In 1975 2,800 worshippers were expected over the High Festival and were to be seated in four separate venues in what was then the country’s largest orthodox congregation. The shul had come a long way in 40 years. The G&SPHC had now employed two inspirational rabbis – Rabbi David Rosen with Rabbi Joseph Fogel to assist him. Rabbi Fogel was to thank Rabbi Duschinsky for recommending him. Both were to speak up against apartheid.
Rabbi Rosen grew up in England, where his father was a prominent orthodox rabbi and got his smichah in Jerusalem at the Mir Yeshiva like Rabbi Rabinowitz. He had been brought to South Africa as the SAUJS chaplain. Gerald Kleinman had been impressed with him, asked the shul to meet with him and he was inducted in 1975[i]. Rabbi Rosen was in his twenties and later wrote that it had been a great privilege to have served the congregation in its halcyon days with hundreds of young people among the 1,200 or so congregants on a summer’s Friday night service because they were not just numbers, but a participating congregation which encompassed many older Talmudic scholars of an immigrant generation - the last vestiges of Lithuanian born and educated talmidei chachamim - together with the dynamic new generations of South African Jewry whose Jewish identity and values were nurtured within that congregation. He believed that his present life was determined by those five years spent in South Africa. The G&SPHC was even more than his Synagogue and community – it was his home, - their first real family home, for which they felt a very special love.
Friday nights had developed a special significance in the South African Jewish community, a significance recorded as early as during Rabbi Hertz’s ministry at the turn of the Twentieth Century. In Europe it was the Saturday morning service that attracted the crowds - winter in Europe came in cold, dark and early. In South Africa even in winter, one could go to the synagogue and still be home in time for supper. And, as John Simon had noted, nobody lived very far from the synagogue - when they moved out to outlying suburbs they established synagogues there – and most owned motorcars, and did not hesitate to drive on the Sabbath although this was contrary to the strict laws of Sabbath observance. It was therefore not difficult for the family to attend service on Friday nights and if the cantor and choir were in good voice and the rabbi could be counted on for a stirring sermon - and the presence of friends made for a social occasion - then why not go to Shul on Friday night and obtain a little glow of sanctity and tradition in pleasant surroundings and congenial company? This was the case in Sea Point when there was still time after the service for a stroll home along the beach front with other shul goers discussing the sermon and the women’s outfits.
Rabbi Rosen’s induction in 1975 was attended by Rabbi Duschinsky, His Excellency the Israeli Ambassador ID Unna, members of Parliament and city councillors. He was young, idealistic and charismatic. He tried to increase the attendance and scholarship in the synagogue. He stressed the importance of organising a library of basic Jewish books and up to date periodicals (28.7.1976). He raised funds for a mikvah to be built at Arthurs Road Shul as the existing one was due to be demolished (20.10.1977). He organised lecture series in the evenings, - before the 1976 High Holy Days he arranged a series of four lectures addressed by himself, Rabbi L Mirvis, Rabbi AH Lapin, Rabbi Popack and Solly Kessler and a shabbaton of 14 couples and their children at the Balmoral Hotel (27.10.1976). He suggested that new ketubot be printed and sold at R150 each to be added to the cost of the wedding. He suggested that zmirot books be printed – the Chevra Lomdei Torah was asked to donate money to do so. He sent a letter to parents expressing his disappointment at birthday parties being held in cinemas on Saturday afternoons, and suggested children’s services on a Saturday morning as an alternative - not one likely to find favour among the children. He too found the conduct of the choristers an irritation – the matter was discussed with Cantor Badash and committee members were delegated to take turns to be present in the choir room (19.11.1975).
1983 – Rabbi Rosen speaks at a Jewish Board of Deputies conference with its secretary Issie Pinshaw (left) and Gerald Kleinman (right)
Cantor Badash had joined the shul in 1965[ii] and was to fill the Marais Road Shul with his beautiful voice for twenty-five years. “I loved the congregation and the congregation loved me”, he said, He recalled that on his first Rosh Hashanah, smoke started curling out of wires in the ladies’ gallery. It was, said Cantor Badash, the easiest service he had ever had. He continued singing while the women ran out into the street and the men ran out to see if their wives were burnt. The congregation returned once the fire was put out, just in time to hear him sing Adon Olam. Cantor Badash recalled that Rabbi Rosen used hard English words in his sermons difficult for the Yiddish speaking members to grasp. He remembered Mr Milner saying:” Our Rabbi is a lovely man and a wonderful speaker but I cannot understand one word he says.”
As the congregation was now so large, Rabbi Eugene Duschinsky, Av Beth Din, recommended that the G&SPHC Synagogue appointed his friend Rabbi Fogel as associate rabbi to Rabbi David Rosen. Rabbi Rosen told the committee that he would grab Rabbi Fogel with two hands. Rabbi Fogel was a Holocaust survivor from Slovakia who had been the rabbi of the Etz Chayim Synagogue in Johannesburg and chairman of the SA Rabbinical Association and was to serve their congregation for ten years starting on January 1st 1977 until retiring and returning to Israel.
Rabbi Fogel listed his duties at the synagogue. He acted as maggid ha’shiur (lecturer) of the daily Chevra Lomdei Torah, as chazan rishon during the High Holydays, chazan sheni and ba’al koreh during the year, delivered a monthly sermon, attended to funerals, consecrations and shivah services, did pastoral work, visiting the sick in hospital and homes and deputised for the rabbi and cantor when they were absent. He also served as the rabbinic administrator on the Beth Din alongside Rabbi Duschinsky, Rabbi Rosen, and Rabbi Lionel Mervis. He joined a Shabbat morning “Brocha club” established earlier with about a dozen couples gathering each week at a different home for Kiddush and a light meal. All the participants would sing zemirot lustily and he would deliver a dvar torah. The event became a highlight of the week.
He became the principal of the Talmud Torah, but the numbers were dropping as the parents were moving their children to the Jewish Day schools. The 70 children in 1953 had dwindled to 31 in 1978 and the Camps Bay Talmud Torah was suffering a similar decline. The United Hebrew Schools agreed to take over both Talmudei Torah and restructure the administration (16.8.1979, 27.9.1978).
The differences in attitudes of young and old came to the fore once again when a cultural committee was put together under Solly Kessler. It was another idea to try to involve the younger people who were not interested in brochah clubs or Lomdei Torah meetings. They wanted to involve people in shul activities so that it would become a hive of activity on week days as well. Rabbi Fogel objected strongly to using the shul as a venue. Rabbi Rosen did not object but did not want to get involved in the dispute. The matter was brought to Rabbi Duschinsky who found no halachic objection. Rabbi Fogel agreed to submit his arguments in writing and meet with Solly Kessler and the executive. Modern ideas trumped. Events went ahead (27.7.1977).
The third edition of South African Jewry, that of 1976-77, lists the G&SPHC as being staffed by Rabbi David Rosen, Cantor Philip Badash, Norman Isaacson, Beadle, with S Zieff as President, P Vainik as executive director, R Groll, secretary, Fanny Levinsohn, chairman and Irene Gootkin as secretary of the Ladies Guild.