Herber House: 'A Hostel for Jewish Children (Prt II)



Stuart Buxbaum holds an honours degree in Sociology from Wits University (1970) and an honours in Judaica from UNISA (1984). After working in the social research unit of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies in the early 1970s, he farmed for many years in Mpumalanga.

This is the second part of my paper looking at the establishment, running and final closure of Herber House, a hostel for Jewish schoolchildren in Johannesburg established under the auspices of the SA Board of Jewish Education (SABJE) in 1943. The first part appeared in the Rosh Hashanah 2019 issue of Jewish Affairs (HH(1)).

Classes, a Bar Mitzvah and some demography

In December 1946, a very detailed report was conducted by Isaac Goss, then assistant director of the SABJE, who had done an assessment of the Hebrew classes at Herber House. Five classes were being held, namely Hebrew writing and reading, prayers, history, chumash and siddur. (At a prior meeting, held 8 September, it had been decided that Mr Saltzman would introduce a haftarah class). Classes, divided according to age, were of roughly an hour’s duration and held daily. With a few comments and reservations, Goss was pleased with the progress shown in this fledgling Jewish school, the forerunner of the modern day schools in the city.

Premises of the first King David class, Herber House

Premises of the first King David class, Herber House

Also in December 1946, Mr Saltzman provided details of a Bar Mitzvah that took place at the hostel. He found particularly gratifying a comment made by a parent in this regard: “I saw in The Herber House the vibration of the Jewish soul, and carried away with me a new faith in our youth and a new hope for our community.” It was suggested, at a later meeting in 1951, that the first Bat Mitzvah be held on Shavuot of that year.

With the end of World War II, some structural changes and population movement in the community became apparent. There was a greater thrust towards urbanization, something reflected in eight mostly senior girls leaving the hostel as their parents had established homes in the city. This trend would continue. In the New Year, there would be 83 boarders, of whom 32 were girls.

After the establishment of the King David Primary School in 1948, the importance of Hebrew lessons at the hostel gradually diminished. These classes would become part of the curriculum at the day school. And the character of the hostel would change. It would become almost purely a Jewish boarding school, without a pedagogic justification.

And yet… The cheder system in the small towns, with all its limitations, could not prepare the young boarders for a demanding Hebrew syllabus at the school. Those who were “backward in Hebrew” needed and were receiving special tuition from Mr Saltzman (18/2/1951). The figures are interesting: 25 new boarders had enrolled at the start of the year, all but two of them from the country districts. There were now eighty children in the hostel, of whom 35 were attending King David. The majority of the children were aged between ten and thirteen. The vast swathe of the country that formed the reservoir for the hostel led again to a discussion about the possibility of establishing a similar institution in the heart of the country, in Bloemfontein (10/7/1951). Meanwhile, the previously independent committee which had served the hostel had now become a part of the larger Institutions’ Committee of the SABJE, whose purview of services had by now been greatly extended.

Commissions, Reports and Inquiries: could they provide the answers?

The Hostel had now been established and been running for six years. King David School had been founded and with it, the Hostel’s need for providing Jewish instruction was declining. Increasingly, the committee’s focus became more inward looking. How successful an institution was it? Was this dwelling place comfortable for children living away from their families? Were living conditions hygienic? Was the quality of the staff such that it could act “in loco parentis”? Could they assuage the feelings of loneliness, of home sickness? Could they sympathetically provide comfort to the very young children? Was the physical living environment, made up of separate buildings of poor quality and not built to purpose, suitable at all for the delicate task of raising children away from home? And the crucial question: How was the image of the hostel being portrayed to the larger community?

A sequence of investigations was set in motion when a request was made by Mr I.H Harris to release Mr I Kahanowitz from the Hebrew Teachers’ Seminary so that he could take up duties at King David School (18/2/1951). Harris was impressed with Kahanowitz’s abilities. The experience of having previously been employed at a Natal boarding school brought a perspective to bear on his report of the hostel’s shortcomings.

  1. The Kahanowitz Report

This report focused on the structure, organization and abilities of the staff. Mr Kahanowitz found that there did not seem to be adequate co-operation between the children, housemaster, matron and staff, and that staff members did not seem to have clearly defined duties. He suggested that the matron have nothing to do with the spiritual side of the hostel, and that there should be an increase in staff numbers. Mr Saltzman was responsible for eighty children and it was difficult for one person to cope with so many children and their problems.

