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175 Years of Marriage at Gardens Shul

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SEE FULL PICTURE INSIDE: As a beaming Rabbi Osher Feldman ascended the pulpit last Shabbat to deliver his sermon, he welcomed worshippers with a hearty “Good Yontiff!” The laughter with which he was met by the capacity congregation confirmed that, while this was not a festival, the occasion was indeed a festive one.
by MOIRA SCHNEIDER | Nov 11, 2015

This was the eighth anniversary of Friday Night Live, which served as the launch of a year of events set to culminate in the 175th anniversary of the Gardens Synagogue, the country’s oldest synagogue, and in fact, the birth of the South African Jewish community. 

In keeping with the theme “175 Years of Marriage at the Gardens Shul”, couples married in the synagogue since its founding in 1841, were honoured, with a display of wedding photographs since the late 1800s, generating much excitement. Poignantly, there were cases of four generations of the same family who had tied the knot there.  For Jenny Marin, the third generation of her family to marry at the shul, “the atmosphere outdoors was wonderful – nostalgia mixed with modernity, the older folks and the newly-marrieds all intermingling. Smiles abounded.

“The shul was truly abuzz and aglow with excitement and a feeling of community and togetherness. It was a ‘l’dor va dor’ moment.”

To mark the historic occasion, those present who had married at the shul posed for a group photograph (before Shabbat). Before the service, the stage was set with champagne, cocktails and a jazz band and afterwards, the congregation spilled into the Company’s Garden to the accompaniment of “Sholom Aleichem” by the chazzan and choir, followed by sushi and l’chaims in a beautifully-lit marquee.

Friday Night Live was initiated by Rabbi Feldman, spiritual leader of the congregation, shortly after his arrival eight years ago. The concept has been emulated worldwide since then, in places such as America, Canada, Australia, South America and locally, Cape Town and Johannesburg.  

The idea came to the rabbi after his first Rosh Hashanah at the shul, as a means of continuing the momentum and getting those who were not regular shulgoers to “one little extra commitment” of attending once a month. “I also wanted to recreate the South African Friday night tradition of coming to shul,” he remembers. 

Rabbi Feldman’s dream was to “rebrand shul and make it a place that’s relevant and exciting, while still maintaining the integrity of the tradition. Shul is a port of entry into Jewish life and we hope that we have made it more appealing to the masses and that way they can access their Jewish heritage and become a part of this wonderful community.”

Each of the 74 events held to date has had an individual theme, with some recent ones having been “Absolut and Rosh Hashanah fruit”, “Cricket, Castle and Kiwis”, in a nod to the Cricket World Cup in New Zealand, and “Latkes, Babkes and Bells”.

While attendance is always good, this time it was estimated to have been over 1 000 people. The rabbi says that he has never received such enthusiastic feedback before. “It hasn’t stopped coming - the e-mails, the SMSes, the WhatsApps - people were moved.

“It wasn’t just about the big crowd and the incredible atmosphere, but something deeper than that,” he reflects. “It was like a 175-year South African history, bridging the generations - celebrating the past, the present, the future, romance, love.”

In the words of congregant Jill Lazard who has been attending the shul her whole life: “In all my years coming to the Gardens Shul, it was the most memorable and historic service I have ever attended.”

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ABOVE: The festive mood outside the shul last Shabbos - how many can you recognise?


3 Comments

  1. 3 Solly Berger 13 Nov
    I joined the choir in 1945 as a little boy, got married and years later there and now the Chairman. Rabbi Feldman has created something that the congregation has never enjoyed before and today is one of the few growing congregations in the world. Kol Hahavod to the Rabbi and Rebetzin and long may they remain
  2. 2 Eli Rabinowitz 25 Dec
    Great article and photos. I see Solly on the steps!
    Looking forward to my next visit in Feb 2016.
  3. 1 Richard Salomon, Boston, USA 12 Sep
    Through Solly Berger's warm hospitality when I arrived at the gates of the Grand Shul in Cape Town in 2011at Sukkot, I learned all about the history of your outstanding community. I quickly experienced the vitality, the vibrancy 
    and welcome from all whom I met at the Grand Shul.
    I have often popped in on Jewish synagogues at holidays when I have been traveling in cities around the World. In no other city, including Jerusalem, have I ever experienced such exciting, vibrant, living Judaism. 
    Here's wishing all of you another 175 years of growth and spiritual growth as well.
    Blessings,
    L'shalom,
    Rick  
    Boston, Massachusetts, USA

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