Great Park Synagogue History
The history of our Shul dates back to the very beginnings of the city of Johannesburg. On the tenth of July 1887 – a mere year after the city’s founding - a meeting took place in Mr. B. Wainstein’s shop where a unanimous decision was passed that “the time is ripe for the present meeting to form itself into the Witwatersrand Goldfields Jewish Association”.
The initial responsibilities of the association included maintaining the Jewish burial grounds as well as holding religious services for the early Jewish pioneers of Johannesburg.
On 19 September 1887 the first Rosh Hashanah service was held in the Rand Club to accommodate the over 500 worshipers who attended the services.
It was only a few months later that the association decided to change its name to Witwatersrand Hebrew Congregation, indicating its purpose as a religious organization. In January 1888 the congregation purchased two stands on President Street for the purpose of erecting a synagogue. On the 7th of November, the foundation stone was laid by Rev. Mark L. Harris, thus beginning the construction of the first Johannesburg synagogue.
In March 1890 daily services were instituted in the synagogue which had become known simply as the President Street Synagogue. Unfortunately, storm clouds gathered over the infant community, and a rift formed in the newly founded community over various communal issues.
As a result, in December 1891, a number of members broke away and formed a new congregation called the Johannesburg Hebrew Congregation. The Witwatersrand Hebrew Congregation then changed its name to the Witwatersrand Old Hebrew Congregation.
President Kruger granted the Johannesburg Hebrew congregation four stands on the corner of Joubert and De Villiers Street on which to build a synagogue. The site was near the original Park Railway Station and the Synagogue came to be known as the Park Street Synagogue. It was opened with great pomp and ceremony by President Kruger on the 14th of September 1892.
The Park Street Synagogue was in use for about twenty years. In 1912 the building was sold to the South African Railways and used as the military headquarters for the South African Railways and Harbours regiments until 1928 when it was demolished to make way for the new railway station. It was after the Park Street Synagogue was sold that the J.H.C. began construction of what was to be the largest Jewish religious edifice in South Africa.
During the years 1913 to 1914, the Great Synagogue was under construction on a whole city block bounded by Wolmarans, Claim, Quartz, and Smit Streets. The new large site, chosen by architect Herman Kallenbach, was near to the area where the Jewish community then lived.
The structure of the building was designed and supervised by Theophile Schaerer with Hoheisen and Co. as the contractors. Siegfried Raphaely laid the foundation stone of the Synagogue on 3 September 1913. Sammy Marks had provided all the bricks and at the opening ceremony was honored by presenting Rabbi J.L. Landau with the keys to the building.
After a year of construction, on 23 August 1914, the brand new Synagogue of the J.H.C. was officially consecrated by Rabbi Dr. J.L. Landau.
For 24 years – from 1891 until 1915 – the two congregations functioned independently, each with its own distinguished Rabbi and community leaders. In 1898 the Witwatersrand Old Hebrew Congregation appointed Rabbi Dr. J.H. Hertz – then only 26 years old – as its Rabbi. He remained its spiritual leader until 1911 when he returned to America. In 1903 the Johannesburg Hebrew Congregation invited Rabbi Dr. J. L. Landau to become its Rabbi and remained the head of the congregation until his death in 1943.
For at least ten years there had been unfruitful negotiations between the W.O.H.C. and the J.H.C. regarding the amalgamation of the two congregations. Rabbi Hertz’s departure in 1911 and the bad state of the President Street Synagogue presented an opportunity for a rapprochement between the two congregations.
Finally, after long negotiations, an agreement was reached and on the 30th of May 1915, the United Hebrew Congregation was formed with the Wolmarans St. Synagogue becoming the congregation’s principal place of worship.
The Great Synagogue on Wolmarans St. was loved and esteemed by the Jews of Johannesburg and stood as a symbol of the union of the two congregations. During the ensuing years, it has been regarded as the mother Synagogue of Johannesburg and all major events of the Jewish community took place within its great hall. Since its inception, it had been the seat of the country’s Chief Rabbi’s including Rabbi J.L. landau Rabbi L.I. Rabinowitz Rabbi B.M. Casper and Rabbi C.K. Harris.
History of South African Chief Rabbi's
Chief Rabbi Dr J.L Landau
1915 - 1942
Chief Rabbi Dr L.I Rabinowitz
1945 - 1961
Chief Rabbi B.M Casper
1963 - 1987
Chief Rabbi C.K Harris
1987 - 2004
Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein
2005 - current
Who's who at the Shul
Rabbi's & Rebbitzen's
Rabbi Dovid & Rebbetzin Feige Hazdan
Rabbi Shmuel & Rebbetzin Goldie Simpson
General Office Manager
Great Park Synagogue welcomes all new members. We offer various forms of membership including full membership and associate membership. Seats for the High Holidays are also available.
As a member, you will be entitled to all the benefits the Shul offers. You will be added to our mailing list, and your personal details will be entered into our database, so that we can notify you of your upcoming Yartzeits, and also that your personal Simchas and other important events can be noted in the Shul newsletters.
Please contact us for the Great Park Synagogue Membership Form.
Upon completion, please forward it to the Great Park Synagogue office by email.
The Great Park Choir, conducted by Greg Hurvitz, sings on Friday nights. On request, to the shul, they are available to sing on Shabbos mornings for Barmitzvah’s, ufrufs, and other occasions. They are also available for weddings.
The Choir sings on the 1st night of Shalosh Regalim and all services of Yamim Noraim. Many of the choristers have been singing in the choir for over ten years and have been with Great Park prior to the move of the Shul.
The history of the choir is reflected in the music that they sing, ranging from Hazanut from the great composers like Rosenblatt, Lewandowski, and Koussevitzky, to more modern pieces involving popular Israeli melodies and even some appropriate show tunes.
The choirmaster joined in 2012 and focuses on making beautiful music within the context of davening correctly. The Choir’s philosophy is to sing for pleasure and not for pressure, aiming to uplift the community and inspire a further spiritual connection. Music transcends language in its ability to emotionally move a person even without the use of words. Greg Hurvitz has had over 15 years of experience in singing, a former Chairman of the Johannesburg Jewish Male Choir, and is determined to add as much value to the shul as possible.
The Choir is comprised of four sections, consisting of the typical male choir setting, Tenor 1, Tenor 2, Bass 1, and Bass 2. These individual voices merge, together with the Chazzan, to create the Nusach that touches our hearts and moves our souls.
Functions at the Shul
The Great Park Synagogue is a magnificent venue to celebrate a simcha.
Wedding: Choose to have your chuppah inside the Shul, or in the forest adjacent to the Shul.
The Kabolas Panim can be held in the Shul foyer, the Board Room or in the RCHCC.
On Shabbat, the Shul welcomes family and friends of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah. After the Shul services, a Kiddush can be held in the Shul Kiddush hall, or in a marquee outside the Shul entrance (either outside the main entrance or outside the RCHCC entrance)
The beautiful Shul foyer serves as a wonderful venue for a bris celebration. The celebration can extend outside the main entrance.
Meetings, lectures, or your personal celebration can be held in the foyer of the Shul or in the main Board Room.
To book your simcha, please contact Sandy Budin.