Judaism and Zionism
Through all of his travails, the main thing that kept him going was his unshaken belief in God. He was deeply religious and his faith never wavered. Not a letter goes by in which he does not thank God for his or Taube’s good health, in which he did not ask for God to keep things going well, Here is one such undated example of many similar cries for help from the Almighty.
But my hopes are strong that the Lord will come to my aid, and that we will pay our debts and for ourselves we will make a better living than before…. He will give prosperity and blessings because it is such a country here that you tread on gold as the mazal, it is granted by God as He opens one’s eyes and this means as the posek says: the help of God arrives like the twinkling of an eye – the poor man can become rich in a minute, and so we must hope to God to make us successful and everything will come right and … I hope that God will have pity and make an end to all of this tsores and reward us with good things.
The Holy Days and festivals, the keeping of the Sabbath, kashrut, were all important to him although he missed the cohesiveness of the Birzh community. While in Cape Town, he celebrated the festivals and the Holy Days with his cousins Meish and Lipman Rubin, both of whom were involved with Chassidic Shuls in Cape Town and Johannesburg respectively. (Lipman was one of the founders of the Johannesburg Chassidic shul and served as its reader.[i]) Tuvye was one of the founders and honorary secretary of the Malmesbury Hebrew Congregation.
The glamour and the religious satisfaction which a Jew finds in the Sabbath and Yomtov – this pleasure I have lost long ago.
Although I observe the Sabbath as in Russia, it has no glamour here. (22.5.1900)
I can even keep Shabbat, which is one of the most difficult things in Africa.” (25.6.1901)
His letters are sprinkled with Biblical and Talmudic quotations, anecdotes, even the occasional joke.
Tuvye was a keen Zionist, as were other members of his family. The Kretzmar papers include drafts of speeches made to Zionist meetings, including a report back on the 1926 Zionist Conference held in Cape Town at which Nathan Sokolow was the keynote speaker[ii]. His speeches were all well designed and researched, showing an understanding of Zionism’s historical, sociological and religious roots.
He wrote to his family that
the idea of Zionism is making good progress in Cape Town, almost everyone is a Zionist of the highest grade. They hold meetings and make speeches and sell shares with great enthusiasm, and in London there is going to be a congress and South Africa will be sending a delegate! Dr Hertz[iii] – who was the rabbi of Johannesburg – he is now in London. So he was given the authority to be South Africa’s delegate. I also bought a shekel[iv], and if I can, I will buy more. (14.8.1900)
As well as buying a shekel, which indicated membership of the Zionist Organisation, Tuvye may have attended some of the meetings addressed by Rabbi Joseph Herman Hertz, the rabbi of the Witwatersrand Old Hebrew Congregation. His cousin Lipman, Meish’s brother (below), also took an active part in the Zionist movement in Cape Town.[v]
Marcia Gitlin[vi] in her history of South African Zionism confirms his comments. She wrote that “the presence of members of the Federation’s Executive had an invigorating effect. They appeared at public meetings and by their addresses helped to keep Zionism in the foreground, Dr Hertz passionately proclaimed the justice of the Zionist cause from Cape Town platforms.” Rabbi Hertz was elected as Cape Town’s Dorshei Zion Society’s delegate to the Fourth Zionist Congress held in London in August 1900. Gitlin also reported that a share club was founded to promote the sale of Jewish Colonial Trust shares and about 400 people in Cape Town bought £1 shares in instalments of 1s 3d per week.
In Malmesbury Tuvye and his family were involved in Zionist activities participating in the Zionist bazaars held in the Town Hall. Die “Joodse basaar” with the unusual Joodse dishes and delicatessen was well patronised by the gentile inhabitants. Tuvye was chosen as one of five Malmesbury delegates to attend the 1926 Zionist Congress in Cape Town - the others were Rev Efron, Dr Harry Myers, Ralph Goldman and Edel Hurwitz.[vii] Tuvye’s youngest daughter Ashne served on the 1928 committee of the Malmesbury Maccabean Association which “fostered the aims of Judaism and Zionism”.[viii]
[i] “Veteran bookseller dies in Johannesburg: Reb Liebman (Lippe) Rubin”, Zionist Record, 30.1.1948
[ii] Nathan Sokolow was a Zionist leader, author and translator who was later elected President of the World Zionist Congress, and also served as President of the Jewish Agency for Palestine. He translated Theodore Herzl’s book Altneuland into Hebrew.
[iii] Rabbi Joseph Herman Hertz was the rabbi of the Witwatersrand Old Hebrew Congregation and a keen Zionist. Later he became Chief Rabbi of Britain.
[iv] The purchase of a shekel indicated membership of the Zionist Organisation – the money went to fund Zionist activities. The South African Zionist press before its conferences used to print lists of how many shekels each town or village purchased – the identification was so strong that there was hardly a little siding that did not have shekel holders. See Zionist Record, April 14,1916 - Jews in Pampalenga purchased 22 shekels, those in Tomachu took 9 and those in Lealui bought 62!
[v] “Veteran bookseller dies in Johannesburg.”
[vi] Marcia Gitlin, The Vision Amazing; the Story of South African Zionism, The Menorah Book Club, Johannesburg, 1950 , 49-50
[vii] Kretzmar, Julius, “A Vanished Era: Shtetl Life in the Swartland in the Twenties”: Nostalgic memories of Malmesbury”, Jewish Affairs, June 1986, 18, Ref Efron was the Malmesbury rabbi, Edel Hurwitz later became the president of the SA Zionist Federation.
[viii] De Saxe, M, The South African Jewish Year Book; Directory of Jewish Organisations and Who’s Who in South African Jewry, 1929, 5689-90, SA Jewish Historical Society, Johannesburg, 1929, 285