A ‘Boere Jood’ Israeli
Colonel, his Brother and
Larger than life – both literally and figuratively. He a man of the land – the Land of Israel and the rough and rugged country of the Northern Cape and is equally at home in both. He is Colonel (Res) David Teperson, two metres (six feet, six inches) tall, with a voice and a heart to match. In Israel he is known as “Migdal” (Tower) and, in the country towns where he grew up, he is “Dawie”, now with honorific of Oom attached.
Born on 6 October, 1926, Teperson has fought a battle against dyslexia all his life and also fought in every one of Israel’s wars, from the War of Independence and the Sinai Campaign to operations against the Intifada from 2000 to 2005 – in total 48 campaigns.
He has documented his life in an autobiography The Volunteer, “because I volunteer for everything. I don’t wait to be asked, I come forward and take charge and believe that is what true leadership is all about”.
Today he is one of the most successful building contractors and developers in Israel, a resident of Kfar Shmaryahu, where he was responsible for palatial homes and modern commercial buildings.
In South Africa recently to pay tribute to the late Phyllis Jowell (co-author of the story of the Jews of Namaqualand, Into Kokerboom Country, and one-time resident of the town with her husband, pioneer descendant, Cecil), revisited his roots in Springbok, Garies and Clanwilliam, at the invitation of Board of Deputies’ “Travelling Rabbi” Moshe Silberhaft, spiritual leader of the country communities and the African Jewish Congress, accompanied by David’s older brother, Monty, a resident of Highlands House in Cape Town.
“These were the best years of our life,” the brothers agreed, after braving the six-hour drive (both ways) between Cape Town to Springbok. “Ons is nou huis toe – we are now home,” was their nostalgic conclusion.
David Teperson was born in Cape Town and, at the age of four, moved to Johannesburg, where his parents, Abraham and “Ma Teppy”, bought and ran a hotel.
“We had a number of Africans and Indians working for us, but my favourite was a big Zulu named Piccanin – he adored me and I loved him. He taught me the art of throwing a spear, Zulu stick fighting and a lot of Zulu ways which I still find very useful today.” Teperson and his family were always on the move. He lived, inter alia, in Johannesburg, Ficksburg, Cape Town, Clanwilliam, Springbok, Vryburg and Garies, as well as farming in Namibia, before being among the first volunteers to fight with the Palmach, travelling to Israel (then Palestine) illegally via the DP camps in France.
His school years were chequered. Because of his dyslexia, which was only diagnosed when his son, starting school, had the same learning problem, Teperson was kept back and removed from various schools on several occasions. Switching from English- to Afrikaans-medium systems and changing schools so often exacerbated the situation. “The complexes brought on by dyslexia were deep set and remain to this day, As a youngster, I became a daredevil, never afraid to do anything dangerous, in an attempt to cover up my anxiety and fear that people would see me as ‘different’.”
As a result, Teperson developed finely-honed skills. He can spot anything in the veld - his eyes accustomed to terrain – a talent which served him well in the Israeli army and in the Sinai “where I know every sand dune and every hole”. He learnt from the peoples of South Africa – Zulus, Basothos, Bushmen, Hottentots and Afrikaners, as well as being a proud member of the once-thriving Jewish communities in the places where he lived.
His hunting expertise was formidable, as was his sporting ability.
“Even though I could not read or write properly, my size and strength commanded respect. I stopped stuttering and spoke very loudly.”
His business acumen came to the fore in helping his parents run their hotels in Garies and Springbok and he developed a photographic memory.
At agricultural school in Clanwilliam, he came into his own. “I was taught many trades: plumbing, building, mechanics and carpentry. I learnt how to shoe a horse and, if necessary, slaughter an animal. My manual skills gave me confidence.”
Teperson also had a successful farming career as a result of this training. Seldom in South Africa could one wish for better “tour guides” than David and Monty Teperson – from pointing out the dams they built, to identifying the magnificent wild flowers of Namaqualand, showing the Rabbi “my koppie” and seeing the cleverly camouflaged creatures darting in and out of the scrub and bushes.
On the “memory” trip, these Boere Jode were embraced by the considerably younger descendants of the Afrikaner families of their youth.
“Oom Dawie” was greeted with genuine exuberance by Jopie Kotze, hotelier, collector and one of the “main manne” of Springbok. Kotze is the Jewish community’s living link to the past, the protagonist of the Namaqualand Jewish Museum in the old synagogue and the keeper of the most immaculate Jewish cemetery in South Africa, where the Tepersons’ father is buried.
A “pilgrimage” to the cemetery to visit Abraham Teperson’s grave by the brothers was the most emotional aspect of calling back the family’s past. For the Tepersons the trip was both nostalgic and pure fun.
“The Afrikaners and the country Jews get on well. Yiddish is close to Afrikaans and we share a similar sense of humour. We did not have anti-Semitism because we were known as “onse Jode” and we belonged.”
The Tepersons witnessed the acknowledgement by Rabbi Silberhaft, on behalf of the Board of Deputies, of Kotze’s efforts at the presentation of a JNF Golden Book certificate, “in appreciation of your efforts in maintaining the Jewish cemetery in O’Kiep and the Jewish historic sites in Springbok”.
David Teperson was, in turn, feted by the principal, Fanie Nel, staff and learners at his former Augsburg Agricultural School in Clanwilliam, where he addressed a special assembly to thunderous applause.
“Ek is trots om ‘n Boere Jood te wees,” he told them. “I am proud to be a Boer Jew.”
Teperson is married to a sabra, Shoshana, has three children and six grandchildren. He actually fought together with one of his sons in a campaign and in the same unit as his grandson in a later campaign. He is still on the reserve list in the Israel Defence Force and is involved in setting up a Machal/Nachal Museum at Latrun. He also plans to establish on the site “The Museum of the Jewish Soldier”, which will record one-and-half million Jewish fighters against the Nazi regime and commemorate thousands of Jews who fought as partisans under German occupation.