Southern Africa Diaspora Part I: Growing Up

Within the Jewish community in British Columbia, there is a large contingent of folks who have immigrated from South Africa and the surrounding countries, a unique community whose experiences the JMABC has had the opportunity to document through oral history interviews. These interviews cover both their experiences in BC and those during their time prior to arrival here. A familiar story to be found in the Southern African Collection is about experiences in the Jewish youth movement Habonim, and going to camp with a specifically Jewish and Zionist focus. There is an undeniable appreciation for friends, community, and nature that, when fostered from a young age, obviously has a lasting impact. You can hear it in Irma Schneider’s voice as she talks about attending Habonim Camp in the December summers, where her older cousins were roshim (leaders).

Having grown up in Johannesburg, Merle Linde reflects on Sunday mornings spent running ‘errands’ across town and with her father and the remarkable work he would do to help local charities and individual members of the community. Their tasks were diverse and somewhat eclectic, from eating fish and chips to filling their rose garden with truckloads of oranges.

This volunteer work had a deeply personal impact as it was Merle’s father’s involvement with Cotlands Baby Sanctuary that allowed them to adopt her, a Jewish baby, which was quite difficult at the time due to restrictive laws.

In this clip we hear David Kaplan reflect on his experience growing up and going to school in Johannesburg, and the sense of belonging felt among peers in a community made up of other Jewish families and immigrants from southern Europe. In many ways it sounds very similar to the school experience here in Canada; it’s reassuring to know that these basic common experiences extend across generations, time and place, and curious to think all about the things that might have been different.

And, if you thought Vancouver had good beaches, you’ll have to listen to Michael Braude talk about weekly train rides to swim at Muizenberg Beach.

In later years, it became more difficult to overlook the political and social situation in South Africa. We’ll explore recollections from those years in our next post in this series.