T r -t
THE JEWS OF NAIROBI
P.O. Box 990
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA LIBRARIES
The Council of the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation
dedicates this history to Mrs. Dora Katzler,
in tribute and recognition of her work for
the Community, the Jewish people and for Kenya.
"Many daughters have done valiantly
but thou excellent them all."
(Proverbs 31, 29)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Problem of Survival
The Zionist Project
Some Notes on the Structure of the Community
I Excerpts from the Diary of N. Wilbusch
II Growth of Refugee Participation in Communal Affairs
III Known Membership of the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation
IV The Presidents of the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation
V The Ministers of the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation
VI Examination papers for the trip to Israel
So many kind people have gone out of their way to help with
the collection of material for this study that it is not just a formality but a
most pleasant obligation to thank them.
My sincere thanks are due to:-
Mr. Kenneth Bolton, who allowed me to use the files of the East African
Standard and its forerunner, the African Standard. The Chief Librarian
of the McMillan Library for access to Legislative Council records and
material on East Africa.
Mr. J. C. G. Blacker, of the Economics and Statistics Division of the
Treasury, Mr. R. J. Hickson-Mahony, of the Ministry of Defence, the
Registrar General and the Public Relations Department of East African
Railways and Harbours, all of whom have carried out research in their
records on my behalf.
Mr. Leslie B. Prince, and the Jewish Colonisation Association (London),
for material on the Plough Settlements scheme. Mr. J. M: Rich, and the
South African Jewish Board of Deputies, for lending me Mr. Abrahams'
report on the Polish refugees. Mrs. A. Gordon of the Nakuru Hebrew
Congregation and Mrs. S. Balabanoff of the Kenya Zionist Council, who
spent much time in searching out information that was required.
Mr. Aryeh Newman of the World Zionist Organisation, Jerusalem.
Mr. I. Rozsa, A.R.I.B.A.
Mrs. Vera Latke of Eldoret and Mrs. Ruth Beleson and Mrs. Rose
Benjamin, all of whom gave much of their time in gathering material.
It has been a particular privilege to meet and talk with Kenya's "old
settlers", particularly Mrs. Gertie Harrtz, Mrs. Lily Haller and Mrs. Dora
Katzler. I would also like to thank Mr. A. L. Block, Mr. E. A. Ruben,
Mr. I. Somen and Mr. J. Darevsky, whose incredible memory has put some
congregation records to shame. And last, but certainly not least, Col. E. S.
Grogan. All of them have given freely of their time and experiences.
I am indebted to :-
The Editor of the South African Jewish Times, who has kindly supplied
photographs of the old synagogue, Mrs. Ruth Moskow for a photograph
of the late Mr. E. N. Moskow in his rickshaw, Mrs. Dora Katzler for the
drawing of the Gilgil synagogue (made originally by an inmate of the camp-
an Israeli artist whose name I have not been able to ascertain) and Mr.
Ivor Davis, of Africapix, who provided the photographs of the old Jewish
cemetery and the seder table at the Vermont Memorial Hall.
I am particularly grateful to Miss Ruth Yudelowitz, who designed the
cover of this book.
Finally, my thanks are due to the Council of the Nairobi Hebrew
Congregation for financing what I hope will prove to have been a worthwhile
On 20th June, 1962, the Jews of Nairobi will celebrate the 50th
anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone for the first synagogue to
be built in that city and in East Africa. The author, who enjoys the privilege
of being Minister to the community, suggested to the Council of the Congre-
gation that they might like to publish a history of their community in honour
of that occasion.
It is a tribute to the Council that not only did they agree to this suggestion
with alacrity, but also that they made no conditions whatever on the way the
history was to be written. They readily agreed to allow the author to subject
whatever material he might gather to critical analysis and to formulate his
conclusions with complete independence.
The membership of the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation never exceeded
180. Judged by Jewish standards, it is a very young community. The
world abounds with small Jewish communities, many of them considerably
more ancient than that of Nairobi. It may be wondered, therefore, why it
was considered worth while to record this history.
There are certain factors which make Jewish settlement in Nairobi
unusual. The first of these is its geographical position. There is no large
Jewish centre within a thousand miles of Nairobi, in any direction. Certainly
in its early years this meant considerable isolation, as well as independence
in thought and development. Paradoxically, with the advent of air travel
Nairobi's geographical position made it an important junction between the
vital centres of Europe and Israel and the ever-active South African
community. Kenya has been the stage for world historical events at least
twice in its short history-when it was proposed to develop part of the country
as a Jewish commonwealth in place of Palestine, and during the Hitler regime
in Germany, when efforts were made to settle large numbers of refugees in
the Highlands. The community is also of interest because, in less than 20
years, it has had to absorb almost three times its own number and has done
In view of these unusual factors, this book has been written not only
for the Jewish community of Nairobi, whose story it is, but also for those
interested in the history of the Jews generally-for Nairobi Jewry has rubbed
shoulders with world events; and for the Jewish sociologist, who will find in
this study of a minority within a minority many references to the burning
question of Jewish survival in the Diaspora.
Whilst an examination of the general history of the larger European
community of Kenya has been considered beyond the scope of the present
study, the geographical limits of Nairobi have been transcended in the
chapters on the Zionist Project and the Refugees, where the opportunity
has been taken to assemble recorded material not hitherto conveniently
available to the social historian.
Since the records which have been preserved are incomplete, even non-
existent for some years, except in the memories of some of those who made
this history, and because this account is concerned with the community as a
whole, only casual reference has been made to some of the many men and
women who have contributed so much to its growth. The lack of emphasis
does not bear any relation to the worth of individuals. This history is a
tribute to their labours.
"and a book of remembrance was written before Him
for them that feared the Lord and that thought upon His name"
(Malachi 3 : 17)
Nairobi. 1962. J. C.
THE PROBLEM OF SURVIVAL
It has been well said that the Christian Church has made more converts
among Jews by permitting the ghetto walls to be broken down than by
trying to drive Jews into its fold. Jews under conditions of freedom,
tolerance and civic equality have lost more of their number through indiffer-
ence and conversion than they ever did during periods of persecution
and discrimination. In Nairobi, the Jewish population has always enjoyed
full civic rights and equality. There have been varying amounts of anti-
semitism, particularly in certain periods of stress, but this has certainly never
affected the life of the community, and manifestations of social anti-semitism,
such as the closing (de facto if not dejure) of social clubs to Jews, no matter
how high on the social scale they may have been, have been studiously
ignored by the community.
The survival of small communities, particularly those isolated from
main trends of Jewish life, has been considerably endangered. The chances
of surviving as identifiable Jewish units depend on certain factors, the
most important of which are religious, that is to say the practice of Jewish
Law, Jewish religious education and the Jewish Ministry. In addition,
the importance of cultural and ethnic identification must be recognized.
One of the aims of this study has been to examine these factors as they
have manifested themselves amongst the Jews of Nairobi and to test their
validity as objects, designed to maintain the Jewish identity of an isolated
unit which has been subjected to a considerable amount of temptation to
merge with the larger, equally privileged, group also sharing minority status.
The Practice of Jewish Law
Although its synagogue and Ministry have always followed orthodox
lines and the Congregation as such has always voluntarily subjected itself
to the authority of the Chief Rabbinate in England, well over 90 per cent
of the membership of the Congregation cannot be said to adhere strictly to
Jewish Law. There has also been a move to "reform" Jewish tradition. The
question of orthodoxy cannot, therefore, be said to have played an important
part. Nevertheless, the synagogue has, in all its fifty years, been the focus
of Jewish life. Two aspects of the religion have ensured this. One is
its intimate association with the normal life-cycle of man, that is to say
almost all Jews, no matter how unobservant they might be, will turn to
the synagogue when birth, marriage or death take place. Secondly, there
are certain aspects of Jewish religious practice which through their emotional
appeal have forged a tremendously strong bond amongst the Jews. Most
important of these is Yom Kippur, which, through its very personal appeal
to the individual, brings most Jews into the fold at least once a year. It
is not surprising, therefore, that Yom Kippur services have been held in
Nairobi even if there was no synagogue and no Minister. No less important
is the festival of Passover, particularly its major symbol-Matzot. There
is considerable evidence in Nairobi that the Matzo has become symbolic
not only of the religious festival, but also as an instrument of ethnic identi-
fication. An interesting example of this is the Bessarabian Jews Relief
Fund of the mid-30's, which collected monies to help some 100,000 Jews who
were starving. The Nairobi community, although severely burdened by its
obligations to German refugees coming into the country, nevertheless
managed to send contributions which were acknowledged from London:-
"The period of Passover is always one of extreme pressure, and this year we
practically drained our funds in an endeavour to ensure that no Jew in the
afflicted areas went without Matzot ...." No effort was ever spared in
Nairobi to ensure a supply of Matzot for Passover and throughout most of its
history the Congregation undertook this responsibility and managed to
make a profit by levying an extra charge on non-members. Lastly, and
somewhat surprisingly, comes the provision of kosher meat. In Nairobi,
an overwhelming majority of Jews have ceased to keep Jewish dietary law.
Even so, they have always insisted on their Minister being qualified as a
Shochet, or alternatively made arrangements-as often as not very costly
arrangements-to have a supply of kosher meat available. It has been the
availability rather than the use of kosher meat which appears to have been
so important and this suggests once again a level of emotional involvement
which has been of great importance in strengthening the sense of allegiance
to the faith.
It will be seen from the following pages that the history of the Congre-
gation is an almost continuous record of apathy, financial difficulties caused
by subscription arrears and personal strife. At first glance this appears
to contradict the comments that have been made. But in retrospect, this
neglect of the community's central institution reflects the paternal role
it plays in Congregation life. In the confines of a healthy, strongly-linked
family, lack of consideration for the parents and constant quarrelling between
siblings are no more than natural manifestations of family life. This similarity
is borne out by the constant need for strong, paternal guidance from the
lay leadership. Again and again the worst effects of indifference and
neglect in Congregation affairs were obviated by one or two men who.
for one year or for ten years, assumed responsibility, even to the extent, as
was the case often enough in early years, of assuming financial responsibility
for overdrafts, debts and urgent requirements. "Something" always
prevented the final bankruptcy.
Jewish Religious Education
By and large, Hebrew classes have not been very successful. They
have been too intermittent, too inadequately attended. Though a learned
teacher may have been provided his level of knowledge bears no relation to
his ability to impart such knowledge to children. The Jews who have grown
up in Nairobi share a similar background of casual, occasional or adequate
religious instruction, yet some of them have remained strongly attached to the
community, others grew up indifferent but retaining their ethnic identification,
whilst yet a third group has moved away positively from the community,
becoming either openly hostile or simply refusing to maintain contact. Nor
can any of these behaviour patterns be associated with the position taken
by the parents. The strong and the weak Jewish homes all seem to have
contributed towards these three groups on what appears to be an indiscri-
minate basis. This problem is underlined by inter-marriage. There is a
strong tendency in Jewish circles to describe inter-marriage as though it were
a single behaviour phenomenon which is always alike and which always has
the same results. Such an assumption is not borne out in Nairobi.
Inter-marriage appears to be the result, in many instances, not so much
of a desire to marry outside the faith, but rather of following normal human
needs, which, in their effect, lead to inter-marriage. Not all inter-marriages
remove the Jew from the Jewish fold. Certainly, in Nairobi, there are as
many mixed marriages where the non-Jewish partner has been brought into
the Jewish fold (though not usually through proper conversion by a Beth Din)
as there are mixed marriages where the Jewish partner has been separated
from the community. It is, once again, most difficult to recognize any sort
of pattern. There are families totally unobservant and hostile or indifferent
to religious practice who yet maintain such a strong ethnic identification
with Jews that inter-marriage appears to them to be the final disaster. Others
again are practising Jews, coming from homes which may well be described
as orthodox, who yet inter-marry without, necessarily, considering this a
bar to their continued religious association with the community.
Some sort of pattern there must surely be, particularly when
one considers that disparity of behaviour and religious or ethnic identifi-
cation may be found even in the individuals from one family, but, as far as
Nairobi is concerned, the motivations for the various types of behaviour have
not become apparent.
Psychologists have in recent years established a principle that, from the
point of view of the child, a bad home is better than no home at all. There is
much evidence that this principle could be applied to the Jewish community
of Nairobi, for a 'bad' Minister has always been better than no Minister at all.
Since most of Nairobi's Ministers are still alive and close to current
events, it has not been possible to make a detailed analysis of each incumbent,
interesting though this would have been, particularly where conflicts arose
between the Ministers and the community. But it is clear that, whilst some
difficulties arose from the idiosyncrasies and peculiarities of individual
Ministers and others were due to a divided or unsympathetic Council, all
Ministers, no matter how acceptable or unacceptable they proved to be to the
community, made some contribution towards Jewish life. Throughout
its history the community has had to face problems involved in uniting Jews
with different religious, cultural and educational standards, but it was only
after the Congregation had a continuous Ministry for a number of years
that the essential unity asserted itself. The Ministers have also played an
important part in underlining the significance of even limited religious
practice and religious education. The community itself recognized a
further important function of the Ministry, which is to create a self-respecting
liaison between the non-Jewish world and the Jew. There is no doubt that
an able Minister will raise the status of a community in the eyes of others
and thereby develop a sense of pride and pleasure in those who belong to it.
This facet of Jewish life has been almost totally absent in Nairobi,
mainly because its isolated position made it well-nigh impossible to develop
an adequate cultural life. Attempts have been made on two levels: First
by the formation of bodies such as the highly successful East African Jewish
Guild or the rather less successful Jewish Cultural Society, which
endeavoured to fill a void, but failed to find adequate material. (It would
be fair to say that, in this context, kneidlach and gefuellte fish are more
important than sports events or concerts of classical music performed in a
Jewish circle or to a Jewish audience); Secondly by the introduction of the
seminars of Jewish study which have taken place annually for the past five
years in an effort to bring an element of Jewish culture and artistic and
literary tradition to a Jewish audience. Their appeal, however, was
restricted almost entirely to those Jews who had brought traditions of Jewish
culture with them and who were, therefore, less likely to acquire a new level
of identification through these activities.
Considering its size, the community has been fortunate in being visited
and addressed by many internationally famous Jewish personalities (Moshe
Dayan, Moshe Sharret, Elyahu Elath, Chief Rabbi Brodie, Chief Rabbi
Rabbinowitz, Nahum Sokolow and many more), but basic cultural facilities
and continuity were lacking. This has certainly handicapped the growing
Jewish generation of Nairobi, but other factors have been sufficiently com-
pensatory to obviate the most negative results.
This presents the most interesting feature of Jewish life because, quite
apart from its ordinary ramifications, it has involved the Jewish community
in a double identification which to many of them has been extremely con-
fusing. Generally speaking, three ethnic groups are recognized in Kenya-
the African, the Asian and the European. For all administrative, educa-
tional and cultural purposes the Jews have been included in the wider ethnic
group of Europeans, even though to many of the more old-fashioned British
settlers the Jews were and are an "alien race". Throughout its period of
existence, the community has been subjected to two-directional external
pressures which influenced its own levels of identification. As Jews, they
were subjected to pressure by world events involving Jews as a race, such as
the persecution of Jews in Russia and in Germany, and the conflict between
Britain and the Jews prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. Once
this conflict had resolved itself, the new state played a considerable part in
creating new drives towards ethnic identification. As Europeans, the Jews
shared the continuous pressures exerted first in the conflict between the Asian
and European communities in the 1920's and, subsequently, by the rising
African nationalism which is now reaching its peak. It is quite probable
that these different ethnic conflicts are responsible for some Jews leaving the
community to identify themselves more completely with the larger ethnic
In its positive manifestations ethnic identification has been very strong
throughout. In early years there was a strong trend to help and support
Russian Jews both in Russia and in Palestine as being the nearest ethnic
relatives of a predominantly Eastern European community. Later on,
support was directed, as might be expected, to the central channels assisting
all the victims of persecution in Europe, culminating in a tremendous effort
to support Israel which, though it re-activated certain racial fears in a racially
conscious country through its geographical position (Israel is in Asia),
nevertheless became the focus of most charitable endeavour. (A hostile
official in an East African Education Department is reported to have ruled
that Israeli born children of European parents should attend an Asian school.)
Contributors to the Jewish state extended far beyond the boundaries of
those associated with other levels of Jewish identification. The local
W.I.Z.O. is an excellent illustration. It has many members, active and keen,
who have no other tie with the Jewish community, but who claim full partner-
ship through their exclusive activities for the W.I.Z.O. Perhaps a third
level of identification should be referred to. Inasmuch as Kenya is a British
Colony, loyalty to the Crown and to Britain were always strong. To all Jews,
no matter what their country of origin, Britain is "Home". Early Russian
immigrants would write "Home" (i.e. U.K.) for Matzot. This may have been
no more than a means of seeking identity with the European (i.e. British)
community, or it may have been an attempt to retain a wider European
fellowship, as the interest in world Jewry was an effort to remain associated
with a wider Jewish community.
Whilst the Jewish community of Nairobi has discovered no panacea for
the survival of small Jewish units under conditions of freedom, it has spon-
taneously grasped at most of those facets of Jewish life which are of the
greatest value in perpetuating the people and their faith. Had conditions
remained stable, one might have been justified in predicting a continuing
and possibly even stronger Jewish life in Nairobi. On the other hand,
very real dangers face the community. It appears, for instance, that the
third generation of Jews is the one most likely to leave the community unless
strong bonds exist. Inter-marriage would certainly increase, thereby
increasing the proportion of those to whom it would mean the end of asso-
ciation with the community. Again, Israeli commercial and technical
assistance to African countries might produce new levels of ethnic and cultural
association. But in these uncertain times we shall have to content ourselves
with the hope that Nairobi's Jewish community may continue to flourish.
THE ZIONIST PROJECT IN EAST AFRICA
April, 1903. Theodore Herzl had visited Egypt and returned to London.
Joseph Chamberlain, recently returned from a tour of British possessions
in Africa, discussed with Herzl the possibility of creating a place of refuge
for the Jews of Russia in some part of Africa. Herzl, still thinking in
terms of "an ante-chamber to the Holy Land, a place of apprenticeship that
would serve to fit the Russian Jews to enter later into their inheritance
for an equivalent to the wilderness in which the followers of Moses spent
forty years preparatory to the settlement in the land of Canaan". was
impressed by Chamberlain's account of vast, fertile and uninhabited areas
in British East Africa.
Far away in Kishineff, a little town in Russia, a long campaign
of hatred against the Jews was finally coming to the boil. On
April 19, the beginning of the Easter celebrations, mobs gathered and
indulged in a wild orgy of slaughter of Jews. Hundreds were killed and
wounded, houses destroyed and stores pillaged. The lives of some 2,000
families were ruined.
