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SA Jewish News

Soccer boss donates Torah

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Stanley Matthews is known for being past Premier Soccer League CEO and currently CEO of top football club SuperSport United, but few would expect him to be buying and donating a Sefer Torah to a shul.
by ANT KATZ | Jun 22, 2017

But that is exactly what Stan and his family did last weekend, holding a celebration of a Hachnasat Sefer Torah for Linksfield Shul, with a procession through the streets, the likes of which the suburb had never seen.

Stan’s older friends - who have not been in touch lately - will be saying: “What? Stan? But he isn’t even religious!”

His family’s religious transformation, which led to this huge gift, started when his wife Shardi was pregnant with her fourth (and his first) child.

Shardi says they decided to start going to shul one Shabbat a month. Before long, she says, “it was twice a month, then almost every week”. Thus began their religious journey. By 2012 the family had become fully observant, and as it was becoming difficult to walk to Sydenham Shul, where Stan had been a member for 19 years, they moved to Linksfield Shul.

Shardi joined the shul’s women’s guild and, after a while of acting as her driver, Stan also started to get involved. “It offered us the opportunity to become active participants,” he says.

Stan, who is now religious and Shabbat observant, continued to attend his club’s major matches on Saturdays for another year. “We were keeping Shabbat,” he explains, but he would have a driver collect him, didn’t take his phone, money or tickets.

While on an Ohr Somayach programme in 2013, Stan discussed this with a rabbi and realised that it conflicted with his personal experience of Shabbat and he stopped attending Saturday matches.

Last year, the Matthews family went to Israel to attend a Hachnasat Sefer Torah which their friend, Sean Melnick, was donating to a shul.

“We decided it would be nice to do the same for our eight-year-old son’s barmitzvah (when the time comes),” says Shardi. “Then we decided: Why wait?”

The Matthews family dedicated the Torah in memory of their great-grandparents, and to their parents and their five children - two boys, Wade and Cole, and three daughters - Savannah, Cassidy and Madison.

“The dedication of the Matthews family Sefer Torah was an I-will-never-forget-this-moment experience,” says Linksfield Shul Associate Rabbi Levi Avtzon. “Tregoning Street came alive.”

At noon on Sunday June 11, the final few letters were written in the magnificent Torah and the scroll left the Matthews’ Tregoning Street house for the last time. It was covered by a chuppah and regally escorted by hundreds - including Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein and other leading rabbonim, family, friends and shul members. Many took turns to dance with it under the chuppah.

The kilometre-long route to the shul was blocked off by the CSO, says Shardi. The joyous procession walked, danced and sang to loud music blasting from an accompanying bakkie. A miniature train was provided to carry toddlers so their parents could participate in the parade.

The cacophonous crowd exuded “a vibe (that) was electric”, said Rabbi Avtzon. When they arrived at the shul, he says, “we were greeted by all the Torahs who were welcoming their new friend to the team”. It was the first new Torah the shul had received in nearly two decades.

This coming Saturday, Stan will again be attending his team SuperSport’s rematch against Pirates. No, he would not break the Sabbath, but he can go because it’s a night match after Shabbat. He is ecstatic as he will be attending his team’s first cup final ever. 

His transformation to religious observance and Yiddishkeit, was helped by certain seminal, inspirational moments. The strongest of these, he says, was attending Rosh Hashanah at the grave of Rebbe Nachman in Uman, Ukraine.

“Being part of 35 000 Jews to crown Hashem as king, was such a spiritually powerful experience,” says Stan, that he returned twice more.

He has come full circle with shul life. “Rabbi Michal was my teacher at school (Michal was the rabbi at Linksfield Shul for 15 years) and his present shul, Baalshem Tov, was built in the house where Shardi grew up,” he says.

One of the most powerful religious experiences that Stan and Shardi had, he says, was when their daughter attended Yiddish Folk Nursery School. “It grew us as parents - it sounds strange but it really happened. It was inspirational and allowed us to grow spiritually.”

Stan says another changing point in his life was “when I first heard (Israeli hit singer) Yaakov Shwekey's music”.

Since then he only listens to “Jewish music and shiurim in my car. Every day I listen to a shiur, it has helped me grow myself as a person - tremendously - it was a point of refinement in my life,” he says.

Stan’s parents named him after Sir Stanley Matthews CBE. “I met him in South Africa in 1991 and told him that,” says Stan. His famous namesake promptly invited Stan’s father to lunch to thank him. “It was amazing,” he says.

 

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