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Timeline of Jewish life in Ceres

400 million years ago, Ceres was under the sea off Gondwanaland, and marine fossils 400 million years old are still to be found in the surrounding mountains. Like the sea creatures which thrived and vanished, leaving behind their fossils, so too did the Ceres Jewish population.

1865 - 1900: Several Jews arrive from Germany to settle in Ceres from 1865 onwards. Between 1865 and 1900, the town’s Jews are prominent in all kinds of business activities and well as in farming. By the early 1900s, there is a photographic studio in Ceres called Premier Art Studio, owned by Fisher and Smolensky.

1898: Lazarus Goldberg and Abraham Hillel Miller found the Ceres Tikvah Zion Society.

1903: There are sufficient Jews to form the Ceres Hebrew Congregation.

1920s: With 30 families, they decide to build a shul.

1923: Shul consecrated.

1930s: The Jewish community reaches its peak in the 1930s but sadly, antisemitism is on the increase.

1933: Communal Hall and Talmud Torah erected.

1937: A Sunday Times report on 19 September covered the resignation of three town councillors, EW Krige, LE Cohen and GG Baysken, objecting to the use of antisemitic propaganda in the most recent municipal election.

1944: The congregation, which already included the Prince Alfred Hamlet Jews, amalgamates with Wolseley and Tulbagh under the chairmanship of Mr M Friedman.

1953: When the Allies distributed ceremonial silver looted by the Nazis, SAJBD gave them a silver yad. But already the community was shrinking.

1964: There are only 17 families in the Ceres-Wolseley Hebrew congregation.

1969: An earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale strikes Ceres and Tulbagh. It is the strongest to shake South Africa since measurements were first taken around 1900. It causes significant damage to properties including the synagogue, the hall, and some tombstones. Services are held in a temporary steel construction. Notwithstanding the small numbers, they decide to rebuild.

1973: A new Ceres-Wolseley synagogue and communal hall is consecrated 50 years after the original one. Wolf Metter unveils the plaque and Rabbi Prof J Newman officiates, assisted by Cantor Philip Badash and the Green Point and Sea Point Hebrew Congregation choir. Cheder classes continued.

1984: Numbers of children to be taught have dropped and at this time Sylvia and Izzie Wolman travel weekly from Cape Town to run the Talmud Torah.

1985: By the time the Kahn families of Prince Alfred Hamlet celebrate the bat mitzvah of their daughters, Jackie, daughter of Jos and Gwen Kahn, in 1985, then Robyn, daughter of Michael and Maureen Kahn, in 1987, the congregation comprises only two families each from Ceres and Wolseley, three from Prince Alfred Hamlet, and one each from Drostdy and the Koue Bokkeveld region.

1994: By this time, the synagogue is only used on Yom Kippur.

1996: Last service is held. The community tries to sell the building but is not successful.

1999: The shul buildings are let to a school before finally being sold to the Du Toit Farming Group who converted the building into a conference centre and offices.