The Cape Jewish Orphanage (4) – Theodor Herzl, God’s Deer Gift & Leslie, the Little Lion

Note: In the title of this post, Herzl means “deer”.

I attended Herzlia Preparatory School – a Jewish school – close to the Gardens in Cape Town. “Herzlia” is named after the Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl..  His photo occupied a prominent setting at the School.

Theodor Herzl

Theodor Herzl

Theodor’s parents –  unlike his paternal and maternal grandfathers – were not closely attached to traditional Judaism; they were even estranged from it, which was also the case with two of his paternal grandfather’s brothers and his maternal grandmother’s brother. “Theodor(e)” is a Greek name meaning “God’s gift”, and “Herzl” is a variant of “Herschel”, Yiddish for “deer” – God’s deer gift to Zionism. “Herzl” is also Austrian German for the dimunitive of “heart.”Devout Jews gave their children Hebrew names, not Greek names. That probably explains the name “Theodor” – his parents were not observant Jews.

Theodor’s  estrangement from religious Judaism went hand in glove with a fervent loyalty to the land of Israel – and to non-religious Judaism. For many orthodox Jews, in contrast, God promised the Holy Land to the Jewish people on condition that they observed the Torah. They failed to do so, and consequently, God took away their sovereignty over the land and scattered them among the nations. Many Torah Jews believe that the Torah strictly forbids a godly Jew to set up a Jewish State in the Holy Land, or anywhere else. Instead, Jews should be loyal to the nations under whose protection they live. How radically contrary is the majority Jewish view:

“Love of the Land has certainly become an integral part of the Jewish personality ever since then. Jews who demonstrate that love through settling in Israel or supporting it are the ones who guarantee the success of Israel forever.”

One of the most ubiquitous objects in Jewish schools and on mantelpieces of many homes is the blue box of  the Jewish National Fund, in Hebrew “Keren Kayemet LeYisrael”, which is the English transliteration of the Hebrew written on the box (in the photo below). To Jewish toddlers this object is like the blankie to  non-Jewish toddlers. It was so for me. Whenever I saw the blue box, I knew that things were going to be alright. It took me a long time to toggle out of my toddlerhood.

Keren Keyemet LeYisrael

Keren Kayemet LeYisrael

What is the Jewish National Fund?  The Zionists  wanted to buy land in Palestine, which was controlled by the Ottoman Empire.  In 1901, such a fund was proposed at the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel. Theodor Herzl, the leading spokesman for Zionism, was a  key figure in the establishment of this fund.

The blue box, after the Israeli flag, is the most eminent symbol of Zionism. It was very much later in my life that I was to learn that many Jews are not Zionists; many are agnostics, some are atheists, some are Buddhists, a few are Muslims, the majority have an embarrassment of other beliefs, some are “Messianic” Jews, some are Torah Jews, and others, like me, are just followers of Yeshua. In a later chapter, I’ll explain the difference between “Messianic Jews”, Torah Jews and “simple” – but not simple-minded – followers of Yeshua.

Since the foundation of the fund in 1901, the Jewish National Fund has played a leading role in Zionist history. It has planted more than 240 million trees, built more than 200 dams and reservoirs, developed more than a quarter of a million acres of land, and created more than 1,000 parks. Large tracts of the Negev desert (three quarters of the land mass of the State of Israel) have been developed. It takes the breath away. Yet, it was King Solomon, who had done even greater things in the Holy Land, making it the most splendid and safest place on earth, who warned (Psalm 127:1):

Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labour in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.

As the Bible records, Solomon didn’t carry through with his own sound advice. He did indeed build a splendid temple – in obedience to God’s command – and many more great edifices. But like all edifices, they are more about edifaces than about godly edification. Solomon didn’t do much to promote the religious life of the Jewish nation. The King- turned preacher – was spared to reflect on the vanity of his own life:

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
.Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?

(Ecclesiastes 1:1-3)

Leslie the Little Lion

I want to say more about Leslie, my 14-year-old brother. His Yiddish name is Lev (lion), which probably was the name on his birth certificate. We called him “Labela” Little lion. Diminutives, as is well known, are terms of endearment.

