The origin and development of the South African Jewish Community is one small part of a vast and varied literature on the formation of 19th century diasporic communities, worldwide. Records include ships' passenger lists, transit placement, immigration papers, memoirs, reminiscences and letters home and abroad. However, unedited, unbowdlerised memoirs that purport to tell how it actually was are few and far between. Such are the manuscripts of two members of the Schrire family. The Reb and the Rebel contains three previously unpublished autobiographical works mainly covering the period 1892-1913: a diary, a poem and a memoir. The first two were written by Yehuda Leib Schrire (1851-1912), and are set in a number of countries including Lithuania, Holland, England and South Africa. The third is by his son, Harry Nathan (1895-1980). Few of the early immigrants to South Africa were writers, let alone poets, and the social history provided in these documents embellishes and enlivens the picture of South African Jewish communities at the turn of the 20th century.
Carmel Schrire is a distinguished professor in the department of anthropology at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. She has directed archaeological excavations in South Africa, Australia and Poland, and has published widely on the impact of colonialism at the Cape. Gwynne Schrire is the deputy director of the Cape branch of the South African Jewish board of deputies. She is an independent researcher who has published on numerous topics relating to the history of Jews in South Africa.