Jewish Welfare

The Donald Gordon Foundation has been a principle patron of Jewish welfare organisations for decades. Whilst we consider the welfare and educational needs of the entire South African Jewish community we are secular in our approach and do not support religious organisations that encourage schisms and discrimination within the Jewish Community itself.

In the current climate of political revisionism and religious extremism the South African Jewish community has managed to forget that the only Rabbis who ever attacked apartheid from the pulpit were Rabbis Saul Super and Richard Lampert, both Progressive Rabbis, and Rabbi Ben Isaacson who at that time also ministered to a Progressive Congregation.

We are concerned about a just and peaceful resolution to the Middle East conflict, and about the identity and role of Jews in post-apartheid South Africa. We would be eager to see our recent South African experience of justice and reconciliation as a beacon of hope for societies trapped within seemingly irresolvable cycles of violence. There is a plurality of South African Jewish perspectives on these issues and many Jewish South Africans do not feel adequately represented by the mainstream Jewish organisations which interact with the government, the media and other forums.

The Chevra Kadisha (The Johannesburg Jewish Helping Hand and Burial Society)

Following the discovery of gold in September 1886 and the proclamation of Johannesburg as a mining camp, the number of Jews increased from 100 in 1887, to 500 by the following year.

The first recorded Jewish death was on 12th May 1887. It was then that the need to organise the community was recognised and approaches were made to the government for burial grounds. A section of ground was allocated to the Jewish community in Braamfontein. From the outset the cemeteries, initially Braamfontein, and then later Brixton and Westpark, have remained the sole responsibility of the Chevrah Kadisha without involving the authorities in any expenditure. This remains true today.

On the 2nd September 1888, during the pioneer years of Johannesburg’s history, concerned individuals joined hands to form an organisation that would perform two of Judaism’s greatest good deeds - providing welfare assistance for the living; and taking care of the dead.

At the first official meeting of the Chevrah Kadisha in 1888, 52 men became members. From amongst them a committee of 10 was elected. From its very inception the Chevrah Kadisha became an important social and economic force in the community. Its sound principles and methods of conducting welfare work became a model for all Jewish charitable organisations to follow.

The Chevrah Kadisha achieved a considerable amount of good in its first year and by the end of it, membership had risen to over 200. During that first year a mortuary was erected at the cemetery and the poor were assisted not only with funeral costs but also with medical expenses.

Conditions in Johannesburg’s mining camp were extremely difficult and by 1894 the welfare work was well established and money was being raised from wealthier members of the community and distributed to starving families as temporary relief. The primary objective was then, as it remains today, to rehabilitate those in distress. The Chevrah Kadisha has always focused on helping people to help themselves.

As news of the gold strike spread the Jewish population grew, and by 1896 it had increased to over 6,000 – 3,300 of whom were Russian immigrants. By 1899 it had reached 10,000.

In 1898 it became necessary for the Society to establish soup kitchens to feed both Jews and non-Jews.

In 1899 during the Anglo Boer war, the Jewish population dwindled to 2,000. The Society safeguarded the interests of those who stayed and, as far as possible, the properties of those who had left. The relief committee sat daily and distributed flour, sugar and other necessities to both Jews and gentiles.

Under the captaincy of its President the Society formed the Jewish Ambulance Corps which attended to the wounded of both the Boer and Imperial forces. Nursing equipment and 100 men were deployed to set up a large nursing institution for the injured.

Over time, and with the growth of the city, the Chevrah Kadisha saw the necessity of establishing other organisations to deal with specific problems that had arisen in the community.

On the 27 August 1911, at the Annual General Meeting of the Chevrah Kadisha, the committee was empowered to establish a home for the Jewish Aged. The Witwatersrand Jewish Aged Home (now Sandringham Gardens) was officially opened on 30 June 1912.

In more recent times Bikkur Cholim and The Ralph Hahn Hostel (now the Society for the Welfare of the Jewish Deaf) were formed under the Society’s auspices.

In 1999 Jewish Community Services, a social work and counselling organisation, was incorporated under the umbrella of the Chevrah Kadisha.

In 2000 the Society, once again, undertook management and financial responsibility for Sandringham Gardens, and in 2001 for Our Parents' Home. This time, however, The Donald Gordon Foundation provided the funding and underwriting.

In 2002 Arcadia Jewish Children’s Home joined the Chevrah Group and the children were relocated to a residential property in Sandringham which the DGF funded.

The Foundation played an important role in safeguarding the aged and the youth of the community when we pledged our support and provided substantial funding to the Society to enable it to assume the managerial and financial burdens of Sandringham Gardens, Our Parents Home and Arcadia Jewish Children’s Home.

The role of the Johannesburg Jewish Helping Hand and Burial Society, since inception, has been a paternal, protective and unifying one. The problems of relief and rehabilitation it addressed have been far-reaching and complex, and right up to the present moment the organisation has remained faithful to the high ideals and moral, ethical and spiritual tenets prescribed by its pioneers.

We support a broad range of organisations serving the Jewish Community including, amongst many others:

Bet David

Durban Jewish Social Services

Highlands House Cape Jewish Aged Home

JAFFA (Jewish Accommodation for Fellow Aged )

Jewish Women’s Benevolent Sociaty

SA Board of Jewish Education

Society for the Jewish Handicapped

United Sisterhood