Discussing the report (18/8/1951), Goss stated that there was a reluctance, especially among Hebrew teachers, to delegate authority and that the housemaster was loath to delegate control to others. Importantly, he stressed that there was an acute shortage of trained personnel “and that even Israel did not have better people in similar institutions” [my emphasis]. Indeed an admission of a considerable problem.

Mr Froman entered the discussion. He found himself in two minds about Saltzman (who it must be said set the tone for the institution). He did his work, said Froman, but on occasion needed “pulling up”. The frustration is evident. Even more directly, Froman referred to the shabbiness of the institution and to its high level of congestion. Dr Mendelow, the school’s medical officer, also emphasized this, reporting that the dormitories were overcrowded.

b) Commission of enquiry

The Kahanowitz Report raised many concerns. In response, a commission was formed to examine these matters in greater depth. The members consisted of well-known communal leaders: Messrs Froman, Porter and Goss, as well as a secretary. Two points received especial attention. One concerned the working relationship between Mr Saltzman and the matron, Mrs Dubin. The second was the very vexing and worrying allegation raised by Mr Harris that the boarders were ‘repressed’ - a rather generalized term. Harris intuitively felt that the boarders experienced a lack of freedom, that they felt controlled by the staff, the hostel environment and its rules and regulations and the lack of recreational facilities.

Mrs Froman distanced herself from the prevailing dismal outlook of the committee. She said that there was a great deal which was good in the House, and thought that the discussion was conducted in too much of a pessimistic vein. She also wished to correct the impression that the hostel was not being run properly (18/8/1951).

Goss took a modern managerial stance. His thoughts were that the person in charge of the hostel should also look after the other institutions of the Board. His view was that such a person would have the qualities of a multi-talented executive type manager. So as a first step, they would separate and delineate the conflicting roles of Mrs Dubin and Mr Saltzman. The former was tyrannical, the latter temperamental [my comment]. Mr Froman reported that he had taken away Mrs Dubin’s jurisdiction connected with punishing children and delegated them to Saltzman. She was in the future only to make a note of the children misbehaving and hand them to the committee. Whether she would abide by this bureaucratic measure was doubtful.

Isadore Kahanowitz in later life

Isadore Kahanowitz in later life

The issue that seems all this time to not have been broached in the minutes concerns the reality that the hostel was co-educational. This was a rarity among school boarding houses which were usually monastic. Here Mrs Dubin is quoted as being “very strict as far as the segregation of the sexes was concerned.” Mr Porter offered a gentler approach, “that the staff was called upon for a very tactful handling of the children”. The nub really was the quality of the supervisory staff. “The housemaster”, said Porter, had to have “a certain flexibility of mind”. But in even starker terms, Goss saw the crux of all the complaints being “…the alleged inhuman and unsympathetic attitude of Mrs Dubin to the children.” (22/8/1951).

One week later Mrs Dubin was called to appear before the committee. She reported on general housekeeping matters, and deplored the fact that the dormitories were overcrowded. Questioned about her relationship with the boarders, she said she “had no difficulty with the smaller children and the girls, but a group of bigger boys were the cause of friction.” Again in the discussion and concurring with Kahanowitz’s findings, it appeared that the roles and tasks of the housemaster and the matron were muddled.

At a separate meeting that week, the perception that the hostel children were ‘repressed’ had been discussed. Finding themselves in the situation of being away from home and in a restrictive environment, boarders had to balance their lack of freedom with that which was seen as the entitlement of the day scholars who were easily familiar with the city’s lifestyle. They lived on the edge of the metropolis, strangers to those patterns of socializing which the day scholars took for granted. Rather naively, Mr Phillips reduced these sets of feelings to a byte-sized understatement: These resulted from the fact that the child “was prevented….from attending cinemas less often than the day scholars” (26/8/1951).

A day later (27/8) the committee, overwhelmed by findings and opinions which seemed to nullify their brave intentions of creating a wished-for model institution, took a look for themselves. Their inspection found that “Herber House is beautifully kept. The dormitories, lounges, bathrooms and conveniences were all found in spotless condition. The floors were all brightly polished and in general the hostel can be a source of pride and pleasure to the SA Board of Jewish Education.”