The news of the Kishineff massacre shocked not only the Jews the
world over, but stirred the peoples of many countries and underlined once
more the need to find a solution to the desperate problem of the persecuted
The British Government, following its tentative negotiations with
Herzl and other Jewish leaders, sent a definite proposal to Leonard
Greenberg (Chairman of the "Actions" Committee of the Zionist
August 14th. 1903.
Mr. Chamberlain communicated to the Marquis of Lansdowne the
letter which you addressed to him concerning the form of an agreement
which Dr. Herzl proposes should be entered into between His Majesty's
Government and the Jewish Colonial Trust Ltd., for the establishment of
a Jewish settlement in East Africa ... I am now directed by his Lordship
to say that he has studied the question with the interest that H.M.'s Govern-
ment must always take in any well-considered scheme for the amelioration
of the position of the Jewish race ... He understands that the Trust desire
to send some gentlemen to the East African Protectorate who may ascertain
personally whether there are any vacant lands suitable for the purpose in
question and, if this is so, he will be happy to give them every facility to
enable them to discuss with H.M.'s Commissioner the possibility of meeting
the view which may be expressed at the forthcoming Zionist Congress
in regard to the conditions upon which a settlement might be possible.
If a site can be found which the Trust and H.M.'s Commissioner consider
suitable and which commends itself to H.M.'s Government, Lord Lansdowne
will be prepared to entertain favourably proposals for the establishment
of a Jewish colony or settlement on conditions which will enable the members
to observe their national customs. For this purpose he would be prepared
to discuss ... the details of a scheme comprising as its main features the
grant of a considerable area of land, appointment of a Jewish officer as
the chief of the local administration, and permission to the colony to have
a free hand in regard to municipal legislation and as to the management
of religious and purely domestic matters, such local autonomy being
conditional upon the right of H.M.'s Government to exercise general
control . .His Lordship assumes that no portion of the administrative
expenses of the settlement would fall on H.M.'s Government and the
latter would reserve power to re-occupy the land if the settlement should
not prove a success.
(signed) Sir Clement Hill.
The Sixth Zionist Congress was due to meet in Basle on August 23,
1903. Nearly 600 delegates and over 2,000 spectators were present when
the British proposal was put to Congress, which was asked to send a
Commission to East Africa to inquire into the feasibility of the scheme.
There was, as yet, no question of accepting or rejecting the territory and
Herzl made a strong point to his listeners when he reminded them that
"East Africa is indeed not Zion and never can become it." Even so. the
whole proposal produced a storm of protest, a reaction out of all pro-
portion to its immediate significance. The Russian delegates, to a man,
violently rejected the whole idea and demanded that under no circumstances
should the Zionists permit the use of any of their funds to finance the
Commission. After several days of argument, a vote was taken in which
295 delegates voted for sending the Commission, 178 voted against and 90
abstained. The Russian delegates left the Congress in disgust. Although
the Congress had approved the Commission, no funds were available.
The violent debate was continued by the delegates when they left for their
respective countries and threatened to split the entire Zionist movement.
In Nairobi, the capital of British East Africa, the reaction of the
European settlers was no less violent. The news had reached them on
Thursday, August 27, 1903. Lord Delamere, the leader of the British
settlers, immediately sent a cable to The Times "Feeling here very strong
against introduction of alien Jews . .Flood of people of that class sure
to lead to trouble with half-tamed natives jealous of their rights . English-
men here appeal public opinion, especially those who know this country,
against the arbitrary proceeding and consequent swamping bright future
of country." (28.8.1903).
On August 29, the African Standard wrote a leader:-"To the general
dismay it became known on Thursday that the best portion of the Pro-
tectorate had been coolly handed over by His Majesty's Secretary of State
to the promoters of the Zionist movement . .Between Nairobi and
the Mau Escarpment is situated, as we all know, one of the most valuable
pastoral areas in the world ... Lord Lansdowne has converted the whole
of this valuable national asset into a playground for philanthropists ..
We do not object to the presence of Jews in this Colony ... but we do
most strongly object to the alienation of the choicest portion of the colony
from its rightful owners."
On the same day a protest meeting was held in the Uganda Railway
Institute, which was described as "the largest meeting of white men that
has been held in Nairobi." The tone of the meeting was as violent as the
Zionist Congress had been. The Chairman, Dr. Atkinson, declared that
"he knew it had been proved that Jews rendered themselves obnoxious
to the people of every country they went to and he was quite sure that
they would only turn out a hindrance instead of a help in British East
Africa." He felt that it was the duty of the meeting "to bring forward every
objection to these undesirables being landed in their midst."
The Rev. Mr. Bennett described the Jews as "a people who were alien
in their habits, thoughts and actions ... If these people came he was quite
sure they would prove objectionable to everyone in this country." Another
speaker mentioned that "everyone knew the Jews were far from being
successful agriculturists and were more fitted for hawkers and petty traders."
Mr. T. A. Wood reminded the meeting that "the British taxpayers want
people to settle who will give a return on the capital invested. How can
they expect this if they located possibly the lowest class of white men in
the heart of the country ... It was their bounden duty to prevent them
starting if possible."
Another speaker, who claimed expert knowledge of the Jew, warned
that "the poor Jew is the worst possible man we could get in this country ...
[the natives] would soon recognize that they were not white men according
to their own ideas and would be influenced by them and their low code
of morals. Trouble with the natives no doubt would arise in this country."
Yet another speaker uttered a warning. On his shamba, for instance,
there were about 250 natives. "If they found a buyer for all they could
steal from his ground what chance would he have to live and he believed
that the Jews would turn out to be the buyers."
The meeting finally resolved unanimously "that this meeting, represent-
ing existing settlers, protests strongly against proposal locating alien Jews
in their midst and are prepared to resist the same by all means in their power."
The resolution was to be cabled to the Foreign Office and an on-the-spot
collection for a "defence fund" raised Rs. 162. The meeting also agreed
to form "an anti-Zionist-immigration committee."
The leader in the African Standard of September 12 was even more
outspoken. Under the heading-"Threatened Jewish Invasion"-it said:-
"It is pretty safe to say that within six months of their arrival five out of
every ten of them will, under the specious term of traders, be swindling
the natives and that the other five will have gone back to their native
country with enough money to start an 'old do" shop." Another leader,
a week later, warned that general opinion was with a certain gentleman who
said that the proposed Jewish settlement "means certain bloodshed."
Even His Majesty's Commissioner, Sir George Eliot, was extremely
doubtful about the project. In a despatch to the United Kingdom Govern-
ment he wrote:-"If a residence of many years in Turkey and Russia and
a fair acquaintance with the Jewish districts and quarters both in those
communities and in Morocco lend any weight to my opinion, I would
say that, although I am not wholly opposed to the whole scheme, it does
not inspire me with the least confidence or enthusiasm." But he also
endeavoured to calm the settlers by drawing their attention to some very
simple and important facts:-
September 3rd, 1903.
Dear Lord Delamere,
With regard to the Jews, not only have I no wish to hinder you from
expressing your opinions, but I will, if you wish, forward a statement of
them to the Foreign Office, if you like to put them in a suitable form. I
am not anti-semitic myself and do not share your objections to Indians
and other non-English settlers, but I confess that as far as I understand
the present proposal I view it with very mixed feelings.
But you must understand the importance of the financial question.
This Protectorate alone costs the Government at home 256,000 per annum.
If the settlers here were British taxpayers they would be the first to protest
against what they would call a monstrous waste of money. As long as we
go on in this way we are always exposed to the risk that a radical Govern-
ment may cut our vote in aid, and what should we do then? We should
simply collapse, and it is better to be supported by Jews than to do that.
Meanwhile, the best way of practically defeating the Jewish scheme
is to increase the number of British immigrants. It is almost absurd for
the present settlers to talk about their rights. They are so few, and as
taxpayers so unimportant, that they can hardly logically claim to have a
voice in deciding the destinies of the country against the Government
which expends hundreds of thousands on it every year ....
(signed) C. ELIOT.
In Europe, the "Actions" Committee of the Zionist organisation
endeavoured to find the necessary funds to finance the Commission approved
by the recent Congress, but which could not be paid for from Zionist
"shekels." The bitter attacks on Herzl continued. Pressure of work and
the deep anxiety caused by the violent reaction to the East African proposal
broke his health. Herzl died on July 3, 1904:-"There is no doubt that the
discussions and misrepresentations consequent upon the East African
proposal aggravated the disease which was slowly mastering his body."
The question of the Commission was once more delayed, but eventually
funds were found, mainly from Christian friends of the movement, and
a Commission of three was appointed to visit East Africa. The Commis-
sioners, Major A. St. H. Gibbons of the Foreign Office, Professor Alfred
Kaiser and engineer M. Wilbusch, were instructed by the "Actions"
Committee to examine the East African territory bearing in mind the
conditions for acceptance laid down by Dr. Herzl in a letter to Sir Francis
Montefiore (14th December, 1903), in which Herzl wrote:-"To my mind
four elements are necessary for our deeming within the range of practical
politics the suggestion of the British Government-
(1) the territory has to be sufficiently extensive to admit of an immi-
gration of such a character as should be eventually a material relief
to the pressure which today exists in Eastern Jewry;
(2) it follows that the territory has to be one colonisable by people
such as ours;
(3) the concession has to be invested with such autonomous rights
as would ensure the Jewish character of the settlement;
(4) perhaps governing all, the enthusiasm of our own people in respect
to the offer has to be of such a nature as will overcome all the
obvious difficulties which under most favourable conditions will
be bound to arise in the creation of the settlement."
The Commissioner left Europe in December, 1904, and arrived at Mombasa
in January, 1905.
The territory concerned lies in an area then known as the British East
African Protectorates, comprising what is known today as Kenya and
Uganda. The Uganda Protectorate extended, until 1902, to a line due south
from Lake Rudolph through Naivasha to a point some 50 miles east of
Lake Natron. The border between the Uganda and East African Protect-
orates, therefore, ran through the territory proposed for Jewish settlement,
hence the frequent reference to the project as a Uganda one. The territory
has been described as "an area of about 6,000 square miles, bounded in
the north by a line running parallel to the Equator and the starting point
of which was the Keremkie, a western tributary of the Kerio River, which
flows into Lake Rudolph. In the west it is bounded by the line of the
meridian which is to be counted from the Kisimchanga Mountain to the
Equator and which terminates at the Maragolia Hills. In the south, the
boundary line as far as the main slope of the so-called Rift Valley, the
great East African depression, is formed by the Equator, from which point
the eastern boundary line is drawn almost due north along the Elgeyo
Escarpment as far as the above-mentioned Keremkie River."
This area corresponds roughly with the area known today as the
Uasin Gishu Plateau, for some obscure reason referred to in many Jewish
source books as the Guas Ngishu Plateau. The history of the area is un-
certain. It derived its name from a section of the Masai tribe, who were
known as the Uasin Gishu Masai, apparently after the striped cattle they
used to keep. (Uas, pl. uasin=striped; Kiten, pl. Kishu=cattle). The
Uasin Gishu Masai were wiped out in a fierce battle with two other sections
of the Masai tribe round about 1880. By 1883, the area was known to be
uninhabited and was used only for occasional grazing by the neighboring
Nandi tribe. European settlement began on a very small scale round
about 1905. The territory was, therefore, uninhabited at the time the Zionist
Commission visited it.
A great deal of inaccurate information has been recorded about the
Commission's visit to East Africa. According to Elspeth Huxley, for
instance, the Commissioners remained only three days on the plateau
because they were unaccustomed to "safari" conditions and intimidated
by Masai warriors and elephant. In fact, the Commissioners were well
equipped for their task. Gibbons was an ex-soldier, Wilbusch was an
engineer working in Palestine in conditions not unlike those in East Africa.
and Kaiser was an experienced traveller. He had previously explored
other parts of Africa in 1896/97. They investigated the situation in East
Africa for nearly three months.* In their report they make no mention
of attacks either by Masai or by elephant. Mrs. Huxley does not indicate
the sources of her information.
The Commissioners arrived in the Uasin Gishu area at the end of
January and made independent surveys of various parts of the plateau.
They completed their investigations early in March and left British East
Africa for their respective homes in England, Switzerland and Palestine.
The separate reports of the Commissioners are a remarkable piece of work
and provide an excellent survey of the Uasin Gishu Plateau. Both Wilbusch
and Kaiser made some extremely accurate forecasts about the capacity and
potential of the area and many of the difficulties concerning settlement which
they predicted were, in fact, experienced by the European settlers who
eventually established their homes there.
Commissioner Wilbusch was concerned primarily with the population
potential of the area and rejected the territory in the main because in his
opinion it would not have solved the problem of finding refuge for the
15-20.000 East European Jews for whom it was intended. He concluded
his report:-"All things considered, I have arrived at the conclusion that
the tract of land that has been surveyed by us will neither now nor at any
future time be of use to us .. It is stated everywhere in British East Africa
that each family, in order to make a living out of cattle or sheep breeding.
requires from 5,000 to 10,000 acres . Under the most favourable circum-
stances, therefore, about 5,000 acres of land is necessary and in the whole
territory [of] 6,000 square miles . .500 families at the most could settle.t
For this reason alone, owing to its inability to support a large population,
the acquisition of the territory so graciously offered by the British Govern-
ment can neither partially nor wholly solve the Zionist nor the Jewish
Commissioner Kaiser paid particular attention to the agricultural
potential of the area. He rejected the project mainly on financial and Jewish
national grounds. "That Jews would be able to colonise a country if they
were able to carefully select the persons who would carry out their scheme
of immigration is beyond all doubt and I even believe that they could
once more become a pastoral people . .However, economic conditions
on the Guas Ngishu Plateau are so unfavourable that a portion of the
immigrants would certainly leave the country again and there would thus
*See Appendix I.
tThe area was subsequently settled by some 3,000 Europeans on 600 farms.
never be a real colonising association which could work successfully. The
immigration would cost millions and the actual usefulness of the whole
scheme would be totally out of proportion to the labour expended. I
consider the territory extremely unsuitable for purely Jewish settlement ....
A more promising country must be found, not a land that is so remote from
all communication with the rest of the world, that makes such heavy
demands on the settlers, and is so little fitted to consolidate the bonds
Major Gibbons, who was less concerned with the immediate Jewish
ideals behind the project, was not quite so convinced of the unsuitability
of the territory. He suggested experimental pilot schemes which, however
successful they might have been, would have taken too long to offer a
solution to the pressing problem of finding shelter and safety for the
persecuted Jews in Russia. "It is ... impossible to treat the population
capacity of such a country otherwise than hypothetically as we have no
precedent to fall back upon. As stated above, all similar districts in Africa
have hitherto been treated as grazing ground for cattle and horses. To
supply a test sufficiently authoritative to justify the expenditure necessary
for such an extensive colonising scheme as the one proposed, it seems to
me there is but one suitable method. An agricultural expert should be
sent out with a small staff of intelligent farmers, say ten. This staff should
be accompanied by about 100 peasants. Ten small districts should then
be selected and for experimental purposes a farmer should be in charge of
each district and, under his superintendence and direction, ten peasants
should be each allotted a small piece of land. The second year would
give a very good idea of the possibilities of the larger scheme."
H.M.'s Commissioner, Sir Charles Eliot, however, suggested in a
despatch to the British Government that, in as much as the Uasin Gishu
Plateau was uninhabited, "owing to tribal wars rather than to any natural
defects of the area," he felt that it might be suitable and that "the position
is sufficiently isolated to protect the Jews from any hostile demonstrations
of other races and to admit the free existence of whatever autonomy is
The Commissioners submitted their reports to the "Actions" Committee
of the Zionist organisation. The reports of Kaiser and Wilbusch were
submitted to Gibbons, as the leader of the expedition, and Gibbons sub-
sequently wrote a supplement in which he scathingly attacked the views
expressed by his two colleagues, although, on balance, their assessments
have proved to be more accurate and realistic than his own.
In July, 1905, the Seventh Zionist Congress met in Basle. In view
of the report of the Commission, the "Actions" Committee recommended
to the Congress that "the proffered land was not sufficient in extent and
resources for colonisation on a large scale."
The Congress, therefore, passed a resolution declaring that "the
Zionist organisation stands firmly by the fundamental principle of the
Basle Programme. namely the establishment of a legally secured, publicly
recognized home for the Jewish people in Palestine and it rejects, either as
an end, or as a means of colonising, activity outside Palestine and its
adjacent lands. The Congress resolves to thank the British Government
for its offer of a territory in British East Africa for the purpose of establish-
ing there a Jewish settlement with autonomous rights. A Commission
having been sent out to examine the territory and having reported thereon,
the Congress resolves that the Zionist organisation shall not engage itself
further with the proposal. The Congress records with satisfaction the
recognition accorded by the British Government to the Zionist organisation
in its desire to bring about a solution of the Jewish problem and expresses
a sincere hope that it may be accorded the further good offices of the
British Government where available .... "
With this resolution the East African project came to an end. The
decision to reject the offer led to a break-away of some representatives
and to the establishment of the Jewish Territorial Organisation by Israel
Zangwill, which continued the search for a Jewish home-land from Africa
But to some Jews East Africa sounded attractive. A few had arrived
in Nairobi in 1903, as, they hoped, the vanguard of a new Jewish
AN EARL Y JEWISH SETTLER IN HIS RICKSHAW
The Early Years: 1903 1912
At the beginning of the century, Nairobi was little more than a swamp
inhabited by frogs. The railway built a camp there because it was the
last reasonably level area before its trains had to start the steep climb into
the Highlands. There were no roads, no shops, no transport. People
lived in tin shacks and cooked their food in the open.
When Abraham Block arrived in 1903, one Jew, called Marcus, was
already settled in Nairobi. Others followed in the wake of Chamberlain's
offer. A Congregation was formed in 1904, under the presidency of H. Fein,
but it is not known how many members it had and records were not kept
until 1907. Wilbusch, in his diary (1905), mentions discussions with
Marcus, Sulsky, Block, London and Hotz, all of whom apparently, with
the possible exception of Marcus, were farming between Nairobi and Molo.
In spite of the violent reaction to the proposed Jewish settlement, the early
Jews encountered little or no anti-semitism. Abraham Block relates that it
was only through the good offices of Lord Delamere and his financial
support that he managed to remain in the country. This lack of anti-
semitism was undoubtedly due to the fact that all the early Jews came
not as pedlars or traders but as artisans who were essential to the general
The first minutes of the Congregation are dated 17th September. 1907.
S. Rosemblum was in the chair and eleven other people attended, so that
there may have been something like fifteen Jews in the country at that time.
The Congregation adopted the name of Nairobi Hebrew Congregation and
Burial Society. J. Marcus was elected President and a subscription of one
Rupee (Is. 4d.) per month was agreed on. The committee also donated
Rs. 96 towards the funds of the Congregation, though the only expenses
incurred at that time related to the Jewish cemetery.
Early in 1907, the community made application for a burial ground
to the Uganda Railways, who controlled most of the land in the inhabited
area of Nairobi, and on June 28 of that year a plot was granted to H. Fein,
the first President.
