Gardens Shul – glorious past, bright future
Pictured: Rabbi and Rebbetzin Feldman – PHOTOGRAPHER GUY LERNER
In 1863, its synagogue, the first in sub-Saharan Africa, was inaugurated and became the hub of Jewish life in South Africa until 1905 when the current Edwardian edifice was consecrated.
Could those early pioneers have dreamt that almost two centuries later, 650 people would gather to celebrate another momentous event – 175 years of what is affectionately called the Gardens Shul’s existence and indeed, that of South Africa’s Jewish community?
As much as last week’s gala dinner at the Century City Conference Centre was dedicated to this milestone, it also served as a tribute to the shul’s dynamic Rabbi Osher Feldman and his wife Sarah, who in the 10 years since their arrival, have succeeded in rejuvenating the historic congregation.
Chairman Solly Berger noted that the shul’s 100-year mark (in wartime 1941) had been no time for celebrations; its 150 years in 1991 was commemorated with a much-reduced congregation, due to the emigration of previous decades.
“There were difficult times when we were not sure the congregation would survive its tribulations.”
But, he said: “The golden years were on the horizon. In 2007 we hit the jackpot when we employed (then 24-year-old) Rabbi Oshie Feldman and his wife Sarah and the aging community began revitalising.”
Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, delivered the keynote address and was accompanied by his wife Valerie.
Rabbi Feldman’s parents, Rabbi Pinchus Feldman OAM and his wife, Peninah, travelled from Australia for the occasion. Other dignitaries included Rebbetzen Sarah’s parents, Rabbi Yossy Goldman, president of the South African Rabbinical Association, and his wife, Rochel; Av Beth Din Rabbi Moshe Kurtstag and Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein and his wife Gina.
“The Gardens Shul does not look its age; it is 175 years young,” Rabbi Goldstein stated. “We have gathered to pay tribute to a shul whose best days lie ahead.
“Cape Jewry too is such an example to all South African Jewry for its cohesion, unity, sense of purpose and organisation and everything it does with such professionalism.”
For his part, Rabbi Osher Feldman recalled it was “love at first sight”, when he and Sarah walked into the shul. “Ten years later, we look back and our hearts are bursting with gratitude.
“We love South Africa, we love Cape Town and we are proudly confident in the future of our community and our country.”
Rabbi Mirvis referred to “175 glorious years for the Gardens Synagogue and for all of South African Jewry” as well as the “magnificent” spiritual leader of this community. “Valerie and I witnessed first-hand the deep impact you’re making on so many lives,” he said to Rabbi Feldman, referring to the previous Shabbat that they had spent at the synagogue.
Rabbi Mirvis noted that Abraham our Patriarch had lived to the age of 175 and that the four most outstanding features of his life were matched by the achievements of the Gardens Shul and South African Jewry: Faith, righteousness, the recognition of the centrality of the Land of Israel to the Jewish psyche and the importance of education for the future.
“I will always be so proud to be a product of the South African day school movement,” the chief rabbi added.
Choni G, introduced by master of ceremonies Nik Rabinowitz as the “One Direction” of chazzans, provided a musical interlude, while singer Johnny Clegg had the crowd clapping along and dancing in the aisles to some of his well-known hits, ending the inspiring evening on a high note.