Settled then, for the time being….

Momentous news

At the meeting of the Board’s Institutions’ Committee held 12 September 1951, much good news was reported:

  • Mr Abe Lipschitz would commence his duties as headmaster at the King David Primary School from the beginning of 1952.
  • Tenders would be called for the erection of a portion of the new school building. It was hoped that the new portion would be completed by March 1953.
  • An announcement would also be made to the effect that a high school would be established at the King David School from 1952, and…
  • “Herber House has become too small and is spread over too many buildings. The conditions under which the children live are too cramped. The dining room is too small. In view of the popularity of the hostel, consideration should be given to the rebuilding of The Herber House entirely” [my emphasis]

As if to emphasize the previous point, it was reported that for the coming year of 1952, the hostel was completely full. Applications had been received from a widespread area: Bloemhof, N’dola in Northern Rhodesia, Salisbury in Southern Rhodesia, Standerton, Winburg, Bethlehem, Johannesburg, Ermelo and Kopjies, to mention but a few. In view of the high demand and consequent lack of bed-space, a policy was adopted for the preferential treatment of applicants:

  • Country children should be given preference.
  • Full-fee boarders would be given preference over those needing assistance.
  • A decision was pending about whether to give preference to boys or to girls.
  • Some applicants were referred to the Orphanage.

At the end of 1951 there were 84 boarders, of whom 50 were from the country (five from the Free State) and other centres and 34 from Johannesburg. This number would increase to 93 in the first term of 1952. Those paying full fees were 67, and boarders on grants numbered 26. The increased accommodation for 1952 was made possible by the conversion of two classrooms of the Hebrew school into dormitories. Mr Saltzman also reported to the committee that as a consequence, the hostel would dispense with the services of one of the teachers of its Hebrew school (14/11/1951) Again, in the fourth term of 1951 King David had 266 children, of whom forty were from the hostel. As the King David project grew both as a primary and a high school, almost all the hostel’s children would eventually attend the day schools.

These numbers raise an interesting question: The hostel’s raison d’être was to provide an opportunity for children living outside the city to have access to thorough Jewish educational opportunities. Yet as the above figures show, 40% of the boarders were from the city itself! In the absence of a detailed socio-demographic profile of these urban boarders, it is permissible to speculate that financial need and family breakdown may have acted as contributory factors. In later years, from approximately 1958-1964, the hostel was almost exclusively the preserve of rural and small town children. This could suggest that the family structure and economic status of the Johannesburg community had improved.

Herber House committee, circa. late 1940s

Herber House committee, circa. late 1940s

Did the hostel’s supervisory staff contribute to unhappiness and malaise?

In March 1952, in a letter to the SABJE, a mother from Wesselsneck in Natal gives notice of withdrawing her child from the hostel. Her letter complains about the conditions there, and her child is described as being “miserable, unhappy and dirty in the institution” Reference was also made to a parent, a medical practitioner, who had taken his three children out of the hostel.

The root of the problem was traced to Mrs Dubin, the matron. Mr Goss stated that he was perturbed by the complaints at the hostel, and while he felt that certain complaints were ‘unjustified’, there had on the whole been a stream of complaints against the matron: “Mrs Dubin, to his mind, had done a good job of work, but she had a tendency to let her temper get the better of her. It must be made clear to her that she has to control her temper, for the welfare of the institution” (10/3/1952).

By this time, Mrs Bernstein and Miss Abrahams were both assistant matrons. Of Mrs Bernstein, Phillip Heilbrunn writes: “Mrs Bernstein, a survivor of the concentration camps was treated with great respect, not only because of empathy with her sufferings, but …she could be (a) tough disciplinarian and would not stand for cheek from anyone. She could pull your ears in a most excruciating way….”[i]

On 19 March 1952, Saltzman reported that seven boarders would be leaving at the end of term. He felt that there was much dissatisfaction among parents due to outbursts on the part of the matron. The relationship between Mr Saltzman and Mrs Dubin appeared to be hardly collegial. Mrs Dubin was a divisive, pugnacious matron, Mr Saltzman short-tempered and unsympathetic. Mrs Bernstein added to this dystopian mix. Seemingly unable to curtail the excessive conduct of Mrs Dubin, a sub-committee, again, had been established to meet with her to discuss her duties and presumably to guide and keep her in check. The committee seems to have been completely unable to impose their authority on the recalcitrant matron.

