Dordrecht (Eastern Cape)

Dordrecht is in the Eastern Cape and lies 281 km north of East London. It was established in 1856 as a new parish of the Dutch Reformed Church in a rapidly expanding wool farming and low grade coal mining area.

The earliest recorded Jewish settlers were Mr and Mrs Joseph Wallach who came to Dordrecht in 1865 and were the only Jews in the town until 1872 when they were joined by Mark Moss. In the mid-1870s the few Jews in the town were well integrated and became leaders in local cultural, political and sporting life.

These early settlers were soon followed by a wave of Anglo-German Jews who made Dordrecht their new home. By 1880 there were 20 Jews living here. Simon Stern was the first Lithuanian Jew to settle in Dordrecht in around 1899, with more Lithuanian Jews arriving between 1902 and 1910.

By the early 1890s, the Jewish community had grown substantially – the Moss and Gabriel families alone numbered 50. In the late 1890s coal mines in the Indwe district began producing better quality coal than was found at Dordrecht, prompting many residents to leave. There was also a large exodus of Jews to Johannesburg, a city that had grown significantly in the last few years, as well as to Cape Town and East London. By 1898 there were only four Jewish men left in the town.With the outbreak of hostilities in the Transvaal in 1899 – marking the start of the Anglo-Boer war – many of the Jews who had left Dordrecht returned as refugees. Many would leave again when the war ended in 1902.

The first Jewish child to be born in Dordrecht was Albert Joseph Wallach, the son of Joseph and Henrietta Wallach, in May 1867. When Albert Joseph Wallach was five months old, he was circumcised by Rev Joel Rabinowitz, of Cape Town, who had traveled to Dordrecht and performed six circumcisions on children in the district -one a youngster aged 15.

A Jewish cemetery was consecrated in 1878, after the daughter of Mr and Mrs Mark Moss died in the diphtheria epidemic. Their application for a plot of land for a cemetery was granted in June of that year. In 1880, the funeral of Gustav Michaelis is noted as being the first in the town where a traditional minyan and service were held.

The first High Holy Day services were held at the houses of Mark Moss and Moss P Valentine in 1889. The synagogue was consecrated in 1913, though there is some dispute as to when the Dordrecht Hebrew Congregation was founded. With the arrival of Eastern European Jewish immigrants at the turn of the 20th century, the community became more observant.

Daily services were strictly orthodox according to German and Polish ritual. The rabbis (the first being Rev Fabritz c. 1910) were expected to teach Hebrew classes, act as marriage officers, and conduct services. Kosher meat was supplied to the surrounding settlements. Zionist societies were active in the town, with Joseph Moss becoming the first president in 1911.

The last minister was Rabbi Schubitz, who left Dordrecht in 1945. In 1950 the last minutes of the Dordrecht Hebrew Congregation were recorded, and in 1968 the synagogue was sold for R800.

Nathan Birkenruth was the first Jew to own property in Dordrecht, purchasing land in 1869 and 1870. Joseph Lewin was a barrister at the turn of the 19th century. Dr. Roystowski was another professional; he came to Dordrecht in 1910.

Many Jewish residents continued to run the general dealerships their fathers had
established in the town. Other occupations included smouse (peddlers), shopkeepers, hoteliers, butchers, farmers, speculators and wool merchants. There were also doctors and attorneys, diamond dealers, jewelers, a tailor and a baker.

At a meeting in 1911, a Zionist Society was launched with Joseph Moss the first president. A junior society was operational in the early 1920s. By 1928 all activities of the Dordrecht Zionist Society had been taken over by the Dordrecht Hebrew Congregation. In 1933 in an attempt to revive Zionist activity, a combined Zionist Society and Young Israel Society was established.

Jews also played prominent roles in civic affairs. Mark Moss was elected to the Dordrecht Municipal Council in 1883 and served on the Divisional Council and Town Councils until 1898. Joseph Wallach was chairman of the Board of Municipal Commissioners and was confirmed as a Justice of the Peace in 1871. Joseph Moss was mayor in 1917, as was Louis Stein in 1939. Herman Lichtenstein was elected to the Municipal Council in 1917.

In the 1904 census, 76 Jews were recorded in the Wodehouse area, of which Dordrecht is the principal town. The highest figure for Jewish population – 81- was recorded in 1936. In 1951, 26 Jews were reported in Wodehouse. Between 1952 and 1956, community records reflect only 2 Jewish families in Dordrecht. In 1964 there were 9 Jews in Dordrecht and neighbouring Rossouw. The last remaining Jew, Mr J Aufrichtig, passed away in 1972.