A few months later, in May, 1908, the Congregation was offered a
plot of land by the Government for the erection of a synagogue. A general
meeting (attended by about 15 people) accepted the plot and a Synagogue
Building Committee was formed. No immediate action was taken. At
the annual general meeting in September, Fein was again elected President
and Rs. 1,275 were donated towards the building of a synagogue. It
was decided to hold two general meetings in the year, one just before
Passover and the other just before the New Year. An attempt was made
to separate the Burial Society from the Congregation. Although the move
was defeated, a separate Burial Committee was elected. In April, 1909.
a resolution of a General Meeting decided to drop the words "Burial Society"
from the official name of the Congregation. A gift of Rs. 100 for the
synagogue building fund was received from Baron von Goldschmidt of
Frankfurt a/M, Germany, who was passing through Nairobi. H. J. Wolffe
was elected President and the subscription was raised from Rs. 12
to Rs. 50 per annum. The Congregation also decided to present an
address of welcome to the new Governor, Sir Percy Girouard.
In 1910, members subscribed Rs. 160 towards a Sefer Torah, which
was purchased in the following year for Rs. 346, and ordered prayer books
from England. An appeal in the Jewish Chronicle (London) for money to
build a synagogue was unsuccessful, but Lord Rothschild sent a donation of
25. Not all Jews in Nairobi were members of the Congregation. The
fees for non-members to attend High Holy Day Service was Rs. 15 and
Rs. 75 for the Minister to perform a marriage. A set of bye-laws was
obtained from the Witwatersrand Congregation in South Africa to serve as
a model for Nairobi.
The First Synagogue: 1912 1914
During his stay in London, the President had conducted a personal
campaign for building funds, but returned with only two guineas. Never-
theless, on October 22, 1911, an annual general meeting, attended by
sixteen people, unanimously resolved "that a synagogue be erected on the
Congregation's plot at a cost not exceeding 300, exclusive of furniture
and fittings." A new building sub-committee was formed and, within
a week, an architect named Robertson was instructed to prepare plans.
In February, 1912, plans were submitted for a synagogue costing 500.
These were accepted and tenders were invited. A general meeting of
February 18, 1912, agreed to build the synagogue for 500 and to borrow
250, which was required to make this possible.
Three tenders were received-M. Sorabjee, Rs. 10,712; W. A. Gain,
Rs. 7,443; F. G. Stephens, Rs. 8,800. The meeting accepted the tender
by Gain and resolved "that this meeting authorises the building sub-
committee to at once proceed with all business connected with the erection
of the synagogue which should be immediately started." The meeting
was held at Mr. Goldberg's stores in Government Road, probably the
first European-owned store in what is now a major commercial thorough-
fare. Building began almost at once and the foundation stone was laid
at a curious ceremony on June 20, 1912, which was attended by all of
Kenya's thirty Jews. In the issue of the following Saturday, the African
Standard described the occasion:-
"On Thursday afternoon, H. E. C. C. Bowring, C.M.G., laid the
foundation stone of the new synagogue which is to be erected by the Nairobi
Hebrew Congregation. The ceremony was based on Masonic ritual,
prominent Royal Arch Masons being present in regalia.
The opening prayers were in Hebrew and English, Mr. Horwich giving
the Hebrew and Mr. S. Jacobs, Secretary, the English version. After
Mr. H. J. Wolffe had read the inscription on the stone, the treasurer placed
coins of the realm and current issues of the local Press within the cavity
carved in the stone for the purpose. H.E. then having used the plum bob,
level and square handed to him by the architect, Mr. Miller Robertson
of the firm Robertson, Gow and Davidson, declared the stone well and
truly laid. H.E. upon receipt of the plans handed to him by Mr. Robertson
returned them instructing the architect to proceed "without loss of time to
the completion of the work." The psalm "Except the Lord build, etc."
was read .. and the corn, wine and oil handed to H.E. by Messrs. Bland.
Rehm and Mitchell, attending Freemasons.
Before H.E. strewed the corn on the stone, Mr. Bland recited: "There
shall be a handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains, the
fruit thereof shall shake Lebanon and they of the city shall flourish like
the grass of the earth." The bearer of the wine quoted from the Old
Testament whilst the wine was being poured over the stone: "And for a
drink offering thou shalt offer Him the third part of a bin of wine, for a
sweet savour unto the Lord." Similarly, with the anointing of the stone,
the bearer of the oil quoted: "And thou shalt make it an oil of holy oint-
ment compound after the art of the apothecary. It shall be a holy
anointing oil. And thou shalt anoint the tabernacle of the Congregation
therewith and the Ark of the testimony."
The ceremony closed with the singing of the National Anthem and
this benediction, given by Mr. Mark Solomon: "May the God of Abraham,
of Isaac and of Jacob shower down His choicest blessings upon this
synagogue about to be erected for His honour, and may He grant a full supply
of the Corn of Nourishment, the Wine of Refreshment and the Oil of Joy."
After the ceremony, the Congregation entertained the large number
of those who were present at this interesting ceremony which marks a red-
letter day for the Hebrew Congregations of East Africa in that the synagogue
will be the first erection of its kind in Eastern Africa.
The Congregation presented H.E. with a handsome address in colours
and gold as a memento of the occasion. H.E. in reply expressed the pleasure
it afforded him in laying the foundation stone of the new synagogue which
building signified the fact that the community had come to stay."
The year 1912 also brought difficulties. Friction arose between
members of the Council and between the Council and the builders. At
the annual general meeting in August, twenty seats in the yet-uncompleted
synagogue were sold by auction (reserved price Rs. 100) to members
"for ever," that is to say the seats were to be hereditary to son or son-in-law
after the death of the owner. This system, although it provided some
urgently required funds for the Congregation at the time, caused unceasing
difficulties over many years.
There is no record of the actual opening of the new synagogue. It
is known that furniture and fittings were completed in October, 1913,
at a cost of Rs. 1,006 and the Congregation Council held its first meeting
in the completed building on October 28, 1913.
There was more friction early in 1914, when a member arranged a
"private" burial in the Jewish cemetery and the Congregation resolved to
"standardise" the procedure for burying Jewish people. Another problem
which cropped up in that year was one with which the Congregation was
to become all too familiar. Some Rs. 2,400 were outstanding in unpaid
subscriptions in March, 1914, and one measure adopted by the Council to
THE FIRST NAIROBI SYNAGOGUE
help its finances was to require full subscriptions from all boys over the
age of 13. It was at this time that Michael Harrtz assumed leadership
of the community and for more than a decade he and Sam Jacobs were
largely responsible for keeping the Congregation going.
The First World War: 1914 1920
The outbreak of war brought some economic improvement to Kenya,
but it also involved many of the Jews either in the Armed Forces, or in
the Nairobi Defence Force. A meeting in 1915 urged all Jews not already
members of the Force to join at once. Probably because of their pre-
occupation with the war effort, the Congregation held no meetings from
September, 1915, to September, 1916, but when they did reassemble they
felt confident enough to collect amongst themselves sufficient funds to
engage a Minister. They also made a collection for the "Russian Jews
Early in 1917, the Congregation unanimously agreed to build a house
for their Minister and 123 was donated immediately and a further 100
later in that year. The improved condition of the community is reflected
in the new rates of subscription which were introduced in September, 1917:-
Married men .. .. .. .. Rs. 100 per annum;
Single men .. .. .. .. Rs. 60
Ladies .. .. .. .. Rs. 40
Permanent seat holders .. Rs. 50
50 was donated by the community to the local Red Cross Fund. The
bye-laws had to be changed to include clauses dealing with the Minister's
duties and for this a special sub-committee was formed.
A certain amount of friction was inevitable amongst the hardy,
individualistic Jewish settlers. They had a particular fear of being ruled or
governed by a Congregation Council and it was decided, therefore, that all
important matters were to be dealt with by general or special general meetings
of which there were many. One such general meeting in January, 1918,
accepted a plan to build a Minister's residence for Rs. 6,500, but, by August
of that year they decided to increase the outlay to Rs. 9,000. That same
meeting made many other decisions. It accepted an offer to form a choir
for the synagogue; it formed Nairobi's first Ladies' Committee to look
after the synagogue and cemetery and it opened an appeal for the Palestine
National Restoration Fund, to which it contributed 437 7s. Id.
In spite of the strong bonds which united the community with their
fellow Jews, they felt themselves to be Kenyans, or British settlers, and
took a full and lively part in local affairs. When the Governor, Sir Edward
Northey, left in February, 1919, the Congregation made a presentation
and a deputation was sent to see him off at the railway station. A social
evening was held for the benefit of the Red Cross and the Council contributed
from its funds to the League of Mercy. A further charitable appeal was
made on behalf of the South African Jewish Orphanage. There is some
reference to one or two children from Nairobi being sent to the orphanage,
but no details are given.
Two further rooms were added on to the synagogue and the ladies'
gallery was extended. In 1920, the Council gives the first details of the
Congregation membership, which had grown considerably. There were at
26 married men
14 married permanent seat holders
12 single men
3 single permanent seat holders
2 ladies (members in their own rights),
giving a total of 57 members, i.e. 97 adult Jews. The income of the Congre-
gation was estimated at Rs. 4,170, against an estimated expenditure of
Minister's salary (12 months) .. .. .. .. Rs. 3,600
Rickshaw hire .. .. .. .. .. 240
Teaching salary .. .. .. .. .. .. 540
Rent for Minister's house .. ...... 840
General expenditure .. .. .. .. .. 1,000
To the income must be added two donations by Michael Harrtz, totalling
Rs. 4,540, which kept the Congregation solvent.
It was now decided to build a Minister's house for 400, since renting
one proved to be very uneconomical. Subscriptions were raised again,
in order to eliminate the estimated deficit:-
Married men .. .. .. .. .. Rs. 120
Married permanent seat holders .. .. .. 100
Single men .. .. .. .. . 75
Single permanent seat holders ... .. .. 50
The Council also decided to create a differential fee for non-members to
induce those Jews who had not already joined the Congregation to do so.
Fees: Members Non-Members
M marriage .. .. .. .. .. 75 150
Brit Milah .. .. .. .. 30 75
Burial . . . 30 75
Non-members were also charged for attending High Festival services.
Finance dominated the year 1921. Michael Harrtz again donated
Rs. 2,250 to pay for work on the synagogue and Sam Medicks added a
further Rs. 1,200. Mr. S. Diamant presented a set of silver ornaments
for the Sefer Torah and a clock to be installed in the synagogue. The
Congregation spent Rs. 2,000 on the alterations to the ladies' gallery and a
further Rs. 1,000 on the grounds, etc. It also made a donation to the
Imperial Typhus Fund and two Jews who were stranded in Nairobi appealed
to the Congregation, who arranged for passages home for both of them.
Economic Depression: 1920 1933
Towards the end of the year a heavy depression affected the economic
life of the whole of Kenya. At the request of the annual general meeting,
all subscriptions were reduced by half. In 1922 (when currency had changed
from rupees to shillings) the Congregation had to write off some Shs. 12,000
in bad and doubtful debts. For the first time, appeals from abroad for funds
had to be turned down. The secretary informed the Relief Fund for
Ukraine Jews and the South African Jewish Orphanage that "things were
bad here," but the Congregation would send money "if and when we can."
The supply of Matzot had so far been a private and very unreliable
affair. The Congregation decided to order it in bulk from England and to
sell it to the community as a Congregation service. In 1922, they made a
profit of about Shs. 200 on the sales.
The year 1923 brought no relief. Twenty-eight members were in
arrears, including some of the oldest and staunchest supporters of the
Congregation; sixteen Jews were not members at all; there was an overdraft
at the bank of Shs. 11,000; nine subscriptions had to be written off; three
members resigned temporarily and three were accepted as "free" members
for the time being. In order to keep up-country members, their subscription
was reduced by half. All thoughts of building a house for the Minister
had been shelved and the Commissioner for Lands threatened to take away
the plot which had been granted unless building began. The Congregation
appealed for an extension which was granted until 1925. The Chevra
Kadisha was also in difficulties and became an "auxiliary" of the Congre-
gation. It was decided to hold a dance in aid of Congregation funds and
H.E. the Governor, Sir Robert Coryndon, was invited to attend. He
regretted his inability to do so, but sent a donation of Shs. 100.
There was a slight improvement in 1924. The overdraft at the bank
had been reduced to Shs. 7,000, but the easing of the financial difficulties
brought a considerable amount of friction. The Council decided to take
legal action against members in arrears. Sam Jacobs, the President,
threatened to resign if this was done and the matter was held over for a while.
Tenders for the Minister's house were called for. When it was learned that
Dr. A. Goldstein of the Keren Hayesod was planning to visit Nairobi for
the Zionist Foundation Fund, he was warned not to expect any monies.
The Jewish children of Nairobi were active in the Scout and Guide
movement. In May, 1924, the Congregation made a donation to the
Scout Fund. The Commissioner of Girl Guides requested that a special
monthly service for her sixteen Jewish Guides be held at the synagogue.
At the annual general meeting friction broke out once more and
Michael Harrtz, Sam Jacobs and Simon Haller resigned from the Council.
The Congregation acquired an unusual and outstanding member. When
the Hon. S. S. Abraham was appointed Attorney General of Uganda, he
applied for membership of the Congregation.
In January, 1925, the Congregation accepted a tender for the building
of the Minister's house for 595. The house was completed in June, but,
as there was no Minister, it was let. The death of Sir Robert Coryndon
was felt keenly in Kenya. A strong delegation of the Congregation attended
the funeral and the President wrote a moving letter to Lady Coryndon.
Israel Zangwill had shown great interest in the project to settle Jews
in East Africa. When the question arose of appointing a delegate to the
Board of Deputies of British Jews in London the Council wrote to Zangwill
asking him if he would represent them. Zangwill replied "regretting his
inability to accept the kind invitation" and it was resolved to invite C. E.
Sebag Montefiore to do so.
The affairs of the Chevra Kadisha had still not been settled and a special
general meeting was called in May, 1925. It was decided that it should
be an entirely separate body, but that its finances should go through
Congregation accounts. The first meeting of the independent Chevra
Kadisha was held in November, of that year, when it adopted the name of
Chevra Kadisha and Nairobi Jewish Helping Hand and Burial Society.
The subscription was Sh. 1/- per month. Only a few days later, however,
the burial of an old member led to a great deal of complaint and the position
Religious services were at a very low ebb and boys whose Barmitzvah
fell due celebrated them on Sunday mornings. The Council, too, had a
difficult period. The President was subjected to continuous attack and
resigned several times during his year of office. Later in the year, the whole
Council resigned because "they did not work in harmony". A new rate of
subscription was agreed at a special general meeting:-
Married men .. .. .. .. Shs. 150 per annum
Single men .. .. .. ,, 100 per annum
Permanent seat holders .. .. .. ,, 130 per annum
The Nairobi Congregation was the only organised Congregation in
East Africa. Jews living in Mombasa, Kampala, Kitale, Eldoret and
elsewhere in Kenya joined as "up-country" members at a reduced fee.
The Congregation supplied Matzot annually and, in 1927, the council
agreed to lend a Sefer Torah to the Jews living in the Eldoret area "subject
to members paying their dues." There was no Minister at this time. A
special general meeting donated 400 towards the cost of engaging one.
One member, disturbed by the general apathy shown by the community,
proposed a motion that "the synagogue be closed sine die because of lack
of interest". The motion was defeated. Another motion, designed to
overcome the difficulty of getting volunteers to act as Secretary and Treasurer,
proposed that they be paid by waiving their annual subscription. This
plan was not acceptable to the auditor.
In 1928, Field Marshal Lord Allenby visited Kenya and the
Congregation proudly presented a letter of address to the "liberator of
Jerusalem". H.R.H. The Prince of Wales also visited the country and was
presented with a loyal address.
The estimated income for that year was only 500 and the Congregation
decided to use the services of an official collector who was to be offered
10 per cent commission, but the plan failed.
In 1929, the Chevra Kadisha requested to be taken over by the
Congregation. The Council agreed. It was also resolved to ask the
Nairobi City Corporation to ensure that all Jewish burials were carried
out through the Congregation. An application was made to Government
for land on which to erect a sports club. The ladies' committee was formed
into a Women's Guild in September, 1929, from which the East African
Jewish Guild developed in the following year.
The news of Arab riots in Palestine caused considerable consternation
amongst the Nairobi Jews. A message to Chief Rabbi Kook, "protesting
against the inactivity of the Palestine administration", was despatched.
With the letter of protest went 80 towards the Palestine Relief Fund. A
further letter of protest was published in the London Jewish Chronicle.
Membership of the Congregation in 1930 stood at 80. The social
life of the community was well established. Through the newly-formed
East African Jewish Guild, the Jews were held together and active, but
religious life was not satisfactory. In his annual report, the acting President
(G. Biemer) stressed:-"the importance of taking a more active part in
the work of the Congregation". He pointed out that "even attendances
at the synagogue on Friday evenings show a marked falling off". It may
well have been that the Council's decision to hold their meetings on Friday
afternoons was prompted by a desire to oblige its members to participate
in the services. Nevertheless, Council felt sufficiently confident of the
community to apply for the land adjoining the synagogue to build a
On the 21st October, 1930, the British Government published
simultaneously the Hope Simpson report and the Passfield White Paper
on Palestine. Chaim Weizmann reported ". . that it was considered by
all Jewish friends of the National Home, Zionist and non-Zionist alike,
and by a host of non-Jewish well-wishers, as rendering, and intending to
render, our work in Palestine impossible". Weizmann resigned immediately.
On October 30, he received a telegram:-"NAIROBI HEBREW CONGRE-
GATION DEEPLY REGRET LATEST ATTITUDE OF BRITISH
GOVERNMENT REGARDING PALESTINE POLICY FROM
RADFORD PRESIDENT". A reply was received the following week:-
"EXPRESSION OF SYMPATHY DEEPLY APPRECIATED -
Although the membership had been put at 80, the President, in his
annual report in 1931, stated "I estimate [that] we have 53 [members]
on whom we can rely as subscribing members for our present financial
calculations. Having regard to the large Jewish population, this cannot
be regarded as satisfactory ... It is just as well to mention that the past
year was the worst year in the history of our Congregation as regards
income ... Nevertheless, 23 was despatched to Russia "to assist our poor
brethren with Matzo for Passover."
Once again an address of welcome was presented to the new Governor,
Sir Joseph Byrne, who "cordially accepted same and asked us to convey
sincere greetings to the community and said that he would always be willing
to assist us whenever possible". Cyril Q. Henriques was elected Nairobi's
representative at the Board of Deputies in London.
The general apathy amongst members, together with another economic
depression in Kenya, put a serious strain on the Congregation finances.
In April, 1932, they required an overdraft of 200 on their recurrent
expenditure and the Minister was requested to accept a reduction of 5
per month in his salary.