Do your homework!

At the 18 June 1952 meeting, it was reported that the hostel had no adequate facilities for homework preparation. Advocate Mendelow suggested that he obtain the rules governing the boarding establishment of King Edward School in Houghton with regard to study hours. At a later stage in the 1960s, when the various lodgings had been amalgamated into one central building in the old Castle known as the ‘Main’, an attempt was made to have ‘prep’ hours after supper in the large dining room. The attempt failed and scholars, as always, were left largely to their own devices.

An important shift in terms of school attendance was now taken. It would be a condition that all boarders should henceforth attend King David. As time went by, this would in general be the case. This thought led Mr Horwitz to report that in his view, the staff “was doing the very best in the present buildings and circumstances” (18/6/1952). It was always meant to be a better place.

Of concern was a crude reference made regarding the intellectual abilities of some of the boarders. It was suggested that there were cases of “sub-normal “children who had been accepted at Herber House and were at present in the King David School. Goss felt that under these circumstances, where there was a query about the “normalcy” of a child, a practising psychiatrist should be consulted (ibid). At a later meeting (5/11/1952), Saltzman stated most of the so called “problem children” would be leaving at the end of the year. Mr Pollard thought as far as possible the hostel should endeavor not to admit children who were ‘sub-normal’.

Always lurking in the minds of the committee was that this was, actually, an imperfect institution. The chairman expressed this quite gloomily at the start of 1953 (28/1). He admitted that although every effort was being made and no expense spared to look after the children’s welfare, he felt that the latter received a minimum and not a maximum of spiritual guidance and comfort. And again, the familiar refrain: the building was not suitable, the synagogue was too small and the grounds did not have suitable playing fields. It would, he opined, be most desirable to transfer Herber House to the King David site when it became available. The count-down clock for this to happen, seen in retrospect, was set at 14 years, running down very slowly indeed….

Could things get any worse? Indeed, they could.

On 19 March 1953, a critical meeting took place, laying bare a dysfunctional institution. From

an unfortunate, inappropriate disciplinary action taken by the housemaster, the frustration of the committee boiled over: ”Mr Froman regretted that he had to report a serious incident which had taken place at The Herber House. Mr Saltzman had ‘smacked’ a girl boarder’s hand until it bled. Mr Froman had visited the hostel, and although for the girl it was over, Mr Saltzman “refused point blank to apologize” (my emphasis).

Goss said that the incident was symptomatic of something which was utterly wrong at the hostel. He expressed the wish for Mr Saltzman and Mrs Dubin to attend an executive meeting of the board. This was at least a more serious sanction than leaving it to the usual sub-committee to investigate the matter.

The committee’s disillusionment, anger and frustration towards the whole project was palpable. Mr Porter went so far as to suggest that Herber House would either have to be abandoned or that new premises be found in the near future. They were caught in a bind, though. The municipality required certain alterations to be made to the physical environment, presumably because the buildings did not conform to health standards. These, however, would cost the Board a great deal of money. Porter “was of the opinion that the staff was hopelessly inadequate to deal with the hostel”. Mr Wunsch added to the criticism. “To his mind the staff did not have the facilities required for such an institution” (19/3/1953).

A slice of Life: 26 February 1953 (Not sweets from Heaven)

Here is a description of a visit by Mrs Pollard and Dr M Mendelow when they arrived unexpectedly at the hostel that Thursday at 7:15am. It makes for depressing reading: “A number of children under the age of ten were already standing outside the front door, waiting for the bus. Their breakfast had commenced at 6:45am. In the dining room a number of older girls were standing behind their chairs. After about 5 minutes, they were joined by a number of older boys who had apparently just completed prayers in the shul. Mr Saltzman arrived whereupon the children recited ‘mode ani and the brocha, Hamotze lechem min ha’aretz’. Mr Saltzman arrived and the children had their breakfast. The ban on conversation created a strained atmosphere. Breakfast was hurried and a part of “grace after meals” was said. A description of the breakfast menu follows: “….and tea or coffee (we don’t know which) the latter served in enamel mugs some of which were badly chipped”.

