Cape Jewish Orphanage (8): And then there were fifteen

In the previous post, My Brother Gerry: The Dust of History, I mentioned that Gerry was removed to “Tenderden (Tender Den!), Place of Safety” Wynberg. What were his siblings doing in 1951  when Gerry came home after running away from Tenderden? These details were part of Gerry’s Probation Officer ‘s Report (6/7/51).

(Ages appear in brackets. The ages do not include months, so if, for example, Edie’s age is given as 26, she might have been close to 27).

1. Rachel (1945), age 5 years, admitted for the first time to the Cape Jewish Orphanage. (Rachel was 5 years 11 months old).

2. Benny (1943), age 8 years, admitted to the Cape Jewish Orphanage (for a second time); in Grade 4.

3. Raphael  (1941), age 9 years, at boarding school in Wellington (8 miles from Paarl), in Std 3 (Grade 5). I (I was 8 years 11 months old).

4. Jerry (1940),  age 10 years, in Place of Safety, Tenderden.

5. Sammy (1938), age 12 years, staying with parents, and  at Claremont public school in Standard 4 (Grade 6).

6. Minnie (1934), 16 years old, staying with parents.

7.  Leslie  (1933), age 17 years, died in 1949 in Groote Schuur Hospital, Observatory, Cape Town.

6.  Joe (1931), 19 years old, working in a shoe store in Maitland, staying with his parents.

9. Sonia (1927),  23 years old, married to Israel Hurwitz, living in Camps Bay.

10. Edie (1926), 24 years old, married to Aaron Hayman, living in Maitland.

Sammy at 12 years of age was only in Grade 6. I was in Grade 5 at 9 years old. He must have started school later than I did at the Orphanage. He stayed at home, and failed a grade (in those days, there wasn’t automatic promotion). Sammy never went to the Orphanage. He went to Claremont Junior School. When Sammy was 13 he went to Wynberg Boys High school. He was there until Grade 9. After spending two years at boarding school in Wellington, I came home for three years. I entered Wynberg Junior School in Grade 7 (1953). Sammy left school in Grade 9 and joined my father’s bottle-bag-bone-scrap metal business. The final straw for Sammy was when “Bob”, his bookkeeping teacher  gave him a couple of hundred lines as punishment. My father now had a son to work in “the business”. The “business” is another chapter.

Here is the Probation Officer’s evaluation of my father and mother in his 1951 Report:

The father:

“Issie Gamaroff, aged 49 years. He is employed as a storeman at Wingfield Airport at a salary of ₤60 per month. He maintains a good standard of living and is very strict in his attitude towards his children. Mr Gamaroff is a man of temperate habits and regular worker.

The mother:

Fanny Gamaroff (nee Gilinsky) is 44 years old and attends to the household. She is a cripple. The mother creates a very favourable impression and shows a keen interest in her children’s well-being. She is very concerned about Gerry and has expressed with tears her disappointment in his conduct.

Compare the Probation Officer’s judgment of my parents in his report with the report of someone in authority at the Cape Jewish Orphanage. Both reports were written within months of each other in 1951. The Orphanage official who wrote it is now  dead. Nothing good can come out of revealing his name. Far be it from me to judge his state of mind at the moment of writing it, or afterwards. It does hurt though.

Orphanage description of Izzy and Fanny on the Occasion of Rachel’s Admission to the Orphanage 20 April 1951

The Orphanage official said that Rachel was very weedy and ill-nourished. My parents were described as people who have had 14 or 15 children, and  are so brutish and self-centred that they are totally unable to care for their numerous progeny. The principal went on to say that the Orphanage had five of the Gamaroff offspring until 1949. The committee has definitely decided that the parents only may visit Rachel and Benny on Sundays but may not take them out to their home.

