Exploring Jewish South Africa

Posted on February 10th, 2016 by

A few weeks I got back from a vacation in South Africa, where among other things, I got to explore its Jewish culture and history. I learned that the first Jews came to region in the 15th century with the Portuguese navigators Bartholomew Diaz and Vasco da Gama. On board, were Jewish cartographers and astronomers assisting in the search for a sea route to India. More Jews started arriving with the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century, but immigration really picked up with the British colonization in the 1820s. Many Jews moved to South Africa after the Holocaust and now the South African Jewish community is often described as one of the most cohesive and well-organized communities in the Diaspora.

Synagogue interior

The Great Synagogue interior

I visited the South African Jewish Museum in Cape Town, founded by Nelson Mandela in 2000, which reminded me in many ways of the Jewish Museum of MD. Like us, they have two historic synagogues on their campus including St. John’s Street Synagogue (also known as the Old Synagogue, the first one built in South Africa, dating from 1863) and the Great Synagogue, (the oldest Jewish congregation in South Africa, dating to 1841). While St. John’s Street synagogue occupies a classical revival building (reminding me in many ways of Lloyd Street Synagogue in Baltimore), the Great Synagogue has a Baroque style edifice. There was also a Holocaust center in the Museum complex.

The Old Synagogue interior

The Old Synagogue interior

While in the exhibits, I discovered that many of the early Jews made their living as itinerant peddlers or as shop owners. In the late 1870s, some moved to the Oudtshoorn area to domesticate ostriches for their feathers to be used in hats. There was a section in the exhibit on how South African Jews were politically and socially active in the fight against apartheid. On the lower floor of the Museum, I found a reconstruction of a shetl from a village in Lithuania, the country from which most South African Jews trace their origins.

District Six Museum

District Six Museum

After my visit to the Jewish Museum, I walked over to the District Six Museum, which is a living memorial to the vibrant community that was forcibly removed to the city’s periphery during apartheid. The Museum wants visitors to “remember the racism which took away our homes and our livelihood and which sought to steal away our humanity.” Yet, it also aims to encourage others to rebuild the city where all races can live together peacefully. I learned that there was a Jewish connection as many Eastern European Jewish immigrants settled in District Six when they began arriving in the 1880s. On the floor of the gallery is a memory quilt where former residents have handwritten the names of businesses and community organizations that were once in their neighborhood.

Me at the ostrich farm

Me at the ostrich farm

While keeping in mind what I learned at the South African Jewish Museum, I later visited an ostrich farm in Oudtshoorn and drove by mansions owned by Jewish feather merchants. I concluded my trip with a ferry to Robben Island where I saw where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years.

Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island

Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island

GrahamA blog post by Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator. To read more posts by Graham click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Once Upon a Time…05.22.2015

Posted on February 9th, 2016 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church at 410.732.6400 x236 or email jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org


2011029064Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times:  May 22, 2015


PastPerfect Accession #:  2011.029.064


Status:  Identified! Abe Kostick, Executive Director of Levindale


Special Thanks To: Jean G. Loeb, Rick Glaser, Gloria Harris, anonymous


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Volunteer Spotlight on Barbara Ezratty!

Posted on February 8th, 2016 by

Barbara Ezratty has been volunteering at the JMM for over 11 years. She works in the Museum Shop.  She always enjoyed attending programs at the Museum and agreed to volunteer in the Shop when she was recruited by former Shop Manager, Esther Weiner.

Barbara in "Esther's Place."

Barbara in “Esther’s Place.”

Barbara grew up in Baltimore but moved to New York with her family following her junior year at Western High School.  She then moved to Puerto Rico when she married Harry Ezratty, and they lived there for 25 years.  Harry occasionally volunteers at the JMM too, as a speaker. He is currently teaching courses at CCBC in Owings Mills, one on Jewish Art and one on the Spanish Inquisition. The Ezrattys returned to Baltimore because they missed their family, who were all living in the United States. They made a list of all the places they’d like to live on the East Coast and Baltimore prevailed, with its long list of cultural events and activities; similar to New York City but on a much smaller and more affordable scale.

While in Puerto Rico, Barbara was a newspaper reporter. She concentrated on the Features section first, and then transferred to the Food section, which became a weekly.  After working at the newspaper for 12 years, she started a magazine, Tables Magazine: Puerto Rico’s Guide to Great Dining.  It began as a bi-annual publication, and then tapered to annually.  She wrote it for 15 years and a version of it is still found online.  Then Barbara became a book publisher. She got her start when publishing a synagogue cookbook, next she published a cookbook for a hotel, and then for a chef.  She has also published children’s books and books that Harry has written.  She penned an oral history of Puerto Rico and published it as a book, Puerto Rico, an Oral History 1898 – 2008.

Puerto Rico: An Oral History

Puerto Rico: An Oral History

When not busy working, Barbara likes to travel. She especially likes to visit her children and grandchildren; between she and Harry they have 6 children altogether.  She is also very fond of cruising. Her very favorite journey was a re-positioning voyage, from Barcelona to Puerto Rico, for 14 days. Her calendar stays very busy with family events – from B’nai mitzvot to family reunions, all over the country.

Barbara enjoys spending time at the Museum. Being in the Shop provides her the opportunity to meet people from over the world.  She particularly likes making connections with others and playing Jewish geography. It seems to her that many New Yorkers she meets grew up near Harry and went to his same schools.  She’s met people who live near her family in California and others who have mutual friends in Puerto Rico.  She still thinks it’s funny that when Baltimore natives ask what “school” she went to – that they are referring to high school, while when others ask that, they refer to college. She appreciates the social aspects of volunteering in the Museum Shop at the JMM. While Harry may think she comes mainly to do her own shopping, she is glad to assist others with theirs too. Just the other day, she received a lovely thank you note from a friend, who she sent a museum purchased gift to. Whether buying or selling, attending lectures, or special programs and events, Barbara enjoys spending her time at the JMM.

ilene cohenA blog post by Volunteer Coordinator Ilene Cohen. Every month she will be highlighting one of our fantastic JMM volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering with the JMM, drop her an email at icohen@jewishmuseummd.org or call 410-732-6402 x217! You can also get more information about volunteering at the Museum here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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