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.

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

  1. My mom was in Orajia went in 1950 seven of them their father died and mother was unable to look after them. Wish i could know more.

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