Izzy and Fanny didn’t have 15, neither 14, neither 13, neither 12, neither 11 but 10 children. The official couldn’t suppress his contempt for the “brutish” nature of my parents unbridled lust for life. Many in the Western world would sympathise with the Orphanage official’s comments, especially if they are not Jews, especially not Torah Jews, that is,  Jews who believe that the Bible comes from Ruach HaKodesh (The Holy Spirit of God). But then my parents weren’t Torah Jews. But I am:  in the way that Yeshua was. But, there is more to it, of course. I wince because it is my parents who were the brunt of these brutish comments. The Orphanage official was living under a cloud of ignorance, of unknowing. I am reading the “Cloud of unknowing” (author unknown, which is not the reason for the title), where “unknowing” means something very different to ignorance. “The cloud of unknowing” is a book of contemplation about that cloud within which unites one to God. The main reason I mention the book is what I read about lust in Chapter 10, “How a man shall know when his thoughts are sinful; of the difference between mortal and venial sins.” Lust is the last (but not least) mortal sin mentioned on the author’s list. The author defines lust as “the desire for carnal indulgence or for the favour and flattery of others.”  What is interesting about this definition of lust is that it is not only defined in the expected way of unbridled sexual appetite, but also includes the desire for favour and flattery. Izzy seemed to be a self-made man – at least from the time he allegedly stole the bottle business from his stepmother when his father died. My view of Izzy was that he didn’t “lust” for favour, but rather dished it out. With regard to flattery, he loved to be appreciated for his violin playing. As his business began to prosper – after many years of financial tsorres – he became a self-sufficient man. As for confessed carnal lusts? He did enjoy a movie with – as he described (confessed?) to me –  “dancing girls.”

The Cape Jewish Orphanage (7): How deep was the valley?

The following comment appears in the Orphanage principal’s notes at the bottom of Rachel’s 1951 school report (from the Orphanage archives).  Rachel was admitted  to the Orphanage in April 1951, together with Benny, who was readmitted for the second time:

“Very weedy and ill-nourished. People who are totally unable to care for their numerous progeny. We had five of their offspring until 1949. The committee have definitely decided that the parents only may visit on Sundays but may not take them out to their home.”

The principal’s thoughts about Rachel and benny are clear. I am not sure what the principal thought about the home visits of the five of us who were there from 1945 to 1949 (Benny, myself, Gerry, Leslie and Minnie), but his notes above about Benny and Rachel are a clear indication. We might have made a few periodical home visits while at the Orphanage. I have no memory of these except the one visit for the family photo shoot. The most memorable and happiest day of my young life. Here are the Principal’s notes on Benny, when he was readmitted for the second time in 1951:

“Rough and uncouth. Needs steady discipline. A lot of good in him if he is carefully watched.”

A typical boy – noise with dirt on.

I found  one document about me: my medical record for admission dated 22 March 45. (I left the orphanage for good at the end of 1949): Physical condition: normal. Mental condition: normal. Condition of skin: verminous. Comment: “This child has lice in the hair and should be isolated.” I wonder what is worse for Jew? A verminous Jew or a Jew who believes in Yeshua HaMashiach.

The Jewish community did indeed “lavish” us with “loving care” (Rabbi Abrahams earlier). What would have happened if we had remained in our “broken” home. The Orphanage started out as a home for orphans, but ended up as a refuge for children from broken homes. Here is Fanny Lockitch again (whom I quoted earlier):

“Well we were orphans who had an early foundation of love. But I must say today it’s mostly from broken homes. I mean we are told inaccurately that nothing can replace parental love. It is true, nothing can replace parental love that is best, but there are many broken homes where children are neglected, overlooked, unwanted and these children find in Oranjia the love and understanding they have never known.”

How broken was my home? Here are two letters (from the Orphanage archives) writtten to the Orphanage by the  family doctor, Dr A. J. Gans. The first letter is an application for admission to the Orphanage of five of the Gamaroffs: Benny Raphael, Gerry, Minnie and Leslie.

7 March 1945

This is to certify that Mrs Gamaroff is expecting her tenth child and she is in bad health and is also suffering from a nervous breakdown. She is unable to attend to her children.

The second letter is six years later as is regard to an application for admission to Orphanage of Rachel (for the first time, and Benny and Gerry (for the second time).

5 April 1951

This is to certify that Mrs Gamaroff is in very bad health and finds it impossible to look after her home and the childlren.

When mother breaks, the home breaks. But the mezuzah was in the slanting position!

