The Synagogue and Religious Life in Ceres
In 1903 there were sufficient Jews to form the Ceres Hebrew Congregation. With 30 families in the early 1920s, they decided to build a shul.
Mr Baumann, chairman of the congregation, laid the foundation stone for the Ceres synagogue, on the corner of Porter and Munnik Street, opposite the Belmont Hotel in 1923. The shul was consecrated in the same year.
In 1969 it was damaged beyond repair by a freak earthquake and rebuilt and reconsecrated in 1973, 50 years after the original consecration.
Left the old shul (1923) and below the new shul (1973); note the pillars either side of the gateway are the same.
In this picture we see the assembled community and guests at laying of the foundation stone in 1923.
Straight away the Ceres Zionist Association started a fund to build a hall on land bought with money from the Ladies Benevolent Society.
The first minister, before 1913, was Rev M Rabinowitz. He was followed by Rev Wittenberg from about 1920 to about 1927.
Rev Hirshel Natas
Ceres Jewish community was blessed to have a Rabbi that served them as its minister for 26 years, from around 1927 until 1953.. Rev Hirshel Natas had had studied at the famous Lithuanian seat of learning, the Mir Yeshiva. He came to South Africa at the turn of the 20th century and served as the minister in Stellenbosch in 1904 before returning to Lithuania in 1907. He came back to South Africa in 1925 with some members of his family, and served as minister for a short time in Dordrecht, before settling in Ceres.
The Jewish community reached its peak in the 1930s. The Communal Hall and Talmud Torah were erected in 1933. In 1944, the congregation, which already included the Prince Alfred Hamlet Jews, amalgamated with Wolseley and Tulbagh under the chairmanship of Mr M Friedman.
Wolf Metter was a stalwart of the Jewish community and from the 1940s he took the chair of the congregation for the next 20 years. When Rev Hirshel Natas left in 1953, Wolf Metter took over his all duties except for officiating at weddings and undertaking circumcisions.
When the Allies distributed ceremonial silver looted by the Nazis, SAJBD gave them a silver Yad in 1953. But already the community was shrinking. By 1964, there were only 17 families in the Ceres-Wolseley Hebrew congregation.
In 1969, the synagogue and hall suffered a severe blow when they were irreparably damaged by the freak earthquake in the area and had to be demolished. Despite the small number of Jews in the area, the community decided to rebuild the synagogue and the hall.
50 years after the first one was consecrated; they celebrated the birth of the new synagogue. Although there were no regular ministers at that time, the Rev J Klitzner was around in 1984. Pictured from the left at the second consecration are Isaac Kahn, Abraham Sheim and Louis Solsky. Below is a picture of the interior of the rebuilt shul. Additional photos of the original shul, the earthquake damage and the rebuilt shul are on the Images page.
In the early 1990s the synagogue was only used once a year, on Yom Kippur. The very last service took place in the synagogue in 1996.
The benches and one of the bimah cupboards went to Wynberg Shul and then to the restored Hermanus synagogue. Several appurtenances like the Holy Ark curtains went to the Ceres Museum where they have a special section devoted to the history of Jewish life in the town.