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University Center to Encourage Study of Jewish Roots in S. Africa

April 1, 2002
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A new center for Jewish population study and genealogy has been established here.

The Center for Jewish Migration and Genealogy is part of the University of Cape Town’s Kaplan Center for Jewish Studies and Research.

The center aims to map 15,000 Jews who arrived in South Africa between 1880 and 1930, from their place of origin to their destination in South Africa. It will span five or six generations, including parents of the original immigrants who may have been left behind, as well as their descendants.

A host of archival material, including ship departure lists, marriage and divorce records, burial lists will complete the picture.

The university’s involvement stems from the fact that the new dean of the school’s Faculty of Humanities, Robin Cohen, has a special interest in population migration.

He’s very interested in getting this information on Jewish migration “because certain aspects can be related to other migrations,” philanthropist Mendel Kaplan, who helped organize the project, said.

The project is linked to another Kaplan family undertaking, the new South African Jewish Museum. This connection has sparked the interest of another university professor who will study the way museums function.

At a World Jewish Genealogical Conference last year, Kaplan met Saul Israel, a former South African now living in London. After discussions with him and Cape Town businessman David Susman, the project was launched — Israel is directing the new center, while Susman has provided some startup capital.

Israel sees the center catering to the public by providing reference services to family history researchers and adult education programs to the community in general.

The institute will also encourage study at a graduate level. While the primary focus of the center will be on South African Jewry and its origins, said Kaplan, the center’s planners hope it will cooperate with major international academic institutes, archives and genealogy groups.

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