Leslie "Labela" (little lion)

Leslie "Labela" (little lion)

I remember Leslie standing in the entrance of  the Orphanage (see photo of entrance in previous post), watching us longingly while we played in the rain. He was sick at the time and couldn’t play outside. I remember going to the hospital to visit him. I was about seven at the time. Protective guardrails surrounded his bed.  Leslie died a few months after the family photo (his picture above  is a cut-out from the family photo). A few years ago, I read on his medical record  – in the Orphanage archives at the Kaplan centre of the University of Cape Town – that he already had rheumatic fever in 1943, two years before he entered the Orphanage. The question is: why was he sent to the Orphanage with such a condition rather than stay at home. The answer will become clear later on when I describe conditions at home.

Rheumatism in the joints is very painful. But rheumatism of the heart!  The heart literally aches. Leslie never recovered.  He died in Groote Schuur Hospital in May 1949. He was 14. “My heart is blighted and withered like grass” (Psalm 102). We drove home from the hospital in our squashed blue 40s Plymouth, and someone telling me that Labela (Yiddish for Leslie) had “passed away”. I didn’t understand, but I didn’t know that I didn’t. My sister Rachel told me she remembers seeing our mother, Fanny, and Edie, our eldest sister – Edie was married and living in Maitland – sitting on a green sofa crying. Rachel said to Fanny and Edie:  (Rachel’s words)  “I was rolling bollamakiesies” (turning topsy-turvy), and saying over and over: “Lellie dead, Lellie dead.” An article about Leslie appeared in the “Cape Times” with a picture of him in his hospital bed at Groote Schuur Hospital. I remember the picture well. The article was about Little lion making little dolls for charity.

Our car looked like the one in the photo, but a shabby lighter blue version, without those stylish white-rimmed tyres. I always felt cramped in the car; it wasn’t the size of the car: it was the size of the family – and of my tight shoes.


The year that Leslie died (1949), Minnie, Gerry and I left the Orphanage. Benny stayed on to be joined by Rachel a few years later.

Why did I write about Theodor and Leslie in the same breath? Because of the close connection between Theodor – the “gift of God”; Labela (Leslie) the gift of the “little lion.” When the Books are opened,  it will be the Son of David, the Lion of Judah who will ultimately decide who was the genuine or greater gift of God.

My niece, my brother Sammy’s daughter, was named after my brother, Leslie. She later changed her name because she didn’t want to have the name of a dead relative. The profound fact is every human being, while physically alive, is also dead – spiritually dead unless God raises you to life – spiritual life. The spiritual life of which the Bible speaks is not simply awareness and interest in spiritual things; it is what Yeshua calls “born again”. This term “born again” has been so abused – especially by professing Christians – that it has lost its true meaning. Perhaps my niece believed that replacing a “dead” name with a “live” name would bring about some kind of rebirth, some kind of revival. Names are important, so it is understandable that she was disturbed by her previous name – Leslie. My name also belonged to a dead relative – my mother’s uncle Raphail, who, naturellement, is dead. Most people are named after dead relatives. So, I wonder whether there was more to Leslie, my niece’s distaste for her name other than it’s connection to the dead. If she reads this one day – and responds – she might shed more light on the matter.

The Cape Jewish Orphanage (3) – the Gamarorphans

The files at the Kaplan Jewish Archives contain details of the Gamaroff children who stayed at the Cape Jewish Orphanage between 1945 and  1955. One of the documents contained my father’s (Izzy) application form containing details such as the date of Fanny and Izzy’s wedding (15.5.1923), Izzy’s occupation  (vegetable farmer), his monthly salary (£40), and the age of entry of five of their  children to the Orphanage. The wedding date enables me to calculate how the ages that they got married: Izzy – 21, Fanny – 17. There were 10 children. Five went to the Orphanage in 1944:

Benny – 2 years old

Raphael – 3 years old (bogRaphy)

Gerry – 4 years old

Leslie – 9 years old

Minnie – 10 years old

In 1949, Gerry, Minnie and I returned home from the Orphanage. Benny remained at the Orphanage. In 1952, Rachel, who was born in 1945,  joined Benny at the Orphanage. Rachel stayed 6 years, until she was 12 (1958). They were joined by Gerry in 1952, for his second spell at the Orphanage. During the Orphange years, the Gamarorphans seldom came home. Here they are on one of their treasured home “visits”.  In the photo are nine of the ten children, with Izzy and Fanny. The photo was taken in the lounge of our house at 24 Selous Road, Claremont, Cape Town (1946). Edie couldn’t make it that day possibly because she was a young wife with two toddlers living in Maitland and had no transport to come to our house in Claremont. It’s the only family photo that was ever taken – incomplete, because Edie is absent.

Standing, left to right: Sonia, Izzy, Fanny, Joe, Leslie. Seated, left to right: Minnie, Raphael, Rachel, Gerry, Bennie, Sammy.

Standing, left to right: Sonia, Izzy, Fanny, Joe, Leslie. Seated, left to right: Minnie, Raphael, Rachel, Gerry, Bennie, Sammy.


To have five daughters is to have glick (Yiddish for “good fortune”, “luck”; glück in German, geluk in Afrikaans and Dutch). My mother had a paltry four daughters. The question is: would one more daughter have soothed the tsorres brought on by the other four?

There was a lot of fretting to get all the kids ready for the photo shoot. So many takhshitim (brats) to rein in. When Benny read this post, he posted the following comment:

“Raphael, you have translated the word takshitim incorrectly. It does not mean brats but rather what we really were to mommy and daddy – jewels. I too, for many years, misunderstood daddy when he used to say to me -” du bist a naar”. For years I thought he was calling me a fool and for years I felt hurt by this. It was only after I came to Israel, and learnt Hebrew, that I understood that he was calling me a youth who didn’t yet understand. To this day I regret not having being able to sit down and talk to mommy and daddy.”

I posted the following reply:

“Bennie, you are right about takhshit(im). Thanks for pointing that out. There is this thing about words, especially spoken words. Behind a word – the dictionary meaning of the word (the semantic meaning) – is a speaking body: body “language”. For example, a person can say the word “treasure” to you, but the tone of voice, look and gesture of the person who is saying “treasure” could mean the sarcastic opposite. I never ever got the impression that I was anybody’s treasure at home. It seemed to me that some of my other brothers and sisters felt the same. I’m talking about feelings, not facts. Having said that, the fact of family life is very much about feelings.”

A frequent word Izzyy and Fanny used was bulvan a “clod”, a “boor”. Another one was “chochem/chokhem, which derives from the Hebrew word for wisdom and means “wise guy!” There were many chochems in our house. (“kh” and “ch” are different spellings of the same Hebrew guttural consonant, as in loch (Scottish) and lachen (Dutch).

Language contains the following four levels, or layers:

  1. An Alphabet – an  agreed set of symbols such as letters or sounds.
  2. Grammar – the forms of words and how they are arranged in sentences and larger chunks of language.
  3. Meaning.
  4. Intention.

(DNA is also a language and thus also contains these four levels. Another name for this broader definition of language is “code”. So, computer languages, morse code and secret codes would fall under this broader definition of “language”, where “code” and “language are synonymous terms. Because of level 4, Darwinism, which believes in random mutation – that is, an absence of intent – can’t be right; but try telling that to Richard Dawkins)

Level 3 is the “semantic” or “lexical” meaning of words ( words in a dictionary) and level 4 is the “pragmatic” meaning, which refers to how we use language, what we “read” into language. In short, there is the meaning of a word and there is what a person means by the word –  the intention behind the word. Most misunderstandings arise either because we “misread” a person’s intention or because we want to misread  it.