The report continues in a most unflattering manner. A general aura of neglect and unhygienic conditions is depicted. There is catalogued a veritable litany of shortcomings, most previously reported, but also that there were “no facilities for placing clothes, dressing gowns, towels and the like.”

An almost Dickensian description follows: In the hall of the main building we found a pale little girl dressed, standing aimlessly. She appeared to be ill and we were informed by the matron that she had been ill and still not well enough to attend school. In our opinion, there was no reason why she should, in her state of health, have been out of bed, much less dressed and presumably breakfasted, at that early hour.”

This report was discussed at the 26 March 1953 meeting. It must be pointed out that this investigation came to a very different conclusion to a probe conducted a year and a half ago on 26 August 1951. What worried Mr Porter greatly about this latest scathing report was the image of the hostel within the community. Mr Saltzman, under siege, jumped to defend the hostel against these criticisms. He assured the committee that the health inspector visited the premises frequently and had not had any complaints. He also pointed out, with some justification, that the early morning surprise visit had taken place prior to the cleaning staff having done their rounds. It appears, however, that the snap inspection had its origin in complaints that had been made by a deputation of boys from the hostel. Among those complaints had been that conversation was banned in the dining room during meals (imagine!) and that the boarders were “stifled”. They also complained that their parents were being disrespected and that they were being “smacked” by the staff. Mr Saltzman and Mrs Dubin were always pleaded with by members of the committee to “carry out with faithfulness the instructions of the board…and that if Mr Saltzman feels that he cannot cope with the problems arising at Herber House, he should report to this committee week by week”. Mr Yellin reported that the press, at his request, “had held back letters of complaint about Herber House until the matter could be gone into” (26/3/1953).

Rabbi Lapin, troubled by the turn of events, sought vindication of the project. He said that “one thousand children had gone through Herber House and all had done well and that Herber House had enjoyed a very good reputation during the ten years of its existence, and it would be a great pity if at this stage it would be permitted to become an object of criticism by the community who are very apt to forget the good of the past and view the situation as it actually exists.”

A new(ish) dawn?

The ban on conversation at mealtimes had now been lifted. It had been an arbitrary, thoughtless and counterproductive idea, completely indefensible. It is indeed strange that it was ever implemented and justified by the matron and the housemaster, and that the committee took so long to ensure its abandonment.

By June 1953, Saltzman seems to have taken heed of the criticisms and the admonishments, and was optimistic. He said there was now a better tone at the hostel and that the difficulties had been rectified to everybody’s satisfaction. Other developments that restored some hope were the appointment of an assistant matron, Mrs Keet, and also that sporting equipment to the value of £100 should be provided (16/6/1953).

Situated on the grounds of Herber House, the Rose Gordon Model Hebrew Nursery School was running smoothly. There were 70 children at the school in 1953, with the King David Nursery School running a close second, with 69. The Rose Gordon was, however, having problems which resulted from its success and popularity. It had a waiting list of almost 200, and was able to cater for only 10-20 new children each year. Thus, about 150-180 children remained without a Jewish nursery school. For extra space, the Rose Gordon requested the use of outbuildings at Herber House, which itself was overcrowded. An added problem was that leavers were not able to automatically gain entrance to King David Primary, resulting in much ill feeling among many parents.

With new-found enthusiasm, a dance was held for the boarders, strangely enough with the support of Mr Saltzman and Mrs Dubin. From the proceeds, the boarders opened a building society account, into which an amount of £72 and 3 pence was deposited. The SABJE would consider a pound for pound contribution into the account.

Flushed with excitement by these developments, Mr Froman enthused that “the situation was now better than it had been for the past ten years!” He informed the committee that the children were happy and contented. A letter tabled at the start of 1954 (31/1) seemingly supported his optimism. A past boarder who had matriculated the previous year had written thanking the institution for everything it had done for her.

