Johannesburg

Jewish Joburg and where to find great kosher food

05 Nov 2019
created 05 Nov 2019
Johannesburg has the largest Jewish community in South Africa with an estimated 50,000 of South Africa's 70,000 Jews living in the city. A large part of Joburg's Jewish community can trace their roots back to the early gold rush years when scores of persecuted eastern European Jews moved to the city in search of a new life, many of them arriving from Lithuania.

Throughout Joburg's 130-year history the Jewish community has played a prominent role in the city's life through both philanthropy and anti-apartheid activism and there are numerous museums and memorials where the contribution of prominent Jewish personalities such as Joe Slovo, Helen Suzman, Ruth First and Arthur Goldreich are remembered. With a relatively large and active Jewish population, the city also has a good choice of synagogues, kosher restaurants and stores.

Jewish history


Satyagraha House
From 1908-1909 Gandhi lived in this house in the Joburg suburb of Orchards with his friend Hermann Kallenbach, a Jewish architect who designed the space. Here Gandhi devoted his time to living a simple meditative life and developing and promoting his new philosophy of satyagraha (passive resistance and nonviolent civil disobedience). Kallenbach arrived in Joburg from Lithuania in 1896 and in 1904 met Gandhi. He was profoundly influenced by Gandhi's philosophy and in 1910 he donated a 4km² farm, which he named Tolstoy Farm, to Gandhi and his followers leaving a life as a wealthy bachelor to move to the farm and adopt the simple lifestyle promoted by Gandhi. In 1914 Gandhi left South Africa, and until his death in 1945 Kallenbach continued to correspond with his old friend, visiting him in India in 1937 and 1939.

Liliesleaf
In the early 1960s the idyllic Liliesleaf farm in Rivonia (now part of the sprawling upmarket Sandton suburbs) functioned as the secret hideout and meeting place for some of South Africa's most prominent anti-apartheid leaders. It was here that the plans for an armed struggle, which eventually led to Nelson Mandela and many of his comrades facing life behind bars as a result of the 'Rivonia Trial', were formulated. Of the 17 men who were arrested at the farm, five of them were white men (all of whom were Jewish).

The farm's many rooms and outbuildings contain dozens of interactive exhibits where you can learn about the lives of these incredible characters, including Arthur Goldreich, one of the original trialists who audaciously escaped custody and fled to Swaziland. Together with Harold Wolpe, a socialist-zionist teacher and lawyer, Arthur Goldreich bought Liliesleaf farm and under the guise of being a 'flamboyant Gatsby-like' dandy who loved painting and polo, he travelled the world raising money to fund the African National Congress military wing, the Umkhonto we Sizwe, which was established at the farm and led by Nelson Mandela. 

The Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre
This museum and centre of memory and dialogue is the first institution of its kind that brings together the stories of genocide across two continents, creating parallels between the historical narratives of the genocide committed by Nazi Germany in World War II Europe and the more recent genocide that occurred on African soil in Rwanda in 1994 (the year of South Africa's transition from apartheid rule to democracy).

The permanent exhibition, which opened in March 2019, is a fascinating exploration of genocide in 20th Century world history through photography, film, personal testimonies and particularly poignantly, the everyday personal effects left behind by victims such as clothing, jewellery and keepsakes. Survivors from both the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide have been deeply involved in the centre since it's founding by Tali Nates whose father was saved from the Nazi death camps by Oskar Schindler.

The Wandering Jew tours
Merle Jacobs and Linsay Kann lead tours of Joburg and Pretoria that focus on the position of the Jewish community in local history. Tours include 'The men who built Johannesburg', a two-hour tour of the Joburg City Centre that highlights the Jewish personalities who were involved in Joburg;s diamond and gold mining story and includes a visit to the historic Lions Shul and a two-hour Liliesleaf farm tour that highlights the place of Jews in the struggle against apartheid. Find out more at thewanderingjew.co.za or contact Lindsay Kann at +27 82 573 5447, lindseykann.telkomsa.net

Kosher restaurants and delis

The suburb of Glenhazel in east Joburg has the city's most prominent Orthodox community and plenty of stores and cafes that cater to kosher diets. Similarly, the neighbouring suburbs of Norwood, Orchards and Sydenham also have large Jewish communities and a good choice of delis and restaurants. Some favourites include:

Feigel’s Kosher Delicatessen In business for five decades, Feigels is famous for its classic east European influenced staples like blintzes, rye bread, pickled herring, soups and the best bagels in town. There are branches in Glenhazel, Lyndhurst and the BluBird Centre in Birnam.

Bagel Zone As the name suggests, come here for bagels, bagels and more bagels. Build your own bagel or opt for one of the classics like cream cheese and salmon. There are branches at Genesis Shopping Centre in Fairmount and at Sandton's Benmore Gardens Shopping Centre. 

Gelatissimo For totally kosher genuinely Italian gelato, Chani Lavine's ice-cream parlour cannot be beaten. The gelato is made fresh daily using a Carpigiani machine (often referred to as "the Ferrari of the gelato machines") and is also proudly certified as being made with entirely Chalav Yisrael dairy products.

The Barrio Next Door These two neighbourhouring establishments on Norwood's high street Grant Avenue – The Barrio and Next Door – are run by the two brothers and are both exclusively kosher. Next Door is the dairy-based restaurants with a menu of pizzas, sandwiches and pastas and The Barrio focuses on grilled meats and delicious spicy Indian and south-east Asian dishes.   

Tiberius Fish Emporium Kosher fishmongers, fish and chip shop, bakery and deli in Sandringham.

Shwarma Bar & Channahs Deli Delicious kosher shwarmas, wraps and freshly-made pitas and laffas in Fairmount.

Of course all Kosher restaurants are closed for Sabbath from Friday afternoon, and reopen on Sundays (also closed on Jewish Holidays).

 

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