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Chief rabbi joins stadium of prayer for SA

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JORDAN MOSHE

But then, it’s not every day that so many come together to cheer the country on through prayer, united in their vision for a better South Africa.

Thirty-three religious and faith-based organisations assembled for the 2019 National Day of Prayer for All South Africans on Sunday. An initiative of the Motsepe Foundation, the massive event has for the past three years drawn individuals from across the religious spectrum. On the day, pastors, archbishops, imams, and rabbis lead the crowd in prayer to end poverty and crime, and for the creation of jobs, and a successful future for all South Africans.

Music groups put on performances between prayers, inspiring attendees.

“It’s a day devoted to prayer,” says Rabbi Dovi Rabin, a representative of the Jewish community who is involved in interfaith initiatives. “Every one of the organisations represented has a slot in the day’s programme to lead prayer. No platform is given to politics whatsoever.”

Though political figures such as Mmusi Maimane, Julius Malema, Floyd Shivambu, and even the first lady of South Africa, Dr Tshepo Motsepe, were present, political agendas were set aside in favour of the common goal of prayer.

Prayer was recited by religious leaders from the Dutch Reformed Church to the Union of Orthodox Synagogues, with Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein representing South African Jewry.

“This is a day of G-d’s blessings,” Goldstein told the crowd. “To see so many people coming to pray to our father in heaven brings blessing to our country. As the Book of Psalms says, ‘This is the day that G-d has made. Let us rejoice and be glad on it.’”

Goldstein’s address was followed by a musical performance given by the Sydenham choir under the direction of choirmaster Doron Chitiz, led by chazzan Yudi Cohen. Accompanied by live music, the choir performed a tastefully adapted rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, but in which the lyrics were replaced with text from various psalms.

The impact was electrifying, says Benjamin Porter, a Johannesburg businessman and close friend of Goldstein. “It was one of the most inspiring experiences I’ve had since the 1994 World Cup.”

“The chief rabbi and the choir performed a huge kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name) and people couldn’t get enough. They were clapping throughout and cheering. You could see the genuine enthusiasm, love, and respect everyone had for one another,” says Porter.

“I’m not being flippant when I say that it was unquestionably one of the best experiences of my life.”

The day’s power to bring diverse groups together through prayer and song was apparent to Cohen, who says he witnessed nothing but an outpouring of positivity from start to finish. “It dawned on me that a big part of South African society is pro-Israel and very supportive of the Jewish community,” he told the SA Jewish Report after the event.

“In spite of noise from the government and the loud voices of those who dislike us, most people are peace loving individuals who just want to live. Seeing people amassed in prayer reminds you that it’s not all negative.”

Cohen says people develop a personal connection with G-d outside Judaism, an example from which Jews could learn. “We sometimes risk losing that personal connection to Hashem, getting caught up instead in asking for things instead of just forging a connection,” he says.

“The idea of tefilla (Jewish prayer) is to create a connection through which you discover your inner self and G-d. This event was just that – strengthening a personal relationship with G-d. As Jews, we need to tap into this power of prayer and song. It goes beyond an intellectual connection, and makes us connect to something special on a different level.”

The fact that the Jewish community is invited to participate in the event clearly shows the esteem in which it is held within the broader South African society, says Rabin. “We’re respected as a religion in South Africa,” he says. ”The chief rabbi is a respected figure across society. It’s clear that we matter as a community, and we continue to be invited to participate actively as a religious group.”

Goldstein echoed this sentiment, saying that the crowd displayed great warmth and was generous and responsive to the Jewish presence.

“The whole experience filled me with such positivity,” he told the SA Jewish Report. “There are millions of South Africans who love G-d, and are dedicated to the kind of ethics, faith, and respect for unity and diversity that a country needs to thrive.

“It was inspiring to see a packed stadium of so many people who came together to pray to G-d in a spirit of love and unity. It was heart-warming to feel the overflowing welcome and enthusiastic response to the participation of the Jewish community.”

A recording of Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein can be seen at https://youtu.be/W0BjqHgbGDs

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