In 1919, a young couple sent a circular to the Jewish community in Durban, asking for their support. Faced with growing anti-Semitism and barred from many of the city’s clubs, they had decided to set up their own – a space for the community to come together, socialise and host events.
So began the Durban Jewish Circle. Initially a small literary and musical club, it grew into one of Durban’s liveliest venues. As well as offering entertainment, the Jewish Club was committed to improving the lives of those in the community and beyond, undertaking numerous social projects. During the Second World War, it became a canteen for soldiers coming off the ships. In the post-war years, it remained a hub, with sports teams, musical events and regular visits from leading speakers.
Today, the Circle Cafe stands on the site of the former club, recalling its unique history and legacy by offering a warm and tranquil space for people from all walks of life to come together.
Judy, chief baleboste at the cafe, first came here long before it existed in its present incarnation. She recalls how her very first job was in the office of the Jewish Club, which officially opened in 1931. Her parents were one of the first couples to get married there.
She remembers how she first became active in the club when she was twelve because she started playing tennis. Later, she returned to run the Junior Tennis Club with her husband. One of the regulars was the English tennis player Virginia Wade, who later remembered the time as some of the happiest tennis years in her life!
When she gave up the tennis, she got involved with the social committee, organising pop-up restaurants for evening social functions. And, as she says, lots of what she has ended up doing since has been related to cooking!
When they first opened the club, the organising committee chose the name ‘Circle’ because it encompassed everything the Jewish community did, its sense of continuity and support. She likes the thought that this spirit is continued in the compassionate and tranquil space that is the Circle Cafe today.