Barkley East was founded in 1874 on the farm ‘Rocky Park’. The town was named after Sir Henry Barkley who was the Governor of the Cape until 1877.
The town is one of the coldest and highest places in South Africa, with regular snow in winter. Included within this area are the nearby settlements of Clanville, Clifford, Johnston’s Leap, Moshesh’s Ford, Motkop and Rhodes.
Little is known of the early years of the Jewish community, but a Jewish cemetery was consecrated in 1894. It is not known when the congregation was established.
Some of the first Jews to settle in the town were Mr and Mrs Ellis Rosenberg, whose son was born here in 1889. The majority of Jews who established themselves in Barkley East were shopkeepers; there was also a hotelier, a tailor, a farmer and doctors.
Prominent residents included Norman Rosenberg, born in 1889, who served on the executives of both the South African Zionist Federation and the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.By 1939 there were only five families left in Barkley East and with the congregation struggling to survive in 1946, they donated a Sefer Torah to the Aliwal North Hebrew Congregation.
In 1904 there were 36 Jews in Barkley East; in 1936 there were 27. By 1943 there were 19 and in 1947 the number had dropped to four. In 1951 there were five and by 1980 only two Jews were living in Barkley East. Mr Lazar Bortz, the last Jew in the town, died in 1995.