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Herber House wasn’t perfect, but it served a purpose

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Thank you for your article about Herber House. I was a resident there from January 1947 to December 1953.
by Bernard Lapidus, Toronto | Sep 05, 2019

Yes, it was tough living in buildings that weren’t designed to serve as hostels. Due to circumstances, we, the non-indulged, made do.

We had a makeshift soccer field, and a sand tennis court. Also a small grassed area, with no benches.

Herber House was established by the South African Jewish Board of Education at the request of Jews living in country areas who wanted a facility for their children to attend city high schools and a Jewish/Hebrew education, especially for boys, to prepare them for their Barmitzvahs. Anyone who celebrated their Barmitzvah in the little shul on the premises followed by a brocha luncheon, catered in-house, still holds fond memories of that day.

Rabbi Zaltsman and Mrs Dubin weren’t qualified to do their jobs. They adapted as they grew into them. Remember, it was just after World War II. Trained psychologists weren’t available, nor were suitably trained teachers. Yes, the meals weren’t the most appetising and in many cases, were inadequate, but circumstances dictate.

Imagine the responsibility of 120 kids, leaving at 07:00, Monday to Friday, returning between 13:30 and 17:30, catching public transport, some two buses there and two back, at about eight different schools. The furthest were Jeppe Boys and Girls High Schools in Kensington .The nearest were the Jewish Government School in Doornfontein and Barnato Park in Berea.

The matric results achieved by Herber House alumni, their achievements in their respective extramurals, as well as their success in later life says a lot.

The late former chief rabbi, Louis Rabinowitz, was originally opposed to the establishment of Herber House until he went to interview the headmaster of Maritz Brothers College about arranging for cheder/Barmitzvah lessons for Jewish boarders in the hostel. The response he got was, “We look after our own.” After that, he supported the establishment of Herber House.

The first four residents of the home, who arrived in April 1945, were the late Riva and Mannie Wainer, their brother Barney, now living in Israel, and Michael Yachad, living in Toronto.

Michael captained the Transvaal Under-19 rugby team before a badly broken leg ended his rugby career.

I was involved in organising the first house reunion in about 1990, and one in Israel in 2007. I also published a twice-yearly newsletter for many years.

Herber House served a most useful purpose as the only options at the time were a couple of boarding houses run by retired rabbis or the public-school hostels. The majority of us came from country areas from as far south as the Karoo all the way to the copperbelt in Northern Rhodesia/Zambia.

I started my school career boarding with the headmaster of the local school, and then spent three years at the convent. In those years, I learnt all about Jew hatred and anti-Semitism. Herber House, with all its flaws, was a breath of fresh air. Was I always happy there? No, but I made do. 

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