The Keidaner Association in South Africa

Published, in English, in the 1977 Keidan “Sefer Zikaron” (memorial or yizkor book)

By Max Rochin

After World War I, immediately after the liberation of Lithuania, the Lithuanian government granted the Jews a certain autonomy. A Jewish National Council was set up, yet all this lasted only a short time.

The situation in Lithuania as well as in Keidan deteriorated; there was no employment and no sources of income for people. A big emigration began. People would go to any place in the world. Many young people went to Palestine, many went to South America and many left for South Africa.


A Golden Jubilee in Johannesburg


Those who went to South Africa and had no relatives in the foreign country, could address themselves to the Keidaner Society with all their problems. The Society took an interest in the problems of each one, helped some of them getting work, assisted others with a loan and arranged for them a livelihood, others received tools and even loans in order to support the wife and the family left behind in Keidan. Medical assistance and medicaments were given to all free of charge, and in this way everyone arranged himself gradually.

In course of time the Society increased, because new townspeople arrived, yet the more townspeople came, the more the situation of the Society became difficult, as it became necessary to help each one and there were no funds. As soon as one person finished to pay his loan, another one applied for help, and the members of the committee had big difficulties in satisfying everybody.

Every Sunday the members of the committee used to go and collect the membership fees, two shillings and six pence a month, and on Monday at the meeting each of them brought with him the money. After the collected money was summed up at the meeting, there was a great joy: it will be possible to pay the doctor, the pharmacy and it will be possible to grant the most urgent loan which an immigrant is already expecting for so long.

At the beginning of 1930 many townspeople came, because in May the immigration was stopped and no more immigrants came from Lithuania and Keidan. The Society had at that time very big difficulties in helping everybody to arrange themselves. The situation in Keidan deteriorated, each one received letters from his father, mother, brothers and sisters with pleas to save them and to send them help. Different institutions wrote to the Society too, that they perish, because the population cannot maintain them. So, for instance, the public bath was burnt and the town remained without a bath. Meetings were arranged but there were no means to rebuild the bath. We held immediately a meeting of all the townspeople and the necessary sum was collected.

Or a public appeal, – there was a big flood which destroyed amongst other things the fence of the cemetery, and it is necessary to fortify the hill, otherwise the graves will collapse and the Chevra Kadisha1 has no money. We had to save and send money. We collected again the necessary funds and sent it to Keidan.

Again a request – the roof of the big synagogue is decayed and it rains into it, the Scrolls of the Law and the holy books are being damaged. We collected the money and sent it to Keidan.

The town became poor and together with it the people. When Passover approached, there was no possibility to collect “Maot Chitin.” 2 Again they appealed to us. Unfortunately there was no unity between the public workers of Keidan. There were two institutions. One of these was the “Kehila” and the other one — “Ezra,” and both of them appealed, and we didn’t know what to do. The result was that we sent to both institutions and they distributed according to their understanding.

We used to organize two campaigns every year, one for winter to buy timber and the other one for “Maot Chitin,” and we continued so till the big destruction of the world, which befell the humanity and our beloved Keidan.

During World War ll the situation changed completely. Keidan was unfortunately closed and we heard no more from there. Here in South Africa, the townspeople already were a little established, some more some less. We continued with our work. Some of our people still needed loans, and we continued with our system of doctor and medicaments. We also used to come to meetings. We were thinking only about the fate of the Jews in Keidan. During the war we believed that when the war comes to an end, we shall be able again to rebuild Keidan. We began collecting money by different means and we raised a big sum.

Unfortunately there was already no need for funds in Keidan. There were found only a few townspeople in the DP camps in Germany or dispersed all over Russia and in Vilnius. We found all our townspeople and assisted them with hundreds of packages of food and clothing. Our women worked around the clock and they packed and mailed till the camps in Germany became empty, thanks to the State of Israel, where the majority of our townspeople lives today.

We also assisted our townspeople in Israel. We established a loan fund in Israel, which the townspeople in Israel use to their best.

Many townspeople still remained all over Russia and we mailed to them packages and clothing as well as different useful articles, till approximately 1970, when we became informed that they had troubles from the government and we stopped mailing packages to them.

Recently we sent aid to the new immigrants from Russia and we participated in the Memorial Book, which will be an eternal monument for our Keidan.

Footnotes

  1. Burial Society
  2. Charity distributed at Passover.