Established in 1903 by Moshe Beinkinstadt, Cape Town’s oldest Jewish book store remained in the hands of his descendants for 105 years. Situated in District Six, the district closest to the original harbour, not far from the castle built by the Dutch East India Company, the shop reflects the history of Cape Town’s Jewish community. Suppliers of seforim, taleysim, tefilin, and even of herrings, all imported from Latvia in the very earliest days, the shop also served as a meeting place for Yiddish speaking intellectuals. Among some 3000 Yiddish and Hebrew books on its shelves were titles as diverse as the luried early 20th century Yiddish novels of Shmoer and bloyshteyn, information about birth control from 1930 Warsaw, translations of Goethe, Balzac, Ibsen, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Dickens, Marx and Kropotkin, Darwin’s Ascent of Man, and Jean Meslier, the 17th century Catholic priest’s philosophical essay promoting atheism! In the context of the social history of Cape Town’s Jewish community, this paper will consider what this diverse collection reflects about the world of Yiddish speaking Jews in the first half of the 20th century.
Presented by Veronica Belling, Jewish Studies Librarian, Jewish Studies Library of the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research and University of Cape Town Libraries.