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A brief timeline of Jews in the Rhodesias

Village along Great East road in Zambia WIKI COMMONS PHOTO
Village along Great East road in Zambia WIKI COMMONS PHOTO

1880s – First Jews arrive in Zambia (then called Northern Rhodesia), fleeing religious persecution and as economic migrants. Some arrive from South Africa, having moved to the diamond and gold fields there, but leaving because of anti-Semitism.

1894 – First Ashkenazi Jews settle in Zimbabwe (then called Rhodesia) and build their first community around a tented synagogue in Bulawayo. The Jews, mostly from Russia, become very active in the trading industry.

1895 – Zimbabwe’s second Jewish community develops in the capital, Harare (then called Salisbury). Within 15 years, there are approximately 400 Jews in the country.

1905 – More Jews settle in Zambia, fleeing pogroms in Russia after an assassination attempt on Czar Nicholas II.

1928 – First synagogue in Livingstone, Zambia, built. Many Jews settle there before moving to the capital, Lusaka. Many are active in trade and local government.


1938 – About 300 German Jews flee Nazi persecution, arriving in Zambia, which didn’t restrict refugee numbers. German Jews also flee to Zimbabwe.

1950s – A Sephardi Jewish community synagogue is established in Zimbabwe’s capital.

1955-1960 – Zambia’s Jewish population peaks to between 1,000 and 1,200.

1961 – Zimbabwe’s Jewish population peaks to between 7,000 and 8,000.

1964 – Zambia is granted independence. Jewish numbers dwindle as part of a larger exodus of whites from the country, making trade increasingly difficult.

1964-1979 – The Rhodesian Bush War leads much of the Jewish population to emigrate prior to Zimbabwe’s declaration of independence in 1980.

1987 – About 1,200 Jews remain in Zimbabwe. Many also leave for better economic conditions and Jewish marriage prospects. By 2005, there are just 300.

2003 – Bulawayo’s synagogue burns down; it isn’t restored but prayers continue elsewhere.

2016 – Today, there are fewer than 35 Jews in Zambia, mostly in Lusaka, and about 120 Jews remaining in Zimbabwe. 

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