Antique machzor makes aliyah

150-year-old machzor finds its way home

A machzor printed in Vilna, Lithuania in 1876 found its way to the original owner's granddaughter in a long Journey that ended on Tuesday, March 2022.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
A machzor printed in Vilna, Lithuania in 1876 found its way to the original owner's granddaughter in a long Journey that ended on Tuesday, March 2022.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

A nearly 150-year-old Yiddish prayer book for the High Holy Days was reunited with the granddaughter of its original owner on Tuesday, concluding a long journey that began in Lithuania, continued to South Africa and ended in Israel.

The story begins in Vilnius (Vilna in Yiddish) in 1876, where the prayer book, known as a machzor, was printed. It eventually was given to a boy, also born in 1876, named Jacob Dick.

Dick moved to South Africa in 1903, first settling in the Western Cape and then, in the 1920s, in Cape Town.

Dick died in 1941. Eighty years later, a man named Peter Greenberg discovered the machzor in an old suitcase filled with Jewish books in Oranjezicht, a suburb of Cape Town.

The suitcase had belonged to Greenberg’s grandfather, a man named Jacob Potashnik. The Potashniks were friendly with the family of Jacob Dick’s son Eli, who also lived in Oranjezicht.

  A machzor printed in Vilna, Lithuania in 1876 found its way to the original owner's granddaughter in a long Journey that ended on Tuesday, March 2022. (credit: Courtesy) A machzor printed in Vilna, Lithuania in 1876 found its way to the original owner's granddaughter in a long Journey that ended on Tuesday, March 2022. (credit: Courtesy)

Eli immigrated to Israel in 1970, and presumably gave the suitcase to the Potashniks before he left, in whose possession it remained hidden away, forgotten and collecting dust.

When Greenberg opened the machzor in August 2021, he found the inscription “J. Dick, 29 Maynard Street.” With the help of an old book collector named Rabbi Levi Silman, Greenberg was surprised to discover that the address was the home of Cape Town Torah High.

CTTH is based in and around a synagogue that once belonged to the Ponevezh community, whose members had fled a Lithuanian town of that name. The entire community that was left behind was massacred by the Nazis in 1941. Ponevezh is only 130 km. (81 miles) away from Vilnius, where the machzor was printed.

In other words, the address in Jacob Dick’s machzor was either that of the synagogue to which Dick belonged or his home, if he lived adjacent to the synagogue.

Silman contacted CTTH faculty member Rabbi Avi Shlomo, who was happy to return the prayer book to its original location.

The plot, however, then took an unexpected twist.

The story of the machzor appeared in the August 13, 2021, issue of the South African Jewish Report. A woman came across the article and was stunned. Jacob Dick was her grandfather.

She sent a message to the Report’s Facebook page asking for further information. She then contacted all of the people involved – Greenberg, Silman and Shlomo – and put together the pieces of the puzzle.

Shlomo gave the machzor to the woman’s cousin at a special service, and the cousin then brought it to Israel, where on Tuesday it finally arrived at the granddaughter’s home, and where she hopes it will remain for generations to come.