Around the Jewish World: Survey; South African Jews Retain Divided Identities in Post-apartheid Era
Menu JTA Search

Around the Jewish World: Survey; South African Jews Retain Divided Identities in Post-apartheid Era

Download PDF for this date

More than 60 percent of South Africa’s estimated 100,000 Jews do not see a long-term future for the Jewish community there, according to a new report.

But 54 percent of the 1,000 South African Jews polled by the London-based Institute of Jewish Policy Review and the Kaplan Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town said they are committed to post-apartheid South Africa.

The survey comes after the number of South African Jews has decreased dramatically in recent years.

The first major wave of emigration consisted largely of Jewish opponents of the apartheid regime, who went into forced or voluntary exile.

Then came a second wave, unwilling to risk the consequences of change, including an increase in crime, after the fall of apartheid earlier this decade. Carrying valuable professional skills, they emigrated in the tens of thousands to Canada, Australia, the U.S., Britain and Israel.

The result of this exodus — conservatively estimated at 40,000 — has been devastating for the community and has been only partially replenished by recent arrivals from Zimbabwe and Israel.

The report confirmed that South African Jews are a tightly knit, highly educated and affluent community that has a deeply split identity.

Despite worries over personal security, education and a perceived increase in anti-Semitism, the vast majority say they are not seriously contemplating emigration, with just 12 percent declaring that they are likely to leave in the next five years.

Almost 90 percent express an attachment to Israel, although just over one- quarter of those contemplating emigration would choose to live in Israel.

Of those who are “fairly” or “very” likely to emigrate, 33 percent would opt for Australia, 27 percent for Israel, 20 percent for the United States and 13 percent for Britain.

Seventy-nine percent of South African Jews have visited Israel — on a par with Britain but more than twice the incidence of visits by U.S. Jews.

Some 87 percent say they have a “strong” or “moderate” attachment to Israel, with just 12 percent expressing indifference and 1 percent negative sentiments.

The fact that the overwhelming majority of South African Jews believe they will not emigrate does not mean they feel they are better off, either individually or as a community, since the demise of apartheid.

While 35 percent agree the new system has benefited South Africa as a whole, only 16 percent believe they have benefited personally and just 13 percent believe that the change has been beneficial to the community.

The pervading sense of unease explains, perhaps, why just over 11 percent supported the ruling African National Congress in the 1994 elections — and more than 56 percent supported the Democratic Party, which has a Jewish leader.

Only 22 percent believe there will be a substantial Jewish community in South Africa 20 years from now — 61 percent disagree with this statement, and 17 percent do not express an opinion.

The report concludes that South African Jews remain “vibrant, highly skilled and well-qualified to assist in the development of a democratic South Africa.”

Many of the survey’s results indicate that South African Jews are generally more Orthodox in their religious outlook and behavior than either their British or American counterparts. Among them:

36 percent say they believe the Torah is the actual word of God — compared with 15 percent in Britain and 13 percent in the United States,

79 percent say they attend an Orthodox synagogue, 4 percent attend a Lubavitch synagogue, 9 percent attend Reform or Conservative synagogues and 7 percent are unaffiliated.

94 percent of males and 77 percent of females say they have received some form of Jewish education, and a majority of Jewish children now attend Jewish day schools at both primary and secondary levels.

92 percent do not work on Rosh Hashanah, 91 percent fast on Yom Kippur and 71 percent prefer to stay home on Friday night.

Only 7 percent of South African Jews are intermarried, compared with 23 percent in Britain and 28 percent in the United States.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund