ReitzĀ (Free State)

 

Reitz is a small town in the Free State, in a prosperous farming area near the larger towns of Bethlehem and Heilbron.

The earliest Jewish settlers here were mainly of Lithuanian origin. Among them were four brothers of the Lazarus family, two of whom died in the flu epidemic in 1918. Later it was Martin Lazarus who was a mainstay of the community, and the driving force behind the building of the synagogue.

The community established the Reitz Hebrew Congregation in 1910, and built a synagogue in 1920.

Despite the fact that some families were forced to leave as the depression of the 1930s took hold, the community still managed to grow. In the 1940s, however, the numbers started to dwindle and by 1955 it was declared a defunct community. The synagogue was sold in 1964. There are many examples of how the Jews continued to hold to their traditions and beliefs. Kosher meat was always a feature of Jewish households. Men in the community could hold religious services if a rabbi was not available.

A prominent Jew from Reitz, Judge Goodman Gordon, characterized the local Jewish community as “a virile orthodox community, maintaining their Jewish identity.”

In Reitz some of the Jews were farmers, others were hotel and restaurant owners, general dealers, tailors, butchers, cobblers, and the owners of a cold storage business.

During the 1920s there were about 25 Jewish families living here. The 1938 census records show 87 families. The numbers began to fall in the 1940s, and 30 families were recorded in 1951. There were still six Jews here in 1964, and in 1966 it was reported that there were no Jews left in the town.