At the time of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, in the 1950s, the Jews of Rhodesia numbered some 7 500 souls. Today in Zimbabwe, it is estimated that there are approximately 200 Jews left, distributed only between Harare and Bulawayo.
Due to the political and economic climate, many Jews emigrated when Zimbabwe became independent in 1980. The Sephardi Hebrew Congregation of Zimbabwe now numbers approximately eighty souls. Many of course have passed on, and those who could have moved on. With such devastating dwindling numbers, it has become necessary for the past two years to hold combined Shabbat Services with the Ashkenazi Harare Hebrew Congregation to make up a minyan. Regrettably, not all Jews are synagogue goers. Occasionally, during public holidays, we do not have a minyan, but generally, we are able to carry on. With hyperinflation, the running costs of maintaining the Sephardi complex is astronomical. Most people and businesses prefer to deal in American and South African currencies. The Zimbabwe currency has become worthless.
On the religious side, we maintain our Rhodes Island traditions and tunes with the very able and valuable assistance from Gabbai Leon Hanan, who is the last of the Rodislics to sing from the Tevah. Prior to that, we had Raphael Menashe who since 1978 was the Gabbai Emeritus and who conducted the services with dedication. Regrettably, Raphael Menashe was called to higher service three years ago.
The Jews of Zimbabwe, are very fortunate in that there are other Jews in the world who care, and through generous donations and through the auspices of African Jewish Congress, under the wing of Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, they receive food parcels, which are more than welcome.
There very few Sephardim, in Zimbabwe, who were born on Rhodes Island. Most of them are eighty years of age or over. In the B. S. Leon Home for the Aged, (not a Jewish institution) we have Stella Benveniste, a survivor of Aushwitz who is now in her 87th year.
Also in the B. S. Leon Home is Alegra Trevis (80) the niece of B. S. Leon.
Another survivor of Auschwitz, is Rachel Hanan (81) living at home with her husband Gabbai Leon Hanan.
Many Jews feel that they are too old to move or do not have the finance to do so.
In conclusion, it should be noted that there is no anti-Semitism in Zimbabwe
Secretary Sephardi Hebrew Congregation
Benny Leon was born in Gatooma on 21st February 1936. He was educated at Jameson School and later from 1949 to 1952 at Milton High School, Bulawayo.
He worked as a clerk on Rhodesia Railways from 1961 to 1971 and for seven years with Zimbabwe Furnishers as manager. In 1963 he married Rose Navarro. They have three children. Whilst in Gatooma Benny became very involved with the Gatooma Follies later to become the Campbell Theatre Club.
Here he found a talent in miming to records and impersonated such artist as Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis, Schnozzle Durante and Rolfe Harris with the Jake the Peg number. This three legged mime was very popular, and was featured twice in 1975 and 1977 in the forces Bless�em All Shows on national television.
He was also a member of the Gatooma Round and held the position of Chairman for one term. He was secretary for six years. He was at one time secretary of the Gatooma Hebrew Congregation.
In Gatooma he operated a photographic darkroom after learning the processing at Milton High School. He was also very keen on the history and development of Gatooma and contributed weekly to the Gatooma Mail. From 1958 to 1978 he contributed regularly photographs to this newspaper and was at one time correspondent for the Rhodesia Herald. He also sent much of the town�s historical development in the form of photographs to the National Archives in Harare.
On moving to Salisbury in 1978 he work for Bon Marche, Paramount Garments and is now with Strachans Photo Pharmacy. In 1992 he qualified as a photographer at the Harare Polytechnic College. He has moved with the times and is up to date in the field of digital imaging. He also photographed the tombstones of the Harare, Kadoma and Kwe Kwe cemeteries. These were later placed on the Zimbabwe Jewish Community website on the Internet along with biographies of various Harare Jewish personalities.