Our Jewish Life

Our Jewish Life

The moral development of our pupils is a priority that weaves its way through everything we do at Theodor Herzl. Our warm, caring environment encourages all pupils to develop to their full potential – physically, mentally and spiritually – and we emphasise universal values rooted in the Judaic tradition.

Theodor Herzl was founded by members of the Jewish community in Port Elizabeth, as the United Hebrew Institutions (UHI), to provide educational facilities for traditional Jewish education in the city. The demographics of the school have changed dramatically over the decades – now more closely reflecting the cultural melting pot of modern South Africa – and Theodor Herzl has developed into a private centre of excellence catering for both Jewish and non-Jewish learners.

Jewish pupils

Theodor Herzl’s Jewish pupils are nourished spiritually with a full programme. The school’s synagogue, where tradition and continuity are enhanced by the furniture and fittings donated by the country communities of Kirkwood and Willowmore, contributes to its Jewish ethos. A prayer service is held in the synagogue every Friday morning. Members of the Jewish community join our high school learners for prayers and our primary school children participate on Rosh Chodesh (the beginning of the new month).The rabbi is the spiritual guide of the school, who ensures that the Hallacha (Jewish law) is kept. He is involved in teaching Judaica and his words of wisdom and guidance are appreciated at assemblies, Jewish festivals and commemoration days, and various other school events.

Our Jewish pupils participate in the Judaica programme. They learn Hebrew until the end of grade 9. Non-Jewish pupils may participate in the lessons if they wish to do so. In the Primary School, Jewish pupils learn about their rich heritage in Judaica classes, while in the High School all Jewish learners meet for ‘Jewish Time’ one period a day, to further explore their roots and to discuss issues of interest.

Festivals for all

The many commemorative, historical and spiritual festivals that colour the Jewish faith are enjoyed by all Theodor Herzl pupils, regardless of their family faiths. They are an essential slice of life at Theodor Herzl, embraced every year as an opportunity to impart timeless values like kindness, benevolence, sharing, respect, integrity, compassion and empathy. Some of the most important Jewish celebrations and historic dates on the Theodor Herzl calendar include:

  • Purim – celebration of Jewish deliverance in Ancient Persia as told in the Book of Esther, marked by a colourful fancy dress parade and gifts for charity
  • Pesach – (Passover) commemorates escape from slavery in Ancient Egypt
  • Holocaust Day – remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust
  • Lag B’Omer – significant on numerous levels, Lag B’Omer is celebrated at Theodor Herzl with families gathered around a bonfire to share a meal and listen to the Rabbi’s stories.
  • Shavuot – commemorates the day that God gave the Torah (Hebrew Bible) to the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai; Shavuot is also linked to harvest season, so Theodor Herzl pupils offer gifts of fruit and vegetables to the poor at this time
  • Rosh Hashana – Jewish New Year
  • Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement

The School’s grounds are out of bounds over Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday) and during some festivals. No sporting or cultural activities take place over Shabbat.