Chief rabbi encourages community to give tzedakah
Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein told the 60 rabbis and rebbetzins from around the country at the rabbinical conference at Zimbali Lodge in KwaZulu-Natal that he was on a drive over the upcoming high holy days to promote the idea of giving 10% to tzedakah.
With the challenge of communal funding being among a number of pressing issues confronted at the annual conference, he said he believed doing this “would unleash a wave of unprecedented growth and energy in our community”.
“I have no doubt that if everyone gave their 10%, nobody would go without,” he told participants. Our shuls, schools, and community organisations would have what they needed to thrive. In fact, perhaps our biggest challenge would be how to allocate the surplus funds.”
The chief rabbi addressed the issue of rising intermarriage and the “shidduch crisis”, in partnership with renowned shadchan and Netflix star Aleeza Ben Shalom.
Ben Shalom, fresh from her role on Jewish Matchmaking, was among a number of international guest speakers addressing the conference via Zoom. She advocated an entirely new approach to the “shidduch crisis” and intermarriage rooted in “not judging anyone; meeting people where they are, not where you want them to be”.
“There are Jews who might never be frum, but they can marry Jewish, and if we don’t jump in, they’re not going to do that,” said Ben Shalom, who has enjoyed singular success with both religious and secular couples.
She recalled an extraordinary interaction with a client who was happily dating a non-Jewish person, but was surprisingly conflicted about the situation.
“He told me, ‘I love her and she loves me.’ And then he looked at me and said, ‘Love isn’t enough, is it?’ His parents are atheists and were urging him on, and he couldn’t understand his ambivalence. ‘I’m not observant, and I don’t want to be,’ he told me, ‘but for some reason, it’s important for me to marry a Jew. I can’t explain why, but I can’t let it go – and I don’t want to.’ That floored me.”
The chief rabbi was enthused by Ben Shalom’s innovative approach. “After several conversations with Aleeza, I’m working on plans to bring her to South Africa in the next few months with the view to exploring how to create a nationwide matchmaking strategy to combat the rising trend of intermarriage, with our rabbis and rebbetzins playing a key role. I look forward to sharing more about this matchmaking initiative in the next few months.”
Goldstein addressed the issue of leadership, telling the rabbis, “Life isn’t neat, it’s messy, but it’s in this mess that we find ourselves as leaders.
“We need to be real. We don’t live in a fairy tale, and as leaders, our job is to guide people to see the complexity of the world; to confront the realities of life head-on; and to steer away from simplistic assessments of our lives, our community, and especially our country.”
He gave the podium to a number of international rabbinical leaders, including United Kingdom (UK) Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis, who shared his experience of attending the recent coronation of King Charles III. He spoke of “the extraordinary display of reverence for a Jewish person keeping their faith, reinforcing what I’ve found throughout my life, that the more we respect our Jewish identity, the more the world respects us.”
Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar discussed the current upheaval facing communities across the former Soviet Union in the wake of the ongoing war with Ukraine, and sang the praises of Chabad rabbis in the region serving their communities beyond the call of duty.
“Our shluchim [emissaries] in Ukraine and Russia are facing unimaginable difficulties, but no-one has left,” he said. “They’re standing by their posts, helping and supporting their communities no matter what.”
He paid tribute to South Africa’s rabbis and rebbetzins for embodying this idea of leadership as service. “The Lubavitcher Rebbe said a rabbi is like a doctor, and must go where he’s needed, and that we need to do what’s right not what’s easy.”
UK-born Rabbi Nechemya Taylor, former Rosh Kollel at Bar Ilan University and currently Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva College School, was amazed by the “melting pot of rabbis and rebbetzins”.
“This is the only rabbinical conference in the world where Mizrachi, Chabad, and Haredi rabbis from diverse communities come together to share insights, engage in lively debate, and develop strategies for a stronger and more cohesive community,” he said.
Goldstein agreed, saying, “The real power of these few days is the camaraderie and common purpose we build as a team working together for the betterment of our community. It’s our bonds of friendship that hold us together as a community. A united rabbinate is something precious, and we can’t take it for granted.”
Perhaps most importantly, at a time when the community needs it most, the atmosphere was strikingly upbeat.
“Our dedicated rabbis and rebbetzins are creative, proactive, and full of ideas,” said Goldstein. “There are many opportunities for growth and renewal, and they are eager to grab them. I’m excited for the coming year.”