)]

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