Here is another excerpt from Professor Chief Rabbi Abrahams’ message (quoted earlier  The Cape Jewish Orphanage (5) – Chief Rabbi Abrahams and Dr Verwoerd: the not-so-odd couple): “it is eloquence of the Jewish spirit and influence of Oranjia that throughout the fifty years, very few of our children have gone astray” (my emphasis).

If Professor Abrahams  believed the Jewish Bible, he would have known that “all of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way (Isaiah 53:6).” “Children gone astray” for Professor Abrahams – and most people – means children who have “gone off the rails”; who have become a burden or a threat to society. My elder brother (by 11 months) Gerry was judged to be one of these strays. He deserves a chapter of his own.

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.

The Cape Jewish Orphanage (5) – Chief Rabbi Abrahams and Dr Verwoerd: the not-so-odd couple.

There are two Preface messages in Rosenthal’s book on the Cape Jewish Orphanage: the first written by Dr Hendrik. F. Verwoerd, Prime Minister of South Africa from 1958 until his assassination in 1966. He was the principal architect of Apartheid in South Africa; the second, written my Professor Israel Abrahams, the Chief Rabbi of Cape Town (from 1937 to 1968). Here were two people, so different in some ways, yet so alike in others. Rabbi Abraham’s Bible says that the Jews are God’s chosen people out of all the nations of the world; Dr Verwoerd’s Bible said that the white race was the chosen people out of all the nations in South Africa. Both of them have a message for the dispossessed.

Here is an excerpt from Dr Verwoerd message:

“It is well known that the Jewish community is outstanding in its attention to the needs of these from its ranks who need a helping hand. This feeling of mutual obligation between members of the same religion should not only be admired, but also encouraged. The best people to lift up the fallen or help the needy – whether they are the aged, or orphans, or unprotected children – are always those of  the same nation and those with a spiritual affinity. Salvation comes best from those who are the nearest in blood and religion, since they find it the easiest to give love and devotion and since it is received from them with the least feeling of humiliation.”


Jewish care for its own is unique. Dr Verwoerd says that the “salvation” of the Jew comes best from a Jew, not only because of ties of blood and religion, but because salvation by one’s own people is less humiliating than salvation from outside the fold.

When I recently told someone I was a Jew, she ooed and ahhhhed about how God had blessed the Jews with so many gifts, which has put them at the top of every field: the sciences, music, and business. It’s not only the Jew that glories in his achievements and his possessions’ it’s the rare soul that loves nothing less.  But the Jew does it on much grander scale. Many false Christians despise the Jew, not for killing Christ, but for the Jew’s remarkable talents: everything he touches turns to gold. (But hang on, I know of at least one – boggy – exception!). No orphanage can keep a Jew down; most past residents of the Cape Jewish Orphanage (and the Arcadia Jewish Home in Johannesburg) – broken homes and all – became  doctors, lawyers, accountants, businessmen,  giving such naches (blessings) to a Yiddishe mama’s heart. Your Tsorres (sorrows) will turn to simche (joy).

But what do these achievements achieve? How does blood and religion figure in the Jew? Does the salvation of the Jew come from the Jews alone? Can the love and devotion of a Jew save another Jew? Save him from what? Do not the proud achievements and the love of money disqualify the Jew from finding God, disqualify us all from finding God. One of the reasons given by defenders of the Pogroms is  that the Jew’s love of money destroyed his humanity. Last night (12 January 2009) I watched a documentary on the “Ochberg Orphans” (which I mentioned earlier). One Polish Jew explained it this way: “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.”

I mentioned Professor Israel Abrahams.  He was born in Vilna, Lithuania in 1903 (a year after Izzy) and the Chief Rabbi of Cape Town and also Head of the Hebrew Department at the University of Cape Town from 1938 to 1968. I studied Hebrew in his Department in 1961. He a was rotund, diminutive Toulouse Lautrec figure in goatee and spectacles. But more than that, whenever I saw him, I felt a longing and peace. In his daughter’s words: “Searching for ways to describe my father, the words that first come to mind are kind and gentle, fatherly, wise, sincere, generous, tolerant (of others), self controlled and hard working.”[4] . Upon retirement, he went to live in Israel where he died in Jerusalem in October 1973. He translated “The Documentary Hypothesis: And the Composition of the Pentateuch” by Umberto Cassuto.