The Time of the Refugees: 1933-1939
1933 was an important year. A plot of land had been obtained
from Government on which to build a communal hall and Abraham Block
opened the building fund with a donation of 250. The synagogue was in
bad shape-"one wall may collapse at any time", Edward Ruben reported
to the annual general meeting and a "restoration fund" was opened. How-
ever, subscriptions had to be reduced again in view of the prevailing
Permanent seat holders .. .. .. Married Shs. 100
Single ,, 60
Ordinary .. .. .. .. Married ,, 120
Single ,, 75
Country .. .. .. .. Married ,, 75
Single ,, 50
Ladies .. . 50
Profits realized by a concert held in 1934 were passed to the Burial
Society "to grant loans free of interest to people in need". 90 was spent
on repairs and alterations to the synagogue. The strain of continuing
Congregation affairs was showing very markedly, since the greatest activity
was channelled towards the coming refugees. No one was prepared to serve
either as Secretary or Treasurer. In February, 1934, a Council meeting
took place, but "in view of the inability of members to arrive at any agree-
ment on matters arising from the Minutes, the meeting was closed and
adjourned". Two weeks later, the Council met again and resolved that
"... in the interests of the Congregation the discussion resulting in the
adjournment [of the previous meeting] be regarded as not having taken
place". A few days later the entire Council resigned. An extraordinary general
meeting was called, attended by about 50 people. A vote of confidence
in the Council was passed and its members then withdrew their resignations.
In 1935, a special thanksgiving service, attended by His Worship
the Mayor of Nairobi, was held to mark the Silver Jubilee of the reign of
King George V and a loyal address was despatched to England:-
May it please your Majesties
On this historic and memorable occasion when, through the grace of
Divine Providence you celebrate the Silver Jubilee of your illustrious reign
over your many and far-flung peoples, we, the Hebrew Congregation of
Nairobi, humbly beg to offer our most sincere and heartfelt congratulations.
Though sectional in racial origin and religious tradition, we devoutly
desire to express our primal sentiment of the deepest loyalty and to state that
we are, of one accord, British in thought and heart. To be accepted as
citizens of the great British Empire is one of our most cherished possessions
In particular we desire to convey to Your Majesties our deepest
admiration and thanks for the protection given to so many of our race in
recent times of stress and persecution. Seldom has the meaning of "British
Justice" been so pregnant with reality as in these times, and you have set an
example to the whole civilised world which we, and our children, will cherish
in our hearts.
It is our earnest and fervent prayer that the great benefits of Your
Majesties' reign may continue for many years to come to add to the happiness
of all your loyal subjects, that peace and prosperity may ever accompany
your rule and that the lead given to the other nations of the earth may
bring better understanding and good will.
We would, in conclusion, most humbly convey to Your Majesties
our most sincere wish that good health and long life may be granted to you
and that the consummation of all that you have at heart will be fulfilled
within your reign with glory.
We have the honour to subscribe ourselves,
Your Majesties' humble and devoted servants.
(signed) President, S. Medicks.
Vice-President and Acting Secretary, S. Weinstock.
A special memorial service for the first Lord Reading was held in
January, 1936, conducted by the Minister, with a choir of six ladies and the
Minister's wife at the organ. The Governor sent a representative, Major
Cavendish-Bentinck represented the European members of Legislative
Council and the Chief Justice of Kenya, Sir Joseph Sheridan, the Chief
Justice of Tanganyika, Sir S. S. Abraham, His Worship the Mayor, Municipal
Councillors, the Solicitor General, the President of the Law Society and
representatives of the Indian Association attended.
When H.M. King George V died in that month the Council sent a
telegram:-"KENYA JEWRY HUMBLY TRANSMIT TO H.M.
THE QUEEN AND THE ROYAL FAMILY HEARTFELT CON-
DOLENCES ON THE INESTIMABLE LOSS SUFFERED BY THEM
AND THE WHOLE EMPIRE IN THE DEATH OF HIS MOST
GRACIOUS MAJESTY KING GEORGE V AND WE SEEK TO
RE-AFFIRM OUR UNDYING LOYALTY TO THE CROWN".
A memorial service was held in the synagogue.
In 1937, Herman Strauss, one of the first refugees to come to Kenya,
is mentioned in the minutes of the Council as having conducted some of the
High Festival services. The new communal hall was put up in that year
and the Congregation held its first meeting there in March, 1938.
The Second World War: 1940-1945
With the outbreak of war all communal activities slowed down almost
to a standstill. Council meetings, which had been taking place every month,
were reduced to two or three a year. Matzo could no longer be obtained
from England and was imported from South Africa. The annual general
meeting of 1941 passed a resolution to distribute it free to those who could
not afford to pay. An appeal was received from Chief Rabbi Hertz in
London for the Jewish War Fund for Religious Reconstruction and the
Council members themselves donated 35 at the meeting before passing the
appeal to the community. Over 200 was sent to the Chief Rabbi.
Major Rabbi I. Brodie, then Chaplain to the R.A.F., visited Nairobi
in 1942. Major I. Somen and Sgt. D. Rifkin, both long-standing members
of the Congregation, conducted services for soldiers and the annual general
meeting of that year "adopted" four British soldiers in a prisoner of war
camp through the Red Cross and a supply of Matzo was despatched to
Abyssinnia for Jewish soldiers serving there.
There were 70 members in 1943, but the maximum income of the
Congregation was only 300. Although the demand for Matzo had grown
considerably through the arrival of various refugees and Jewish soldiers,
import permission was only granted for pre-war amounts and for the first
time Matzo had to be severely rationed.
By 1944, membership had increased to 115. Once again, the Council
raised 40 amongst themselves before passing on to the Congregation a
further appeal from Chief Rabbi Hertz. Since the community had been
deprived of the use of its hall, Mr. L. Zuckerman built and donated a small
meeting hall. Michael Harrtz, who died in 1943, made the last of many
generous gestures by leaving 100 to the Congregation.
There were many Jewish servicemen in East Africa who gathered in
Nairobi for Passover and High Holy Days as guests of the Jewish community.
Services were conducted by Staff Sgt. Silkovitz from England. So large
was the number of "guests" that, for Yom Kippur 1945, a large tent had to
be hired to provide facilities for the soldiers to break the fast before returning
to their units.
The Post-war Revival: 1945-1954
1945 saw a great revival of all communal affairs, with former
refugees now taking a full part.* The community was faced with many
problems. The synagogue was rapidly deteriorating and "likely to be
dangerous" and major repairs had to be carried out even though the
estimated income for the year was only 325. A flood of appeals was received
from abroad. The horrors of extermination were revealed to the world and
the pitiful survivors had to be cared for. By November, 1945, some 7,000
and a great deal of clothing had been collected for the Relief Appeal for
European Jewry. 350 was despatched to the Jewish Asylum in Jerusalem.
The Council unanimously decided to have women representatives
and Mrs. Dora Katzler and Mrs. Gertie Harrtz were immediately co-opted
on to the committee. This decision was endorsed by the annual general
meeting which resolved that "wives and lady members may be elected to the
Council and may vote at annual general meetings if they were Jewish, but
no woman may be President or Vice-President."
The synagogue continued to give much cause for concern for not
only was it in a bad condition, but it had long ceased to be able to accom-
modate all the people. The financial situation having improved somewhat,
the Congregation put 2,000 in a savings account. Twenty new members
joined. A new Jewish cemetery was consecrated in February, 1946. The
new Minister introduced English prayers in the services. At the annual
general meeting, Mrs. Dora Katzler became the first Jewish woman to be
elected to the Council. The community was honoured by a visit from
Mrs. Brodetsky. The Minister's residence had deteriorated to such an
extent that the house had been sold to Government, a new plot of land
had been granted and a new house was to be built immediately. A dance
in aid of the building fund raised 100 and a further 500 was donated by
members of the Congregation. The house was completed in 1947, at a cost
* See Appendix II.
THE MINISTER'S HOUSE IN NAIROBI
In that year, Israel Somen, President of the Congregation, was elected
to the Nairobi Municipal Council. By 1948, membership had risen to 120.
Chief Rabbi Rabbinowitz of South Africa visited the community and in
May, 1948, a service of intercession was held for the State of Israel. At
the annual general meeting it was reported that the Palestine Emergency
Appeal stood at 10,000. At the same time, 1,733 was despatched for the
European Jewish Orphan Appeal.
In January, 1949, Chief Rabbi Rabbinowitz and Judge Herbstein paid
a further visit to conduct the Israel United Appeal, which raised 32,000.
Membership now stood at 127. The annual general meeting decided to
create the post of Honorary Vice-President, to honour outstanding members
of the community and Israel Somen was the first to be elected.
By 1950, subscriptions had risen considerably. There were now three
types of membership-at Shs. 260/-, 200/- and 133/- per annum respectively
according to the seat held in the synagogue. Chief Rabbi Brodie visited
the community, a reception in his honour being held by His Worship the
Mayor. The synagogue continued to absorb large sums in constant and
continuous repairs. Chief Rabbi Brodie advised that a new synagogue
be built and a special general meeting in July, 1950, resolved to demolish
the old synagogue and to build a new one. Imre Rozsa, a Jewish architect
in Nairobi, was commissioned to prepare plans. At the annual general
meeting, Eric Shirley was elected to the new Hon. Vice-Presidency.
Because the old synagogue could no longer accommodate all wor-
shippers, services in 1951 were held in the Vermont Memorial Hall. An
attempt to introduce a mixed choir was defeated. In February of that year,
Mr. K. Bucky agreed to edit a "circular newsletter", which was to become
the forerunner of the East African Jewish Newsletter.
The Council resolved to spend between 8,000 and 10,000 on a new
synagogue. At this time there were strong undercurrents in the community,
a section of which wanted to see the introduction of a reform synagogue in
Nairobi. The move towards reform found many supporters both amongst
the older members of the Congregation and amongst the newer ex-refugees,
but in the end it was decided that, for the sake of communal unity, the
project should be abandoned. Chief Rabbi Herzog of Israel visited Nairobi
in that year, albeit unofficially.
A New Synagogue: 1954-1959
Subscriptions were again raised in 1953 to Shs. 350/-, 260/- and 170/-
respectively. Lady members in their own right were to pay half of the above.
Donations to the synagogue building fund had reached 7,000 and many
members offered donations in kind, such as all electrical installations, all
metal work, painting and decoration, tarmac roads. In May, 1954, the
Council accepted a tender for the building of the new synagogue for 16,000.
The Congregation sought a loan of 7,500, most of which was guaranteed
by members. On June 8, 1954, the second day of Shevuot, the last service
was held at the old synagogue and, on the 28th October, the foundation
stone for the new synagogue was laid by H.E. the Governor, Sir Evelyn Baring.
The new synagogue was consecrated on September 11, 1955. Abraham
Block performed the opening ceremony and the Rabbi, assisted by the Minister
H. E. THE GOVERNOR OF KENYA, THE HONOURABLE SIR EVELYN BARING, K.C.M.G.. K.C.V.O.
LAYING THE FOUNDATION STONE OF THE NEW SYNAGOGUE WATCHED BY
(I. to r.) MR. IMRE ROZSA, THE ARCHITECT; THE SIKH FOREMAN;
AND MR. HENRY GRONER, THE CONTRACTOR
THE CONSECRATION SERVICE AT THE NEW SYNAGOGUE
( to r.) ERIC SHIRLEY, HERMAN STRAUSS, THE REV. F. LICHTENSTEIN,
JACK KATZLER, EDMUND MOSKOW, HARRY POSNER, RABBI DR. A. EHRMAN
of the Nakuru Congregation, officiated. At that time, Nairobi's first citizen
was a Jew-Israel Somen-who held the office of Mayor from 1955 to 1957.
The Shadow of Uhuru: 1959 1962
A further increase in subscriptions to Shs. 525/-, 390/- and 255/- was
made in 1956. It is of particular interest to note that, although the Colony
of Kenya had been in a state of emergency since 1952, there is not a single
reference to the Mau Mau rebellion, and the burden it imposed on all
communities in the country, in any of the communal records.
In 1957, membership stood at 164. Even so, there were subscription
arrears of 1,250. Council affairs were dealt with largely through sub-
committees and there is, therefore, considerably less information in the
records about these later years. The distribution of Matzot and Newsletters
in 1957 illustrates the spread of the Jewish population over East Africa
at this time:-
Nairobi .. .. 1,023 lb. 200
Nakuru .. 288 ,, 42
Kitale/Eldoret. .. 132 ,, 16
Mombasa .. .. .. .. .. 70 ,, 17
Kampala .. .. .. 60 ,, 16
Dar es Salaam .. .. 14 ,, 6
Zanzibar .. .. 12 ,, 3
Others ... 4
*Assuming that 80 per cent of the total are married, this equals some 520
adults with approximately 200 children. A total, therefore, of some 720 souls.
In many ways, the year 1958 was the last in which the community
thought in terms of expansion. At the annual general meeting, Eric Shirley
put forward a 15,000 development scheme which was to include class-
rooms, a kindergarten, swimming pool and a sports field. Affairs in Kenya
were going well and only 33 people attended the meeting. But 1959 was
a year in which it became clear that East Africa's political future was going
to change very drastically. Israel's Ambassador to the Court of St. James
and Mrs. Elath visited Kenya. Arthur Haller became President of the
Nairobi Hebrew Congregation, the first President to have been born and
brought up in Kenya.
The new Minister, who arrived in September, 1959, unlike his
predecessor, was not a Shochet. After a period of nine years, the Congre-
gation was without kosher meat. In October, the Council voted a sum of
300 per annum to enable a Shochet from South Africa to come to Nairobi
twice a year, for Passover and Rosh Hashanah.
The East African Jewish Guild was wound up in 1959. The Zionist
organizations continued, but less effectively since their full-time organiser
left. The Congregation remained thus as the most active and effective
body to watch over the welfare of the Jewish community.
Arthur Haller remained in office for two years and was succeeded in 1961
by Peter Katzler, a son of Mrs. Dora Katzler, born and educated in Kenya.
The "Jewish Ministry" is an ill-defined concept and has in the past
hundred years undergone such drastic changes that it is not surprising that,
in a new, independent, unorganised and traditionless community like
Nairobi, it functioned in a tentative and uncertain manner. The Rabbi,
originally a judicial official whose task was simply to rule on Jewish Law,
did not assume the general duties associated with spiritual leadership of
the community until the 15th century and, even then, he was rarely a
salaried official. As a spiritual leader he dealt primarily with Jewish
Congregations who adhered strictly to Jewish Law, who were reasonably
expert in the performance of Jewish Law and who accepted their Rabbi
because of his outstanding knowledge of and familiarity with the more
intricate aspects of the Law. There has been a fairly uniform pattern in
Jewish communities since the emancipation in Europe, of a steadily decreas-
ing regard for Law and a corresponding increase in the demand for the
Rabbi as a "Seelsorger". The Rabbinate itself has not attempted to
re-define its function in the light of current development and books on
"Judaism" have nothing at all to say on the role of the modern Rabbi.
The Minister, that is to say the spiritual leader who is not qualified
as a Rabbi, is probably the result of an extension of the duties of the Chazan
and possibly a spontaneous adaptation to demands made by the more
assimilated sections of Jewish communities.
Most of the early Jews in Nairobi were of Polish and Russian origin,
steeped in traditions of religious practice, but too preoccupied themselves
to uphold Jewish Law. Like many other small communities, they therefore
required the services of a person well versed in Jewish ritual and able to
perform three major functions, namely those of Shaliach Tzibur, Shochet
and Mohel. Of these, the first, the ability to conduct services and lead
the community in prayer, was by far the most important, since such a person
was required not only to act as a Chazan, but also to pray for those who
had lost the ability to do so for themselves.
Nairobi's first "Minister" was a man well versed in Jewish religious
practice who was paid privately by a few members of the Congregation to
provide kosher meat for them, act as Mohel and lead their services as soon
as they had a Minyan. In October, 1909, the Congregation proper decided
to "regularise" his position and paid him a salary of Rs. 70 to act as their
Minister. There was no synagogue as yet and the very small number of
Jews found it difficult to maintain this office. By 1911, they had to content
themselves with paying another member of the Congregation just to conduct
their High Festival services for them.
In 1914, Sam Jacobs visited South Africa and found a suitable candidate
for the Ministry at a salary of 15 per month and house, but the Council
resolved:-"that at the present juncture appointment of a Minister... is
not warranted by the... financial position of the Congregation". By
1917, the position had improved sufficiently for a full-time Minister to be
appointed. His duties were tabulated as follows:-
(1) Daily slaughter of meat;
(2) General duties of Chazan;
(3) Visit sick (especially in hospital);
(4) Arrange Hebrew classes three times per week.
Within a year feelings of dissatisfaction were expressed, but these
were not really criticisms of the activities of the Minister, but rather a sense
of disappointment of the community at the lack of leadership exhibited
by the Minister. This in turn was due to the reluctance of the community
to extend the frame of reference within which he was to operate, a problem
that was to occur again and again. Whereas the conscious need of the
Congregation was for a servant of the community to perform the functions
required in Jewish Law, the very presence of a Minister inspired a desire
for leadership and guidance. In 1918, the list of duties was extended signi-
ficantly and the Minister was required to "unite the Congregation and keep
the members together" in addition to his previously mentioned duties.
Leadership involves independent decision and this additional function led to
a conflict of authority between the Congregation and its spiritual leader.
The Congregation Council was adamant that no decision was to be made
without their consent. This conflict resulted in the resignation of the
Minister in 1921.
The early '20's were a period of acute economic depression in Kenya
and the Congregation had to content itself once more with an official
for the High Festivals only. On the 21st of January, 1923, it resolved:-
"Not to mention the subject of engaging a Minister for at least twelve
months". In November, 1924, the post of Minister was advertised again.
The advertisements laid down the necessary qualifications for the post
as:-(1) knowledge of English; (2) teacher of Hebrew; (3) Shochet; (4)
Mohel; (5) reader; (6) preferably married. The Council offered a salary
of 20 per month, plus a partly furnished house, but a special general meeting
decided to offer 30 per month. Several applications were received, but
the Congregation felt that it was unable to afford a Minister. A year later
the post was again advertised.
According to a Minute of a special general meeting of November,
1925-"the Chairman informed the meeting that several applications for
the post of Minister had been received, one of which was strongly recom-
mended. Had there been sufficient funds in hand the committee would
have engaged him". In spite of that resolution a new Minister was appointed
the following month. He was, however, not married, a fact which, in a
place like Nairobi, where each individual must create his own home back-
ground, proved to be an insuperable handicap. In 1927, the Congregation
tried again. The post was advertised in England, Palestine and South
Africa. The Nairobi community was growing and the need for proper
leadership became more and more apparent. In a letter to a candidate,
dated June, 1928, the Secretary of the Congregation wrote:-"You will
find much to occupy your time in helping to foster the community into a
cohesive whole. Much could be done to unite the component elements-
anglicised and non-anglicised Jews-into greater harmony ... Services
will be held on those days which are universally recognized ... There
are at present no classes held in Hebrew, but this is the most fertile ground
for cultivation ... Here again, I would comment that it is mainly for the
sake of our children that the question of having a worthy spiritual leader
has been given such prominence in Congregational affairs recently ...
