Jewish Pioneers Memorial Museum Port Elizabeth South Africa
The Port Elizabeth Orthodox Hebrew Congregation was formed in 1903; members were mainly Eastern European Jews who came to South Africa after severe pogroms and persecution in Russia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. On 12 December 1912, Rabbi J.L. Landau consecrated the Raleigh Street Synagogue.
A brief history of the Jewish Pioneers’ Memorial Museum by Effie Schauder (curator)
The Port Elizabeth Orthodox Hebrew Congregation was formed in 1903 with members who consisted mainly of Eastern European Jews who came to South Africa after severe pogroms and persecution in Russia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. On 12 December 1912, Rabbi J.L. Landau of Johannesburg consecrated the Raleigh Street synagogue.
Orlando Middleton, a leading architect, designed the beautiful building, which Kohler Brothers built. The design is predominantly in the Art Nouveau style with turrets and keyhole windows showing Byzantine influence. The exquisite Hebrew lettering over the front entrance are the words of our patriarch, Jacob, when he arose from his dream and said, “Surely this is the House of Hashem and these are the gates of Heaven”.
Rabbi Vilentzick, Chazan Reverend Sandler and Mr. Greenblatt the Beadle succeeded Reverend Hilkowitz, the first spiritual leader at this synagogue. They served the community until 1954 when the Port Elizabeth Orthodox Hebrew Congregation (Raleigh Street Shul) and the Western Road Hebrew Congregation amalgamated. The magnificent, historic, Western Road Synagogue, the second oldest synagogue in South Africa was sold and demolished and the Raleigh Street shul closed its doors. A group of concerned congregants felt that this should not be the fate of the Raleigh Street Synagogue; they bought the building and formed “The Synagogue & Youth Foundation”. Unfortunately, the building stood vacant for several years and vandals moved in who broke windows, lit fires on the floors and stole brass fittings, including the magnificent chandelier.
The only source of income to the Jewish Pioneer’s Memorial Museum is from donations, bequests and endowment of seats in memory of forebears; restoration at Raleigh Street shul occurs whenever funds become available. Among donations received by the museum is the beautiful chandelier, a replica of the original.During the 1980’s, the Department of Architecture at the University of Port Elizabeth expressed interest in the Art Nouveau building and in 1986, with their assistance, the building was declared a National Monument and the Jewish Pioneers’ Memorial Museum was born.