Community History

History of the Community​

Founded in 1960, the Sephardi Hebrew Congregation of Cape Town has been a cornerstone of the local Jewish community, serving as a bastion of Sephardic heritage and tradition in South Africa. From its humble beginnings to its present-day prominence, our congregation has remained steadfast in preserving and celebrating the rich tapestry of Sephardic Judaism, while also contributing to the vibrant cultural mosaic of Cape Town. As we reflect on our history, we honour the generations of individuals whose dedication and vision have shaped our community into the welcoming and vibrant home it is today.

“Kahal Kadosh Shalom” ‘The Holy Gathering Of Peace” This Congregation is named as above in memory of the Congregation of Rhodes which has the same name. Jews have lived on Rhodes Island for many centuries. Many were the exiles from Spain who were expelled in 1492 and lived on the island since the early 1500’s. 

At the turn of the 20th century, there was emigration from Rhodes by those who were looking towards improving their lot and that of their families. In this way many young men took to the initiative and left for America and Africa, settling in what was then Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo.

As they established themselves in these new, relatively undeveloped, countries, they sent money home to Rhodes Island for the upkeep of their parents and in time, they sent for their families to join them. In this way, many thousands of people were fortunate in that they had left the island before the onset of World War II. Those who remained were deported during the war by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz.

This deportation took place on 17th July 1944 and of the approximately 1700 people who were taken from Rhodes and Cos, most were exterminated in the same year and the balance were sent to work in various labour camps. Of these only 151 survived the war and eventually joined their families in America and Africa.

Until 1960, the communities in Rhodesia and the Congo prospered and grew in numbers and carried on the Sephardi traditions. June 1960 brought independence to the Belgium Congo which was followed by chaos with refugees fleeing the country. Many of them were absorbed in refugee centers in Rhodesia, and once they had found their feet, they started making their way towards South Africa and to Cape Town in particular.

In 1967, the minor Weizmann Hall was used for the first time for the High Festivals and  the Green and Sea Point Hebrew Congregation lent the community Sefer Torahs and prayer books for their first Chaggim in that hall. Lay chazanim conducted the services and kept the Sephardi liturgy alive. The Green & Sea Point Hebrew Congregation kindly granted permission to use the minor Weizmann Hall permanently in 1979. By then, many Sephardim from Rhodesia had also joined the community. In September 1980, Haham Solomon Gaon z”l, Chief Rabbi of all Sephardi Congregations in the Diaspora, inaugurated and consecrated the synagogue and called it “Kahal Kadosh Shalom”. This was the same name as the only remaining synagogue on the beautiful island of Rhodes.

Rabbi Ruben Suiza was inducted as the Rabbi of the congregation on that same day and now holds the position of Rabbi Emeritus following his retirement. With the joining of Jews from Egypt, Turkey and new arrivals from Zimbabwe, the congregation has grown in leaps and bounds and has become the meeting place of all Sephardim in Cape Town.

Our liturgy and style of service, as well as the warm and friendly atmosphere, attract many Israelis living in Cape Town and this has made our Kehila a multicultural community. Festivals and religious occasions are celebrated as a family with functions such as our Chanukah Braai, Pesach Seder, Succoth Dinner, Shavuot Dinner and many others attracting many people. Our wonderfully renovated facilities and comfortable premises, as well as the care and dedication of our presidents and committees together with our untiring Ladies Guild, have ensured that all our congregants are well cared for. Exciting opportunities to meet are arranged, including a weekly Cards Club, Padel Group for the youth up to 85 years, and Children services are held on most Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. Torah learning and shiurim are of prime importance — we have various shiurim on a weekly basis.

Our congregation looks forward to the future with positive confidence for growth in social, religious and communal activities for all, as an integrated Sephardi Orthodox Synagogue in the midst of our Jewish brethren in Cape Town.

We Rose on Their Shoulders​

Despite the fateful expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 Sephardim have shown remarkable resilience and strength of character to preserve their traditions, customs, culture and language on new shores.

It is with these same attributes that our early Sephardi pioneers anchored in Cape Town around 1960 and thereafter, and successfully planted the seeds for the existence of a Sephardi Congregation.

These pioneers were middle aged and older who enjoyed a balanced life of work, family time and synagogue attendance. It was this spirituality that determined them to seek their own place to pray in the manner in which they were accustomed to in Rhodos, Congo and Rhodesia.

We were blessed that amongst the founders of the community there were knowledgeable lay readers in Simon Israel, Moise Israel and Nissim Piha who were able to conduct religious services. In the seventies Jacques Notrica added his participation in these services.

Joseph Rahmani generously gave a lot of his time and effort and was the driving force behind the buildup this congregation. He was a lay leader and was elected the first President of the Sephardi Hebrew Congregation of Cape Town from its inception in 1960 until 1973.

He was made Hon. Life President.

Throughout the sixties and seventies Moise Israel played a large role as lay leader subsequently became the second President of the Congregation from 1973 — 1979.