Among the numerous and varied duties of a Chazan (sic) will be the active
participation on public bodies and our representation in public matters...
You will have the active co-operation of us all in the steps you take to bring
our community to its rightful place .... "
One of the difficulties in selecting a suitable Minister was the difference
in outlook between some of the authorities in those countries from which
the Minister might come and the ideas of the local community as to what
sort of a person they might require. This variance of standard and concept
was underlined by a senior Jewish official in London, who wrote to a local
Jew in 1928:-"The pity of it is that the distant Congregations-I mean
distant from England-are not always prepared to take the advice of the
home communities. If they did that, we would send them a man sufficiently
representative and with sufficient character to exercise high moral influence
in a Congregation. If they did not have resource to this, and judge only by
the letters of the applicants, they are likely to get a man who possesses
qualifications only in his own estimation, and when the duties are taken up
they prove complete failures."
A new Minister arrived in 1929, a very able man who managed to unite
the Congregation to a considerable extent and whose difficulties character-
istically were concerned in the main with the problem of authority as
between him and the Council. Throughout the period of his Ministry,
the children received instruction regularly, there was a good supply of
kosher meat and, although weekly services were not held regularly, those
services that did take place achieved a new level of competence and
devotion. The Minister died suddenly in 1933, and it is a measure of his
success that the Congregation tried to engage a new one within a few months.
The duties defined for the new incumbent were:- (1) to act as minister;
(2) Chazan; (3) Shochet; (4) Mohel; (5) teacher. But the '30's created
new and overwhelming problems, mainly in connection with the arrival of
refugees. The Congregation and its members found themselves thrust
into the limelight and had to deal with Government and public bodies
from many parts of the world. In this situation, a man of exceptional
ability was required. The Minister left in 1937, and, at an annual general
meeting in 1938, a resolution was passed that any new Minister would have
to have "such qualities as will enable him to represent the community on
the various public bodies". Accordingly, a new Minister was engaged in
1939, a man with exceptional qualifications, but without that adaptive
capacity which is essential for success in what is in many respects an unusual
community in a very unusual setting. He remained less than a year.
There was no question of securing the services of a Minister during the
war years and a number of local people were engaged to act as Ministers,
including one who had been interned in Uganda as a Polish refugee and
who was released at the specific request of the Congregation.
Towards the end of the war, the position of the Congregation had
altered and improved considerably. The lay leadership was strong, numbers
were steadily increasing as more and more refugees succeeded in establishing
themselves and the financial situation was, therefore, less of a problem.
A fully qualified Minister from England was engaged and so strong was the
desire of the community to re-create a stable religious life that they per-
suaded the Colonial Office to bring out their Minister-elect on an aircraft-
carrier at a time when accommodation in civil shipping was quite
From that time on, a distinct change took place in the Ministry in
Nairobi. Although Ministers continued to change at intervals, the office
was not permitted to remain vacant and the various Ministers established
not only a more regular communal routine and religious observance, but,
in their various ways, succeeded in building up a system of spiritual
leadership which made it possible for them to function in a positive way
and for the Congregation to achieve an element of unity, lack of which in
past years had been such a frequent obstacle to successful communal
The Nairobi Congregation has had a Minister for only about half the
period of its existence. There have been many clashes between the Congre-
gation and its Ministers or separate sections of the Congregation and the
Ministers. Many of those who held this post found themselves in financial
difficulties in spite of salaries which compared very favourably with those
offered in other communities. It would probably be correct to say, in
retrospect, that the points of friction which arose so frequently between
the Ministers and their flock were rarely serious issues. More often than
not they were symptomatic of difficulties of which neither party was fully
conscious. On the one hand, the members who make up the Nairobi
Congregation are, in the main, people who by sheer will-power and very
considerable adaptability have created for themselves a way of life to which
they have become attached, not only economically, but also emotionally.
The Ministers, on the other hand, arrived with ideals and ambitions of
Jewish life which they thought they might transfer unimpaired from Europe
to the heart of Africa. The European settler in Africa stands out both as a
person who has settled and is settled, a person who opposes natural and
environmental difficulties with volatile and at times violent severity. But
no more so than the devout and convinced Jew who will resist with equal
determination any infringement of, or interference with, his religious
activities. In the course of time, both sides gained in the conflict. If it led
to rejection by or of individuals, it also led to a more concise mutual under-
standing of the needs and scope of the community and its leaders. Each
Minister worked with increasing effectiveness to guide his Congregation
towards greater harmony in the common aim to establish Jewish life
THE NEW SYNAGOGUE IN NAIROBI
In the early years of the Congregation, life for its members was
difficult, many of them living fairly scattered in or around Nairobi. For
those who lived in tin shacks in the town transport by rickshaw was expensive
and hard to come by. Those who were farming "up-country" were fully
occupied and had little time or thought to spare for so ephemeral a subject
as religious education. Hebrew classes were slow to start and it took
many years before some kind of pattern was established which was even
The first lessons were organised in 1917 and ran into difficulties almost
immediately over the question of extra payments for the Minister. This
problem was solved by Michael Harrtz, who reassured a committee meeting
in November, 1918:-"that as long as one child or more was being taught
Hebrew ... he would most certainly pay any diversity between the
amount paid for tuition by the children's parents and the Minister's salary
for this work for the year.".
In the following year, special children's services were introduced on
Saturday afternoons and Michael Harrtz offered to award annual prizes
to the children who did best. On the whole, the classes were not a success.
In May, 1921, it was reported that the term had started with 13 pupils,
but the numbers quickly fell to five. The committee decided to grade
children into elementary and advanced classes, to inspect the register
before each Council meeting and to instruct the Minister to report those
children who were absent.
There followed a period of some four years when no classes were
held at all. With the arrival of a new Minister, an effort was made to
re-start them. A scale of fees was laid down-one child, 10/- per annum;
two children, 15/-, three children 20/-. All the payments were to be
collected by the Minister, who was to be allowed to retain 25 % as a fee.
The Minister was also to give religious instruction at the European school.
Three members of the Council undertook to examine the children and
keep a check on progress, but only very few attended. In October, 1926,
Council decided that the numbers did not warrant the distribution of prizes.
Another break followed of nearly three years.
"The possibility," the Secretary wrote in June, 1928, "of seeing Jewish
children growing up in ignorance of the true meaning of Judaism .... is
one which has caused much alarm to all those who would have them take
a pride and intelligent interest in their religion and tradition .... One
cannot stress this aspect too strongly."
Once again, the new Minister was instructed to re-form the classes
and to accept "all and any children." Both the Minister and the Council
complained about attendance. Several members of the committee, notably
David Somen, volunteered to teach, but in spite of the prizes offered and
the special inducements, such as parties, gifts and other forms of
encouragement, as often as not only one or two children attended.
By 1936, classes for children were offered free of charge. Thirty-
one received instruction at the schools and 16 of these attended Sunday
classes as well. In 1937, the Minister reported that only ten children were
attending his Sunday classes.
Although activity in the Jewish community was at a very high level
in the late '30's classes for children were haphazard, irregular and very
poorly attended. In the early years of the war, when there was no Minister,
even the classes at the schools collapsed. The acting Minister re-formed
the classes with 14 boys and eight girls in 1943, held children's services
and a number of competitions, but again with very little success. A young
Palestinian soldier who was stationed in Nairobi took over the teaching
in 1944 and some 15 to 20 children attended his classes.
In 1945, Israel Somen, in his President's report, commented:- "It is
most discouraging to your committee that, in spite of organising the
lessons and making no charge for them, parents have given so little support
... We can do nothing of any use without the actual support of the parents."
A considerable amount of pressure was now exerted by ex-refugees, who
were beginning to take their place in communal life. Two of them were
appointed as a special sub-committee to deal particularly with the problem
of Hebrew classes. They submitted a report in which they suggested:-
(a) more co-operation with schools and parents; (b) the introduction
of classes for beginners and more advanced pupils; (c) a curriculum of
history, Hebrew, prayers, ritual, and Barmitzvah instruction; (d) in
addition to the teacher, other qualified members of the community should
address the children on special topics; (e) to get literature from Europe
and South Africa; (f) special children's services. It was decided to put
all these recommendations into effect immediately and a parents' committee
was formed under the chairmanship of David Somen. Books were ordered
and loaned to the children.
For a year the classes functioned well-22 to 25 children attended
each Sunday and an attempt was made to add a kindergarten. The
attendance quickly increased to 35, but the kindergarten was a failure.
The new Minister who arrived in 1946 took complete control of the classes
and the annual general meeting of that year decided that the education
committee should be virtually independent and should have at least 50
per annum at its disposal. But the usual difficulties were cropping up
again. "It is impossible to follow a prescribed syllabus," the Minister
said in his first report, "so long as parents and children cannot accept
attendance at classes as a sacred obligation .... More drastic steps will
have to be taken to ensure better regularity and punctuality." The
Minister's comments were endorsed by George Farkas, speaking for the
Education Committee, who stated that:- "As long as the children are not
encouraged by the good example of their parents, all the efforts of the
teacher cannot have the desired result."
In addition to the Sunday morning classes, Saturday morning classes
were introduced, but these were entirely unsuccessful. By 1947, the
majority of Jewish children in the schools were not Nairobi children.
All the secondary schools were situated in the City and children from all
over the Colony attended these as boarders. It was suggested that
responsibility for religious education should be passed to the Board for
Kenya Jewry. The annual general meeting of 1947 heard the same
complaints:- "With a little more co-operation on the part of the parents
more could be achieved," "the cold and indifferent attitude of the parents
is to be greatly deplored." The Education Committee underlined another
difficulty to the smooth running of the classes:- "One of the major
obstacles to regular instruction on Sunday mornings is the system of Leave
Days (an Exeat once every three weeks to allow boarders to go out with
their parents), mistakenly regarded by both parents and children to be
occasions when it is considered wrong for Jewish children to attend Hebrew
In January, 1948, a new scheme was proposed. It was suggested
first of all that an all-Kenya education committee be set up, represented
Nairobi 4 Members, Contributing 75 p.a.
Nakuru 4 Members, ,, 75 p.a.
Mombasa 2 Members, ,, 25 p.a.
Kitale/Eldoret 2 Members, ,, 25 p.a.
The formation of this committee was debated for a long time. In
the meantime, however, 42 children were attending classes and one girl
took Hebrew in her school certificate examination which she passed with
a credit. Within a year, however, attendances had fallen to 25 and a change
of Minister again caused a temporary deterioration. The new Minister
reported on the usual difficulties:- "Progress is slow ..... It must be borne
in mind that some of the children do not attend regularly or punctually.
It would be a great help if parents would co-operate in this matter."
By 1950, well over half the members of the Education Committee
were former refugees and they felt that they might be able to overcome
their difficulties by engaging a second teacher. Early in 1952, the Education
Committee sent a questionnaire to 48 parents of children attending classes.
Of these, 45 replied. The results were as follows:-
(1) Do you want your child to have a Jewish education?
(2) Should another teacher be employed (apart from the Minister)?
Yes: 72% No: 17% Indifferent: 11%.
(3) Would you pay 15/- p.a. towards the cost of a 2nd teacher?
Yes: 72% No: 27% Would pay less than 15/-: 1%.
Many parents also expressed dissatisfaction with existing classes.
Following the survey, the committee suggested to the annual general
meeting that a second teacher be engaged. A further special general
meeting on education was called which was attended by 59 people and which
carried resolutions to engage a second teacher and to impose a special
Meanwhile, two local people were engaged to assist with the teaching
and for a while things went well, but, when the Minister left in 1953, the
congregation suspended all classes and 45 of its members refused to pay
the education tax.
By 1954, the numbers of Jewish children had increased considerably.
Some 90 children were being taught in the schools and about 50 of these
attended the additional Sunday classes. With the help of the Zionist
Federation of South Africa, a second teacher was engaged, a youth club
was started and the Nairobi Zionist Society introduced a project whereby
winners of annual examinations were to be awarded a free, three-week
visit to Israel. The first examination was held in March, 1955, and one
boy and one girl were awarded the trip. The subjects of the examination
were Hebrew language, history, religion, general Jewish knowledge and
an impromptu speech.* There were seven examiners-two from the
Nairobi Hebrew Congregation, two from the Nairobi Zionist Society,
two from the W.I.Z.O. and the Rabbi. This project was repeated in 1956
and naturally did much to evoke interest amongst children and parents,
but a further project of the Zionist Society in that year, to hold a youth
holiday camp on a Jewish-owned farm, was abandoned through lack
By 1955, the numbers of children in the local schools had increased
to over 100 and the long-projected Kenya-wide Board of Education
was finally formed and had its first meeting in April, 1955. It drew up
a constitution with very ambitious objects:-
EAST AFRICAN BOARD OF JEWISH EDUCATION
NAME The name of the Organisation shall be the "East African Board
of Jewish Education."
OBJECTS The objects of the Board shall be:-
(a) To promote and co-ordinate Jewish Education in East Africa, the
ultimate ideal being that every Jewish boy and girl in East Africa
should receive an adequate Jewish Education. The Board will assist
any Jewish Institution which applies for such service.
(b) To arrange educational courses and to organise and maintain Hebrew
classes, lectures and examinations.
(c) To promote the formation of organizations fostering Jewish education.
(d) To endeavour to secure adequate inspection of such schools and
*See Appendix VI
(e) To assist in the training of Hebrew Teachers and to further the training
of Jewish Ministers.
(f) To further the preparation and publication of suitable text books.
(g) To tender advice and render service to Committees in control of Jewish
schools and educational institutions.
(h) To establish and maintain a library and to do everything necessary
for this purpose.
(i) To own property of whatever description, movable or immovable,
to purchase, dispose, alienate, encumber, and in any way deal with the
property, and to appoint Trustees for any such purpose.
(j) (i) To promote the establishment of Jewish Hostels, Jewish Nursery
Schools and Kindergartens and such other institutions as may
be deemed necessary for the fulfilment of any or all the objects
of the Board.
(ii) To employ Teachers and other officials for the Board and to
recommend scales of salaries and conditions of service of teachers
of any Hebrew schools or any other educational institutions
which may be affiliated and/or under the supervision of the Board,
having regard to the qualifications of the teachers.
(k) To establish an Education Fund for the purpose of carrying out all
or any of the above objects.
The Nairobi Hebrew Congregation now had no direct association
with Hebrew education other than through its two representatives on the
Board. Although numbers were rising, the constant apathy had not been
conquered. At the annual general meeting in 1957, the President once
again complained that "many parents are lackadaisical in regard to their
children's education and I regret to say that on many Sundays the
attendances are extremely disappointing." In 1958, with 110 children
in the schools and 80 on the Sunday class role, the Minister still reported
that "the situation could be improved if the parents would show more
From 1959 onwards the numbers of Jewish children fell steadily,
because the political situation had caused many parents to have their
children educated abroad. Religious classes, however, continued, but
with the same difficulties and the same obstacles. In 1960, the Minister,
in co-operation with the Board of Education, introduced a different method
of approach. The main difficulties have always been the tremendous
difference in ages (children attend from 5-18 years), the relatively low
standard of religious life in the homes of most of the children, the lack
of qualified teaching staff and the transport difficulties involved in assembling
children for classes (every child must be taken and collected by car). There
is also the often-repeated difficulty of coping with those children who attend
irregularly and infrequently and who tend to disrupt systematic progress
in teaching. In the past it had always been the policy to encourage as
many children as possible to attend classes, but it was decided that it would
be more advantageous to concentrate on those who would be more likely
to benefit from instruction.
It is perfectly clear that no teacher, no matter how effective or efficient,.
will cover successfully the considerable range of subjects involved in Jewish
religious education by teaching children for from two to three hours a
week, particularly if much of his teaching is of a purely theoretical nature
and will never be supported by religious practice in the home. The purpose
of the different approach which was introduced in 1960 was to overcome
all these various difficulties by changing the emphasis of the classes from
learning to practising. It was felt that children would be more likely to
show an interest in an activity rather than in the mechanical absorption
of information. In order to achieve this, projects for different age groups
were introduced, such as the building of a model of the temple in Jerusalem,
making new covers for the pulpit and reader's desk in the synagogue,
embroidering a "Mantle" for the Sefer Torah, making decorations for
the Succah, etc. A communal Friday night celebration was also introduced
where particularly those children who were boarders in the local schools
had an opportunity to attend the service and to participate in a traditional
Friday night celebration, where they could become acquainted with Kiddush,
Chala and Zemirot. The Board of Education also provided teaching
aids, such as film strips, tape recorder, records and a children's library.
The difficulties which have been described, and which appear to be
common enough in many Jewish communities, are due in the main to
the retention of principles in education which had been designed and were
appropriate for situations that have long since ceased to exist. If it is
not possible to equip the child with all the knowledge it requires for
a satisfactory practice of its religion, then it becomes the task of the
religious teacher to endeavour to awake in the child a love for his people
and their traditions and a desire on reaching maturity to pursue these
principles of faith. The aim should be to create an emotional identification,
rather than a theoretical familiarity with the principles and practice of
the religion, on which a future adherence will ultimately depend. Nor
should the teacher content himself with a despairing dismissal of the apathetic
or indifferent parent. If emotional identification is the aim, then that
can only be supported and increased by any attempt to draw the parent
into the orbit of the child's religious observance. Passover, Yom Kippur,
Succoth, Simchat Torah-almost any Jewish festival, lends itself to a
communal activity which will involve parents and children and thus serve
to emphasise its significance to the child. It is commonly accepted that
the home is the greatest factor of influence on the child. But the home
does, after all, only mean the parents. There is, therefore, every reason
why, if Jewish practice is neglected in the home, we should bring all the
family out together, to teach the child, help the parent and strengthen the
With the rise of Hitler in 1933, the Jewish community of Nairobi became
involved in a series of problems with refugees, internees, evacuees and
detainees which were to last for nearly 20 years.
The President of the Congregation was Edward Ruben and, within a
few months of the first anti-Jewish boycott in Germany, in April, 1933,
he called for action. At a time when many Jews in Germany did not take
Hitler very seriously and thought of his regime as a passing phase, Ruben
seems to have gauged the danger. On 20th June, 1933, he summoned the
Jews of Nairobi to a meeting to consider the "grave situation in Germany".
50 was collected on the spot towards helping any possible victims.
When Field Marshal Jan Smuts passed through Nairobi on his way to
London the community presented him with a memorandum on the situation
To: General the Right Honourable J. C. Smuts, C.H., K.C., F.R.S.
The Jewish community of Nairobi beg respectfully to submit this brief
address as a token of their sincere hope that you will have a comfortable
journey to Europe and that your efforts as a Delegate to the World Economic
Conference will meet with that happy and successful conclusion so earnestly
desired by all.