Here is an excerpt from Professor Abrahams message in Rosenthal’s book: (I highlight a few phrases for comment):

“Jewish standards of philanthropic endeavour generally and the loving care lavished on orphans in particular are proverbially praiseworthy. Of Oranjia it can be said that it has maintained that tradition at the highest level.  The very name is characteristic: we do not speak of the “Orphanage,” with all the unhappy Dickensian nuances attaching to such a name. We call it “Our Children’s Home” or simply Oranjia (the name of the original house); because the little inmates are our children and their dwelling-place a home in the noblest sense of the term….it is eloquence of the Jewish spirit and influence of Oranjia that throughout the fifty years, very few of our children have gone astray.


“Orphanage”, as Abrahams says, does evoke the image of tormented starving Oliver Twists. Not so in Oranjia, where “inmates” are “lavished with loving care.” If “orphanage” is an unhappy term,  “inmates” is bleak: a prisoner, a hospital patient –  a concentration camp! Professor Abrahams was a mother tongue English speaker who grew up and studied in Britain. His English was perfect, if, in this case, inept.

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”

Cape Jewish Orphanage (2)

Much anti-Jewish feeling was aroused by the “Protocols of Zion”, which also perpetuates the blood-in-the matzah fable. The “Protocols” is one of the best examples of literary forgery. It was initated by Czarist secret police who sought to besmirch the revolutionaries as Jewish puppets. But it went much further than that. It was later pounced on with glee by the Nazis and many Muslims. It is quoted in Palestinian school text-books. It is mentioned in the Hamas Charter: “The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying.”

The Torah mentions that God promised the Jews the territory mentioned by Hamas, “from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18). The zionists appeal to these promises. Yet the majority of zionists are atheists (like Weizmann and other founders of Zionism). So, one wonders why they appeal to a book they don’t believe in. The Jewish antizionist believes the Jewish people will only be a nation again and have a country of their own again when the Messiah comes. I believe the Messiah who comes will be Yeshua, who will be coming again.

In the pre-Russian revolution years (late 1900s up to 1917) many Jews sided with the revolutionary forces (the Reds) against the Czarist regime (the Whites). This was one of the reasons why the Pale of Settlement became the favourite hunting ground of Jew-haters. Jews smuggled despairing letters, informing Jews in South Africa and other countries of their desolation, pleading for help. The South African Jewish community devised a plan to rescue as many orphans as they could. Donations were generous. Many Jews were involved. but there is one man’s zeal that knew no bounds: Isaac (Yizchak) Ochberg.

Ochberg was an immigrant from Russia. Before the plan could go ahead, there were two questions: How to rescue the orphans from a war-torn region, and whether the South African government would admit? Ochberg met with the Jan Smuts, the prime minister (1919 – 1924) who gave permission, but stipulated that the children to be saved had to be in peak physical condition – the children chosen to pass over from death to life must be lambs without blemish or defect. About 400,000 Jewish orphans were left destitute in Eastern Europe. The South African Jews were determined to save as many as they could. Someone was needed to travel to Eastern Europe to make the necessary arrangements. Isaac Ochberg offered to go. Fanny Frier, who was one of the Ochberg orphans, recalls those days: “He was going to take some of us away with him and give us a new home on the other side of the world.” Although they were excited about “going to a beautiful new country, we also heard stories of robbers and wild animals and we feared we might be eaten by lions or cannibals or sold off as slaves. However, when he appeared with his reddish hair and cheery smile, we all took a great liking to him and called him ‘Daddy.’ He would spend hours talking to us, making jokes and cheering us up.”

Ochberg’s most harrowing predicament was that he only had funds to take 200 of the 400 000 orphans. Who to take and who to let leave behind? He decided to choose eight children from 25 institutions, who had lost both parents and were in good physical and mental shape. I wonder what medical advice he received in the selection. Ochberg must have suffered terrible anguish over the process. What a portent of the twisted things to come 20 years later in the medical “observatories” of Auschwitz and Birkenau.

