harare hebrew congregation

History of the Harare (formerly Salisbury) Hebrew Congregation

(This article was written when the ceremony for the laying of the foundation stones of the Salisbury Hebrew Congregation complex (comprising of a communal hall, school and youth centre) took place in Milton Park on 12th April 1964)

THE Salisbury Hebrew Congregation was founded on June 2nd, 1895. Twenty men and two women met – that day under the chairmanship of Joe van Praagh (five years later to become the-first Jewish Mayor of Salisbury). The meeting was held in the old Masonic Hotel, Pioneer Street, and the news of the formation of the Congregation evoked the admiration of the Press of the day.

Cecil John Rhodes must also have been delighted at the news for it was at this time that he smilingly remarked: “If the Jews come, my country is all right.” He well knew that our co-religionists were in at the beginning and shared the hardships and disappointments of the early pioneering days.

On right Mr I Lasovsky welcomes Federal Prime Minister Sir Roy Welensky and his wife to the Salisbury St Synagogue circa mid 1950s – see gallery to the right.

In 1901, by which time the Community had grown to 70, the first synagogue was built, in Rhodes Avenue. But by 1912 it proved too small for the growing Congregation, and services were held at the old Masonic Hall, the Drill Hall and within the old Bank of Africa Building. The present synagogue, in Salisbury Street, was erected in 1920.

The first Minister to be appointed was the Rev. L. Rubin, who served the Congregation from 1909 to 1912 (before 1909 the community relied upon the services of lay readers). The second Minister was the Rev. Mark Harris (1913 to 1915) who, it was recorded, used to visit his flock mounted on a white horse.

Rev. Harris was succeeded by the Rev. Monty Levy, who served the Congregation for three years. In 1918, the late Rev. J. J. Rosin, J.P., was appointed Minister and served until 1935, when the present incumbent. Rabbi M. Konviser, O.B.E., B.A., was appointed.

The lay leadership has, from the outset, contained men of the highest calibre, many of whom, in addition to the services they rendered their own Community, made their mark in public life. Jews have played their full part in the affairs of the City Council, and four have served as Mayor. Others have sat in the Legislature, and outstanding contributions have been made to commerce, industry and agriculture.

We shall always remember those who served King and country during the early Rebellions and in two world wars. We shall also never forget the names of those on our Roll of Honour, who paid the supreme sacrifice.

By 1926, the Jewish Community had increased to 650 souls and all the usual Congregational amenities were functioning well. There had been established a Chevra Kaddisha (Burial Society), Hebrew School, Social Societies, a strong Zionist movement. Youth Societies, etc., and in various forms all these activities are still nourishing.

In 1964 our Congregation had over 500 families as members.

We are conscious of the deep debt of gratitude we owe our pioneers for the legacy they have bequeathed us—a legacy worthy of the best traditions of our Faith. m.k.

Editor’s note Sept 26, 2022  – The congregation has dwindled to under 50 souls as many congregants emigrated or passed on. Services are still maintained on Shabbat and Chagim and shared with the Sephardic Shul in Harare.

In September 2014 – David Gelfand kindly wrote and compiled a large 225-page document which provides historical information on the Jewish Communities of Harare (formerly Salisbury) including details of committee members and other national and local committees. He visited the relevant archives in Jerusalem and spent many many hours collating and producing this important record. This document was subsequently updated by David Gelfand in March 2020. The ZJC are forever grateful to David for the time and effort he invested in this project. Click here to view/download the PDF filePlease note and respect copyright.

Below are images from the Tu Bishvat tree planting ceremony, January 2022.

 Initiated by Yosi Kably the tree planting ceremony was held in the grounds of the Harare Hebrew Congregation Synagogue.  Philip Hasson President of the Sephardi  Hebrew Congregation and Arnold Joffe President of the Harare Hebrew Congregation planted a flame tree in the grounds of the synagogue, in memory of the benefactor and philanthropist Victor Cohen who died in August 2017.

Also present were Victor Cohen’s daughter Debbie Vico and grandson Aron Vico with cousin Benny Leon

Picture below shows l-r Arnold Joffe, President of the Harare Hebrew Congregation, Dave Bloom, Benny Leon, Rose Leon and Sonia Levy – taken in April 2017 at the Rodis Hall , Harare Sephardic Hebrew Congregation. 

 Salmon Margolis Nursery School – Park Lane Harare

Editor – to be added

Below is a gallery of selected images from the Harare Hebrew Congregation’s centenary magazine published in 1995, telling the story of the community.