Welkom (Free State)

 

Welkom is a gold mining ‘model’ town situated in the northwest Free State (Orange Free State prior to 1994) in the heart of the gold-fields, approximately 200 km north east of Bloemfontein.

In 1949 the first Jews in town arrived with Morris and Esther Kessel and family. The Welkom Hebrew Congregation was established in 1925. It formed the body under which fell all other communal organizations such as the Welkom Chevra Kaddisha, the Welkom Talmud Torah. The first minister, Rev. Shach, was appointed to both the Welkom congregation and the Odendaalsrus congregation in 1955.

A communal hall, which was used as a synagogue, was eventually built in 1945, as well as a house for the minister.

The number of Jewish residents dwindled over the years. In 1975 the congregation was almost defunct. Friday night minyanim (prayer groups) are still held on a fairly regular basis because of the number of Jewish weekend visitors to the local holiday resort.

Jews ran most of the businesses in the town. They owned trading stores, a butchery, a jewellery store, an outfitters, hotels, a mill, a dairy and a garage. There were also doctors.

Before the consecration of the synagogue/communal hall in October 1957, Friday night services had been held in private homes. A Jewish cemetery was consecrated in 1953. It is situated between Welkom and Odendaalsrus and serves the entire region. The various ministers in town carried out Jewish education and shechita. In the early years before a minister was appointed, the women of the community undertook education of the children. During the years 1957-94 the community including Family Days with other Goldfields communities undertook various social and cultural activities.