Indwe (Eastern Cape)

Indwe is the Xhosa word for the ‘blue crane’ – the national bird of South Africa; the bird was abundant in the area at one time. Indwe is near Dordrecht in the Eastern Cape. The village was established in 1896 after the discovery of low-grade coal in 1867. In 1917 the mine was liquidated, and Indwe then became a faming centre, mainly of sheep and dairy cattle.

The establishment of Indwe and settlement of the Jewish pioneers coincided around the years 1896-1898, the first Jews arriving in 1896. Simon and Annie Isenberg came from Dordrecht to live in Indwe in 1896, where they built the Station Hotel, the first commercial concern in Indwe. Other early settlers included Adolph Gabriel, Herman Lichtenstein, Mr Levy, Joseph & Louis Moss, Mr. Shandel and Simon Woolf, all living in Indwe before the turn of the 20th century.

While the Jewish community in Indwe remained too small to build a synagogue, Mr. Lichtenstein was instrumental in obtaining a piece of land for a Jewish cemetery from the Municipal Council.

Many of Indwe’s early pioneers came from the nearby town of Dordrecht and the two communities enjoyed close ties over the years. Dordrecht had a large Jewish community and its facilities were utilised by the residents of Indwe. A number of Indwe’s Jewish residents were members of the Dordrecht and District Hebrew Congregation, established in 1906.Jews in Indwe were mainly shopkeepers and hoteliers. The Royal Hotel was in Jewish hands from approximately 1922 until 1973. There was also a tailor and an insurance agent.

Rabbi Dr. Abe Tobie Shrock, the son of Barnett and Miriam Shrock, was born in Cape Town in 1906 and grew up in Indwe from 1909. Amongst his achievements he was awarded the first South African scholarship for the Jewish Ministry at Jews’ College in London, served as Chief Rabbi of the Durban Hebrew Congregation and Rabbi of the Communities of Natal (1956-65). He was also the spiritual leader of the United Hebrew Congregation (Yeoville, Johannesburg) and of the Green and Sea Point Hebrew Congregation. He became Acting Head of the Department of Hebrew at the University of Witwatersrand, was principal Jewish chaplain to the South African Defence Force and wrote a book in 1948.

Herman Lichtenstein was prominent in civic affairs, serving on the Indwe Municipal Council from 1903 and as a member of the local school board. After his move to Dordrecht in 1916, he also served on the Dordrecht Municipal Council and school board.

In 1936 there were five Jews living in Indwe; in 1943 there were still only five Jews. From 1953 until 1972 there was only one Jew recorded in the town. It would appear that after 1973, there were no longer any Jews living in Indwe.