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The ‘compromise’ Shoah ceremony

  • JHB5
Rabbi Julia Margolis, chairman of the South African Centre for Religious Equality and Diversity (SACRED) described this year’s Yom Hashoah as “on the one hand, disappointing, but on the other”, she added, “I’m not without hope”.
by ROBYN SASSEN | Apr 28, 2017

She described the day as moving but also sensitive, as it was during this event under the organisational umbrella of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies that the initiative to address discrimination against women - in the form of banning women from singing in public - began a decade ago.

Describing the Kol Isha negotiation process and the agreement which was reached in Cape Town last year, Rabbi Margolis reflected on how the ceremony was brokered “to end the current situation of discrimination”.

But did it work? Rabbi Margolis was ambivalent: “This year’s ceremony was designed to include the ‘voice of women’, without which the mourning for six million people who perished, would lose a great deal of meaning, if not credibility.

“A few days before the ceremony I was saddened to learn that it appeared the organisers had singled out a separate time for the inclusive part with female singing; the memorial ceremony was called ‘traditional’; a separate time was allocated and advertised for it.”

The first part of the ceremony was mooted “Reflections” and started at 10:30. There was a 30 minute interval and the second part of the ceremony, deemed the “traditional” event, began at 11:30.

While this was felt disingenuous for Rabbi Margolis, the event itself gave her hope. She expressed a fervent hope that Yom Hashoah next year will see the whole community empowered to attend the full event and that the title “traditional” will be used to describe the full event and not a segregated understanding of it.  

Wendy Kahn, National Director of the SAJBD, expressed satisfaction with the ceremony, particularly with regard to how well attended it was.

“We put in a lot of thought and a lot of work in terms of getting the correct ceremony today,” she said. “We will review it, as we do each year, but I feel blessed that we are one of the few communities around the world where the entire community comes together to remember the Shoah.”

“Reflections” featured soprano Debbie Joffe singing Hannah Szenes’ moving poem, Eli Eli and an arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in English and Hebrew, performed by six choristers of the King David Victory Park Choir as well as the recital of a poem by Rachel Raff of the South African Union of Jewish Students.

It began with school pupils reading out names, origins and ages of Holocaust victims, a chilling reflection on loss. After Kahn’s introduction, performers Aimee Goldsmith and Adam Schlosberg read an extract from Boys from the Ashes, a play by Courtneigh Cloud Bernstein about the experiences of her grandfather, Israel Gurwicz.

Reeva Forman, a member of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and a staunch advocate of the Progressive movement in South Africa, found the ceremony moving; in her personal capacity she said: “As a Jew, no matter which stream, I am thrilled to see the massive attendance from all parts of the Jewish community today.

“It shows Jewish South Africans understand ubuntu. I am thrilled. I am in tears: We worship Hashem, we have the same values; we must value and honour each other.”

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