The Community recall with gratitude the efforts that you have so
consistently made in past years on behalf of the Jewish race and hope that,
although the subject may perhaps fall outside the scope of the World
Economic Conference, it may be possible for you to discuss with other Delega-
tes the question of the unhappy situation of Jews in Central Europe in the
hope that prevailing conditions may be alleviated.
The Community feel sure that you will concur that at such a time as the
present, when it is more than ever imperative that the peoples of all races,
nationalities and creeds should co-operate in the attempt to relieve the
existing economic depression, it is tragic that a particular race should be
singled out for persecution by those with whom it is their earnest desire only
President, Nairobi Hebrew Congregation.
A. L. BLOCK
(Signed) President, Kenya Zionist Organisation
I D. SOME
[ President, East African Jewish Guild.
3rd June, 1933.
Nairobi's representative at the Board of Deputies of British Jews in
London-Cyril Henriques-came out strongly in favour of a boycott of
German goods, but without success. "You will be interested to know,"
Henriques wrote to Ruben in September, 1933, "that I have been one of the
few members of the Board of Deputies to openly advocate the official decla-
ration of a boycott of German goods and services. We were badly out-
manoeuvred at the last meeting .... I am now doing all I can to organise
the various boycott activities in this country".
Soon, pathetic letters from German Jews began to come in, pleading
for help in finding new homes. On November 27th, 1933, the first refugees
arrived from Germany. There were six young men and one young woman
and a reception was held for them at the Rubens' house in Muthaiga. In
his presidential report for the year 1932-33, Ruben referred to the German
menace:-"The Jewish persecutions in Germany have naturally caused
your committee a great deal of worry and anxiety. We held meetings of
protest in collaboration with the East African Jewish Guild and the Kenya
Zionist Association. Reports of meetings and copies of protests were sent
to all the necessary individuals, including the German Consul in Nairobi .
Already some 200 has been subscribed to the relief fund. We are in
constant communication with the British Board of Deputies and the Jewish
Refugees Committee in London. Owing to the very generous offer of
some of our co-religionists in Kenya, we have been able to request the
Refugees Committee to send here six victims of the German fury."
Shortly afterwards, Ruben, at his own expense, published a "White
book" on the situation in Germany, which caused a considerable stir and
resulted in a demand from the German Consul in Nairobi that Ruben cease
his "anti-German activities", since it was felt that the treatment of Jews
within that country was a purely "internal affair" of the German Government.
The Congregation realized that the new danger threatening the Jewish
people was likely to involve them to a considerable extent and it was felt that
any action taken in Kenya should be carried out on behalf of all the Jews and
Jewish organizations in the Colony and not just by the Nairobi Hebrew
Congregation. A Kenya Jewish Board of Deputies was formed and held
its first meeting on December 17th, 1933. At that meeting it was proposed:-
"that the request from the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation that the Kenya
Jewish Board of Deputies take over the welfare of the German refugees in
Kenya and all matters appertaining thereto, be acceded to." This was
carried unanimously. The meeting also decided to request an interview
with Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister, His Majesty's Secretary of State, who was
due to visit Kenya and to whom the Nairobi Jews wished to present a memo-
randum concerning "the facilitation of the immigration of German Jews."
This interview was, however, denied them.
In February, 1934, another special meeting was held, under the chair-
manship of Edward Ruben, where Mr. Bloom of Tanganyika put forward
his views that "owing to the restricted immigration quota obtainable in
Palestine, it was necessary to consider the settlement of the German refugees
in other parts of the globe. He had in mind certain parts of Tanganyika
which he considered suitable and which he was led to believe he could
purchase at reasonable cost." The meeting resolved to appoint a sub-
committee "to discuss the possibilities of the settlement of Jews in East Africa."
Meanwhile, in London, efforts were made to provide a scheme whereby a
considerable number of Jewish families might be settled in Kenya. This
time the local Press reacted more favourably:-"It is an encouraging sign
of an improved outlook," stated the leader of the East African Standard on
May 7th, 1934, "that the Jewish leaders in the East African territories have
sufficient faith in the country of their adoption and in the passing of the
depression to be willing to put before a committee in London and the special
commission of the League of Nations interested in the re-establishment of
Jewish refugees from Europe, the advantages of settlement in this part of the
British Empire in Africa. . The proposal to distribute 1,000 Jewish
families, which might mean anything from 3,000 to 5,000 people. would
be an important addition to the non-native population. .. ."
As the pressure grew in Germany, Kenya and its hospitable Jewish
community was greatly favoured in London and other refugee centres.
In May, 1934, Otto Schiff, Chairman of the German-Jewish Emigration
Council, sent a cable:- "CAN YOU ABSORB TWELVE GOOD REFU-
GEES CABLE ACCEPTANCE", but, in a country with a tiny European
population, where every refugee had to be found a post on a farm as a "farm
manager", which more often than not involved paying the farmer to keep
him, it was difficult to accept even batches of twelve.
In 1936, Dr.Mark Wischnitzer, the Secretary General of the Hilfsverein
der Juden in Deutschland, visited Nairobi and met leading Jewish
representatives to discuss the settling of Jews and Jewesses from Germany
in Kenya. It was agreed that the Hilfsverein should co-operate closely
with a refugee committee which was to be formed in Nairobi, with Edward
Ruben in the chair and with Mrs. Dora Katzler as the secretary.
Refugees were slowly coming into the country and, at the request of the
authorities, being placed on farms all over Kenya. First preference was
always given to craftsmen and specialists in technical fields and this led
inevitably to a certain amount of difficulty. Asian representatives in Kenya's
Legislative Council objected strongly when Major Cavendish-Bentinck
proposed increased assistance for practicable settlement schemes. In the
course of a debate on August 9th, 1937, the new Jewish immigrants were
warmly recommended by Major Grogan. "These Jews are being trained.
We know what they are doing in Palestine, the almost unbelievable results
which have been achieved there in a very short time. . It is quite obvious
that the settlement of Palestine by the Jews is a limited possibility. .. There
still remains the enormous surplus which has got to be absorbed and placed
elsewhere. Why should we not focus our minds on these people who are
already being organised and trained?... There is no doubt [that] these
people are going to be people on whom we can rely in the future."
In August, 1938, the Jewish Cultural Society in Nairobi started classes
in English for the benefit of the refugees at the Vermont Memorial Hall and
in that same year the Kenya Jewish Relief Society was gathering funds from
local Jewish bodies in a desperate attempt to keep up with the growing need.
The negotiations in London, supported by a memorandum from Mr.
A. L. Block, resulted in the formation of the Plough Settlements Association
Limited, which continues to this day. Following certain initiatives taken
by the Council for German Jewry and the Central British Fund, the Plough
Settlements Association Ltd. was incorporated on August 17th, 1938, for
the purpose of settling refugees from Germany on farms in Kenya. It was
later agreed with the Colonial Office that the Plough Settlements Association
should be recognized as the channel through which all schemes for the
settlement of refugees in East Africa should be organised, but, for various
reasons, including the advent of the second world war, nothing came of this
The authorised capital was (and still is) 25,000. Among those approach-
ed with a view to participation in the project was the Jewish Colonisation
Association, who agreed to subscribe 5,000.
The first directors of the Company were:-
Mr. Walter Fletcher (Chairman)
The Hon. Peter M. Samuel
Mr. H. O. Lucas
Mr. Leslie B. Prince
Mr. D. D. M. Cohen
Mr. Leonard G. Montefiore.
In November, 1938, a recruiting commission went to Germany and
selected six married couples, one son and his mother, 18 unmarried young
men and one single woman. Some were from farming families, but the
majority were not, although they had received agricultural training.
A local committee was formed in Kenya in January, 1939, to look after
the immigrants on arrival and in general to act as a link between the Company
and the settlers. Its members were:-
Major Cavendish-Bentinck (Chairman)
Mr. J. M. Silvester
Mr. A. C. Tannahill
Mr. A. L. Block
Mr. E. A. Ruben
Mr. I. Somen
Col. O. F. Watkins.
Col. A. Dunstan Adams acted as executive officer, secretary and treasurer.
The immigrants came out in the early part of 1939 and, as a first stage,
were placed with various farmers for training. Before this stage was
completed the war broke out and the plans for their settlement on farms of
their own were held in abeyance. Nine of them eventually joined the
British Army; of the remainder, ten, who were by this time acting as managers
of farms, were deemed to be in essential employment and not available for
When the war ended and the Plough settlers came back from the army,
the question arose as to what action should be taken on their behalf. Most of
the original members of the local committee having resigned, the Board in
London approved a new committee as follows:-
Major E. A. Ruben
Lt. Col E. Hutchison
Col. A. Dunstan Adams.
All settlers were in, or able to obtain, good employment. However,
the local committee impressed upon the board of the Plough Settlements
Association that the plans for settlement on the land should be proceeded
with. The necessary capital not being available, a loan of 25,000 was
secured from the Jewish Colonisation Association and seven farms were
bought in various parts of the Highlands of Kenya, varying in size from 400
to 960 acres. The properties were purchased in the name of the settlers,
whose debts to the P.S.A. were secured by mortgage bearing interest at
44 per cent per annum.
In 1948, Mr. Leslie B. Prince, a member of the Council of the Jewish
Colonisation Association, visited Kenya and reported on the Plough Settle-
ments Association to the Council. Expenditure up to March 31st, 1948,
had been as follows:-
Purchase of farms and provision of working capital
(individual credits varying between 2,000 and
4,700) .. .. .. . .. 24,240
Personal advances to settlers .. .. .. 3,590
General expenses .. .. .. .. .. 1,110
TOTAL .. .. 28,940
Ten immigrants were settled on the seven farms (three were in partner-
ship). Only three of the ten were married; including the wives and children,
the total number of persons involved was twenty. The remainder of the
Plough immigrants had either left Kenya or were not in need of assistance.
As the Jewish Colonisation Association was now taking the major part, not
only in the finance of the Plough Settlements Association but also in its
control, it was decided to:-
(a) alter the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the P.S.A.
to bring them into line with those of the J.C.A. and thus transform
the Association technically into a charity;
(b) issue, or transfer from the existing shareholders, to the Jewish
Colonisation Association or its nominees fully paid shares for the
The first of these decisions was carried out in October, 1949, the second in
By 1950 some of the settlers had begun to make repayments on account
of capital, and the money coming in enabled the Association, in 1951, to
purchase one further farm for a settler who came to Kenya under the original
scheme and was still employed as a farm manager. In order to bring the
procedure into line with the normal practice of the Jewish Colonisation
Association the Association purchased this farm in its own name and installed
the settler as a tenant in the first instance. One of the farms was taken over
by the Association by cancellation of the first mortgage and another of the
original settlers was granted this farm on a tenancy basis.
During the following years and up to the present time, of the eight farms
purchased by the Plough Settlements Association:-
2 have been sold, one as the result of a death, one as the result of the
settler deciding to leave Kenya;
4 have been discharged of their mortgages to the P.S.A., one with
restitution funds received from Germany and three by means of
mortgages granted by the Land Bank;
1 is still under mortgage to the Plough Settlements Association;
1 remains the property of the Plough Settlements Association and is
occupied by settlers with the status of tenants.
As the funds accumulating from these transactions cannot be used in
Kenya, owing to the absence of new candidates for settlement who accord
with the Association's aims, the money is being repaid to the Jewish Coloni-
At the present time (March, 1962) the Directors of the Plough Settlement
Mr. L. B. Prince (Chairman)
Sir Keith S. Joseph
Mr. Edmond de Rothschild
The Hon. P. M. Samuel
Mr. L. J. Stein.
Back in Kenya, a new body was formed in December, 1939, called the
Kenya Jewish Council for Training and Settlement. Abraham Block was in
the chair. This new committee was to take over all activities concerning
refugees and their settlement. It was to be legally constituted and the Nairobi
Congregation was to contribute -/25 cents (3d.) per person per month to its
funds. The Council was also to take over the Upper Gilgil Training Farm
which their predecessors, the Kenya Jewish Refugee Committee, had pur-
chased in October, 1939, for 1,400, most of which had come from South
African Jewry. The purpose of the farm was to train Austrian and German
refugees as farm managers and then find employment for them. It was
situated just outside Gilgil, a small town some 70 miles N.W. of Nairobi.
The farm covered an area of 833 acres. 75 acres were first-class arable land,
a further 150 acres were suitable for grain, pyrethrum and other crops and the
rest was suitable for grazing. Just before the war, a four-roomed house had
been built and 15 oxen acquired to work the farm. At the outbreak of war,
the entire Gilgil area was declared a "military area" and the police refused
permission for any refugees to work there. The farm fell into disuse and all
work had ceased by February, 1941. It was subsequently sold by auction
in April, 1944, for 1,700, most of which was returned to South Africa.
By 1940, the war phobia had spread to Kenya and in one large swoop
all male refugees living in urban areas were interned. By a curious irony of
fate, many of the new internees were assembled in the Vermont Memorial
Hall, which, at the outbreak of war, had been commandeered by the Army
for military use. The men were subsequently transferred to a camp at
Kabete and the Government assigned the Refugee Committee to look after
their families. Mrs. Dora Katzler proposed a scale which Government was
to pay to help the committee in this:-
Women 10 per month plus medical care;
Children under five 2.10 per month plus medical care;
Children over five 5 per month plus medical care and
Children without parents 6 per month plus medical care and
However, Government finally agreed to pay the following:-
Women 8 per month;
Children under three 2.10 per month;
Children over three 4 per month.
Many of the internees joined the Forces and those for whom a job
could be found were released. Those, again, who lost their jobs in this
period were promptly interned. By November, 1941, almost all the men
had been released, only two remaining in internment, who were released in
July, 1942. At the height of the internment period, the Refugee Council
tried once more to find a suitable area of land on which to place Jewish
refugees for training in agricultural and pastoral pursuits. They first con-
sidered an area of land at Limuru, but when they were unable to secure this,
Abraham Block offered to the Council, free of charge, two properties he
owned, one comprising 54 acres, the other 1,609 acres, both situated some
six miles off the main road at Njoro in the Nakuru area. He further offered
to loan the land free of charge for the duration of the war and all revenue
derived from the farms to accrue for the benefit of the Council. The Council
was prepared to allow this farm project to be carried out under the guise of an
internment camp and to be administered under the general control of an
officer in charge of a guard. They further offered to invest some 500 on
livestock and implements in the establishment of the farms. The scheme
was once again vetoed by the military authorities, who were not prepared
to allow such a project in that area. In fact, the only area of Kenya in
which they would permit such a training farm was somewhere round Songhor,
in the Uasin Gishu area in the west of the country.
In the meantime, however, the internees themselves expressed the
gravest doubts about the project, which, they feared, would prevent them
from obtaining other employment and so being released. The Council
thought this to be a reasonable objection and the project was dropped.
In July, 1942, Government once more approached the Council with a
request that they should assist in placing 50 German Jewish refugees who
were to be evacuated from Egypt. This project never materialised but the
Council noted with considerable satisfaction that nearly all former refugees,
now released from internment and settled in employment, offered to accom-
modate and care for this new group.
As more and more of the German refugees found employment and began
to settle down it looked as though the main function of the Refugee Council
was at an end, but a new and even bigger problem arose. In September,
1939, when Germany invaded Western Poland, a vast number of Poles,
both Jew and Gentile, fled eastward. Later in the same month, the Russians
entered Eastern Poland and offered these refugees a choice of either becoming
Russian citizens and remaining, or of refusing Russian citizenship and being
classified as "Fascists and counter-revolutionaries". All those who opted
for the second choice were sent to camps in Siberia, Central Russia and
elsewhere where they suffered dreadful hardships and were compelled to
do the hardest forms of labour. After two or three years in Russia, a certain
number of these Poles were permitted to leave for Persia, from where 10,000
refugees were sent to East Africa. Some 5,000 were settled in camps in
Uganda and the other half in Tanganyika.
In order to cope with this influx of refugees, the Governors' Conference
of the three East African territories set up a special department, known as
the "East African Refugee Administration", under the leadership of Col. C. L.
Bruton, assisted by Col. Belcher. Each camp was under the direction of a
British officer, who was known as the Camp Commandant. There was
also a Polish commander, known as the Camp Leader.
As the trains began to pass through Nairobi with the Polish evacuees,
Mrs. Dora Katzler and her helpers stood at the railway station looking for
possible Jewish members in the transports and ready with a few simple
comforts and words of encouragement. Stories began to trickle through of
anti-semitic Poles, of gross discrimination by the Poles against the Jews, of
hardship and of suffering. In conjunction with the South African Jewish
Appeal and the South African Board of Deputies, the Refugee Council set
out to give what help they could. It was difficult to judge the situation from
Nairobi and, at the special request of the South African and Kenya Jewish
Communities, Mr. Arthur Abrahams, of Capetown, arrived in September,
1943. After discussions with Col. Bruton, Abraham Block and Mrs. Katzler,
and with the wholchcarted co-operation of the British administration, he
made an extensive tour of most of the camps to ascertain the true position.
At the time of Abrahams' visit, there were:-
Camp General population Jews
Koja 1,500 20
Masindi 3,200 26
Tengeru 3,500 37
Kondoa Rangi 500
A further two camps for "suspects and unreliables" were set up in Uganda
at Entebbe and Bombo, whose inmates included 63 Jews. There was also
a group known as evacuees, comprising anti-Nazi Austrians and Jews from
Cyprus, who had been evacuated from the Middle East when it was feared
that the Germans might invade that area. Most of these evacuees were
scattered over Tanganyika, where they found employment. They did not
live in camps.
In 1943, at the height of the war, most of these people were quite happy
and contented to be where they were. Apart from religious requirements,
they made few requests for help or assistance. The Nairobi Hebrew Congre-
gation undertook to supply Matzot to the camps, for which the refugee
administration provided free railway warrants. The biggest problem was
the lack of educational facilities for the children of internees and the Refugee
Council succeeded in placing a number of them in private schools, since
there were no vacancies in the Government schools. In fact, even the
possibility of taking up places in Government schools created a certain
amount of hostility amongst the local European population. There were
also six orphan children amongst the Polish Jews and concern for their welfare
was felt most strongly. Mrs. Katzler pleaded with Henrietta Szold to set
aside six of the precious certificates which at that time were being reserved
exclusively for Jews who had managed to get out of Europe. In due course,
the six orphans, escorted by a local Jewish woman, went to Palestine.
With the help of the local community, a synagogue was established at
Tengeru Camp in Tanganyika, which had the largest number of Jewish
inmates. As the war drew to a successful conclusion, the fate of the inmates
of these camps became more and more of a problem. The internees were
classed as Poles, regardless of their religion, and it was the intention of the
administration to return them to their country of origin at the cessation of
hostilities. It took a great deal of pleading in London, in Washington and
other countries to prevent such a terrible tragedy. The Refugee Council,
in a long, weary and expensive struggle, endeavoured to place each individual
and each family group in a country where perhaps they had relatives, or
where employment opportunities were good. Several hundred different
persons were dealt with and settled from one end of the world to the other.
