Parys (Free State)

 

Parys is situated in the Free State, 120 km south west of Johannesburg. It lies on the Vaal River on the border between the Free State and Gauteng (Transvaal prior to 1994). The town was founded on the farm Klipspruit in 1876. Today Parys mixed farming takes place in the area and Parys is a popular holiday resort.

The first Jew known to have lived here was Boris Cheperau who came from Shadova, Lithuania. He went into business with an Afrikaans partner in the mid 1890’s until 1902, when he went to join his son in France. Solomon and Rachel Ostroff lived in the town before 1907, and around 1914 Elia and Fortuna Rubin opened a bakery.

The Parys Hebrew Congregation was established in 1907. Many ministers served the community, the first being Rev Liknaitsky around 1915 and the last Rev Louis Rimer from 1970 1972.

Cheder classes were given by the incumbent ministers from the 1920s, who also carried out shechita (ritual slaughter) to provide the residents with kosher meat. Between 1960 and 1963 the residents of the neighbouring towns of Vredefort and Koppies also obtained their kosher meat from Parys. Until 1965 kosher meat was available from a local butchery and thereafter it was sent from Johannesburg.

The synagogue was built in 1922. Prior to that, services were held in a house rented for that purpose. In 1923 the first wedding was solemnised in the synagogue, that of Beines Sacks and Simmie Herring.

Sackstein Hall was built as a communal hall in 1950 and named after Zalman Sackstein, son of Henry and Freda Sackstein who were in Parys from 1922. Zalman was killed in World War lI.

The synagogue was sold in 1999 and on removing the foundation stone; a bottle was found containing the names of the congregational committee in 1922, the members of the Ladies Society and members of the Parys Hebrew Congregation

It is not known when the Parys Jewish Cemetery was consecrated, but the earliest grave is that of Jacob Hoffman who died in 1914. The cemetery has a Tahara house. By 1964 there were 80 graves and by 1999, 95 graves. Evidence suggests that there was a Chevra Kadisha in Parys throughout the years.

Jewish organisations in the community included the Zionist Society established in 1916 with 30 members; the Jewish Benevolent Fund, also established in 1916; the Parys Hebrew Ladies Society established by 1922: and the Parys Women’s Zionist Council; a Young Israel Society which was established in 1921; the Parys Vredefort Lodge No 25 of the HOD established in 1929 and the local branch of Habonim whose camps were held as early as 1932.

” “The Parys Jewish community was active over the years in numerous cultural and social activities. In 1973 at the request of the local Dutch Reform Church the community mounted an exhibition of “”Israel Today”” and three documentary films were shown.

The Jews of Parys were involved in a broad spectrum of economic life, and were active in both professional and commercial endeavours. Rubin’s bakery was the oldest established business in the town (1916). Two generations of the Shapiro family ran a garage. At present (2000) Perry Feldman and Searle Sacks own a biltong factory. Two of the doctors were also district surgeons.

According to the official census figures there were 106 Jews here in 1951, 37 in 1980 and 22 in 1991. Community figures indicate 58 Jews in 1943, 50 in 1953, 57 in 1964 and 45 in 1980/81. By 1999, when the synagogue closed, there were only 4 Jewish families left.