Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Preserved in the Land of the Dodo

Ari Z. Zivotofsky and Ari Greenspan

Mauritius doesn’t have a long Jewish history, but it turned into an unplanned prison refuge for a shipload of Jews outrunning the Nazis. Fascinated, we dropped onto that piece of land jutting up from the Indian Ocean

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

mishpacha image

IT’S ALIVE Our guide, Jewish community president Owen Griffith, is a passionate conservationist trying to prevent more species from becoming extinct. His giant tortoise farm, responsible for 1,000 tortoises and 2,000 crocodiles, is reintroducing this almost extinct beast back into nature (Photos: Ari Z. Zivotofsky and Ari Greenspan)

B y now we’re never surprised when we discover Jews, Jewish history, and Jewish heroes in even the most far-flung places. So when we decided to add a stopover on the remote resort island of Mauritius when we were planning our trip to the emerging Jewish community of Madagascar, we knew we wouldn’t be disappointed. Plunk in the middle of the Indian Ocean, 705 miles from Madagascar and over 2,200 miles from South Africa, Mauritius — with its 1.4 million people — is indeed what you’d call out of the way.

Centuries before Jews came to the island, though, it was home to the legendary extinct dodo bird — a large, passive bird with short wings and a bulky body that prevented it from flying or fleeing in the face of danger. Before Mauritius was inhabited by island settlers, these birds had no experience with human predators, but once discovered by Dutch sailors in 1598, the dodo’s end was quick in coming. Dodo meat was considered a delicacy, rats and monkeys that escaped from the ships posed a threat to dodo eggs and chicks, while the pigs, goats, chickens, cats, and dogs that were introduced to the island made the dodo’s once peaceful life a daily struggle for survival. The last claimed sighting of the big bird was in 1662.

The legendary bird was not the only one facing the process of extinction, as the island at one time was replete with unique flora and fauna, many of which today have gone the way of the dodo. But there is still much to preserve on this magnificent hub of nature, and one of the leaders in that effort is a man named Owen Griffiths — who also happens to be president of the island’s 100-plus member Jewish community.

The grave of Karl Lenk, who refused to take a baptismal certificate and save himself; there aren’t too many of the Tribe here, but the Island Hebrew Congregation does meet for holiday services

We found out about Owen before heading out to the African coast, and he exemplified the Jewish trait of hospitality. From the moment we landed he took us around, showing us the historic Jewish sites and some of the island’s natural treasures. But the most interesting Jewish “site” on the island is clearly Owen Griffiths himself.

Tortoise Pace

Griffiths is a fascinating individual who’s willing to go to great lengths to help the Jewish community. His personal history starts with the early days of the Jewish settlement in Australia, where his great-great-grandfather was shipped as a petty thief at the time the British were using that distant continent as a massive prison colony.

In fact, all four of Owen’s grandparents were born in Australia. His great-grandfather, Abraham Reuben, was among the founders of the Hobart Synagogue, Australia’s first synagogue building. His maternal grandfather, Lieutenant Leo Rosengarten, was an officer in the Australian military, and Owen recently discovered an item about him from the Sydney Morning Herald in 1919. It seems that he’d gotten into a fracas with another officer over some lamb chops. They were hauled in front of Captain Cohen, a superior officer, for a quick trial. Captain Cohen is reported to have scolded Lieutenant Rosengarten by saying something to the effect of “if this had been over a piece of pork chop, I would have thrown the book at you, but seeing that it relates to lamb, I will let you off with a scolding.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 658)

Related Stories

Candle in the Dark

Yossi Elituv & Aryeh Ehrlich

In a rare conversation, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu travels down the nostalgic route to descri...

Voice for a Nation

Mishpacha Contributors

In 1970, Rabbi Nisson Wolpin accepted the editorship of The Jewish Observer, “a mechanech for adults...

Danger Zone

Faygie Levy-Holt

Students on campuses today talk about “safe spaces” for minorities. Jewish students who are routinel...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

What’s in a Name?
Shoshana Friedman “What does Writer X have to say this week?”
Atonement — Fake and Real
Yonoson Rosenblum White confessionals and faux rituals
Four Walls Coming Full Circle
Eytan Kobre All the while, there’s been a relationship in the offing...
And Yet We Smile
Yisroel Besser We are the nation that toils to be happy at all costs
Out of This World
Rabbi Henoch Plotnick Dirshu Hashem b’himatzo — we are in Hashem’s company now...
Steven and Jonathan Litton
Rachel Bachrach The co-owners of Litton Sukkah, based in Lawrence, NY
Tali Messing
Moe Mernick Tali Messing, engineering manager at Facebook Tel Aviv
Sick Note
Jacob L. Freedman “Of course, Dr. Freedman. Machul, machul, machul”
Avoiding Health Columns Can Be Good for You
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman Only one reliable guide for good health: our Torah
Endnote: Side Notes
Riki Goldstein Most Jewish music industry entertainers have side profes...
Me, Myself, and Why
Faigy Peritzman Where there’s no heart and no love, there’s no point
Can’t Do It Without You
Sarah Chana Radcliffe When you step up to the plate, you build your home team
Eternal Joy
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz The joy of Succos is the fruit of spiritual victory
The Appraiser: Part III
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer Make sure your child knows his strengths
Hidden Special Needs
Rena Shechter You won’t see his special needs, but don’t deny them
Dear Wealthy Friend
Anonymous There’s no need for guilt. I am truly happy for you