The longer some of the inmates stayed, the more difficult their lot became,
the more discontented they grew with their fate and the more funds were
required to assist them. When Nairobi's Minister, the Rev. L. Weiwow, visited
the camps at the request of the Council in 1947, he found some 50 Jews re-
maining in the three camps at Entebbe, Koja and Masindi and, although
this was now two years after the war, they seemed to be in a much worse
condition than they had been at any time during actual hostilities. Eventually,
all the refugees were placed. For many of those who could not be found a
home abroad, employment and residential facilities were found in Kenya
and Tanganyika. It is interesting to note that towards the end of the war a
full half of the Refugee Council was composed of former refugees who had
found new homes and assumed joint responsibility with their erstwhile
benefactors. All activity ceased in 1950 and the Kenya Council for Train-
ing and Settlement was dissolved at a meeting of the major Jewish organisa-
tions where a resolution was passed:-"That the objects [of] the Kenya
Jewish Council for Training and Settlement having been entirely completed
and its existence having become unnecessary, the said Council be dissolved
and liquidated. . ." (19.6.58).
In the immediate post-war period, the Board for Kenya Jewry stepped
in once more to assist the many Jewish refugees and evacuees for whom
they had already done so much. By this time, many of them were applying
for naturalisation to become citizens of Kenya and the Board for Kenya
Jewry delegated Israel Somen to speak on behalf of those who encountered
difficulty. Many naturalisations which had been held up for some reason or
another were granted through his intercession.
In 1947, when it looked once again as if the problems of the various
refugees, internees and evacuees were finally coming to an end, the Jewish
community was faced with yet another Jewish issue. This time, however,
it involved them in a problem more delicate and more difficult than anything
they had had to deal with before. In March, 1947, a special train, guarded
by armed troops, brought the first consignment of Palestinian Jews who had
been detained and deported from Palestine for their activities as members
of the Irgun Zvi Leumi. A special camp was opened for them at Gilgil.
The community and its leaders were in a most equivocal position. The
atmosphere in the country was tense and the hostility generated by the
various incidents in Palestine was rapidly extended to Jews in general and the
local Jewish community in particular. Violent and abusive letters appeared
in the Press and demands were made that the local Jewish population should
declare its position in the conflict between Britain and the Jews of Palestine.
The Nairobi Hebrew Congregation, after a long discussion regarding the
detainees at Gilgil, resolved on March 24th, 1947, that "no individual
contacts should take place with the detainees, or with the Government about
the detainees, except through the executive of the Board for Kenya Jewry".
THE SYNAGOGUE AT THE GILGIL CAMP
In this conflict between the desire to help Jews in need and the equally
strong desire to uphold and remain loyal to the country of their adoption,
it was the British Army which offered a solution. On April 29th, 1947, Israel
Somen, as President of the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation, received a letter
from the Headquarters of the East Africa Command in which it was stated
that the Gilgil detainees had asked to be allowed to purchase cigarettes at
their camp which the civil and army authorities at that time were unable to
secure. "It has therefore been decided," the letter stated, "to approach
you as President of the Jewish Community here to ask, purely from a humani-
tarian point of view, for your assistance. It is emphasised that we approach
you solely from the welfare aspect and there is no obligation whatever, either
on your part, or on the part of any members of your community, to assist us...
It would be very greatly appreciated if you could bring this matter to the
notice of your committee and ask the members if, on our behalf, and purely
from the point of view of treating the inmates of the special camp as human
beings who stand in need of normal welfare facilities as much as any other
individuals, they are prepared to assist both this H.Q. and the Commandant
of the special camp. This letter is being addressed to you with the approval
and consent of the Civil Government of Kenya."
The Army having thus paved the way, the Jewish community once more
set out to do what it could to help this group of Jewish people in need.
They arranged for newspapers, general literature, sports equipment to be
provided. Other items, such as vegetables, fruit and milk, where these could
be obtained without affecting local consumption, were sent to the camp.
They also assisted the detainees to build their own synagogue.
Towards the end of the British mandate in Palestine, the detainees
became tense and restless and the community may well have been a little
apprehensive when the East African Standard of April 15th, 1948, carried a
bold headline across its front page announcing the escape of "Six Jews"
from Gilgil camp. This was the group led by Ya'Acov Meridor, who,
although they made good their escape, arrived in Palestine later than the
comrades they had left behind, who were returned to Palestine at the cessation
of the mandate.
SOME OF THE AGENCIES ASSOCIATED WITH THE KENYA COUNCIL
IN THE RE-SETTLEMENT OF REFUGEES
South Africa: S.A. Jewish Appeal-Johannesburg; Council for Refugee
Settlement-Johannesburg; S.A. Jewish Board of Deputies-
Johannesburg; S.A. Zionist Federation.
American Joint Distribution Committee branch offices in:-Berlin, Vienna,
Brussels, Prague, Athens, Tangier.
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society branch offices in:-Vienna, New York, Paris,
Jewish Refugee Committee-London.
Children and Youth Aliyah.
International Refugee Organisation.
The Australian Jewish Welfare Society-Sydney.
The Jewish Relief Association-Bombay.
Hilfsverein der Juden in Deutschland-Berlin.
The CHEVRA KADISHA-HEBREW AID SOCIETY
Many references to this organisation have already been made. It is
almost as old as the Congregation and membership has always been restricted
to those who were already members of the Congregation. Its intimate involve-
ment in religious life has, as we have seen, caused a certain amount of
confusion. Difficulties between the Society and the Congregation were
frequent. Apart from its function as a burial society it has also undertaken
charitable work amongst those Jews in Nairobi who needed help. In 1961,
it dropped the name Jewish Helping Hand and Burial Society and adopted
that of Hebrew Aid Society. It remains the only charitable organisation
for local Jews and makes itself responsible for such tasks as the support
of aged, destitute Jews in institutions.
THE OLD JEWISH CEMETERY IN NAIROBI
Reference to a Zionist Society was made for the first time at the annual
general meeting of the Congregation in 1909. It had a very spasmodic
existence. A stronger Zionist Association is mentioned in 1934 and
continued throughout the '30's. It was not, however, until the end of
the second world war that the Zionist Organisations came to be soundly
established. In 1944, a W.I.Z.O. branch was formed, with Mrs. Dora
Katzler as the first President, and in 1946 there is mention of the Friends
of the Hebrew University. At the annual general meeting of 1947, the
President of the Congregation expressed the hope that the Zionist Association
would resume its activities. In 1949, the Kenya Zionist Council was formed
and the Zionist Association resumed its activities under the name of the
Nairobi Zionist Society in 1950. The three organizations reached a peak
of effectiveness in the period 1955-1959, when the S.A. Zionist Federation
sent a full-time organiser to Nairobi. Main functions have been to
organise cultural and social activities for the community and to collect
funds for Israel. Since its inception in 1944, the W.I.Z.O. has collected
approximately 24,000 for W.I.Z.O. charities in Israel. The Kenya
Zionist Council has contributed approximately 65,000 to the Israeli
United Appeal, O.R.T. and the Jewish National Fund since 1949.
EAST AFRICAN JEWISH GUILD and THE VERMONT MEMORIAL
This grew from the East African Jewish Women's Guild in 1930 and
was established mainly through the efforts of the Rev. E.P. Ellis. It was
tremendously successful and catered particularly for the younger Jewish
people in Nairobi. It promoted cultural, social and sporting events and,
throughout its existence, shared local charitable work with the Chevra
Kadisha on an equal basis. It undertook the task of supervising the
building of the communal hall. The decision to build a communal hall
stemmed from the Congregation and was decided on at the annual general
meeting of 1934. A plot was obtained from Government, but funds were
difficult to come by in the 1930's. Following a generous legacy from the
estate of Simon Vermont, one of Nairobi's earliest Jewish settlers, the hall
was built on a plot adjoining the synagogue in 1937 and was formally opened
on May 19th, 1938, as the Vermont Memorial Hall. Early in the war,
the hall was commandeered by the Army who thus, although they paid
a monthly rental, deprived the community of its cultural centre. The
hall was returned to the Congregation in 1946 and was formally re-opened
by a dance on May 18th, although Government offices remained on the
plot until 1951. A special feature of the hall was the "Block" Library,
which was opened in September, 1938. The library contained books
of general and Jewish interest, but has now fallen into disuse. The East
African Jewish Guild lost its effectiveness in the 1950's. Many reasons
for this have been put forward by various members of the community.
It would probably be true to say that, whereas in the 30's and 40's the younger
Jewish generation, reinforced by children of refugees, spent their late teens
and early twenties in Kenya and so shared a need for a social centre, during
the '50's the pattern changed and most of the younger Jews, as soon as
THE SEDER TABLE AT THE VERMONT MEMORIAL HALL
they had completed their schooling, went to Europe for further education
or training. This restricted the Guild to an older, married and more settled
membership which had less need of it and allowed it to fall into disuse.
The Guild was finally wound up in 1959.
THE BOARD FOR KENYA JEWRY
This Board was first formed in January, 1934, under the title of Kenya
Board of Deputies. It was designed to represent all the Jews living in
the Colony, vis-ai-vis Government and the Press, and to take over the
duties of dealing with German-Jewish immigration. It has had a very
chequered career and appears to have been successful only in those periods
when the President of the Congregation, who would also be President of
the Board, took a particular interest in its activities. After the formation
of the special refugee committee, the Board became inactive. In 1944
it had been so far forgotten that the Congregation and the East African
Jewish Guild agreed to establish a Jewish Joint Standing Committee to
safeguard Jewish interests. In April, 1946, Israel Somen re-activated
the Board under the name of Council for Kenya Jewry. The Council
assumed its final name in that year-Board for Kenya Jewry. It levied
an entrance fee of 100/- per member organisation, plus 50/- per delegate
per annum. In 1948, Israel Somen, on behalf of the Board, undertook to
intercede for those whose applications for naturalisation had been refused.
The Board remains effective, but does not meet regularly. It meets
occasionally to discuss issues affecting the Kenya Jewish community, and
publishes a Jewish Newsletter circulated throughout East Africa.
THE KENYA JEWISH COUNCIL FOR TRAINING AND SETTLEMENT
This Council has been described at length in a previous chapter. It
was established in 1939 and remained active until all refugee problems
had been settled in 1950.
Apart from these major organizations a number of smaller societies
sprang up sporadically, particularly in the '30's when Jewish social life
was at its highest peak. In 1936, a Jewish Men's Cultural Society was
formed, which subsequently became the Jewish Cultural Society. This
organisation had ceased to be active by 1939. In 1938, there is a reference
to the Kenya Jewish Relief Society, which, like the refugee committee,
was superseded in the following year by the Council for Training and
Settlement. In 1946, we learn of the disbandment of the Jewish Social Circle
and, in 1950, the Nairobi Jewish Amateur Dramatic Society was in existence.
All these organizations came into being through the assistance and
support of the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation. Although at times they
caused a dilution of communal effort, the Congregation Council nevertheless
upheld any organisation which aimed at the strengthening of Jewish life
in Kenya. A number of attempts were made to co-ordinate the activities
of the various bodies. In 1934, invitations were sent to the Zionist
Association, the Kenya Board of Deputies, the East African Jewish Guild
and the Chevra Kadisha to meet the Congregation to discuss the centralisa-
tion of organizations and policy, but "considerable discord amongst members
of local Jewry having been reported, it was agreed to leave the matter in
abeyance." In 1946, David Somen summoned a special meeting of the
Congregation and proposed to unite the various Jewish organizations as
follows:-the seven existing organizations, namely the Nairobi Hebrew
Congregation, the Chevra Kadisha, the East African Jewish Guild, the
Kenya Zionist Society, the W.I.Z.O., Friends of the Hebrew University
and the Vermont Hall Committee, were to be amalgamated into three main
organisations-the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation, to deal with all spiritual
matters, the East African Jewish Guild, to deal with all cultural matters,
and the Kenya Zionist Organisation to deal with all national matters.
The proposal was not adopted by the meeting and was dropped.
In the course of time a process of "natural selection" reduced the
growth of societies to manageable proportions. Many have disappeared.
This has been an advantage in some ways leading to closer contacts and
concentration of effort, but there is no doubt that the passing of the East
African Jewish Guild has left a gap in the social and cultural fields which
has never really been filled.
OTHER JEWISH CONGREGATIONS IN KENYA
Three Jewish Congregations were established outside Nairobi. The
most important of these is the one at NAKURU, which was founded in
1941. At that time a large number of German-Jewish refugees lived in
and around Nakuru, because Nairobi was closed to them for "security"
reasons. There was also a strong contingent of South African Jewish
soldiers stationed in the area. In April, Capt. Menachemson, the Senior
Jewish Chaplain to the Union Forces, conducted the inaugural service
of the Congregation in a converted garage which became Nakuru's first
synagogue. The Congregation grew to a membership of 121. In 1947
it engaged its own Chazan, the Rev. F. Lichtenstein, one of the few Jewish
survivors from Germany, who had conducted the first Jewish service in
Berlin after its liberation by the Russians. A beautiful little synagogue
was built in 1956. Following the lifting of war-time restrictions, many
of the Congregation's members moved to Nairobi, whilst others left the
country. At the time of writing, membership had been reduced to 14.
Although there were never more than two or three Jews in the urban
centres of KITALE AND ELDORET a fair number of Jewish families lived
in the areas surrounding these two towns. In the late '40's, they formed their
own Congregation with a membership of about 18 families. Services
were held in the houses of members and the Nairobi Congregation usually
provided a Sefer Torah for the services. The activities of this small Cong-
regation have almost come to a stop, because most of its members have left.
TheMOMBASA Congregation had a very similar history to that of
Kitale/Eldoret. It was founded during the second world war by one of the most
remarkable Jewish men-O. Markus-who was one of the first Jews to settle
in Kenya. It never exceeded a membership of 12 families and held services in
the homes of its members, most of whom have since left either the town
or the country. Here, too, the Nairobi Congregation helped with the
loan of a Sefer Torah.
SOME NOTES ON THE STRUCTURE OF THE
It is impossible to make a precise analysis of the Jewish population
of Nairobi. There are general difficulties applicable to all European
groups. Lack of published statistical material is a serious obstacle.
There has been no population census since 1948, and this makes population
estimates progressively unreliable, particularly in view of the doubtful
migration statistics. It must also be considered that Europeans (including
Jews) might leave Kenya to have their babies or to die. A birth-death
or fertility rate cannot therefore be calculated with any degree of accuracy.
The age structure of Europeans (including Jews) is wholly unrepresentative,
because many (amongst Jews, almost all) persons in their late teens leave
Kenya to continue their education elsewhere, so that the 19-25 year
age group is barely represented.
The records of the community do disclose certain patterns which
are of interest and reasonably reliable. It is probable that the Jewish
population follows certain trends which are also characteristic of the
wider European population. At least half of the Jews who came to Kenya
did not remain. This is due partly to the fact that some came as colonial
or civil servants on time-limited contracts and partly to the difficult economic
situation which all new arrivals have had to face. Some Jews also left
because of the limited and fluctuating provisions for religious life and
For the general European population, Elkan ("Europeans in Kenya"-
East African Institute of Social Research 1957) quotes the following figures:-
1952 3,800 2,400
1953 4,800 2,600
1954 4,900 2,400
1955 5,700 3,100
1956 4,500 2,700
499 names of male Jews occur in the Congregation records from 1907-
1961. These have been extracted and, as far as possible, followed up.
Died in Kenya 93
In Kenya (1961) 173
The coverage of the Congregation records may be assessed from actual
Jewish burials. It should be noted here that a Nairobi City bye-law requires
every person of the Jewish faith to be buried in the Jewish cemetery. There
is no alternative. Burials, therefore, cover practically every known Jew,
whether he identified himself with Jews or not. 205 Jews are buried in
Nairobi's two Jewish cemeteries:-
Children (under 18) 21
Of the 113 men, at least four are known to be strangers (soldiers-but
not including those in the Military cemetery-prisoners of war, visitors)
leaving 109 Jewish males. 93 occur in Congregation records, so that 16
Jews (14.2%) lived and died in Nairobi without being mentioned in the
Countries of origin were known in 239 cases and show the diversity
of backgrounds represented in the small community:-
Countries of Origin
United Kingdom 38
South Africa 22
Israel (Palestine) 19
In 271 cases the occupation has
Here again, the very small Jewish
trades, professions and skills:-
19 Hotels and Restaurants
15 Agents ....
12 Company Directors ..
9 Medical .
8 Civil Servants
7 Businessmen ..
6 Clerks ..
4 Teachers (3 temporary)
3 Stores Superintendents
Motor Mechanics .
been ascertained from various sources.
unit shows a remarkable variety of
Factory and Workshop Managers
Jewish immigrants arrived and left in a steady stream throughout
the period under review, with occasional "bursts," particularly in the early
years and, of course, during the Hitler period and the immediate post-war
period. The following table, which shows first mentions in the
Congregation records (not the year of arrival), indicates how the Central
European refugees succeeded in establishing a settled existence, mainly
in Nairobi, in the later years of the war and in the years following it.
Mention in the records is in most cases associated with application for
NAMES OF JEWS OCCURRING IN THE RECORDS FOR FIRST TIME
Year Numbers Year Numbers
1907 14 1935 3
1908 14 1936 1
1909 9 1937 7
1910 5 1938 6
1911 3 1939 13
1912 10 1940 7
1913 14 1941 5
1914 11 1942 4
1915 1 1943 23
1916 1 1944 22
1917 7 1945 16
1918 10 1946 35
1919 4 1947 16
1920 8 1948 18
1921 7 1949 10
1922 1 1950 16
1923 10 1951 13
1924 2 1952 8
1925 7 1953 9
1926 7 1954 3
1927 3 1955 12
1928 15 1956 4
1929 6 1957 7
1930 7 1958 9
1931 6 1959 8
1932 3 1960 6
1933 9 1961 12
1934 12 -
An attempt was made to gain a more accurate picture of the Jewish
population from the information provided through a questionnaire sent
to 206 known Jews in Nairobi. 134 replies were received from 98 married
and 10 single (or widowed) men and 22 women (single, widowed or divorced).
The marital status of three men is not known. Nine of the marriages
are known to be mixed.
Most of the Jews came from Central Europe. Some of those whose
country of origin is described as the United Kingdom or South Africa
were not necessarily born there:--
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
. ... . 1 1
.. .. 11
Except for the years 1938 and 1939, immigration was small and fairly
evenly spread over the entire period under review. The '38/39 period
represents the final inrush of refugees before the war put an end to
emigration from Germany:-
YEAR OF ARRIVAL IN KENYA
Year Numbers Year Numbers
1904 1 1934 2
1906 1 1935 -
1907 1936 3
1908 1937 4
1909 1938 16
1910 1939 23
1911 1940 3
1912 3 1941 -
1913 1942 6
1914 2 1943 4
1915 1944 1
1916 1945 2
1917 1946 -
1918 1947 4
1919 1948 5
1920 1949 4
1921 1 1950 4
1922 1 1951 2
1923 1 1952 1
1924 1 1953 3
1925 2 1954 2
1926 2 1955 3
1927 3 1956 -
1928 1957 4
1929 2 1958 3
1930 1959 2
1931 1 1960 2
1932 1961 2
The occupational structure is diversified, but may resemble that of
the general European community:-
Hotels and Restaurants
Scrap metal dealer
Malaria Control Officer
Railway Employee .
