In an era when Jews were persecuted throughout much of the Old World, Jews were often among the first to venture out to the new frontiers, attempting to start life anew and rebuild their communities in a place void of the hate and antisemitism they had encountered.
A volume I acquired this week tells the tale of one such community of Jews, that of Bulawayo, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe of today). On the free-end of this volume titled Outlines of Jewish History, published in London in 1910, appears a paste-down dated 1912 with an inscription given to a student, Jacob Lazarus. The book was gifted to him in honor of his general excellence by the leader of the small but strong Jewish community, R. Moses Isaac Cohen (1876-1939).
Jews were among the first Europeans to settle in Bulawayo; the first white child born there, in April, 1984, was Jewish. The same year, the first newspaper, the Matabele Times and Mining Journal, was founded and edited by a Jew, William Francis Wallenstein, and the same year, the first synagogue was founded.
By 1900, there were 300 Jewish residents, and they invited a rabbi from London, the above-mentioned Moses Isaac Cohen, to lead the Bulawayo Hebrew Congregation. The first mayor of Bulawayo was a Jew, I. Hirschler (1897-98). Later Jewish mayors were E. Basch (1907-11), H.B. Ellenbogen (1927-29), C.M. Harris (1934-36), A. Menashe (1965-67), and J. Goldwasser (b. 1968).
For a remote and relatively small Jewish community, Bulawayo Jewry had a rich and active communal life. In 1958, when a Jewish day school, Carmel, was founded, 158 Jewish students attended – 57 percent of the Jewish students in the city. The community was sufficiently established that a breakaway was formed in 1956. Following the independence of Rhodesia and the civil war that followed, most of Bulawayo’s Jews, now in Zimbabwe, emigrated, and the community now has dwindled to a small number of mainly elderly members.