In true Cape Town style, the SA Jewish Museum celebrates the diversity and heritage of the Jewish Community and their journey in South Africa.

The building is located in Hatfield Street, close to the city centre and many of Cape Town’s attractions and accommodation options.

History of the SA Jewish Community

Walk along the drawbridge connecting the Old Synagogue to the new museum which is designed to resemble a ship’s gangway. The drawbridge symbolises the journey of many Jewish immigrants who fled to Cape Town by ship during the 1800s to escape persecution in Eastern Europe.

Visit the life-size replica of a Lithuanian Jewish village, called a shtetl. Here you will see their old way of living before they relocated to South Africa in search of a better life.

You will also see how the Jewish community was instrumental in setting up the commercial, political and social structures of Johannesburg, where many Jewish people still live today.

The displays also tell of those who chose a different route, travelling inland to set up tiny little towns. Called ‘smouse’, these entrepreneurs travelled far and wide peddling wares from their ox wagons.

Many settled in District Six, suffering the same upheaval under apartheid as others who once lived there.

Establishment of the museum

In keeping with the post-apartheid ethos of recognising all of the country’s diverse groups, the South African Jewish Museum was opened in 2000 at its current location. President Nelson Mandela and political activist Helen Suzman were present at the ceremony. 

One of South Africa’s most famous and influential Jewish people, in her capacity as an MP, Helen Suzman was a fervent supporter of the anti-apartheid movement. Suzman met Mr Mandela while visiting political prisoners on Robben Island.

Things to see and do at the Museum

At the Albow Centre in the museum complex, you can enjoy a meal at Café Riteve restaurant, or visit the Holocaust centre and Israel Abrahams hall.

Other facilities include a library, the synagogue and souvenir shop.

Don’t miss a chance to see one of the world’s largest collections of netsuke (toggles). Donated by Isaac Kaplan, these miniature Japanese carvings are the main subject of a book by Edmund de Waal, entitled The Hare with the Amber Eyes. The book deals with a Jewish family’s struggle to protect these sentimentally-significant assets during the Holocaust.

The audio-visual presentations, interactive displays and beautiful artworks at this modern, well-designed and inviting museum make this an interesting and informative place to visit during your trip to Cape Town.