Thursday, September 7, 2017

A Synagogue in Mozambique

Mozambique is not the first place one would expect to find a stately Portugese-Baroque synagogue. Nevertheless, there is. And while for many years it was used for other purposes, there has been a small revival of Jewish life on the island because of this synagogue.

Jewish life in Mozambique began in the late 19th century, when the island came under Portuguese control. Jews came from many places, creating a mix of both Ashkenazim and Sephardim. In the late 1890s, Reverend Dr. Joseph Herman Hertz was exiled from Johannesburg for his pro-British sympathies. He spent one week in Mozambique and, during that brief time, he convinced the community to organize. In 1899, Congregation Honen Dalim was created. Soon after,  a cemetery with a small chapel was created. Building a synagogue was next, which was consecrated in 1926, when Laurenco Marques (now Maputo) had fewer than 50 Jews. The 1920s and 1930s saw a steady increase in Mozambique’s Jewish population. It peaked in 1942 at close to 500. After the war, Jews were fairly quick to move on.

The Portuguese left Mozambique in 1975, and the new government was headed by anti-religion Marxists who took possession of the Honen Dalim Synagogue. By then, the synagogue was rarely used and its Torah scroll had been sent to South Africa for safe keeping.

This could easily be the end of the story for Jews in Mozambique. In 1989, however, a man named Alkis Macropulos (not Jewish) organized a campaign to reinvigorate the Jewish community and, as a result, the few Jews living in Mozambique began to get involved. The synagogue was restored (rededicated in 2013). Their original Torah scroll was found but discovered to no longer be kosher, and a new Torah was gifted to them by the South African Jewish community.

1 comment:

larryjerusalem said...

I am not a follower of your blog, and I frankly don't know your connection to Mozambique or where you got your information, but as the leader of the community for 16 years or so until last year, allow me to respectfully correct some errors and add a bit to your posting.
1. Mozambique is not an island (you confuse it with Madagascar). It is a large (size of California) coastal country in the southeastern part of the continent.
2. The synagogue is in the capital city of Maputo, on Av. Tomas Nduda and not as noted
3. The synagogue and Jewish community have been in "revival" for quite some time, most notably since the 2012 renovation of the building and since the 2010 formal re-establishment of Honen Dalim - Comunidade Judaica de Moçambique, which is the official name of the community.
4. Rabbi Hertz was expelled from the Transvaal by Paul Kruger. However, it's doubtful that there were ever as many as 500 Jews in Lourenco Marques.
5. The story of revitalization of the community in the late 1980s is quite interesting and Alkis Macropolous indeed played a key role, along with an Israeli named Peter Milic. Both remain friends and supporters of the community to this day. But many others deserved to be named, among them Etavaldo Hipolito, Rogerio Fonseca Levi, Daniel Hirsch, Crista Lien, Sam Levy, and many others.
6. My wife, Diane, and I played a role from 2000 on in reorganizing the community and ensuring that services were held every Shabbat and holiday. We were joined by many long-time and temporary members of the community. In 2010 we formally reestablished Honen Dalim, recognized by the Government of Mozambique. We celebrated the first bat mitzvah in the history of Mozambique, of Julia Becker-Vaz, in 2009. Under the wonderful leadership of Andrew Davey, we completely reconstructed the synagogue, maintaining its architecture and main features. No one who visits the synagogue fails to remark on its beauty. We celebrated the first two bnei mitzvah since before independence, of the brothers Jordan (2012) and Gabriel (2013) Silva. And we celebrated a wedding and many simchas.
7. The community continues to thrive under the leadership of Sam Levy and his wife Lauren. Sam and Lauren welcome all visitors and they have even established a kosher guest house alongside the shul.
8. Meanwhile, Diane and I have established the Friends of the Jewish Community of Mozambique, a fully registered 501c3 non-profit organization whose purpose is to support the community, the synagogue and Jewish activities in Maputo and Mozambique. 100% of contributions are used in this way with 0% administrative costs. Anyone interested in either contributing to the community or wishing to visit and make contact may contact me at larryjerusalem@gmail.com.
Sincerely, Larry Herman