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Place Category: Attractions
The South African Jewish Museum was officially opened by Nelson Mandela in December 2000. The brainchild of legendary South African philanthropist Mendel Kaplan, the museum has since established itself as one of the city’s must-see attractions.
While a relatively new institution, the South African Jewish Museum, like the community it depicts, has deep historic foundations. The museum has the distinction of being housed in South Africa’s very first synagogue (fittingly named the Old Shul), built in 1863. Formerly a dutiful record of the history of South African Jews in the Cape, in 1996 the decision was taken to refashion and reimagine the museum for a 21st Century audience.
A new state-of the art building was commissioned, and the scope of the museum expanded to encompass the full gamut of the history of Jews in South Africa – including the community’s historical roots in Lithuania and elsewhere, its instrumental role in the building of South Africa as we know it, as well as its noteworthy contributions to contemporary society. The Old Synagogue museum was transformed into a specialised general exhibit documenting Jews, Judaism and Judaica through the ages.
The new museum was conceived, founded and largely funded by visionary philanthropist, Mendel Kaplan (under the banner of the Kaplan Kushlick Foundation), who stood alongside Nelson Mandela and Helen Suzman at its grand opening in December 2000.
Boasting high-tech exhibits, interactive multi-media installations and walk-through, historically faithful recreations, the South African Jewish Museum remains the only custom-built museum established in Cape Town in the last 50 years.
The museum has established itself as a Cape Town landmark, attracting locals and foreigners, schools and cultural exchange groups, and young and old alike, through its doors.