South African Jewish Museum

The South African Jewish Museum is a museum in Cape Town which pays homage to the Jewish communities of the diaspora.

Located along the “Museum Mile” in central Cape Town, South Africa Jewish Museum attracts many local and international visitors and is certainly an experience not to be missed.

The building offers visitors a truly unique experience with its bold architectural design, interactive multi-media displays and engaging accounts of South African Jewish history.

Visiting the South Africa Jewish Museum

The museum is a major attraction for visitors in Cape Town, and it can easily be understood why. Firstly, visitors enter the museum through the synagogue and at the entry point itself, one feels the beginning of a new journey.

The synagogue was the first one in South Africa which was built in 1863. Its presence is a stark reminder of the Jewish religion and culture.

Secondly, the museum's architectural features are very appealing-a blend of old and new, it incorporates the Old Synagogue into the complex. Moreover, the play of glass, wood and metal is a creative achievement that is a beautiful sight to the eyes.

An important feature joining the Old Synagogue to the new museum building is a drawbridge. This drawbridge is highly symbolical as it represents a ship's gangway down which many an immigrant must have walked on as they reached the shores of the cape.

The new building is called the Albow Centre. It houses the South African Jewish Museum Shop, Jacob Gitlin Library, Café Riteve and the first and only Holocaust Centre in Cape Town.

The Museum walk-through

On entering the museum, the visitors can see that the museum traces the history of the Jewish community in South Africa. The history of the Jewish community in South Africa starts with the story of the poor refugees who wanted to escape persecution in Eastern Europe, starting in the 1800s.

These refugees, with the evolution of time, were able to build up a community that commanded influential positions in the commercial, political and social life of their adopted country.

Another attraction is an exact model of a Lithuanian Jewish village known as a “shtetl”. One of the most meaningful displays, this model of the East European village is the place of origin of most Jews living in South Africa. It is both authentic and incredibly interesting.

In fact, there is a special family trees section in the Discovery Centre. This section provides information on an estimated 15 000 families from Lithuania, Latvia and Belarus who migrated to the southern tip of Africa between 1880 and 1930.

Other exhibits include Jewish art such as Jewish collections of rare Judaica artefacts, the world's finest Japanese Netsuke miniature carvings, unseen works by Irma Stern, Marc Chagall Hadassah and selected works of William Kendridge.

The museum provides multi-media displays of the history of the Jews in South Africa. Also, interactive touch screens and plasma displays in the South Africa Jewish Museum give a touch of modernity to it. This 21st century feel makes the South Africa Jewish Museum one of the most technically advanced museums in the world despite its fundamental historical context.

Exhibitions are constantly updated and changed but have in the past and presently, included unseen works by Irma Stern, works by Marc Chagall Hadassah, and selected works of William Kentridge.

Also, the award-winning documentary “Nelson Mandela. A Righteous Man” is screened every day in the museum.

Cape Town Holocaust Centre

The Cape Town Holocaust Centre serves as a place of tribute to the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust between 1933 and 1945. This place of remembrance of the murdered Jews lies on the first floor of the Albow Centre.

The racist ideology and the triumph of the human spirit is at the core of the exhibits and the consequences of prejudice, racism and discrimination are at the core of the message propagated by the Cape Town Holocaust Centre.

In order to highlight racial intolerance and its destructive effects, the exhibition draws a parallel with the injustices of apartheid.

The Holocaust Centre’s permanent exhibition is a series of text and photo panels, film footage, multimedia displays, archival documents and recreated environments. It also includes a look at the ghettos of the Third Reich, death camps, rescue and liberation.

A video of 20 minutes on the testimony of local survivors and photo display tell the story of these survivors, who adopted Cape Town as their new home.

Nazism was driven by a racist ideology and the centre brings home to all of its visitors in an incredibly visual and shocking manner the horror of mass deaths brought about because of conflict in the name of race, religion and ideology – a warning to us all.

Additional info:

The South African Jewish Museum serves an education, information and dialogue function that is complemented by its many exhibitions and cultural programmes.

The entrance to the museum is situated in the Old Synagogue.

It is open from Sundays to Thursdays from 10h00-17h00 and on Fridays from 10h00-14h00.

It is closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays, but remains open on public holidays.