There were now 85 boarders, and the hostel was crowded. It was resolved that a recommendation be made to keep the numbers down to a more manageable 75. However, in March (18/3/1954) it was argued that reducing the number at the hostel meant depriving school-going children from rural areas of a Jewish education. The very reason that the hostel had been established was to provide such an opportunity to out-of-towners. An exploratory meeting was conducted with the committee of the Arcadia Orphanage for possible co-operation between the two institutions, so that Arcadia would house some children whose parents had made application, and for whom there was no bed space at Herber House. “This would only be possible,” said the hostel committee, “on the understanding that Arcadia would cease to be called the SA Jewish Orphanage.”

The tenth anniversary of the hostel’s opening would fall on April 10, and a discussion followed about the nature of the celebration to be held. Naturally, a sub-committee was established to arrange such an event. The good news continued: At the Bar Mitzvah of a boarder, a guest had been so impressed by the event and the manner in which the children conducted the service, that he enclosed a contribution of a guinea (£1 10s). More contributions had also been made.

Same old, same old. A little bit louder, a little bit worse…..

Mr Lipschitz, headmaster of King David Primary School, raised the issue that there were no suitable, structured facilities for homework at the hostel (8/8/1954). The older children at the hostel had also complained that the 9 pm lights-out rule gave them little time for homework. Messrs. Goss and Lipschitz, two extraordinary educationists, were in discussion about the matter.

But what was the situation like at other boarding schools regarding a structured homework program? Bernard F, from Leslie on the Eastern Highveld, was a boarder at both the Jeppe primary and high schools, latterly at its Oribi Hostel. He responded to my query thus: “We had compulsory prep – almost two hours a day for juniors (7 to 8:45 pm) and two-and-a-half hours for seniors (7-9:30 pm); also, an additional half hour in the morning before breakfast, in a prep room with long wooden tables and wooden benches. A housemaster supervised the junior prep room.”[ii]

Discussion, as was the committee’s wont, turned to Mr Saltzman. He had been at the hostel since its inception. There was praise indeed. Froman said that he had done an “excellent job of work in the spiritual field.” However, not all was praiseworthy: “There were certain aspects which could be improved… [and he]…suggested that Mr Saltzman be invited to an executive meeting to discuss the whole position.”

Rabbi Lapin made an interesting suggestion to ease out of this morass. He proposed that the SABJE investigate establishing a separate boarding establishment on the high school site for the high school only, with Herber House then catering solely for children of primary school age (8/8/1954).

There were continued and recurring efforts to involve particularly the ladies of the committee in the running of the hostel. The idea was to convene a ladies (sub!) committee who would visit the hostel, meet the staff, suggest improvements and report generally on prevailing conditions. It was certainly an attempt at providing a more caring, maternal outcome for the children. Did it work? Was it implemented? The minutes are unclear on that score. Quite probably the boarders would not have been overly impressed with such attempts. They were particularly savvy, and would likely have been skeptical and disdainful. In later years, to which I was witness, threats would often be made that the staff would “call Mister Froman” for some particular form of misdemeanor or misbehavior. The young boarders’ response inevitably was a shrug of the shoulders. The threat carried no weight, and neither would any goodwill visits by the ladies.

Reference is made at the 17 August 1955 meeting that Mrs Saltzman (the housemaster’s wife) was now matron. At last the era of the controversial previous matron had ended. It is difficult to measure the extent of the damage done to the Herber House brand by Mrs Dubin, let alone imagine the hurt and unhappiness caused to the boarders by someone who was in all respects eminently unsuitable for the position. Yet, the roiling dispute between the housemaster and the committee continued and seems to have come to a head at this meeting. Mrs Lubner speaks of this tussle, saying that the housemaster had proved himself very difficult and uncooperative, while the new matron was co-operative. Importantly, it was admitted again that the hostel was understaffed and that Mr Saltzman “refused to interview any non-Jews”. Saltzman was the subject of withering criticism by various committee members. He was found to be “an excellent spiritual head [but] found the administrative side difficult, but the ladies committee could perhaps guide and help him.” Mr I.J. Hersch was perfectly forthright on the matter, saying that if Saltzman was found to be unsuitable for his position, “he would have to relinquish his post.”

Weighing in, Froman reported that many complaints had been received by the executive committee concerning Saltzman’s conduct. There were suggestions that a resident master be employed to see to the children and that there be a superintendent and a supervisor. Such was the atmosphere of frustration at this meeting that Froman said his aim was to get the “difficulties of Herber House straightened out as soon as possible. If the ladies’ committee found Mr Saltzman unsuitable, advertisements would be placed in overseas newspapers to fill his position.”

