Marc Birger reciting a “hazkarah” at the graveside of his father – Isia Birger


Participants meet at the gates of the St Martin’s Jewish Cemetery


Daily minyan.
 (The tenth person is behind the camera)


Baby Curpens, Yossi Silberhaft, Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, President of the Republic of Mauritius, the Rt Hon. Sir Anerood Jugnauth, Reuvein Garber and Arnold Garber


Participants in the grounds
of the Beau Bassin prison.

Launching the Jewish Community of Mauritius
May 2005


The Jewish community of Mauritius was officially launched last month with the opening of the Amicale Maurice Israel Center in Curepipe on 23 May. Local dignitaries, members of the local Jewish community and various well-wishers were in attendance at the historic event. Also present was a sizable delegation from South Africa headed by Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, Spiritual Leader to the African Jewish Congress.

Sada Siven Teeroovengadum, the Mayor of Curepipe, and H. E. Yoram Elron from the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem conducted the official opening,  with the mezuzot being affixed by Rabbi Silberhaft. Speaking on behalf of Mervyn Smith, President of the African Jewish Congress, Rabbi Silberhaft congratulated all those involved in making the new community centre a reality.

The AMI Centre came into being as a combined venture of the Israel-Mauritius friendship club the Amicale Maurice Israel, the local Jewish community and overseas donors with a connection with the country and its Jewish past. The Centre includes a small synagogue, a first for Mauritius, a communal hall seating 200 people and an office. It was built on land specially provided for the purpose by the Government of Mauritius. The next phase will be to extend the synagogue to seat fifty comfortably and to build a kitchen. Initially, services will be held once monthly and on Yom Tovs.  

A number of commemorative plaques were unveiled during the opening ceremony.  Amongst those commemorated were Geff Geffroy, Hella Borochowitz and Bryan Slome. Borochowitz, nee Ryinsky, was one of the Jews detained on the island by the British during World War II. Her mother and brother both died on the island and are buried in the island's St Martin's Jewish cemetery. Unlike most of the detainees, who found their way to Israel after the war, she settled in Cape Town, where she married Jack Borochowitz. The plaque was dedicated by their children.

Geffroy, one of the Centre's main benefactors, was born in Mauritius, converting to Judaism after settling in South Africa and marrying Sharon Rudy. He subsequently discovered that he had been Jewish all along after learning that his maternal grandmother had been a Jewess. Particularly poignant was the plaque in memory of Bryan Slome, who was killed in a car accident in Johannesburg whilst fulfilling his duties as an Ezra paramedic. It was dedicated by his uncle, Andrew Slome, aunt and cousins, who today live in Mauritius.

Shul services were conducted daily at the hotel where South African delegates were staying, with the exception of Thursday, when an inaugural Shacharit service was held at the new shul. This marked the first time the Torah had been publicly read since the departure of the detainees sixty years previously. That night, Lag B'Omer  was celebrated with a tradition bonfire and kosher dinner on the beach.

Visits were also paid to the St. Martin's Jewish Cemetery, where 127 Jewish detainees who died on the island during the war are buried, and the Beau Bassin prison, where the detainees were interned. Rabbi Silberhaft stressed the important contribution South African Jewry, through the SAJBD, had made to seeing to the needs and comforts of the prisoners throughout their stay on the island. A memorial plaque in honor of the late Isia Birger was unveiled at the cemetery in the presence of his son, Marc, and members of the South African delegation. Birger (1908-1989) was the sole  identified Jew living on Mauritius when more than 1600 Jewish detainees arrived on the island in 1941 after being denied permission to land  in Palestine. He acted as the liaison between the S A Jewish Board of Deputies, the British colonial administration and the detainees and after the war helped maintain the Jewish cemetery, in which he is today buried.

Following the opening of the AMI Centre, Rabbi Silberhaft headed a small delegation to meet the President of the Republic of Mauritius, the Rt Hon. Sir Anerood Jugnauth and presented him with an inscribed copy of the book The Mauritian Shekel. which tells the story of the Jewish detainees on Mauritius. Jugnauth expressed satisfaction at the fact that, with the opening of the synagogue, all faith groups were now represented in his country.