centennial schedule message by rosh & vera centenial book sale

Centennial Book order information

Centennial Celebration

The Nairobi Hebrew Congregation Council, the Centennial Committee and the Shelanu Team feel that this is a special issue of the Shelanu. We hope you will think so too. It is part of the Centennial Celebration.

It is meant to be nostalgic, historic, sentimental and commemorative – looking back and thinking forward – rejoicing in the fact that we have 100 years of history to celebrate and 100 or more years to look forward to.  The Jewish community in Kenya is after all unique, comprising Jewry from all corners of the earth, Sephardic and Ashkenazic, from countries as diverse as Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada, Israel, Yemen, Iraq, India, Morocco and South Africa -- and native-born Kenyan Jews. Our community is a microcosm of the Jewish Diaspora, as are the stories of how each one of us arrived in Kenya. The diversity is most clearly apparent on the high holy days when one can see the traditions practiced in a variety of ways -- and yet all are attentive to the essence of the holiday. We rejoice in our diversity and in our unity. In one way, however, the community resembles Jewish communities all over the world. There are always as many opinions on any issue as there are members present, and in this day and age others chime in by e-mail.

The Shelanu is one of the avenues for saying what you think, reading what others think and keeping in touch with your Community. My thanks to all who have contributed their articles, their photos, their memories and their time. The Hebrew language team deserves special mention: Daphne and Michael Graber; Metuka Lutzky, Didi Rom. Thanks to Rina Attias for the wonderful collage. Thanks to Ivor Davis for his text and photos. Thanks to those who have sent greetings. Thanks to Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airways that have donated wonderful air tickets for prizes at our gala dinner. Thanks to all others who have contributed in cash and in kind to making this a memorable event. And thanks to all of you for reading the Shelanu.

Barbara Steenstrup



October 2004




21 - 24


Photo, document and art exhibitions

Vermont Hall







Services followed by Commemorative Kiddush

Synagogue & Vermont Hall



Gala dinner dance

To be announced

November 2004






Piano and viola concert

International School Music Centre




Centennial Message by Rosh Kehila Vera Somen

It is a unique honour and privilege to be Rosh Kehilla at this time when the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation celebrates its Centennial. I grew up in this Community, going to ‘cheder’ under protest on Sundays, and to Chanukah and Purim parties, in the same Vermont Memorial Hall we continue to use to this very day; I attended the original shul with my parents, climbing the stairs to the women’s gallery, from where we looked down to the central bima, and looked up to the blue painted dome. Later I went to evening entertainments and dances at the Hall, and later still was married in the new shul; and each of my three sons became bar mitzvah there; one of them was married there, and now my grandchildren have been blessed there. My parents were laid to rest in our cemetery. The whole span of my life has taken place against the backdrop of the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation. I never dreamed that it would so happen that I would head that Congregation as it enters its second century.

From the early days when a handful of immigrant Jews founded a congregation, in what was then an intensely British colony to which those early pioneers gave due loyalty, through two world wars, the latter bringing a wave of refugees from Europe, including my own family, through the struggle for the creation of the State of Israel, and the internment of Palestinian Jews in Gilgil, and on into Kenyan Independence, the Jews of Nairobi created their lives within the framework of this community. The numbers have gone up and down, the backgrounds have varied at different times, but the energy and drive of its members, their adherence to the centrality of their Jewishness, their sheer tenacity, has kept this congregation going and enabled it to survive and even flourish, despite dwindling numbers. There is something singular and unique about this community, a warmth, a vibrancy, that often causes comment from casual visitors. We have been lucky enough always to have a nucleus of devoted workers and contributors which has enabled us to keep the community as active as many a much larger one. Disagreements, controversies, intense competition amongst those seeking office have enlivened communal life. Conflicting opinions held with passion and conviction, have been expounded with great vigour and high volume, and feuds amongst opposing camps have come and gone. And at the same time, those very people who have fought and argued about issues affecting the community have always banded together and been ready work enthusiastically to carry out the many activities that go to creating a full and varied social and religious programme. They have been prepared to rush to the aid of other less fortunate Jews, and indeed non-Jews, and have supported the State of Israel in many ways.

In short, this very small community has managed to encompass what it means to be Jewish. Though the level of religious observance has varied enormously, services have been maintained, the festivals are celebrated and the flame of Jewish life continues to burn in this beautiful corner of Africa.  May it continue to do so for many more years to come.