Menu JTA Search

Wjc Report Finds Future Uncertain for 2000 Jews Still in Rhodesia

Eighty-five years after the first Jewish congregation was established in Rhodesia, the 2000 Jews who still remain in that strife torn southern African nation are struggling to maintain a fully functioning community. There are synagogues, day and afternoon schools, a home for the aged, a central representative body and a Zionist movement.

But their future seems bleak and their survival depends on whether whites in general con have an acceptable future as a minority in a Black-ruled Rhodesia-Zimbabwe, according to a recent report published by the World Jewish Congress.

Organized Jewish life in Rhodesia dates back to 1894 when about 20 Jews were among the purchasers of land in Bulawayo. They established their congregation a year later. The majority of the newcomers were from Russia and Lithuania, later joined by Sephardic Jews. In 1900 there were 400 Jews In Rhodesia, the WJC reported.

By 1921, the Jewish community numbered 1289, in 1936 4760 and in 1961 it reached a peak of 7000. In 1968, it was down to 5500 and the decline continued. In 1979, the Jewish population of Rhodesia-Zimbabwe was estimated at 2300.

“Over 60 percent of the community is over 50 years of age, “the report said. “There are 500 Jewish children in the whole of Rhodesia,” nevertheless the Sharon Day School in Salisbury and the Carmel Day School in Bulawayo continue to function, the former with 81 pupils, the latter with 69 Salisbury is the only center in the country where an afternoon school continues to function. Non-Jews and non-whites have recently been admitted to the day schools.

“There has been a merger of the Progressive and Orthodox communities in Bulawayo, where there is no rabbi or shochet. Salisbury has a rabbi cum cantor and he serves both cities, “the WJC reported. But “In spite of the steady outflow, there has been some expansion in communal institutions and facilities. A new synagogue was completed in Salisbury in 1977. A home for the aged was completed in 1976.”

CHILDREN GOING ELSEWHERE

According to the WJC, “Rhodesian Jewry is affluent but uneasy. There is an awareness that there may be great difficulties ahead, and a number are encouraging their children to seek their futures elsewhere… There appears to be no difficulty in meeting all the community’s budgets and the amounts of money raised for Israel are, on a per capita basis, comparable with those raised in other affluent communities. The life style is similar to that of South African Jews, “the WJC said.

Until 1976, the majority of Jews leaving Rhodesia went to South Africa. “The choice was understandable in view of the fact that many were born in South Africa and had relatives and interests there, “the report noted. But after 1976, “mare Jewish emigrants opted for Israel than in the past, and some looked to the U.S., Australia, Canada and Europe. Since 1976, between 250-300 Rhodesian Jews have emigrated to Israel annually, “the WJC reported.

Rhodesia contains one of four small communities among the WJC’s African affiliates. The others are in Kenya, Zoire and Zambia. The WJC reported that “There are about 200 Jews left in Kenya and with the help of some of the Israelis in that country on construction or economic projects a degree of communal life is possible. Zaire has about 700 Jews and they manage to provide religious, educational and social facilities. In the mid-1950s the Jewish population of Zambia was about 1200; today there are about 250. The only organized community is in the capital, Lusaka, where High Holiday services are held with officients from South Africa.” the WJC noted.

NEXT STORY