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Sinai Indaba refreshes and innovates

  • Nissim Black4
Sinai Indaba’s launch in Cape Town last weekend drew far more young people - school kids and university students alike - than in previous years because many had been unable to attend because of exam commitments. There was a special Sinai Indaba youth track, “Sinai Next”, that catered specifically to high-school learners.
by SIMON APFEL | Mar 03, 2017

For the past six years, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein’s Sinai Indaba initiative has brought the top international Torah thinkers and personalities to South African shores for this national symposium.

Speakers have ranged from renowned rabbis and rosh yeshivas, to leading academics, artists and entertainers, and the event has routinely drawn audiences in the thousands, bringing together South African Jews of every persuasion - religious, secular, traditional; young and old. 

The Cape Town International Convention Centre pulsated, as crowds bustled between venues, scanning their programmes, animatedly discussing the speakers, embodying the “Unite, Inspire, Discover” ethos.

It was a slick affair. From start to finish, it felt like a high-level academic conference.

The lineup of speakers was probably the most eclectic yet.

Rabbi Dr Elimelech Goldberg, founder of the Kids Kicking Cancer organisation, which teaches breathing techniques and meditation to children battling serious illnesses, ran his audience through the full gamut of emotions in a literally breathtaking seminar that doubled up as a meditation class.

Pop historian Ken Spiro surgically but cheerfully dismantled the recent Unesco resolution on the heritage status of Jerusalem, while his “WorldPerfect” presentation excavated the ancient world to show how the big ideas of a small people form the bedrock of civilisation.

Nili Couzens, fittingly, made her audience feel like family, presenting a series of warm, compassionate talks addressing the challenges facing the 21st century Jewish woman.

Fellow JWRP torchbearer, Raquel Kirszenbaum, was as warm and welcoming as the Panamanian weather, her words tumbling forth in a torrent of care and concern, warmth and humour, love and gratitude, and with a straightforwardness that was immediately engaging.

There was the elfin Rabbi Dr Sam Lebens, a young analytical philosopher working at the cutting edge of language and logic, who took a surreal trip through the nature of reality by way of the Polish chasidic masters and Harry Potter.

Rabbi Dov Greenberg showed why he is one the most popular campus rabbis in the world, as he presented profound Torah teachings in a practical, down-to-earth manner, demonstrating their deep relevance to contemporary life.

And Rabbi Reuven Leuchter, one of the great mussar masters of this generation, was a towering presence (and a surprise favourite among the young people), delivering piercing, pathbreaking insights on human nature and personal development.

Johannesburg has more to look forward to, with motivational guru, Charlie Harary, JPost editor and military pundit, Yaakov Katz, and popular rosh yeshiva Binny Freedman, added to the bill, along with Jewish funk-rockers, Shtar.

In her closing address, Couzens called Rabbi Goldstein a “spiritual entrepreneur” and “true visionary”, and paid tribute to the South African Jewish community. 

“I don’t know any place on the planet where anything like this happens - that thousands of Jews get together for a pure learning experience.”

Rabbi Goldstein said: “The message of Sinai Indaba is that in life it’s so important to innovate, reinvent and renew ourselves; to never become complacent.

“How can we do things differently? How can we find more avenues for connection? How can we grow as people? How can we bring renewed energy and excitement into our lives and shrug off the stale and empty, the boring and tired?” 

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