Origin of the Cape Jewish Orphanage
I spent my very early years at the Cape Jewish Orphanage (three to nine years of age; 1944 to 1949). In 1994, I visited the Kaplan Jewish Archives at the University of Cape Town, where there are dozens of boxes of files on the Cape Jewish Orphanage. The Orphanage was situated in Montrose Avenue, Oranjezicht.
Events often appear to happen by chance. The origin of the Cape Jewish Orphanage was one of these seemingly chance events. The need for such an institution had been suggested in 1907. What got things moving in 1909 was the plight of three Jewish orphans who were living in squalor in the small village of Piketberg. They were found working at the back of an hotel. The Jewish community realised that there were probably other neglected Jewish orphans in South Africa, and therefore decided that a home was need to house them. Three people who played a prominent role in the planning were Joseph Kadish (in English, Joseph Holy), Reverend A.P. Bender and Isaac Ochberg. Ochberg, at the age of 15, came from Kiev in the Ukraine, which at that time was the heart of the Russian Empire. He prospered as a timber merchant, and took a great interest in helping the underprivileged.
The Orphanage committee rented a cottage in Mill street, Cape Town at £4 rent a month. By 1914, the house became too small to accommodate the demand. In that ominous year, before the outbreak of war, it was decided to expand. A new site was bought in Montrose Avenue, Oranjezicht for £1,125. In 1915, the foundation stone was laid – by the Governor General of the Union of South Africa, Lord Buxton. In 1918, the end of the WWI was overshadowed by the outbreak of Spanish Flu. which claimed more victims that the 1914-1918 slaughter. In “Black October”, Cape Town lost 10% of its inhabitants. There were also a few deaths at the Cape Jewish Orphanage. The death toll for the Union of South Africa was over 120 000.
In the early 1920s, the Jews in Ukraine were suffering terrible pogroms. “Pogrom” is the Russian word for “destruction” derived from the Russian verb “to destroy, wreak havoc, demolish violently.” Uri Avnery defines pogroms as “riots by an armed mob intoxicated with hatred against helpless people, while the police and the army look on. The Pogromchiks destroy, injure and kill.” The irony is that Avnery, a Jew, is writing about “fascist” Settlers who “riot in Palestinian villages whose lands they covet, or for revenge.” In January, 2009, the Israeli army was at war with Hamas in the Gaza strip. Three years earlier, Israel forcibly removed the Jewish settlers from Gaza. Israel’s reason for the January 2009 bombing and invasion of Gaza was the incessant firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel. Hamas responded that they were justified in their actions as long as Israel continued to blockade Gaza and occupy the West Bank. It is highly unlikely that there can ever be peace between Ishmael and Isaac. The Bible speaks of a perpetual enmity between the half-brothers.
To return to the history of the Orphanage, Jews were caught in the middle of devastating forces that were rocking the Russian Empire. After the Czarist system collapsed in 1917, culminating in the murder of Czar Nicholas II and his family, opposing armies, – the Reds and the Whites – were fighting each other for control. As a result, the already very opppresive condition of the Jews became far worse. Out of the famines and typhoid epidemics, anti-Semitism became more virulent than in past centuries.
The Ukrainian and Polish peasants joined forces with the Red Army to massacre Jews wherever they were to be found. Pogroms were reported every day. Although details of the scale of the destruction remain unknown, it is known that between 1919 and 1921, 70 000 Jews were murdered and a similar number wounded in 1400 pogroms under the Ukrainian leader Simon Petlura. One of the reasons given by supporters of the Pogroms is that the Jew’s love of money destroyed his humanity.
On 12 January 2009, I watched a documentary on the “Ochberg Orphans”. In the 1920s Isaac Ochberg brought out hundreds of Jewish orphans from Eastern Europe during the Jewish persecutions. Many of these orphans were housed at the Cape Jewish Orphanage in Cape Town. In the documentary, one Polish Jew explained: “The Jew is eager to lend you money. He lends you 100 slotis and writes down 300. Then he hounds you until you pay up.” If only it had stopped at the Jewish monopoly of money lending. One of the anti-Jews in the documentary trotted out the medieval legend of the “matzo of blood” that Jews prepare from the blood of Gentile children. He said that the Jews put gentile children into a drum spiked with nails, drain the blood and use it to prepare the matzoth. The Nazis had a similar view. here is a piece from Der Stürmer, May, 1934, originally published in German: ”They (the Jews) are charged with enticing Gentile children and Gentile adults, butchering them, and draining their blood,” which is a bizarre twist to the medieval practice of thrusting a frail naked Jew in a nail-spiked barrel and rolling it down a hill while fellow Jews were forced to watch. On the other hand, the Jewish Talmud does say awful things about the Gentiles. The Talmud is a written record of the so-called Jewish oral tradition: “ each journey through it can have a different final meaning and significance for individual readers” (Jonathan Grall). I wonder how many different final meanings can be culled from the following Talmudic quotation: “Every Jew, who spills the blood of the godless (non-Jews) is doing the same as making a sacrifice to God.” (Talmud: Bammidber raba c 21 & Jalkut 772). The Nazis quote many such passages from the Talmud. Sadly, much of the Talmud is a blight on the Torah and a swallowing of camels and a straining at gnats – and where did Mohammed pick up much his knowledge of “Torah”? From Jews who thought more – and arguably knew more – of the Talmud than the Torah:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. (But) these you should have done, without neglecting the others. Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrite” (Matthew,23:23-25).