Building Engineers ..
Commercial Branch Manager
Company Secretary ..
7 of these were former farmers in Kenya.
Many immigrants reported a change in their profession or occupation
as part of their adaptive process in a new country. By and large, the
changes do not appear to be significant in relation to the social status
associated with the occupations. The tendency to remain as nearly as
possible in the same status group is clearly indicated:-
CHANGES OF OCCUPATION
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
Fur Trade (U.K.)
Clothing factory owner
Dept. Store worker
Banking firm employee
Dept. Store owner
Editor, Econ Review
(later Export Manager)
P. & T. Engineer
Malaria Control Officer
Forty of the group were married in Kenya:-
Jewish marriages .. .. 26
Civil marriages . .. .. 13
Christian marriages .. .. .. 1
(with Christian-born partner).
Fifty-five married couples reported 103 births, 4 in Tanganyika
and 99 in Kenya. Boys and girls born in Kenya were evenly divided-50
boys and 49 girls. Twelve couples were childless.
Of the 134 Jews, 117 are, or have been, associated with the
Members present .. .. .. .. 114
Members past .. .. .. 2
Members Nakuru .. . .. .
but it is difficult to say if this proportion (117 :134) is applicable to the
general Jewish population as between members and non-members, parti-
cularly because the real number of Jews (including converted, half-Jews
and those who deny their origin) cannot be ascertained.
The general structure suggested by these tables would have been of
wider interest if it had been possible to relate them to the structure of the
European community as a whole. But that was thought to go beyond the
scope of the present study.
EXCERPTS FROM THE DIARY OF COMMISSIONER
N. WILBUSCH, ENGINEER
MOMBASA. Left the boat.
,, 14 MOMBASA. Saw town and market with Mr. Kaiser.
Left by special train.
15 NAIROBI (328 miles). Travelled 24 hours by the Uganda
Railway. Passed the plains between Makindu and Sultan
Hamud as well as the Kaptu and Athi Plains. Saw
numerous herds of antelope and zebra. Arrived at 5 p.m.
NAIROBI. With Mr. Kaiser to see Mr. Marcus.
17 NAIROBI-NAKURU. Conversation with Mr. Marcus
and Jewish farmers-Messrs. Sulsky and Block. Started
on the Uganda Railway; passed the Kikuyu territory, the
only locality where we saw a numerous population and
fertile agricultural land. Baggage left behind in Nairobi.
18 NAKURU (448 miles). Waiting, because of absence of
luggage and scarcity of porters. Visited mountains and
Njoro River with Mr. Kaiser.
, 20 NAKURU. Waiting because of scarcity of porters.
Luggage received and tent pitched.
, 21 NAKURU. Called on the Commissioner, Mr. D. Steward.
, 23 Camp on RONGAI RIVER (18 miles from Nakuru).
Started on a comparatively good road to Eldama Ravine.
Camp pitched near the Jewish farmer, London. Called
on the latter.
24 ELDAMA RAVINE (about 37-39 miles from Nakuru,
18 miles from Londiani, and 7,240 feet above sea level).
Visited Hotz, a Jewish farmer on the Molo; traversed 21
miles. Saw 7 or 8 Masai sheep and cattle flocks.
25 ELDAMA RAVINE. Wait and rest.
26 ELDAMA RAVINE. Waiting. Receive a visit from
27 Camp in the wood on the ELMERANET. Marched about
10 miles in the Podokarpus wood and bush. Camp on
28 Camp in territory between NESOI and KINJ UNO(about O
7' N. lat., 350 35' E. long.) Marched about 10 miles NNW.
No timber, no pasturage, no game, no people.
29 In the TERRITORY (about 0" 15' N. lat., 350 35' E. long).
Marched about 10 miles to the north. Elgeyo Hill to the
right. Crossed the Nesoi. Also crossed its small, left
tributary. No traces of any living thing.
January 30 The TERRITORY. 22 men went to the Ravine. Took
surveys of the mountains with the Theodolite. Separated
with 10 men for six days. 1 have drawn up this small
itinerary at the request of Major Gibbons, for the latter said
that we ought to meet at the end of that time on the Sirgoi
to proceed from there to the Elgon. Went four miles NNW,
saw a few antelope in the valley. Nothing but dry grass,
plains all round. No water.
31 The LOESOS RIVER. Went about 9 miles to the west;
first three miles, dry grass, then poor pasture grass, bushes
and trees. Saw several antelope. Passed a rivulet.
Collected samples of minerals; three marshy valleys.
Camped on the Loesos.
February 1 On the ELGORINI. Marched over 10 miles north on an
almost level plateau, covered with poor pasture grass.
Saw hundreds of antelope and zebra. Crossed one rivulet,
probably the Walerie, and then a second. No wood to be
seen. Camped on the Elgorini. A rhinoceros was feeding
near the camp.
February 2 On the ELGORINI. Went about 13 miles NNW along
the Elgorini on pastureland. Saw hundreds of antelope,
also wild pig and zebra. No traces of wood. Saw a few
palms on the banks of the Elgorini. At 12th mile we found
5 abandoned stone kraals in the bush. Here and there on
the river a straw hut which showed traces of human habi-
tation and had been recently abandoned. Did not see a
single man. Volcanic rocks everywhere.
3 The TERRITORY. Went towards the Ildalat. At 4th
mile found rapids about 25 metres high, on the Elgorini.
Proceeded about 31 miles north. Camped on a swamp
with hippopotami and storks, water buck and antelope cows.
4 On the KUBKONG. Marched about 61 miles NNW.
towards the Kubkong. At the 2nd mile, three stone kraals,
in one of them fresh traces of men; three skins, no people.
5 On the SIRGOI. Proceeded about 12 miles to the Sirgoi
eastward. No water. Went about 21 miles southward.
Camped near a small swamp. Antelope scanty at first, but
very numerous on the Sirgoi, also zebra and pigs. Crossed
the Kubkong three times, but found no other rivers or
brooks, all valleys dry.
6 Camp on SIRGOL Wait for main caravan. Make map
of the route. Went about 3 miles south during the after-
noon. Found no one.
S 7 On the SIRGOI. The porters' rice came to an end today.
S 8 On the SIRGOI. Waited for main caravan. No one
came. Hunted on the Sirgoi; cow antelope divided
amongst porters. Rhinoceros came near the camp.
February 9 Camp on the KUBKONG, close to the Boer farm. Pro-
ceeded back to abandoned main camp about 9 miles SE.
as far as the Boer farm on the Kubkong. Was told there
that Major Gibbons had gone to the Sirgoi four hours
previously. Left the porters here as they had become ill
through eating meat, and followed Major Gibbons to the
Elgeyo for about 7 miles with one porter and boy. Found
no one. Camped alone in the wood.
10 On the KUBKONG. Went alone about 2 miles west and
2 miles north. Found no one. Went back 7 or 8 miles to
the camp and sent Masai and one porter on further search
on the east side of the Sirgoi.
11 On the KUBKONG. Awaited message; at 11 a.m. there
was a small caravan of 11 men with rice, etc., from the
south. At 2 p.m. Masai and porter from the site of the
base camp with letter from Kaiser and rice.
12 BASE CAMP. Marched 14 miles NW. to the base camp.
Met H. Kaiser.
13 BASE CAMP. Kaiser went NW. to the Nzoia with 14
men. Remained with 8 men in camp.
14 BASE CAMP. Kept waiting for want of porters. Made
excursion of about 3 miles to Karuna with Masai and one
15 BASE CAMP. Read "The Uganda Protectorate" by
Sir H. Johnston.
16 BASE CAMP. Wrote daily report.
S 17 BASE CAMP. Made excursion with Masai NE. of Elgeyo
about 21 or 22 miles as far as the eastern slope and the
Kamnuro River and Kamasia. Numerous antelope every-
where. Met foxes, hares and zebra. Elgeyo about 2-21
miles wide. On the Elgeyo met shepherds and their
families, about 60 to 70 sheep and as many cattle. No
18 BASE CAMP. Delayed. Wrote report. Lion about
1,000 paces from camp.
19 BASE CAMP. Waiting. Wrote report.
20 BASE CAMP. Waiting. Kaiser arrived.
21 BASE CAMP. Headman arrives with rice.
22-26 BASE CAMP. Await, with Kaiser, Major Gibbons'
arrival. Mr. Foaker arrives with caravan from Eldama
S 26 BASE CAMP. Await Major Gibbons in order to march.
27 Camp on the ELGORINI. March back to Ravine, about
16 miles. Went east of Sirogi on the paths to Boer farm.
February 28 Last camp in the TERRITORY (about 3 miles N. of that
of January 29th about 00 17' N. lat., 35' 33' E. long).
Long march of about 16 miles along the Elgeyo boundary.
The rear of the caravan attacked by Nandi tribesmen. As
porters had no good guns, two loads were stolen and the
headman was wounded. Gibbons, I and 4 porters pursued
the Nandi about 5 miles. Could not find them. Crossed
several rivers: (1) the Elgorini, about 7 to 10 metres wide;
(2) the Enaiberi, about 8 metres wide; (3) the Esidon,
about 1 metre wide; (4) the Kibtschigori, about 1 metre
wide; (5) a rivulet about 1 metre wide.
March 1 Camp on the ENANDI-ANY, about 6 miles S. of the
boundary of the territory. Very difficult march, over 20
miles. Passed our camps of January 29 and 28. Passed
the Nessoi, about 3 metres wide. No game, no people to be
seen. In the afternoon passed the approximate boundary
of the territory. Camped about 6 miles S. of it. Enandi-
Any River, about 2 metres wide.
March 2 ELDOMA RAVINE. After march of 16 miles reached
Elgona. Passed forests of Elmeranet and Kongi, then
Eldoma Forest. Here found 5 Kamasia flocks of cattle
and goats; besides the Eldoma River, only the Elmeranet,
about 0.7 metres wide, and a few swamps with water. Told
that all cattle belonging to Boer farm stolen by the Nandi.
3 ELDOMA RAVINE. Rested. Kaiser and Major Gib-
bons left for Nakuru.
4 CAMP KONGONI. Started for Londiani with 5 porters
and boy. Travelled 14 miles, camped at Camp Kongoni.
Country very hilly. Road through the country is 3 metres
wide and hilly, but practicable for vehicles.
5 LONDIANI-NAKURU. Reached Londiani after a 3-
mile march. Started for Nakuru on Uganda Railway.
Met Gibbons and Kaiser.
6 UGANDA RAILWAY. Travelled all day.
7 Arrived MOMBASA.
8 MOMBASA. Went on board.
THE GROWTH OF REFUGEE PARTICIPATION IN
Attendance at Special
ind Annual General Meetings
Elected to Council
Members Hon. Off.
President + 2
KNOWN MEMBERSHIP OF THE NAIROBI HEBREW
PRESIDENTS OF THE NAIROBI HEBREW CONGREGATION
1904 06 H. Fein
1906 08 J. Marcus
1908 09 H. Fein
1909 10 H. J. Wolffe
1910 11 H. J. Wolffe/S.Silber
1911 12 H. Fein
1912 13 H. Fein/P. A. Raphael
1913 18 M. Harrtz
1918 19 P. A. Raphael
1919 20 M. Harrtz
1920 21 S. Jacobs
1921 22 M. Harrtz
1922 24 S.Jacobs
1924 25 M. Harrtz/S. Medicks
1925 26 S. Medicks
1926 27 A. L. Block
1927 28 S. Jacobs/B. H. Myers
1928 30 S. Medicks
1930 32 M. Radford
1932 34 E. Ruben
1934 35 S. Medicks
1935 36 J. Darevsky/D. Somen
1936 37 E. Ruben
1937 38 D. Somen
1938 39 J. Lewison
1939 40 D. Somen/A. L. Block
1940 42 A. L. Block
1942 43 D. Somen
1944 A. L. Block
1945 49 I. Somen
1949 50 D. Somen/E. Shirley
1950 51 E. A. Ruben
1951 52 S. W. Ellis
1952 53 E. A. Ruben
1953 54 S. W. Ellis
1954 55 A. L. Block
1955 56 H. Strauss
1956 58 E. Shirley
1958 59 H. Strauss
1959 61 A. A. Haller
1961 P. Katzler
MINISTERS OF THE NAIROBI HEBREW CONGREGATION
1909 11 S. Schlomowitz
1917 21 Rev. M. Kay
1926 27 Rev. A. K. Coblentz
1929 33 Rev. E. P. Ellis
1935 37 Rev. P. Rosenberg
1939 40 Rabbi Dr. O. Fischer
1946 49 Rev. Louis Weiwow
1950 52 Rev. A. H. Karwen
1953 59 Rabbi Dr. A. Ehrman
1959 Rev. J. I. Carlebach
1941 43 A. Rose
1943 44 Michael Kuczerov
1945 46 George Berg
EXAMINATION PAPERS FOR THE TRIP TO ISRAEL
GENERAL JEWISH KNOWLEDGE
1. Indicate the number of Jews:-
(a) in the World; (b) in Israel; (c) in America; (d) in Britain; (e) in East
Africa; (f) in Nairobi.
2. Indicate the position of the following Jewish personalities in State,
Religion, Art, etc.:- (a) Itzhak Ben-Zvi; (b) Isaac Herzog; (c) Jacob
Epstein; (d) David Ben-Gurion; (e) Israel Brodie; (f) Martin Buber;
(g) Golda Meir; (h) Yigael Yadin.
3. What is the meaning of the following words ? (a) Chassid; (b) Maccabi;
(c) Magen David Adom; (d) J. N. F.; (e) Knesseth; (f) Mapai; (g) Yom
ha-Atzmauth; (h) sabra; (i) W.I.Z.O.; (j) El-Al.
4. Describe the borders of Israel.
1. What kind of ceremonies do we observe on the following festivals?
Rosh Hashanah; Succoth; Pessach; Hanukah; Tu be-Shvat.
2. Why is the Book of Ruth read on Shavuoth?
3. Give the meaning of the following words:-Bimah; Sidrah; Haftarah;
Kaddish; Havdalah; Minyan; Chuppah; Talmud; Shulchan Aruch;
4. State briefly the basic beliefs of Judaism:
1. Indicate the importance of the following persons for Jewish History:-
Moses; David; Ezra and Nehemiah; Alexander the Great; Juda the
Maccabean; Bar-Kochba; Maimonides; Cromwell; Mendelssohn;
Napoleon; Herzl; Balfour; Weitzman.
2. Give the meaning of the following words:- Hellenism; Pharisees;
Saducees; Essenes; Emancipation; Chassidism; Zionism.
3. Indicate the historic event commemorated on the following days:-
Pessach; Chanukka; Lag-ba-Omer; Tisha be-Av; Yom ha-Atzmauth.
Most of the material for this study has been extracted from the Archives
of the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation. The African Standard and East
African Standard have provided much valuable information.
In addition, the following publications have been consulted:--
Elspeth Huxley-White Man's Country
Lord Delamere and the Making of Kenya, 2 vols.
Major A. St. Hill Gibbons-Alfred Kaiser-N. Wilbusch:-
Report on the work of the Commission sent out to examine the
Territory offered by H.M. Government to the Zionist Organisation for the
purposes of a Jewish Settlement in British East Africa.
G. W. B. Huntingford
I have also had an
Arthur E. Abrahams
-To Dwell in Safety
The story of Jewish Migration since
-Long is the Road to Freedom
-Edition of 1908, vol. XII.
-History of Zionism 1600- 1918.
-Nandi Work and Culture
Colonial Research Studies No. 4.
opportunity to consult the following unpublished
-Report on his Mission to East African
L.B. Prince & G. Aronstein-Possibilities of Jewish Settlement in Kenya
Memoirs of Mrs. Lily Haller (one of the earliest Jewish settlers in Kenya).
BAR MITZVAH (Heb.)
BRIT MILAH (Heb.)
lit. son of duty-religious maturity of boy
at age 13.
lit. covenant of circumcision- of male infant
at eight days old.
lit. measure of dough burnt in sacrificial ritual
-currently name for plaited Sabbath bread.
Cantor, also reader.
CHEVRA KADISHA (Heb.) lit. Holy brotherhood-voluntary organisation
carrying out burial rites.
lit. scattering-dispersion of Jews throughout
the world outside Israel.
GEFUELLTE FISH (Yiddish) lit. stuffed fish-traditional Jewish food.
HIGH HOLY DAYS/FESTIVALS-collective phrase for Jewish New
Year and Day of Atonement.
KEREN HAYESOD (Heb)-Palestine Foundation Fund.
Prayer of sanctification, usually over wine
at the commencement of Sabbath and Festivals.
Dumplings-traditional Jewish food (in soup).
Lit. prepared-food prepared in accordance
with Jewish Law.
unleavened bread-eaten for eight days at
Passover (q.v.) made from flour and water.
quorum of 10 males over 13 years old necessary
for communal prayers.
Men and women singing together. In Jewish
Law women may not participate.
Person authorised to perform ritual circumcision.
Organisation for Rehabilitation and Training.
International Jewish organisation for the
training of refugees and displaced persons.
Close adherence to Jewish Law.
PASSOVER Festival commemorating the liberation of
Hebrews from Egyptian slavery.
REFORM Movement which has discarded much of Jewish
law and tradition.
ROSH HASHANA (Heb.) New Year-occurring approximately Sept./Oct.
SEDER (Heb.) lit. order-first night of Passover celebrated
in a fixed order of events.
SEELSORGER (Germ.) lit. one who cares for souls-spiritual guide
SEFER TORAH (Heb.) lit. book of law-parchment scroll containing
five books of Moses-Holiest object in the
Jewish religion, used for public reading.
SHALIACH TZIBUR (Heb.) lit. messenger of Congregation-cantor.
SHEVUOTH (Heb.) lit. weeks-Festival of Pentecost following the
counting of seven weeks from Passover.
SHOCHET (Heb.) Person authorised to slaughter according to
SIMCHAT TORAH (Heb.) lit. rejoicing in the law-Festival celebrating the
reading of five books of Moses in one year.
SUCCAH (Heb.) lit. booth-small hut used during Succoth (q.v.).
SUCCOTH (Heb.) Festival of Tabernacles-mainly harvest. Jews
live in booths for one week to show faith in
God's ability to protect them in weather-exposed
W.I.Z.O. Women's International Zionist Organisation.
YOM KIPPUR (Heb.) Day of Atonement-highlight of Jewish Year.
ZEMIROT (Heb.) Table hymns-notably for Sabbath.
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