Paarl (Western Cape)

 

Paarl is in the Western Cape, in a farming district on the Great Berg River, 13 km from Wellington and 36 km from Cape Town. The town was founded in 1690.

Among the first Jews in Paarl were Benjamin Solomon, who lived there for a short time in 1806, Abraham Rozenschweig from Holland in 1850, Moses Lurie in the 1870s and Albert Hertz from Germany in the 1880s.

Before the establishment of the Adath Yisrael d’Paarl (the official name of the Paarl Hebrew Congregation) in 1893, services were held in the home of Moses Lurie in the 1880s. The first minister of the congregation was Rev Moses Simcha Hurwitz., who was also responsible for the education of the children. In 1920 a Talmud Torah Hall was completed with two classrooms for the Hebrew School. The Paarl Chevra Kadisha (burial society) was founded in 1894 and in June of that year the Jewish cemetery was consecrated.

The Paarl synagogue was built in 1904. The building was destroyed by fire in 1926 and rebuilt in 1927. The Paarl Jewish community had the full spectrum of Jewish institutions and organisations, such as a Zionist Society, a branch of the Union of Jewish Women, a Talmud Torah, a Ladies Guild, etc.

In the 1930s the Greyshirts were active in Paarl; anti-Semitic meetings were held and the synagogue was vandalized.

Jews of Paarl earned their livelihood in a broad range of occupations from wagon maker and speculator, to hoteliers, general dealers, attorneys and farmers.

Charles Louis Back, doyen of the Paarl farming community, was considered to be the largest wine producer in South Africa in the 1940s.

Roman B Egert, a member of the Paarl community, had his Afrikaans translation of the Passover Haggadah published by Paarlse Drukpers Boekery, in 1943. This was the first time Jewish liturgical literature had been translated into Afrikaans.

In the late 1940s, Moses Estermann operated a button factory, the first of its kind in South Africa.

Abel Volks and S M (Jack) Lichtenstein were both elected mayor of Paarl in 1959 and 1990 respectively.

By 1904, there were 627 Jews in Paarl according to the official census. This figure increased to 697 in 1936 and declined to 578 in 1951, 226 in 1980 and 118 in 1991.