DJN Foundation logo

The Alene and Graham Landau Archivist Chair shares his interest in discovering South African Jewish history and connections in Metro Detroit.

I work with Tessa Goldberg at the Detroit Jewish News Foundation and she has an interesting accent. When I first met her, I asked: “Are you Australian?” “No, no,” Tessa said, “I’m from South Africa.” Well, she is only the second South African I have ever met, the first being a woman who sat next to me for a few hours on a flight from Amsterdam to Warsaw.

Because Tessa and I have now worked together for several years, I’ve kept my eye on news from South Africa and discussed current events there with her. To say the least, that nation has had a complicated history. From British colonialism and the Boer War (1899-1902) to modernization and an apartheid state that imprisoned Nelson Mandela for 27 years to his release and the rise of the African National Congress to lead that nation, South Africa today has some enormous economic and political problems. But it still has a Jewish community of an estimated 75,000, many of whom can trace their roots to Lithuania, often via Israel.

When using the search term — “South Africa” — one finds more than 4,000 citations in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History. To say the least, South Africa, especially before apartheid collapsed, was a topic for many discussions. Were Jews threatened there? Should Israel have had, or continue to have, diplomatic relations with South Africa? Are there South African Jews in Metro Detroit?

While I am not in any way an expert on South African Jewish history, I know there are Jews from South Africa who settled in Metro Detroit. There is a very interesting article about these folks in the April 25, 1997, issue of the JN. You may know some of them. If not, stop by the Jewish News Foundation offices and Tessa will tell you all about migrating to Detroit from South Africa. You’ll like her — and her accent.

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at