After three months of hardships and personal sickness, Ochberg and the children arrived in London. A short while later they embarked on the Edinburgh Castle for South Africa. Fanny Lockitch (one of the orphans saved by “Daddy” Ochberg) describes some of Ochberg’s sufferings in her endearing – yet typically Jewish – use of English (a transcription of a conversation with Noreen Alexander, which I obtained from the Orphanage archives): “Daddy Ochberg set up on this grave but by no means unhazardous journey. He arrived there and believe me what confronted him – how the man came through I don’t know, because really he was so ill after a time and it was only our prayer that brought him back to life. He had to go through forests infested with bandits. He was strange in the country and of course there was a civil war raging in this country still.”

Ochberg could only take 200 children. Fanny Lokitch continues: “He would have saved more and I wish to God he would have because the rest must have perished twenty years later under the Hitler regimem no doubt. He really snatched us from thee jaws of death you can say because if we hadn’t died then out of famine and disease, we would have perished twenty years later in the gas chambers…Disease broke out amongst the children (the 200) they got a very terrible eye disease called trachoma and it delayed the actions, and Daddy Ochberg became very ill and that delayed things too…We went down from Warsaw to Dansig. In Dansig we boarded a little steamer which brought us to England.”

Ochberg relates: “I have been through almost every village in the Polish Ukraine and Galicia and am now well acquainted with the places where there is at present extreme suffering. I have succeeded in collecting the necessary number of children, and I can safely say that the generosity displayed by South African Jewry in making this mission possible means nothing less than saving their lives. They would surely have died of starvation, disease, or been lost to our nation for other reasons.I am now in London with the object of arranging transport and I hope to be able to advise telegraphically soon of my departure for South Africa with the children.”

Fanny Frier, whom we met earlier, relates: “Never, to my dying day, shall I ever forget our first sight of the lights of Cape Town and then the tremendous reception when we came ashore with half the city apparently waiting on the quay for us.”

When Yizchak (Isaac) Ochberg died in Cape Town, he left the largest single bequest ever made up to then to the Jewish National Fund. “[The Jewish National Fund] used it to redeem a piece of land in Israel called Nahalat Yitzhak Ochberg – which included the kibbutzim of Dalia and Ein Hashofet. In the course of years, the name Ochberg dropped off the signs and it’s now known as Nahalat Yitzhak. [bography’s note: Nahala” in Hebrew means inheritance, and by extension, the inherited land – Israel]. –  I am certain there is hardly anyone in Israel today who would know which Yitzhak it was.”

The inhabitants of Ein Hashofet probably remain happy in their ignorance of the man behind their good prosperity. ”Dropping names” has been literally restored. In 1962, I spent five months on Kibbutz Ein Hashofet (The Judge’s Spring), but I keep that for a later part of the story.

In my previous post, I mentioned that a documentary, the “Ochberg Orphans” was made in 2008. The Jerusalem Post reports:

Our knowledge of history is often lazily shaped by Oscar-winning movies. How many people gained their understanding of Jewish life under the Romans from the 1960s blockbuster Ben Hur, or the rebirth of modern Israel from Otto Preminger’s Exodus? Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Ochberg moved from town to town, visiting cities – Minsk, Pinsk, and Stanislav – as well as villages, collecting orphans. But what about the movies that don’t quite cut it at the Oscars? Have significant chunks of the past been relegated to the abyss of the unknown? Such may be the case of a recent documentary by director and producer John Blair, who won the Best Documentary Feature statuette for his 1995 Anna Frank Remembered.”

“Blair’s recent entry, The Ochberg Orphans, which deals with the rescue of Jewish children in 1921 from the war-torn Pale of Settlement and their resettlement in South Africa, failed to make the final five nominees at this year’s Academy Awards, and an inspiring chapter of Jewish history may now never reach a wider audience.”

Academies don’t give prizes to movies about the fatherless, the orphanos (from orphe “darkness”).

The Cape Jewish Orphanage (1)


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).