Molteno (Eastern Cape)


Molteno is in the Eastern Cape, northwest of East London. The town was originally founded on coal-mining but later became a rich merino sheep farming area. It lies on the main Johannesburg – East London railway line.

Hyman and Aaron Woolf were the first Jewish settlers in Molteno, arriving in about 1880. Hyman owned a colliery, a farm and a hotel; Aaron was also a general dealer and hotelier. Mr. Lewis, Mr. Schneider and Myer Ruttenberg were other early Jewish settlers; David Brown is one of the first Jews to have lived in Molteno, and was the first Jew buried there.

A congregation was established in 1914 and a Jewish cemetery was consecrated in 1916. The first Jewish wedding took place in the Masonic Temple in 1923. A synagogue was built in 1929.

Between the years of 1945 and 1948, Rosh Hashanah (New Year) services were conducted by the chairman of the congregation, J. Ruttenberg.The Jews in Molteno and surrounding areas were mainly shopkeepers. There was an attorney, a few doctors, several hoteliers, a garage owner, a colliery owner, a butcher, a tailor, a watchmaker and a produce dealer.

Prominent Jewish families in Molteno were the Bass, Ellert, Hurwitz, Kaplan, Kohn, Promnick, Rathouse, Ruttenberg, Schneider, Tabachnick and Wainstein families.

In 1904, 7 Jews were recorded in Molteno. The Jewish community was at its peak in 1930 when there were 20-30 families. In 1943 there were 45 Jews; in 1948 there were 22 Jews. By 1953 there were 25 Jews living in the town and in 1961 there were 29. The number of Jews in Molteno and neighbouring Stormberg dropped to 11 in 1964 and in 1969 when there was one Jew left. By 1972 there were no longer any Jews in Molteno.