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History

The First Twenty-Five Years (1943-1968)

Although it was in the year 1942 during the dark years of World War II that a band of devoted men first met in prayer in the Oxford area, it was in the year 1943 that the Oxford Synagogue was founded. Negotiations for the presently developed two-acre site at a purchase price of £15,000 was in progress, and a deputation of founding members received the blessing of the United Hebrew Congregation to proceed with the purchase.

At a special General Meeting of the United Hebrew Congregation in 1944 the Oxford Synagogue was finally incorporated within the orbit of the United Hebrew Congregation, as a third constituent Synagogue. In the following year the first High Festival Services were held in the large Tudor House, by then partly converted into a small synagogue accommodating 400 congregants.

In November of the same year a Dedication Service was held with the then Chief Rabbi Rabinowitz officiating, who at the same time inducted the late Rev. W. Yesorsky, appointed in succession to Rev. B. Schechter who served the Congregation as Minister, Teacher, etc.

Rev. Yesorsky and his family occupied the rest of this large house until mid-1947, when he was succeeded by Rev. J. Rozowski. The former owner, Mrs. Davis, had conducted a Nursery School in the converted stables, but as soon as the property was purchased in 1944 the Oxford Hebrew-English Nursery School was established in its place.

Five years later, in 1949, building operations on the Hall commenced. This Hall was then used as a Synagogue to accommodate 800 worshippers.

In 1954, two extra acres of land adjacent to the Synagogue property and facing Riviera Road were purchased. In the following year Dr. H. Abt was appointed as Minister to fill the vacancy left by the departure of Rabbi Singer, who had occupied the pulpit for seven years.

In 1958 Cantor Kraus was appointed, in succession to Cantor Propis. In 1960 Rev. J. H. Mirkin was appointed as Second Reader in succession to Rev. J. Rozowski.

In the same year the present Nursery School and the double-storey Education block specially designed to cater for Hebrew classes under the United Hebrew Schools, was consecrated in an open-air ceremony by the then Chief Rabbi Rabinowitz and Dr. Abt. Foundation stones now in various parts of the complex and plaques were unveiled, commemorating those closely associated with the Community scheme. In August 1961 the foundation stone to the Synagogue proper was laid by the late Hon. Justice S M. Kuper and the foundation stone to the small Synagogue by Chief Rabbi Rabinowitz.

The official opening of the Synagogue took place in August 1962, when the late Honourable F. H. Odendaal, Administrator of the Transvaal, addressed the Congregation, followed by a small function in the Music Room.

In 1963 at a Banquet the reconstructed Hall was named by the late Justice Greenberg “The Simon Kuper Hall” in signal honour to the memory of a worthy member of the Congregation. The newly-appointed Chief Rabbi B. M. Casper and his wife graced that great occasion with their presence.

In 1964, the architects of our Centre, Messrs. S. A. Abramowitch, Pinshow and Schneider, received an Award of Merit from the Transvaal Provincial Institute of Architects for the best Ecclesiastical building erected in the Transvaal from 1954 to 1964.

The Ladies’ Guild Room was furnished out of funds that had been collected at a fête many years back, and the Minor Hall was redecorated for small functions.

In 1965, Rabbi N. M. Bernhard accepted a call to our Synagogue. In 1966, Rabbi Bernhard started the Menorah Primary School as a branch of the Yeshiva College.

The same year, Mr. Solly Grusd headed a special committee to establish an Extension Synagogue for the High Holydays in the Simon Kuper Hall, and this step boosted the membership roll to some 2000 members. 

During the Six-Day War in June 1967, our Synagogue-Centre became one of the largest Donor Stations for the Magen David Adom, and the Headquarters of the Israeli Emergency Appeal in this area.

Early 1968 saw the establishment of B’not Oxford, a group of young women, whose programme included religious, cultural and Zionist activities. Its activities have since extended to include assistance in Kosher catering and charitable projects and is making a worthwile contribution to the Centre as a whole.

Laying of Foundation Stone

Photos of the Laying of the Foundation Stone for the New Oxford Synagogue, 20 August 1961 
 

Past Chairmen of The Oxford Synagogue

  1942-1944 H.J. RAJAK J.P.
  1944-1946 S.M. KUPER K.C.
  1946-1947 M. JOFFE
    1947-1948 I.J. KAGAN
  1948-1949 W. GAVSHON
  1949-1950 S.L. ABRAHAMS
  1950-1951 J. HURWITZ
  1951-1952 S. DANZIGER
  1952-1953 L. LAWRENCE
  1953-1954 S. KESSEL
  1954-1955 J.M. COHEN
  1955-1956 D.K. MANN
  1956-1957 N.I. FINK
  1957-1958 J. HURWITZ
  1958-1959 P.PORTER
  1959-1960 H. POGORELSKY
  1960-1961 D.K. MANN
  1961-1962 P.PORTER
  1962-1963 H.J. RAJAK J.P.
  1963-1964 L. LAWRENCE
  1964-1966 W. GAVSHON
  1966-1967 J. HURWITZ
  1967-1968 L. BROWDE
  1968-1969 J. HURWITZ
  1969-1970 S. KESSEL
  1970-1972 S. GRUSD
  1972-1974 B. KANGISSER
  1974-1977 J. POLLACK
  1977-1979 H.J. GOLDBERG
  1979-1981 J. POLLACK
  1981-1984 M.E. RUBENSTEIN
  1984-1987 D.B. GEFFEN
  1987-1991 D. WOLFF
  1991-1992 A. SACKS
  1992-1995 S. ABRAMOWITCH
  1995-1997 E. ZAR
  1997-1999 I. SCHWARTZ
  1999-2003 J. ABRATT
  2003-2007 F. WILKS
  2007-2008 J. ABRATT
  2008-2011 M. LEWISON
  2011-2013 B. LEVY