HISTORY OF THE CAPE TOWN HEBREW CONGREGATION

The Cape Town Hebrew Congregation was founded in 1841 making it the oldest Congregation in South Africa and one of the oldest in the Southern hemisphere. It is regarded as the Mother Synagogue of South Africa and is a centre for community events and celebrations.

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The current Synagogue building, the 'Great Synagogue' is affectionately called the 'Gardens Shul' - as it is situated within the Company Gardens, just down Government Avenue and a short walk from Parliament. It is a historic landmark for both the Jewish and wider South African communities. The Synagogue building, visited by thousands of tourists annually, is an architectural masterpiece both inside and out and is widely regarded as one of the most magnificent Synagogues in the world.

Tikvat Yisrael (Hope of Israel) is another name of the Congregation.

Early History in brief

On the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, 26 September 1841 the first Services were held in Helmsley Place in Hof Street - which today forms part of the iconic Mount Nelson Hotel. It was on this historic night that the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation was founded with 17 male members. The Congregation grew slowly and in 1849 was able to purchase a house that they converted into a small Synagogue. Reverend Isaac Pulver was the Synagogue's first spiritual leader.

The Congregation continued to grow and in 1863 the first Synagogue was built. This quaint, charming and tastefully designed Synagogue still stands today adjacent to the Great Synagogue and currently serves as the entrance to the world renowned South African Jewish Museum. 1895 saw the arrival of Reverend Alfred Bender who was very much beloved by the community and who served for 42 years.

With the immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe at the end of the century, it became necessary to build a larger Synagogue. The leading architects at the time were engaged and a most beautiful, grand and majestic edifice, big enough to accommodate 1400 souls, was built. The 'Great Synagogue' was consecrated in September 1905 and is used till this very day. In fact, since being consecrated in 1905, there has not been a single day without services held. The Congregation continues to maintain a large membership base and boasts a full complement of clergy including Rabbi, Chazzan and Choir.

In 1937 Rabbi Israel Abrahams became the Spiritual leader of the Great Synagogue as well as the Chief Rabbi of the Western Cape for the ensuing 30 years. He was highly respected by both Jewish and wider communities.

During the tenure of Rabbi Abrahams, the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation played a prominent role in establishing Herzlia, the main Jewish Day School in Cape Town which has educated thousands of pupils since its founding.

Gardens and its leadership inspired the birth of Shuls and communities far beyond its environ and as such also earned the honored title of the Mother Synagogue.  

The Congregation is very proud of its glorious Synagogue and its rich history and traditions. It is common, for example, to have couples come to the Gardens Shul from all over the world to be married in the same Synagogue where their parents, grandparents and sometimes even great grandparents were married. The same applies to Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.

In recent years the profile of the Synagogue has been raised even further due to the development of the vibrant Jewish community Center on the Synagogue campus.

The Congregation which founded South African Jewry continues to be a vibrant hub of religious, social and cultural life in Cape Town. While celebrating its rich history and traditions the Gardens Shul continues to be a beacon of light, paving the way for Jewish life in Cape Town well into the future.

Our Rabbis:

Rev. Isaac Pulver
Rev. Joel Rabinowitz
Rev. Abraham Frederick Ornstein
Rev. Alfred Phillip Bender
Chief Rabbi Emeritus Israel Abrahams
Rabbi Maurice Konviser
Rabbi Abraham Hyman Lapin
Rabbi Louis Herring
Rabbi Eric Nigel Kaye
Rabbi Michael Kantorowitz
Rabbi Binyamin Markowitz
Rabbi Simon Harris
Rabbi Daniel Sackstein
Rabbi Osher Feldman

Our Chazzonim:

Cantor Louis Kirschner
Cantor Boris Rome
Cantor Abraham Immerman
Cantor Max Badash
Cantor David Ullman
Cantor Stanley Brickman
Cantor Joel Lichterman
Cantor Ian Camissar

Our Chazzon Sheini's

Rev. Lyons
Rev. Samuel Kibel
Rev. Martin Bloch
Rev. Gershon Glick
Rev. Solomon Kassel
Rev. Isaac Gullis
Rev. Mordechai Chatumi
Rev. Israel Raphaely 

Our Shamoshim:

Mr Freeman
Mr Leib Gordon
Mr Lipman Saus
Mr Israel Olshevsky
Mr Len Pinn
Mr Mark Levinsohn