Mendelssohn Sidney - The Jews of Africa

Author : Mendelssohn Sidney
Title : The Jews of Africa Especially in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
Year : 1920

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SIDNEY MENDELSSOHN died in London after an illness of sorne months' duration on September 26th, 1917. He had retired from business, that of a diamond merchant in South Africa, about twelve years earlier, and had come to England, there to devote his leisure to reading, to public work, and a hove ail to the collection of his magnificent library of works on South Africa and the compilation of his priceless bibliography based on that collection. Sidney Mendelssohn was born at Bristol, the son of the minis ter of the not very numero us J ewish community there. The community being small the means of the minister were not large. However, the care of J ewish parents for the education of their children is proverbial, and this devotion to education which is so general among J ews is, not surprisingly, even more strongly developed among the class to which the parents of the subject of this memoir belonged. Young Mendelssohn therefore had the best education that it was within the means of his parents to give him, and in this connection it must be remembered that his father was a scholar and was therefore able to supplement the instruction which the boy received at school. However, in view of his financial resources he was una ble to keep the boy at school as long as he would have wished or to send him to a university, and in those days scholarships tenable at a university for which boys such as Mendelssohn were eligible were very few and far between, and consequently the boy, like so many of his class and of his day, had togo out early into the world, there to make a wa y for himself. When he was stilllittle more than a boy his father weut to South Africa, leaving his wife, two daughters, and two young er sons to the care of the subj ect of this memoir. Sidney Mendelssohn thereupon undertook as much of the work of his father as he could perform. He used to spend hours when other boys of his age were asleep or engaged in recrea ti on in preparing the subjects he had to teach to his pupils on the following day. In due course the boy and the other members of the family followed the father to South Africa. Kimberley was then the El Dorado of British J ewry and it was to Kimberley that young Mendelssohn betook himself. In South Africa, as has already been indicated, he secured for himself a successful career which enabled him to return to England in early middle age with a moderate fortune. In illustration of his life in South Mrica we may mention that Sidney-on-Vaal was so named in his honour, and that the public library of the town is a standing monument of his munificence and interest in litera ture. Careers such as those of Sidney Mendelssohn are on the whole uneventful so far as the interest of the general public is concerned, and the present case is not exceptional. His literary activities after his return to England are practically the only ones that are of general interest. Mention ought, however, also to be made of the zealous work he performed on behalf of the Liberal Jewish movement and of Anglo-Jewish historical research. An ardent Jew, Mendelssohn, innnediately upon taking up his residence in London, became a warm supporter of the former movement, theu in its fust stages in England, and was for sorne years prior to his death treasurer of the Liberal Synagogue. He was also during the last years of his life an active member of the Council of the Jewish Historical Society of England, to whose Transactions he contributed a valuable sketch of the history of the Jews in South Africa. Before he left that part of the world he was prominent in masonic circles. Easily fust among his literary works is his monumental Bibliography of South "lfrican Literah re, a work which is as complete as any human work can be. Mr. lan D. Colvin, who wrote an introduction to this work, which, without any fear of exaggeration, may be termed great, said of it after its author's dea th, " The Mendelssohn Bibliography describes in detail practically every book, pamphlet, and paper that in any way concerns South Mrica from the time of Vasco da Gama downwards. And it is so arranged, classifted, and indexed as to ena ble the student to find what has been written upon any South Mrican place or problem. It is a gnide to the student of South Africa ; it is the foundation of a South African culture ". This praise is high but not higher than the work deserves. ...

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