Discovering the Synagogues and Other Jewish Architecture of Sub-Saharan Africa

Center for Jewish History

   A Collection of Watercolor Renderings by Jay A. Waronker                                 

It may come as a surprise to Jews and non-Jews alike that there are countless yet relatively unknown or even unaccounted Jewish communities scattered around the globe in places away from the more known and mainstream Jewish population centers of Israel, the United States, Europe, parts of South America, and Australia.To people who commonly associate Jewish life with certain identifiable “Jewish” places, these less familiar or even unknown enclaves could on the surface seem extraordinary and exotic.

Revealed in this electronic exhibition is how current-day Jewish communities throughout sub-Saharan Africa, some always small, others once relatively large but today much diminished, and even more in marked contrast becoming sizeable as is the case with various black African enclaves, represent significant “other” examples of the Jewish Diaspora.  Too many of these clusters of Jews are at present uncounted or relegated to the sidelines.  Yet the reality is that Jews arrived in sub-Saharan Africa at a wide range of times, organized themselves in an assortment of locations, and they in many instances led or continue to lead productive lives.  

To those living in these places and practicing their faith, being Jewish came to be natural and commonplace.  This tradition of dispersion, which has been endlessly undertaken over many years, began no later than the sixth century BCE, when Jews shifted from Judea to Babylonia, Egypt, and other regional lands before moving even more afar.  Through waves of immigration, Jews located themselves literally throughout the world, including in the vast sub-Saharan region of Africa.


Documenting extant existing and former synagogues along synagogue social halls, Jewish cemeteries, and cemetery chapels in the expansive sub-Saharan African region area may seem a daunting and labor-intensive task even in the jet if not electronic age, and no doubt this is true.  Yet this process has been made easier by the fact that these buildings are not located in every one of the four dozen or so countries of sub-Saharan Africa but in a more manageable number of them.   Within sub-Saharan Africa, the extant buildings constructed as synagogues can be found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.  Whereas Jews may have lived or currently reside in many other areas of some of the above-mentioned countries or in other sub-Saharan African nations that includes Angola, Botswana, Cameroon, Lesotho, Swaziland, and other nations, no synagogues was ever realized or has yet to be built at the time of this book’s publication.

This exhibition records the functioning and former synagogues and other Jewish architecture found throughout sub-Saharan Africa so as to help establish a greater awareness of groups of Jews who formed communities and, for religious and communal needs, built synagogues and other Jewish architecture.  Even though the original creators and patrons of these buildings were temporal, examples of the built form remains as evidence of the way things once were.  This is particularly the case with many contracted white European and Middle Eastern Jewish communities.

Or, in instances of newly established and awakened black Jewish communities in sub-Saharan Africa – the Igbo, Abayudaya, House of Ghana, Beta Abraham, Lemba, and Cameroon groups – the architecture newly built or in the planning stages is a reflection of a changing demographic.  What is revealed through this website is a Jewish religion that is becoming increasingly more diverse, less Western, and distinctly not as white.

Tikvat Yisrael (New Gardens Synagogue) - Cape Town, South Africa
Lubumbashi Synagogue - Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Rodis Community Memorial Hall - Harare, Zimbabwe 
Gammans Jewish Cemetery Chapel - Windhoek, Namibia
Harare Hebrew Congregation - Harare, Zimbabwe
Progressive Jewish Congregation - Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Keetmanshoop Synagogue - Keetmanshoop, Namibia
Livingstone Social Hall - Livingstone, Zambia
Kitwe Synagogue - Kitwe, Zambia
Kitwe Synagogue - Kitwe, Zambia
Honen Dalim Congregation - Maputo, Mozambique
Nakuru Synagogue - Nakuru, Kenya
Livingstone Synagogue - Livingstone, Zambia
Livingstone Synagogue - Livingstone, Zambia
Bulawayo Hebrew Congregation - Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Ohel Shem/Cemetery Chapel - Harare, Zimbabwe
Progressive Jewish Congregation - Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Cemetery Chapel - Swakopmund, Namibia
Mufulira Hebrew Congregation - Mufulira, Zambia
Mufulira Hebrew Congregation - Mufulira, Zambia
Harare Hebrew Congregration - Harare, Zimbabwe
Old Jewish Cemetery Chapel - Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Ndola Hebrew Congregation - Ndola, Zambia
Kitwe Hebrew Congregation - Kitwe, Zimbabwe
Old Jewish Cemetery Chapel - Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Progressive Jewish Congregation - Harare, Zimbabwe
Harare Hebrew Congregation - Harare, Zimbabwe
Gweru Hebrew Congregation - Gweru, Zimbabwe
Guild Hall of the Harare Hebrew Congregation - Harare, Zimbabwe
Kwekwe Hebrew Congregation - Kwekwe, Zimbabwe
Nakuru Hebrew Congregation - Nakuru, Kenya
Succat Rahamin Synagogue - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Beta Israel Synagogue - Wolleka, Ethiopia
Vermont Memorial Hall of the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation - Nairobi, Kenya 
Windhoek Hebrew Congregation - Windhoek, Namibia 
Nairobi Hebrew Congregation - Nairobi, Kenya
Beta Israel Synagogue - Ambober, Ethiopia
Windhoek Hebrew Congregation - Windhoek, Namibia
Succat  Rahamin Synagogue - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Beta Israel Synagogue - Ambober, Ethiopia
Abayudaya Congregation, Moses Synagogue - Nabugoye, Uganda
Abayudaya Congregation - Nabugoye, Uganda
Bulawayo Hebrew Congregation - Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
New Jewish Cemetery Chapel - Bulawayo, Zimbabwe



Born in Atlanta USA, Jay A. Waronker was educated in architecture and architectural history at the University of Michigan, Harvard University, and Cornell University.  After working with Robert A. M. Stern Architects in New York, he returned to his birthplace to establish his own architectural practice.  In addition to his work as an architect, he is on the faculty at Southern Polytechnic State University in Atlanta in its Department of Architecture, where he was also its interim chair.   Waronker also served as a visiting professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory University, North Dakota State University, and Hobart and William Smith Colleges.  Overseas, Waronker has been a visiting professor at Duksung Women’s University in Seoul, North China University of Technology in Beijing, the University of Free State in Bloemfontein South Africa, the University of Adelaide in Australia, and King Mongkut’s University of Technology in Bangkok. 

Along with professional practice and teaching, for years Waronker has been involved in the documentation and study of disapordic synagogue architecture in lesser-known and understudied regions of the world.  The ones of the Indian subcontinent were his first subjects, and this work has been widely published and exhibited.  More recently, as a Fulbright Scholar and via grants from the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation, Cahnman Foundation, and Srochi Fund, a portfolio of one hundred twelve watercolor renderings of the extant synagogues and other Jewish architecture in sub-Saharan Africa along with written histories was completed.

Credits: Story

Artist — Jay A. Waronker, Architect. Jay A. Waronker can be contacted at jayawaronker@aol.com
Digital Content Management — Laura E. Leone, Director of Archive and Library Services, Center for Jewish History
Digitization — Gloria Machnowski, Digital Production Associate, and the staff of the Gruss Lipper Digital Laboratory, Center for Jewish History

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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