Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

27 Tishrei 5764 - October 23, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Sad End for Historic Zimbabwe Synagogue
by D. Saks

The struggling Jewish community of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe is seeking to put the pieces together following the shocking burning down of their historic shul this past Shabbos Shuva. The shul caught fire from a burning hedge outside, and foul play is not suspected.

Through the heroism of two congregants, Rodney Lepar and Raymond Roth, who ignored protests from firemen and plunged into the burning building, the six sifrei Torah together with the nearly 300-year-old curtain for the Aron Kodesh were rescued, but it was not possible to save the siddurim and seforim. Distraught members of the community could only stand by and watch as their beloved place of worship was inexorably gutted.

Perhaps the most heartrending sight was the 104-year-old Rev. Laizer Abrahamson who, after the flames had been doused, was left standing and staring at the ruined shell of the building in which he had officiated at so many sacred services, holding his walking stick in one hand while wiping away tears with the other. He asked what he would be buried in when the time came since both his talleisim had been consumed by the flames.

Ironically, the Bulawayo Hebrew Congregation was founded the day after Tisha B'Av in August, 1894, the day the burning down of the Beis Hamikdash was completed.

The manner in which the sifrei Torah were rescued has been seen by many people as a neis. Both Mr. Lepar and Mr. Roth claimed to have seen a separate sefer Torah through the window of the burning building, taking this as a sign min haShomayim that they should go to their rescue. In fact, neither could have seen anything since all the sifrei Torah were locked away behind a steel curtain, which the two men had to wrench aside in order to access their contents.

Fewer than 200 Jews, mainly elderly people, now live in Bulawayo, down from a high of around 3000 in the 1960s. There has been a Jewish presence in what is today the second largest city in Zimbabwe from the time of its founding, with the first services being held in a canvas tent a year after the arrival of the first white settlers in the area. The sorely depleted community prides itself on the fact that it has managed to muster a minyan at least once every day for over a hundred years.

The congregation continues to function, with services taking place in temporary premises. Sadly, given the perilous financial position and depleted numbers of the Jewish community in a country whose economy has been in free fall for years, it is probably highly unlikely that any new shul building will emerge from the ashes.


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