Benoni (Gauteng)

Situated on the East Rand in Gauteng (formerly the Transvaal), Benoni was one of the earliest Jewish communities, which grew into one of the largest in the country. Like many others, it grew from a small mining town into a major centre. The Jewish community was vibrant and well-organized and played an important role in commerce and industry in Benoni.

Jews lived in Benoni since its early pioneering days and were actively involved in its growth. The first Jews came to Benoni as traders. Those who came from England or from the Cape often had greater means and education than those from Lithuania. The educated Jews were able to deal with the mine officials who were happy to grant them the operation of the mine concession stores, as they looked down upon the business of trading with Blacks. As trade grew, relatives from Lithuania were brought to assist the store owners.

The first Jewish wedding in Benoni took place in December 1897 between Max Ginsberg and Annie Levy -Jewish education was successful – the highlight was the founding of the Hillel Jewish Day School in 1967. The school was closed in the 1980s, as the community drifted away from the East Rand. A special aspect of the Benoni Jewish community was the United Hebrew Institutions of Benoni, which came into being in 1924 and is still functioning. Benoni was an example for other towns to follow.

Jews played an active role in civic activities and the town had 5 Jewish mayors: S. Grolman, I. Kuper, M. Nestadt, A. Potash and A.Ritz.

Issy Goodman and his cousins, Ethel and Zelma London, ran the East Rand Theatre Club that was formed in 1944.

The East Rand Orthodox Jewish Council was formed in 1979. Its main aim was to co-ordinate the activities of the Hebrew Congregations of Benoni, Boksburg, Brakpan, Delmas, Edenvale, Germiston, Kempton Park and Springs.