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November 25, 1983 - Image 64

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1983-11-25

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

64 Friday, November 25, 1983

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Kenyans Play Role in Modern Jewish History

By AVIVA CANTOR
(Copyright 1983, JTA Inc.)

NAIROBI (JTA) — The
history of Jews and the his-
tory of Kenya, a black, East
African country, have in-
tersected three times in the
past 80 years.
The last, and perhaps best
known of these encounters
was Kenya's role in the
1976 Israeli rescue of Jews
in Entebbe, Uganda. Per-
mission for the Israeli re-

scue aircraft to refuel in
Kenya, which has no official
diplomatic relations with
Israel, was a key element in
the success of the operation.
The second encounter
took place before the birth of
the Jewish state. In 1947,
members of the Etzel (the
Irgun) were interned by the
British in the Gilgil Camp
in Kenya, about 70 miles
northwest of Nairobi. Six
prisoners, led by Yaakov

Meridor (now Minister of
the Economy) broke out of
the camp on April 15, 1948.
Although the escape
was successful, the pris-
oners arrived in Israel
later than the comrades
they left behind, who re-
turned home at the end of
the British Mandate, May
15, 1948.
The first encounter goes
back even further — to the
British proposal for creat-
ing a place of refuge for Rus-
sian Jews in East Africa —
the misnamed "Uganda
Plan." The area in question
was a section of Kenya
known today as the Uasin
Gishu Plateau. The plan
was ultimately rejected by
the World Zionist Congress
in 1905.
These encounters had an
important impact, not only
on world Jewry, but on the
small community of Jews
living in Kenya. On a recent
visit, a group of Jewish
journalists and tour
operators from the U.S. and
Israel met with leaders of
the community and learned
a great deal of the history
and present circumstances
of the community.
The group lodged "on
safari" at hotels, some of
which once were or still are
Jewish-owned and passed
through small towns where

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Jewish communities once
existed. The trip was or-
ganized by Unitours at the
invitation of the Kenyan
government and in coopera-
tion with Iberia Airlines.
The Nairobi Hebrew
Congregation, founded
in 1904, has about 125
members, according to
Ivor Davis, a professional
public relations person
who also serves the
Jewish community in this
capacity. Less than half
the members are perma-
nent residents of Kenya.
The congregation holds
services there Friday even-
ing and Saturday morning,
following the "minhag"
(practice) of the (Orthodox)
United Synagogue of Great
Britain.
The small, attractive
synagogue building, with
its wood-paneled sanctuary
and beautiful rose garden,
was rebuilt in 1955 after the
congregation's first build-
ing, put up in 1913, de-
teriorated beyond the con-
gregation's ability to con-
tinue repairing it.
The first Jewish settlers,
some of whom had imagined
themselves the vanguard of
a new Jewish Common-
wealth, arrived in Nairobi
in 1903, mostly from Poland
and Russia. Nairobi was at
the time a little more than a
railroad camp in the middle
of a frog swamp. The
settlers lived in tin shacks,
cooked their meals in the
street, and traveled by
rickshaw.
Abraham Block, who
died in 1965 after a long
and successful business
and communal career,
was a pioneer in the
community. Block ar-
rived in 1903 from East-
ern Europe via South Af-
rica, and went on to
pioneer tourism in

Kenya. "It's a real rags-
to-riches story," said Ivor
Davis, the Jewish com-
munity's public affairs
person. Block's sister,
Lillie Haller, was the first
Jewish woman settler in
the country.
Block acquired the Nor-
folk Hotel in Nairobi (where
the Bat-Dor Dance Com-
pany stayed when they per-
formed there in May) in
1927 and later, the New
Stanley, which he sold to
Conrad Hilton. He sold the
Mawingo Hotel in Nanyuki
to the late William Holden,
who renamed it the Mt.
Kenya Safari Club.

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because they are ignored.
—Aldous Huxley

NEW YORK (JTA) — A
24-hour autopsy hotline to
help families to avert au-
topsies in New York when
they may be contrary to
Jewish religious law has
been established by the Na-
tional Jewish Commission
on Law and Public Affairs
(COLPA) and the United
Hebrew Community (UHC)
of New York-Adath Israel of
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main center in the
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late communal leader and
devoted benefactor of the
university.
A gift of $1 million from
Leonard Stern initiated the
campaign for construction
of the center, which will ful-
fill a more than 50-year-old
dream at the university.
The athletic center also will
be the first new construc-
tion on the university's
main center in more than a
decade.
The center will include
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