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ZIMBABWE, formerly the British colony of Southern Rhodesia and, briefly, the Republic of Rhodesia. Organized Jewish life in Zimbabwe goes back to 1894 when about 20 Jews were among the purchasers of land in Bulawayo. They established a congregation there in that year, followed by another in *Salisbury (later renamed Harare) in 1895. A third congregation, which remained small, was established in Gwelo in 1901. Individual Jewish traders had penetrated north of the Limpopo 35 years earlier, and a number of Jews were in the occupation column that Cecil Rhodes sent to Salisbury in 1890 as well as in the fighting columns of 1893 and 1896. An important role in the development of Rhodesia was played by Alfred *Beit. The majority of the Jewish settlers were of Russian and Lithuanian origin, although later on an appreciable number of Sephardim came from the Aegean island of Rhodes. The earliest settlers came up from the south, some by way of the east coast through Portuguese Beira. Joe van Praag, who later became mayor of Salisbury, is known to have walked from Beira. There was a small influx of German refugees in the late 1930s, and during the period of prosperity after World War II a considerable number of South African and English Jews settled in Rhodesia. The Jewish settlers founded newspapers and were largely responsible for pioneering efforts in transportation systems, mining, the tobacco industry, cattle and produce marketing, furniture and clothing industries, and the hotel business. As the population began to grow and disperse, a number of synagogues were established. According to census figures, there were 400 Jews in 1900, 1,289 in 1921, 2,219 in 1936, 4,760 in 1951, and 7,060 in 1961. The two main Jewish centers were Bulawayo and Salisbury, with smaller congregations in Gatooma, Gwelo, and Que Que. After 1965, when the ruling white supremacist

Jewish communities in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), 1971. Jewish communities in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), 1971.

Rhodesian Front unilaterally declared Rhodesian independence in a bid to perpetuate white minority rule, the Jewish population declined precipitously. UDI resulted in Rhodesia's being increasingly isolated by the international community, and it inevitably led in due course to a long, ruinous civil war between the white minority regime and the various black liberation movements (1976–79). The Jewish population was approximately 5,500 in 1968 and barely a quarter that number 12 years later, when political power finally passed to the black majority. Rhodesia was renamed Zimbabwe and the country's inaugural elections were won by Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party. Emigrating Jews largely settled in neighboring South Africa, although a fairly substantial number went to Israel or the U.K. The Jewish population, together with that of the white minority, continued to shrink under Mugabe's increasingly authoritarian rule. In December 1987, only 1,200 Jews remained in Zimbabwe, two-thirds of whom were over the age of 65. Nearly all were living in Harare and Bulawayo, the former midlands communities of Gweru, Kwe Kwe, and Kadoma having by then ceased to function. During the mid-1990s, Zimbabwe entered a sustained period of economic and political turmoil, as Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party resorted to ever more totalitarian methods to remain in power amidst crumbling social services, food and other shortages, and hyper-inflation. In 2004, fewer than 400 Jews remained in the country. Despite the attrition, the Jewish communal infrastructure remained intact, with organizations like the Zimbabwe Jewish Board of Deputies, Central African Zionist Organization, women's Zionist groups, and the Union of Jewish Women still functioning. There were three synagogues, all Orthodox, of which two were in Harare and the other in Bulawayo. Sharon School in Harare, whose student body is now 90% non-Jewish, nevertheless provides some Jewish-related instruction for the community's few remaining Jewish children. Savyon Lodge, the Jewish Aged Home in Bulawayo, had 31 Jewish residents in 2004. With an average age of over 70 and no sign of any reversal in the near future of the country's ongoing implosion, Zimbabwe Jewry is today a community coming to terms with its own imminent demise.


M.I. Cohen, in: South African Jewish Year Book (1929). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: B.A. Kosmin, Majuta: A History of the Jewish Community of Zimbabwe (1980).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.