The Cape Jewish Orphanage (6): Let the festivities begin.

I entered the orphanage at the age of 31/2 and left at the age of 81/2. I don’t remember the “loving care”. I don’t remember food. I do remember being very homesick. Here is the weekly menu of the Orphanage  I obtained from the Cape Jewish Orphanage archives.

– Breakfast –  Porridge, bread and jam, cocoa
– School sandwiches – scrambled eggs on bread and butter, fruit
– Lunch – soup, bread

– Breakfast – mealie meal, bread and syrup, cocoa
– School sandwiches – veg, fruit
– Lunch – soup and bread
– Supper fried or gefilte  fish.

(Gefilte fish is  chopped fish formed into balls and cooked in fish stock)

My birthday parties at the Orphanage were the few times that I recall sitting with other children outside the dining room. A few of us sat round a small square table in a large room that we shared; I think there were four to a room. We were each given a Marie (rich tea) biscuit, a fruit cordial sweet and a glass of Oros (orange squash). My siblings and I never went home for birthdays. The only time I am sure that we visited home was the weekend of the 0nce-for-all-time family photo shoot.

The grounds around the Orphanage had lots of tall pine trees. There was a merry-go-round which gave new direction to our lives. Here is a photo from Eric Rosenthal’s book  of some of the Orphanage children on the merry-go-round. As Maurice Chevalier would have said: “I ree-memberr eet well.”



Succoth was a happy time. Succoth (pronounced sukkot) is a seven-day Jewish Harvest Festival, held in September-October. I call it the festival of the “Festival of the Wandering Jew.” It commemorates the wanderings of the Hebrews in the wilderness on their winding  way to Canaan. During their wanderings, they lived in temporary booths (sukkot,  singular sukah).  Succoth is also called the Feast of Tabernacles because people also gathered in sukkot to worship and share meals. During harvest time, farmers also lived in sukkot in the fields. During Succoth, farmers thank God for the harvest.

Today, modern Jewish communities continue the tradition.  On the right side of the Orphanage was a lean-to of wooden beams, which served as the frame for the sukkah.  Branches, broken off from the pine trees on the property, were woven between the wooden beams of the roof and the beams on the long side supporting the roof. All three sides were covered with branches. A space for a door was left on one of the two short sides. The branches were decorated with all kinds of flowers and fruits: lemons, bananas, and whatever fruits were in season.  The three sides were covered in different kinds of sparkly material and lights. When everything was lit up, it was so snug and swarm. We ate our meals in the sukkah during the seven-day holiday.

Then there was Chanukkah, the Festival of Lights, which lasted for eight nights, and is held between late November and late December.  Chanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of  Maccabean revolt  of the 2nd century BC. The First Temple, built by Solomon, was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. Judas Maccabee revolted again the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes, a hellenized Jew, who had repudiated his Hebrew traditions and desecrated the Temple.

At Channuka we played with our dreydls; not the ones we were born with, but little dented silver ones.A dreydel (Yiddish dreydl “turn”) is a four-sided top that children play with during  Hanukkah.  It is used in a gambling game. Each side of the dreidel bears a letter of the Hebrew alphabet: נ (Nun), ג (Gimel), ה (Hei), ש (Shin), which together form the acronym for  (Nes Gadol Haya Sham – “a great miracle happened there”). These letters also form a Yiddish mnemonic for the rules of the game. Nun (N) stands for the word nite (pronounced nee-te “nothing”), Hei (H) stands for halb (“half”), Gimel (G) for gants (“all”), and Shin for shteln (“put”). In Israel, the fourth side of most dreydels bears the letter Pei (P), giving the acronym, Nes Gadol Haya Po—”A great miracle happened here“, which refers to the dedication of the restored temple.Here is a dreydl – silver on enamel. Our dreydls were more tinny, and no posh enamel.



We gambled our nuts on the dreydl. Each of us was given a little bag of unshelled mixed nuts: giant yellow almonds, mammoth brazils, and red hazels. The almonds rattled a little, the hazels a lottle, , and the unbudgeable brazils – tight in their shells – a nottle.

In the December holidays we spent a few weeks at a Jewish camp for underprivileged children. It was a 15-minute walk to the “Christian” beach. I mentioned earlier that the Christian beach was a windy beach three kilometers away from the nice Muizenberg beach, which we called “Jewzenberg”, because during the summer it was packed with Joburg (Johannesburg) Jews.

A short flashback: when Lorien was a toddler and Rushka a new baby (1977), Cathy, my wife,  and I went to the “Christian” beach in our VW Luxbug. When we got out of the car, we slammed into a hail of sand. After 20 metres, we had to throw in the towel. We turned back, bundled Lorien and Rushka in the car and went home. We hardly went out with the two babies, and we had no one to babysit for us; my parents lived in their own world.

One thought on “The Cape Jewish Orphanage (6): Let the festivities begin.

  1. Thanks for sharing with us Raph … I have memories of the Jewish Orphanage in Port Elizabeth … it was “back to back” with our boarding school. You have pressed the button and made me wonder if this was not the first seed planted in my Spirit to have a love for the Jewish people.

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