preserving the footprint of the sa jewish community online

The rise of the internet has provided unprecedented means for connecting people as well as being
a secure repository of information. Many people with a passion to preserve the history of their
Southern African Jewish communities have grasped this opportunity with both hands. How have
they done it? Nearly 100 people from all over the world are finding out through ‘Community
History Online’, a Zoom conference presented in three weekly sessions by the South African
Jewish Museum and the UCT Kaplan Centre.

Viewers have been enthralled by individuals who have driven projects to find and communicate
with the families of those who lived in their hometowns, and to hear how they motivated them to
send stories and pictures of their weddings and barmitzvahs, their businesses and pastimes, their
synagogues and ministers.

Geraldine Auerbach MBE from London kicked off by introducing us to the comprehensive website
of the Jewish Community of Kimberley, explaining how it was achieved. Gary Sussman from Tel
Aviv spoke about his beautiful websites for the 50 to 60-family centre of Vryburg. Rabbi Ryan
Newfield, appointed in Muizenberg just a month before Covid struck, gave a vivid description of
creating a community from scratch. Juan-Paul Burke presented an insight into the progress of
documenting the Woodstock and Salt River Jewish communities. Attendees were given tips,
templates and offers of help to create their own ‘virtual cities’, recording pasts that might otherwise
be lost.

Online resources
The wealth of resources in the online archives of the South African Jewish Museum and the
Kaplan Centre was described by their archivists Leila Bloch and Katie Garrun. People were
encouraged to make sure that family or community documents and appurtenances are safely
digitised and stored in these places. Eli Rabinowitz in Perth Australia, a member of the Board of
the International Jewish Genealogical Society, spoke about JewishGen’s vast databases and other
resources and his many community ‘Kehilalinks’.

Virtual cemeteries
While gravestones are still pristine, the value of photographing them and transcribing them is
essential, as visits to South African Jewish cemeteries are not always possible – or even safe -
today. Eric Berger of the Cape Town Cemeteries Board showed their extraordinary progress from
a database of graves to a fundraising platform and a service to the families and the community.

Social media  
Pioneer and role model in the field, Dave Bloom of Israel, who during the last 20 years has
created a fascinating website celebrating the Zimbabwe Jewish Community, described how he and
the community now use Facebook and Zoom as tools to bring people together and elicit stories. 
Gavin Morris, Director of the South African Jewish Museum in Cape Town, says:  ‘Our goal has
been to connect everyone interested in South African Jewish history and to present an overview of
the various approaches being taken in securing our history online. We hope to learn of their
triumphs and frustrations so we can create a clear path for others to travel. Already there is interest
from individuals willing to start sites for Bloemfontein and Carletonville.’

Web links related to this conference:
Jewish Gen Kehilalinks
SAJM Archives
Zimbabwe Jewish Community
Cape Jewish Cemeteries Board
Kaplan Centre archives

To listen to the talks again:
Session 1: (Kimberley, Kehilalinks, SAJM Archives)
Session 2: (Vryburg, Muizenberg and Woodstock)
Session 3: (Zimbabwe, Virtual cemeteries and Kaplan archives)

For further information about this series:

To join the Community History On-Line (CHOL) mailing list: