On 29th November 1947 the United Nations General Assembly voted on Resolution 181(II) – the United Nation’s Partition Plan for Palestine, which recommended that the Palestine Mandated territory be divided into independent Arab and Jewish states with a “Special International regime” for Jerusalem. South African Jews tuned into their radios with bated breath. At about 1:30 a.m. South African time they heard Dr Aranha, the President of the UN General Assembly, make the historic announcement that the two thirds majority had been obtained. The next day, Sunday morning services in synagogues around the country were filled with the news and worshippers prayed with added fervour. Suddenly there was a great desire to learn Hebrew, both for the children and for their parents. At the Sunday morning Talmud Torah sessions, the teachers gave the children a holiday after announcing the significance of the day.[i]

In 2007 Klaus Abt still recalled Rabbi Shrock’s sermons on the creation of the State of Israel – he could also recall the lasting impression Rabbi Shrock’s shiurim relating to Pirkei Avot left on his mind, serving as a moral re-armament in his later life as an Israeli Ambassador. Rabbi Shrock considered the 16th May 1948, the day that the State of Israel was established, to be the most significant event during his term of office in Sea Point - it was, he felt, a turning point in history. Special synagogue services were held throughout South Africa.[ii] The Gardens Synagogue service was attended by Mayor Gearing, city councillors, Members of the Provincial Council and Christian clergymen. Chief Rabbi I Abrahams called the new Jewish state history’s answer to the Third Reich, a supreme monument to the defeat of Hitler.[iii]

Rabbi Dr J Newman[iv] believed that they were vouchsafed to witness the establishment of a Jewish State – an achievement about which their people had dreamed and prayed for 190 centuries. The Jewish community celebrated with many events, and there was great jubilation.

To understand the degree of jubilation in the community, one must realise the impotence they experienced when Hitler rose to power cutting off all escape routes; the outrage they felt while the death camps had operated and the loneliness they sensed when the Warsaw Ghetto erupted in flames and the fighters appealed to the allies for help and no one listened. It was these Jews who heard with exuberant delight that there would now be a Jewish homeland and they immediately felt that a yoke had been lifted.[v]

Thirty years later Solly Kessler wrote about this in a special brochure Rabbi Fogel and Rabbi Rosen put together for Pesach.

Any non-Jew who begrudges his Jewish neighbour his annual enthusiastic celebration of the establishment of the State of Israel must surely have forgotten the Nazi crimes against the Jewish people. All the past sufferings and vicissitudes of our people pale into utter insignificance when compared with the martyrdom of our people in Nazi Europe. Although the number of Jews murdered is so vast that the mind reels when trying to conceive it, yet it is not in the number that lies the real pain of the tragedy. Our pain stems from the manner in which the Jews or Europe died and the state of mind of the murderers. For our kinfolk did not die on the fields of battle or even in self-defence. They were not the victims of bombings or of hunger and the plague. NO. They were condemned to die merely because in the German mind – conditioned as it was by six years of vicious Nazi antisemitic propaganda - Jews were no better than vermin and were to be exterminated like vermin. To liken the establishment of the State to the coming of the Messiah is surely no blasphemy, for one can scarcely conceive a greater event in Jewish history. Only a divine hand could have lifted our people in the space of three short years from the deepest depths of sorrow to the very zenith of joy. These then are the tremendous events that we shall commemorate on Yom Hashoah and Yom Ha'atzmaut – the darkness and the light, the sorrow and the joy, the tragedy of Europe and the boundless comfort of Israel.[vi]

Yet, apart from a mention in the shul minutes that the Beth Din had sent them copies of a Hebrew prayer for the State of Israel (2. 7. 1948), nothing appeared about the momentous happening, but the excitement could be glimpsed from the note the following year that when they held a reception for the new Israeli Consul and vice-consul, it was a most successful service, the best attended, and most dignified and impressive (7.11.1949). Everyone arrived to see the miracle in person.

It was also agreed that the Sephardit pronunciation, as used in Israel, would be introduced into the shul service, instead of the Ashkenazi pronunciation used in Eastern Europe, but gradually (26.10.1950). This is still not the practice in the Lubavitch movement.

[i] A.R. “29 November 1947 – How SA Jewry Received the news” IN Zionist Record 2.12.1946. Reprinted in Jewish Affairs, Rosh Hashana 2017, Vol 72, No2 , 19-21

[ii] The attendance at Johannesburg’s Wolmarans Street Synagogue was so great that the crowds overflowed in the streets bringing traffic to a standstill.

[iii] Green, M, 245

[iv] Message from Rabbi Dr I Newman, G&SPHC Rosh Hashana Annual Rosh Hashana 40th Anniversary, 1974-5734, 2

[v] Editorial in Jewish Affairs, May 1947, IN Green, M, 248

[vi] G&SPHC Pesach 1979-5739, 13-14