Press release - 17 December 2010
The Rev AP Bender
Communal activity at the end of the 19th century centred around the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation in the Gardens, which was led by Irish-born Cambridge-trained Rev Alfred .P. Bender, (1863-1937), who regarded himself, and was regarded by others, as the leader of South African Jewry.
Little communal activity, including the establishment of synagogues, happened without his involvement. In the collection of the Jewish Board of Deputies (Cape Council) there are the ceremonial trowels or keys he received from the Cape Town Beth Hamidrash, the Malmesbury, Muizenberg, Wynberg and Worcester Hebrew Congregations, the Woodstock and Salt River Talmud Torah, the Cape Jewish Aged Home and the Zionist Hall. The Laingsburg and Paarl Synagogues were also opened by him.
That was not all. Gemillut Chassidim was as important and he was active in the Cape Town Jewish Philanthropic Society, the Bikkur Cholim Society, the Jewish Ladies Association, the Jewish Boys and Girls Guilds, the Jewish Young Men’s Association, the Relief Fund for Jewish War Victims, the Anglo-Jewish Association, the Mayor’s Rand Relief Committee and the Cape Hospital Board.
Small wonder that Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson, Governor of the Cape Colony said “Whenever I want to see Mr Bender I go to a charitable meeting”.
He was also keen on art and sat on the Somerset Hospital Hanging Committee. This committee had nothing to do with capital punishment but was responsible for hanging the paintings donated to its Lady Loch Ward for Children.
Lippy Lipshitz has left a vivid picture of his visit to Bender. His study “looked like an antique dealers’ sanctum. Every inch of floor and wall space was covered with bric-à-brac, pictures, sculptures, plate and pottery.” Lippy was told: “So you are the artist.... Art is not like any other profession... but one gets a great kick out of it... In Cape Town, especially among our people, there is very little feeling for art and artists. And the Art School is so poor and backward... So my collection was a revelation to you... You, the artist, will be inspired to make works like these, won’t you? Yet it is a pity so many people come to see me and don’t seem to learn or notice anything. Ah, they have no taste for beauty, no culture. My collection is my greatest pleasure... I am not an artist, but I keep art alive, don’t you see.”
His collection included portraits of himself. The Gardens Synagogue has a bronze bust of Rev Bender carved by Moses Kottler. The Cape Council has a micrographic picture of him, a pen drawing by Professor Emeritus Edward Roworth, Director of the SA National Gallery and Michaelis Art School, a sketch by Cape Times cartoonist MAC (Herbert MacKinney), a cartoon by Die Burger cartoonist Daniel Cornelius Boonzaaier and an oil painting by Neville Lewis.
It is said that one can have too much of a good thing and it was felt that three pictures of the good man on the walls was sufficient to commemorate his contribution to our community. With the cost of tertiary education escalating tremendously over the years, the Rev Bender would have been one of the first to recognise the importance of ensuring that the next generation is provided with an education. After all, he had also been the Chairman of the Cape Town Hebrew Public School, had been elected onto the Cape Division School Board with the highest number of votes and had been appointed to the Chair of Hebrew at the South African College, later the University of Cape Town - the first Jewish minister in South Africa to hold a professorial position.
Thus the decision was taken to auction the painting and place the money raised into the Board’s bursary fund to provide additional funding for tertiary education for Jewish students in the Western Cape who are in financial need.
The painting is by Cape Town-born artist, Neville Lewis, who studied in Cornwall and London’s Slade School, served in the British armed forces in World War 1, before taking a studio in London where he obtained a reputation as a portrait painter and exhibited in the UK, the USA and Europe. Besides Rev Bender, he has also painted Solly Joel, Winston Churchill, Jan Smuts, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, King George III of Greece, Chief Tshekedi Khama, Chief Albert Luthuli and many others. In World War 11 he was appointed SA’s first Official War Artist and designed its war postage stamps. His work is represented in many major art galleries in SA, Britain and Madrid.
The money raised will go into a specially dedicated bursary fund.
Alfred Neville Lewis
(South African 1895-1972)
REV AP BENDER
oil on canvas
59 by 49cm
R 18 000 – 24 000
 Herrman, Louis The Cape Town Hebrew Congregation 1841-1941, Mercantile-Atlas, Cape Town no date, 79
 Gustav Saron and Louis Hotz, The Jews in South Africa: A History, 1955,57-58
 Esme Berman, Art & Artists of South Africa, 1970, 179