He nurtured the growth of our synagogue and kept our roots firmly planted in the ground.

He meticulously ensured our melodies were sung and our services were conducted according to our Sephardi Minhag.

He was made Hon. Life President.

Joe Fintz took on the Presidency of the Kehila in 1979 and made it his mission to continue building the congregation on the past achievements  of his predecessors. His vision was to make our Kehila fully functional in line with the other Shuls in Cape Town, and he played leadership roles on behalf of the Sephardi Community, within the broader Cape Town Jewish Community.

His outsize, remarkable contribution to our growth included bringing Rabbi Ruben Suiza on board from Rhodesia to our spiritual needs, securing a long-term lease for the use of the minor Weizman Hall from the Green & Sea Point Hebrew Congregation and initiating the purchase of the ministerial house in  Kei Apple Road, Sea Point.

He was made Hon. Life President.

Jacques Franco served as President from 1982 and formed a formidable team with Joe Fintz with whom he alternated the Presidency until 1989.

Jacques assisted in the furbishing of our Kehila with the bimah, pews, kitchen equipment and other essentials. His untiring commitment to our Sephardi Centre helped to keep the community together through all the diverse activities that took place.

The decade service of devotion from both Jacques and Joe allowed us to have a fully functional synagogue and hall.

He was made Hon. Life President.

Gordon Joffe served as President for one year from 1989 — 1990. Gordon was very committed and used his skills and organizational ability to brush up on the running of the committee.

He delegated so efficiently making every member of the committee accountable for a specific portfolio which proved to be very beneficial. Gordon’s sterling efforts paved the way for the Congregation to continue to prosper.

In 1990 — 1992 under the Presidency of Moise Soriano our Congregation commemorated the quincentennial anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. A Sepharad ’92 sub committee consisting of Bobby Benatar as ‘Head Convenor’ along with Moise Soriano, Joe Fintz, Jacques Franco and Gordon Joffe was formed to oversee a program of commemorative activities throughout 1992.

These activities comprised of a special commemorative service at our Kehila in the presence of numerous dignitaries, a series of lectures, a sell-out food fair and an auspicious banquet held at the Cape Sun Hotel in honour of the former President of Israel Mr Yitzhak Navon who was also Chairman of World Sepharad ’92. All these events were extremely successful in spreading awareness of Sephardi History and Culture  in Cape Town.

Bobby Benatar has consistently served on most committees throughout the years since his arrival from Zimbabwe. Bobby always raised the extremely important issue that not enough was being done to educate our youth about our Sephardi heritage.

At AGM’s he was very particular about the running of the meetings in accordance with the constitution of the Sephardi Hebrew Congregation of Cape Town. He was head convenor of the Sepharad ’92 activities. Bobby is a highly esteemed member of our Congregation and ‘a proud Sephardi son’. He was made Hon. Life Member.

Ruben Franco always took a strong interest in synagogue matters in the Congo and joined forces with the other pioneers when he settled in Cape Town in the early sixties.

His energy and commitments together with his familiarity of Sephardi culture and traditions made him a valuable member of the team contributing in building our Kehila. He commanded respect from the congregants because he also showed humility and respect to all members and visitors.

He served as Gabbai until 1989 and was made Hon. Life Gabbai.

Joe Menashe was the natural successor for the position of Gabbai which he assumed from the chaggim of 1989 through to the nineties. He efficiently assisted in all the religious synagogue’s activities. Joe also helped the treasury department with the recoding of all the weekly donations/collections, and on the social side he organised the Tuesday card afternoons which were very popular.

Jacqueline Avzaradel was Chairlady of the Ladies Guild since the early years. She and her committee gave great support and assistance in all the communal and social functions of our Congregation. Jacqueline, accompanied by Rabbi Suiza, always visited the sick members. In appreciation for her devotion to our community for many years, the committee placed a leaf on our Tree of Life in her honour.

Our esteemed Rabbi Ruben Suiza played a monumental role for 35 years, contributing to putting our Sephardi Synagogue on the map as well as playing a major role in all spheres of Judaism in Cape Town.

He was the all-in-one Rabbi as he covered all the needs of our congregation from Torah reading, to Chazan, to Mohel, to Shechita, to Beth Din etc. etc. He also spoke Ladino which the older generation enjoyed. Rabbi Suiza availed himself to all congregants when needed whether in times of happiness or sadness.

He excelled in all his endeavours that went well beyond his call of duties. Following his retirement he now holds the title of Rabbi Emeritus.

Many other members are playing leadership or volunteer roles and we continue to value their ongoing contributions to the continuity of our community

Over the years, the generosity of our congregants has always been unquestionable, whether with monetary donations, or giving of their time and continuously gifting our Kehila with its needs, such as prayer books, Zehira Boards, and the many other needs of our community. Their contributions have provided, and continue to provide, the resources for our sustainability, and is greatly valued.