Consider the family situation, which is what occasioned this discussion in the first place. Why would children intentionally misread a parent’s intention? Because they want the parent to intend (mean)  something different; especially if the comment is upsetting. Which raises another question: why would a son or daughter want a mother or father to mean something other than what we are sure or suspect they mean? For at least two reasons: first, we want to believe that they value us more than we think; second, we want to believe that they are not as uncaring as we think they are. What I have said applies more to past impressions than present ones. In the moment it happens and for a long while after, the hurt remains. Then Izzy or Fanny dies. We grow older and wiser. We think, we regret, we wish, we weep, we sigh. It eats away. Turmoil. No peace. It’s all about peace. Did daddy think that of me; or was he only joking? I didn’t realize it then, when it hurt. He had a lot of problems and frustrations. He was basically a good person. He was kind to me, even if he thought he was always right about everything. He never apologised about anything – in my hearing, at least. That’s how I think about it. Sonia my sister said this about Daddy (my conversation with her in 2006, when she was in her late seventies):

I want to write a book about Daddy. Fantastic chef. He bought, he cooked, he presented.”


Then about life at home:

“Too full of sorrow. Daddy was not a thinker. Mommy was. He liked good food and getting his way. Gave her lots of babies.”

The lounge-diner  in the house appeared smaller because of all the furniture such as a large dining table and the precious piano. The piano was the main source of pleasure. Music – making music – was our main recourse and source of joy. Izzy played the violin, Minnie, Sonia and Rachel played the piano, and Fanny and Sonia sang.Most of the songs were in a minor key, whether Opera “Your tiny hand is frozen” (La Boheme, Puccini) or “Mein Yiddishe Mama”. When the music was playing, everything was warm; when it stopped, it was mostly sad.

Rachel was only about two years old and was still living at home. She went to the Orphanage when she was about seven. Rachel transfigures a typical family photo into a celebration. She takes centre stage in more ways than one. Besides occupying the focal point of the photo – she couldn’t keep still – there is also the ecstatic glee and turn of the head towards her adored mother, infusing the picture with life and charm. I can taste the happiness; all snug and together.  I  think of the contrast between the joy of two-year-old  Rachel  happily couched in the family pouch and eight-year-old Rachel going off to the Orphanage in what must have been disarray.

Lorien, my son, bought me a copy of Eric Rosenthal’s out-of print ”The Story of the Cape Jewish Orphanage: Golden Jubilee 1910 – 1961”. The Orphanage was demolished two or three decades ago. Here is a photo of the entrance to the Orphanage from Rosenthal’s book. I remember the façade so well.

orphanage entrance

On Sunday afternoons, Bennie, Gerry and I used to gather around the white metal arch (to the left of the top boy on the step), and stare down the road (which was to the left of picture), waiting for mommy and daddy to come and visit us in the blue Plymouth. We were neve sure if they wee coming. Sometimes they didn’t come. I used to sit on the short pillar next to the white metal arch.

Here is a drawing of the Orphanage (from Rosenthal’s book). It is much better than a photo, because it doesn’t merely capture what the orphanage looks like, but what it feels like. Why is a drawing/painting often better than a photo? Because the life of the thing depicted does not lie in the external details, but in its innards. The artist pours himself through the pencil into the object, and,in so doing, reveals its inner life.   I’m running round the right side. I’m chasing someone. I’m carrying a long floppy branch in my left hand, hoping to catch up and give that someone a good thwack. Oops, there’re lots of little square windows in front of me. I can’t turn in time. I hold up my left arm carrying the branch. The right arm smashes through one of the panes. There’s blood all over my arm. Someone is grabbing me. Someone else is wrapping roles of toilet paper, then rags round my arm. I’m being bundled into a car, arm wrapped up so thick, it can’t bend. For the last 61 years, I carry on my left arm a V for victory just 4 cm above my wrist, a horsehoe for luck, 5 cm above my elbow, and a walkingstick for old age on my wrist. The crook of the walking stick missed my main artery by a dash.

orphanage drAWING entrance

Here is another photo from Eric Rosenthal’s book. The quality of the photo is poor but clear enough to see Minnie, my sister (centre with a bow in her hair; Minnie in the family photo is seated on the left). The knobbly knees of the little boy on the right of Minnie belong to – me. I grew out of the knobblies but not out of the skinnies; they just grew and grew onto me. I still crave calves. In both the familly photo and the above photo, Minnie doesn’t smile. A portent of things to come.

Minniw, Raphael with "(in)mates"

Minnie, Raphael with “(in)mates”