Darling (Western Cape)

 

Darling is in the Malmesbury district of the Western Cape, 75 km north west of Cape Town. The town was laid out on the farm Langefontein in 1853 and was named after Sir Charles Henry Darling, (Lt. Gov. of the Cape from 1851 to 1854). It is well known for its wealth of beautiful spring wild flowers, wool and dairy products, numerous saltpans, gypsum and phosphates.

During the 20th century, Darling had a fairly large Jewish community. All the Jewish families who settled here were originally from Lithuania, many from small villages or towns. One of the first Jews in the Darling district was W L Golding, who was living in Darling by 1910. Another early settler was Shraga Feivas Boruchowitz, who came to live near the present day resort of Yzerfontein around 1906. He was a shopkeeper there until the early 1920’s when the family moved to Darling. Beinart Bros were trading in the town by 1914. The Herman and Singer families were also among the early settlers – Joe Herman, a cattle dealer, had settled in Darling by 1920. There are also records of a Jacob Cats, who was the first government teacher here from 1876 to 1895.

The Darling Hebrew Congregation was established in 1924 with the Rev. Benjamin Kotlowitz as its first spiritual leader. He served the congregation from 1924 until 1930, using a torah that he brought with him from Lithuania. No synagogue was ever built, but a special prayer and study room was reserved in his home. During the Second World War, the Dutch Reformed Church Hall and the Town Hall (now the museum) were used for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services.

When Rev. Kotlowitz left in 1930 he was succeeded by Rev. Jonah Gordon, who served the community for 24 years. He travelled once a week to Hopefield, Vredenburg and Saldanha to teach Hebrew classes and to perform ritual slaughter. The congregation came to an end when Rev. Gordon died in 1955. The children then went to Malmesbury to attend Hebrew classes. Around 1964-65, the congregation was incorporated into the Malmesbury Hebrew Congregation. The torah was given to the Marais Road Synagogue in Sea Point, Cape Town, where it is still in use.

There was no formal Zionist society in Darling, but there are records of contributions to various fundraising campaigns from as early as 1910.

Jews in Darling were engaged in numerous economic activities and many of the local businesses were owned and run by the Jewish population. There were shopkeepers, farmers (either as a second occupation or full-time), speculators in agricultural products (wool, hides, sheep, cattle and grain), owners of saltpans, general dealers and the local tailor (Isaac Weiner). There were also hoteliers, a medical doctor, garage owners and a manufacturer of jelly products. For a short while there was a Jewish schoolteacher in the town.

Mr. Herman was a speculator and dealer in livestock, who together with Mr. Singer, established a stable in a large building opposite the Dutch reform Church. Mr. Singer was also a partner in the Royal Salt Pans near Yzerfontein and other areas. Barney Levy, who was also a partner in the Royal Salt Pans later owned the Royal Hotel. The hotel was taken over by Mr. and Mrs. Sifrin and then the Becker family.

Reuben Becker arrived in Darling in 1925, unable to read and write and speaking only Yiddish and Lithuanian. He was first employed at the Commercial Hotel doing menial jobs. He later owned a small shop and visited the local farms as a smous, selling fish and other goods. Eventually he came to own the Royal and Commercial Hotels, assisted by his wife Mary and sons Hyman and Allan. The Commercial Hotel was previously owned by Israel Miller. The Royal Hotel became the Nemesia Hotel. Both hotels were subsequently owned by Hyman Becker. Hyman Becker was also a town councillor for 8 years until 1980.

Abraham Stoch settled in Darling in 1930, his general dealer shop, opposite the present day butchery, is now a private home. Dr Mavis Belle Stoch, daughter of Abraham and Sarah Stoch, was assistant professor, Psychiatry Department, at the New York Medical College and was a co-author of the first and second editions of the book “Human Behaviour” together with Prof Eleanor Nash and G D Harper. Prof Simon Gordon, the son of Rev & Mrs Gordon, became a professor of medicine at Oxford University.

The Darling Trading Association was the property of Gershon Diamond. It was later sold to a consortium of local farmers, and became Die Groenkloofse Handelhuis Ko-op Beperk. Today it is the Spar. When the Dutch Reform Church burnt down in 1957, Lily Diamond (wife of Gershon Diamond), made curtains for the new church. The Jewish Community also donated the church clock and part of the organ.

Shraga Boruchowitz (later changed to Brock) had a general dealer business in the town. His son Dr. Samuel Brock practiced in Darling for many years. No official census data are available for the years chosen for this study. A survey in 1943 indicated that there were 48 Jews in Darling. By 1947 it was reported in the South African Jewish Times that there were only about 6 families left in Darling. This had reduced to 5 families in 1953. When the Becker family left in 1980, there were no Jews left in Darling.