If there was such unhappiness within the committee about the incumbent, why in all these years had he not been replaced? Mr Misheiker repeated the oft resorted to, highly inaccurate trope: “It was not an easy matter to replace Mr Saltzman as no one in this country was available to take over such a position.”

It is suggested that despite all these matters being kept out of the eye of the Jewish press, it was not lost on the community as a whole and a somewhat negative view of the hostel was prevalent.

Some welcome change – alas short-lived

Notwithstanding Misheiker’s earlier opinion concerning the non-availability of suitable supervisory staff, it was announced at the 23 October 1955 meeting that the highly-regarded Isadore Kahanowitz had agreed to assume a supervisory position at the hostel. There was a palpable sense of relief and considerable praise for this appointment. Mr Kahanowitz was a vice-principal at King David High whose earlier assistance to the Board had resulted in the previously discussed Kahanowitz report. The enthusiasm was tempered, however, by the fact that it was a short-term appointment, and indeed it was to be a short-lived spell concluding at the end of that year. Kahanowitz’s limited tenure had nevertheless been, according to the committee, a great success (17/4/1956). The Board had been advertising for the services of a suitable housemaster. Unfortunately this notice had met with no responses from suitable candidates. Goss stressed that until the new hostel was built it would be impossible to secure the services of a suitable housemaster. Perhaps Mr Misheiker was indeed correct, for the time being, in his assessment. The countdown clock to the new hostel’s opening was still ticking. It was now showing just under ten years to go……


A technical committee is established

In earlier minutes (18/6/1952), reference is made in somewhat crude terms, but in the usage of the 1950s, to children from the hostel whose intellect was ‘sub-normal’. Mr Lipschitz, headmaster of the primary school, referred to this problem in only slightly less harsh terms, saying that children “whose IQ was below normal had been admitted in the past to The Herber House and he had been forced to enroll them in the school.” Goss agreed that in future all Johannesburg children should be interviewed and carefully assessed before being admitted. Previously he had recommended that a psychiatrist evaluate the children. The reference made to “Johannesburg children” specifically is interesting. It suggests that it was an issue more prevalent among city children, who perhaps were at the hostel for these very reasons.

In response to this problem, a technical committee was formed. It was to consist of the headmaster, vice-principal of the high school, chairmen of the PTAs, the director, the secretary and the hostel housemaster and would look into the entire issue of applications and acceptances. “This committee naturally expected the fullest co-operation of the housemaster”: This seems to have been formally minuted, as if the expectation of non-compliance by the housemaster was a possibility. Since the ladies’ committee was not functioning as per expectations, it was resolved to also require their duties to be defined by the technical committee. It was also stressed, again, that Mr Saltzman would have to accept the committee’s guidance.

Minutes for the period April 1956 to 20 October 1957 could not be traced and archived records do become sparser.

At this meeting of the board’s Institutions Committee (20/10/1957), it was reported that approximately 700 pupils had passed through the hostel. This is a somewhat imprecise figure as earlier (probably exaggerated) reports had mentioned a figure of 1000. It also does not differentiate between boarders who had stayed briefly, and those who remained for a lengthier period. The time of sojourn would impact on both the positive and the negative effects of their stay on the children; numbers alone would tell an incomplete story.

Louis Sachs envisaged a hostel that would serve the needs of post-Bar Mitzvah country children. He suggested that as such children’s Jewish education largely ceased after the age of thirteen, a hostel should cater for them. However, the current arrangement of the hostel was essentially to cater for primary school children. There were inadequate facilities for high school pupils, and conditions were not conducive to study for those approaching matriculation.

King David High principal Norman Sandler underlined this view, saying that he had received numerous applications for admission to the high school from all over the country and reporting that parents felt that the present institutions for boarding lacked facilities for senior boys and girls: “They all want a boarding establishment within the precincts of the school. Parents were also not interested in private boarding for their children.”

The clock was slowly, ever so slowly, running time down. Roughly eight and a half years to go to the new hostel…


[i] Heilbrunn, P, ‘Herber House : A Memoir with Pictures’, unpublished , p5

[ii] Personal email, 4/9/2019

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