Located next to the oldest synagogue in the country and the Holocaust Museum, in Company’s Gardens, the South African Jewish Museum has a grand, sand-coloured wall that’s unmissable from the street. The interior is modern, with an exhibit that focuses on the history of Jews in South Africa.
“A moving tribute and detailed account of one of the great Jewish communities of the diaspora, this museum is one of Cape Town’s not-to-be missed heritage experiences.” (Conde Naste)
Situated in the midst of arguably the most interesting and historic urban square miles in the country, and on a campus that includes SA’s first synagogue, the museum is nevertheless a marvel of modern architecture, and one whose contents mirror this fusion of the old world and the new.
See the museum’s drawbridge feature, connecting the Old Synagogue to the new museum building, which symbolizes a ship’s gangway along which immigrants would have been expected to walk. The staircase is worth noting too.
This chapter begins primarily in the 17th-century, as Jews were among the directors of the Dutch East India Company, and runs through its rapid 20th-century expansion, with a compelling chapter on Jews during apartheid.
The museum’s sleek, gleaming interiors house a range of wonderful and engaging interactive displays, audio-visual presentations and rare and fascinating artifacts, taking visitors on a journey back to South African Jewry’s early roots, and painting a portrait of a community who were extraordinarily influential in the building of South Africa as we know it, and who continue to thrive and impact society at every level.
The museum also looks back fondly at the origins of SA Jewry hailing from Eastern Europe and elsewhere (and featuring a wonderful recreation of shtetl life) and traces the cultural history of Jews, Jewish life and Judaism in general.
The museum is of interest generally and to those who are not Jewish. The Nelson Mandela-an honourable man section is fascinating. There is also an excellent section on District 6, really getting to the heart of what it was like here and the impact of the forced removals.
Try tasty breakfasts, coffee and cakes to lunches at the museum’s Kosher Café Riteve restaurant.
As an added attraction, the museum is home to one of the world’s finest collections of Netsuke (Japanese miniature art).
Note: ID or Passport is needed here.
Do also visit the next door Cape Town Holocaust Centre, a museum and memorial and the Grand Synagogue, the oldest in the country.
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