When Sam Fox[i] joined the shul as its secretary, the elders of the synagogue met the Pendennis Castle at the docks and drove him to the shul. Whenever he asked to view the office in which he would be working, he was steered to inspect another part of the complex until he was finally brought to his office which by that time of day had been converted back into the cloakroom. It was a cavernous room with a long boardroom table, a wall telephone (dial 44-8918) and a black iron safe about 1 metre high and a half metre wide complete with brass handle. At the end of each day the table was cleared, ledgers, registers and files stuffed into the safe and the typewriter placed on the top. Ventilation was through the open door, the small stained-glass windows being of purely aesthetic value. He could smell the barrels of schmaltz herrings the Ladies Guild used to prepare for the Succah brochahs.

That room became incorporated into the synagogue when the shul was enlarged. Later the committee met in the Weizmann Centre library and the Talmud Torah building next to the shul in Marais Road became the offices for the admin staff and the rabbi, complete with the nineteenth century safe and antiquated filing cabinets.

One Saturday morning twelve days before Rosh Hashanah in 1959 he was woken at 3 a.m. by the police. The offices were on fire! In the Rabbi’s office a Sefer Torah and valuable seforim had been stored. As the safe was too full, the seating register and plans for the entire membership for the services both in Marais Road and the Weizmann Hall were on his desk. He rushed to the building to try to salvage the Sefer Torah but the fireman would not allow him entry. The flames had not as yet taken hold but whatever the flames had left intact, the fire brigade ruined with water.

Sam commenced his salvage operations on the Sunday morning, paddling through a foot of water. The safe was opened with a crowbar. Inside were barely legible ledgers and members’ records. The seating registers on which he had spent so many hours were a total loss.

To him the last straw occurred as he was wading through what once had been a door, holding an armful of charred pulp that once had been the seating registers, when a member approached him asking: “Could I have a seat for Yom Tov?”           

No use crying over spilt milk. A minute book showing signs of water damage is carefully stored in the UCT archives. The Sefer Torah was replaced the following year with one from Israel costing £230. A new addressograph was bought for considerably less and the insurance premiums were increased. Sam Fox resigned as secretary in 1961 to go to Canada – one of the many who left the country after Sharpeville.


[i] Fox, Sam, “Memories’. G&SPHC Rosh Hashana Annual Golden Jubilee, 1983 - 5744, 49