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History of Linksfield Senderwood Hebrew Congregation

In 1957 Dave Zick and Dave Gamsu discussed the formation of a Jewish congregation shortly before the 1957 Yamim Noraim. By this time some 25 Jewish families had already settled in the Linksfield area and it was believed that the time was right to establish a shul within walking distance of prospective members.  With only 6 weeks to the Yamim Noraim, at a hastily convened meeting of residents, it was proposed to take immediate action in the formation of a community under the guidance of Dr Solly Shippel.

The initial venue was a hunting lodge which belonged to Sir George Farrar, a well-known politician and mining magnate of the late 19th and 20th century. This lodge was situated close to the present day St Andrews Girls’ School. Dr Shippel (“Solly”) obtained an introduction to Mr Isaac Goss (before he obtained smicha) and the latter agreed to undertake the task of spiritual leader, commencing an association which lasted for 30 years. 

No time was lost in setting the wheels in motion and at an enthusiastic meeting held in the basement of the home of Mr & Mrs Hymie Sadowsky in Tregoning Street on 22 October 1957 the first committee was elected. Having graduated from the hunting lodge, subsequent services were held in various King David School classrooms. Desks had to be replaced by borrowed chairs and a piano had to be pushed aside to provide space for a blanket protecting a Torah borrowed from the Yeoville Congregation – all for a membership fee of six pounds per family. 

Once regular minyanim were assured, the Board of Education agreed to the use of a school hall for Shabbat and Yom Tov services. Although the carting of chairs every Friday and Sunday morning had mercifully come to an end, venues for services had to be changed when the hall was required by the School. However, by this time, the Congregation had become the proud possessor of a portable bimah and Aron Kodesh through the generosity of a member. Further progress was made in the appointment of the first permanent chazan, Harry Rabinowitz. The first bar mitzvah boy to read his maftir and haftorah was Tony Sandler, the son of the then headmaster of King David School.

At no time did Solly waiver from his belief in the eventual establishment of what he termed a “living shul” which would be in daily use. In this regard he enjoyed the support of a small band of enthusiasts who likewise envisaged an eventual solution to the problem of not being able to use land within Linksfield itself, as at the time the School property was classified as farmland.

Whilst the use of King David venues for religious services catered for the basic needs of the Congregation, it was clear that it did not suit either the School or the Congregation to continue indefinitely. However because of restrictive township conditions which precluded land being used for religious purposes, only two possible venues could be considered, namely the School or a portion of Huddle Park, both of which were located outside the township boundaries. Year after year, Solly as chairman appealed from the bimah for the continuance and growth of the Congregation and the hope that perhaps in the near future, the building of a shul would commence. 

In the early 1960’s Nathan Mendelow negotiated the purchase of one acre of land on what is now Gemmil Park sports field for R5,000. There was considerable opposition to this from the residents of Linksfield North and furthermore The Board of Jewish Education intimated that they might place the synagogue out of bounds for King David School scholars due to the heavy traffic along Club Street which they would have to cross. At the same time the Board offered the Congregation a piece of ground for R15,000. The congregation then ended negotiations with the City Council but the Board’s offer then fell through.

A special general meeting was held on 19 March 1965 when a resolution was passed authorizing Hymie Shippel “as a matter of urgency” to negotiate the purchase of 2 and a half acres of land from the City Council for R9,000. Building and fundraising committees were immediately appointed. However technicalities bedeviled the situation and negotiations were abandoned whilst negotiations with the Board were again resumed. On 30 June 1972 the City Council indicated its willingness to sell land behind the present Linksfield Place flats for R41,500. The offer was withdrawn due to opposition from the residents of Linksfield North. 

It became extremely difficult to attract new permanent members and the situation was further exacerbated by the political disturbances of the 1960’s and 1970’s and emigration from South Africa arising therefrom. A saving grace was King David’s need for a venue for collective religious services for its pupils despite objections from some of its staff to giving up ground. The Board of Education was again approached and apart from some objections, technical problems abounded. These included the fact that only piece of strategically situated land straddled two erven which would have necessitated their being resurveyed. The residual portion available to the Shul would in all probability have been too small. Another factor was the question of the autonomy of the Congregation.

A further meeting was held with the Board in November 1974. The Congregation was represented by Solly Shippel and Myer Louis as president and chairman respectively. The present Shul site was offered to the Congregation provided a solution could be found to the critical technicalities without compromising the Congregation’s independence. Hymie Shippel and Herb Abro were given the unenviable task of solving the legal, financial and technical rubicon facing the Congregation. As a bond could not be raised on ground which did not belong to the Congregation, Herb suggested a solution in the form of a 99 year lease between the two parties at a proposed rental of R1 per annum. The Congregation would, however, bear the expense of building the synagogue on the Board’s ground. The joint use of the Shul by the Congregation and School was clearly defined and the cost of municipal and other services was to be shared.

The cost at the time to build the Shul was R400,000 and the Congregation had only raised R100,000 at that point.  Hymie Shippel was successful in negotiating a R150,000 overdraft from the bank. In addition a campaign for foundation members was organized under the chairmanship of Ruben Swidler supported by a sub committee comprising Solly Shippel, Myer Louis, Stan Colman and Herb Abro. Furthermore R60,000 was raised through the sale of permanent seats in the Shul.

The sod turning ceremony took place of 24 July 1976 with Chief Rabbi Casper and Rabbi Goss officiating. The foundation stone was laid on 20 February 1977 by Chone Wasilewsky and on 15 November 1977 the building was officially handed to the Congregation by the builder and architect, Neville Latinsky, a valued Shul member.

The official opening of the synagogue took place on Sunday 12 November 1978 at which the ceremonial key was presented by the chairman Ruben Swidler to Hymie Shippel, the chairman of the building sub committee. The ark was opened by Solly Shippel and Myer Louis, respectively president and vice president and a mezuzah was affixed to the door post by Herb and Ray Abro. The choir conducted by Cantor Bernie Rome intoned “Ma Tovu Halecha.” Rabbi Goss discussed the role of the synagogue and the Mayor of Johannesburg who also attended the proceedings addressed the gathering in his official capacity.

Rabbi Goss retired to England in 1986 and was replaced by Rabbi Michal who served until 1994. Rabbi Bokow assumed the office of Rabbi on 2 April 1995 and stepped down on Rosh Hashanah 2019. As part of a greater vision to grow the Congregation, Rabbi Levi Avtzon was appointed as Associate Rabbi in 2014, and took over the position of rabbi on RH 2019.

The size of the original brocha room which had been restricted by the Board of Jewish Education at the outset was fast becoming a deterrent to increasing membership of the Congregation in the late 1990’s. The decision to proceed with the building of a Community Centre was initially met with considerable opposition. However, due to the tireless efforts of Trevor Zulberg, Jack Sherman, Brian Weinberg, Reuben Terespolsky and all those who contributed generously, the Community Centre became a reality. The Centre was named the Swidler-Louis Community Centre and was inaugurated in August 2002. The Centre is equipped with separate milk and meat kitchens and is able to seat approximately 300 people in theatre style. Accommodation can be provided for about 250 at a “stand up” brocha or at a catered function for between 170 to 200 people seated.  

Then in 2018, the Shul embarked on a most audacious project to re-invent the space and vision for the 21st century. The renewed Shul and hall, a brand new education and youth Centre plus a state of the art Mikvah have breathed renewed vigor to the community, giving us confidence and passion to make sure that best days of Linksfield Shul are ahead of us...

Sat, 22 June 2024 16 Sivan 5784