Monday, March 31, 2008

The Jews Of Zimbabwe

In light of the elections in Zimbabwe, James Kirchick writes on Contentions about the Jewish community there:

Zimbabwe’s small community of Jews — numbering no more than 300 — is particularly vulnerable, as most of them are elderly. Due to the massive inflation of the past 8 years, their savings have disappeared, and many depend on families abroad or on Jewish philanthropy. (Peter Godwin’s recently-published memoir, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, is a searing account of one Jewish family’s struggle to survive in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.) Mugabe is prone to anti-Semitic outbursts, and has long expressed support for Palestinian terrorist organizations. Though they are numerically small and represent no threat whatsoever to his regime, the Jewish community of Zimbabwe would be an easy group for Mugabe to scapegoat as he sinks to even further levels of desperation.

Claudia Braude has a piece in this week’s Forward reporting from Harare on the state of the Zimbabwean Jewish community. She writes that contingency plans are being drawn up by an African Jewish organization to help Zimbabwe’s Jews emigrate should they find themselves in physical danger following the election. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Israeli government sponsored a series of heroic missions to rescue Ethiopian Jews wishing to flee oppression and make Aliyah. Perhaps the time has finally arrived for another Operation Moses.

I had no idea at all that there was a Jewish community there. According to the Zimbabwe Jewish Community website, their website:
nearly 110 years of Jewish Communities in Zimbabwe and help record the history and details of a unique period for the benefit of both current and future generations. From a peak of some 7,500 Jews in the early 1970s - the total Zimbabwe Jewish community in 2006 is approximately 270 souls (from 294 in 2005). This is the story of a once vibrant community who settled for many different reasons in what was originally Rhodesia - later to become Zimbabwe. Time however, is of the essence as the numbers of those that can "tell the story" and the remaining community dwindle.
The Jewish Virtual Library traces the Jewish community in Zimbabwe to early immigration from Russia and Lithuania:
In 1894, the first synagogue was formed by 20 Jews in a tent in Bulawayo, Rhodesia. The second community arose in Salisbury (Harare) in 1895; a third congregation, which has remained small, was established in Gwelo in 1901. By 1900, 400 Jews lived in Rhodesia. The first Jews came by way of the southeast coast through Portuguese Beira.

Rhodesian Jewry was always very active in regional and international Zionist activities. In 1898, the Central African Zionist Organizations were established in Bulawayo as the Zionist supervising organization in the region.

In the 1920s and 1930s, several Sephardic Jews arrived from Rhodes. By 1921, census data reported 1,289 Jews living in Rhodesia. In the late 1930s, several German refugees, moved to the country fleeing Nazi persecution. Following World War II, Rhodesia witnessed a period of economic prosperity; consequently a number of Jews arrived from South Africa and England.
A variety of links to various sites about the Jewish community of Zimbabwe can be found at Jewish Zimbabwe

Read posts about other Jewish communities.

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