Shaun Zagnoev

Above Board 19.7.19

Amidst the critical role that the SAJBD plays in representing South African Jewry and ensuring that its safety and civil liberties are upheld, it is often forgotten that the Board provides a range of other important services to the community. One of these concerns our unique archives, compromising probably the most comprehensive and multi-faceted record of the Jewish presence in Southern Africa anywhere in the world. The newspaper cuttings collection, starting at the end of the 19th Century, includes files on various aspects of South African Jewish history, including congregations past and present, communal organisations, Zionism and prominent personalities, both Jewish and non-Jewish. There are also a considerable number of minute books, original manuscripts, documents, correspondence, bound volumes comprising all the important SA Jewish newspapers that have appeared over the years and photographs.

The archives, which have been headed up for nearly thirty years by Naomi Musiker, provide a true treasure trove of information that is regularly used by academics, genealogists, authors and journalists, many of them from overseas. Not infrequently, they are consulted by ordinary members of the public simply interested in researching their family histories. To give everyone an idea of the sheer range and diversity of the requests that come our way, recent enquiries dealt with by this department have included material on Jewish involvement in South African football, Jewish nurses in the two World Wars, a leading Haredi rabbi who worked in the country for a while and the visit many years ago to this country of the legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz.

A second vital role that our archives play is in preserving and safe-guarding documentation relating to Jewish organisations that would otherwise be irrevocably lost once the latter close down. These include the records of scores of former small town congregations, which have been used extensively by, amongst others, the SA Friends of Beth Hatefutsoth in the work they are conducting in this area. A most welcome recent addition were the archives of Bnai B’rith, in its day one of Johannesburg’s most active Jewish communal bodies which for over three quarters of a century assisted the under-privileged of all races and creeds. Sadly, the organisation finally closed its doors earlier this year, but past and former members at least have the assurance that the good deeds it performed and the contributions made by the many good people associated with it are being preserved for posterity.

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