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CT mayor calls on Jews to “keep the faith” at Shabbat of Hope



Though some may have lost hope in the future of South Africa and the Jewish community, others are looking to the next 180 years and beyond. This was the motivation behind the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation’s “Shabbat of Hope” celebration on 18 November.

Popularly known as the Gardens Shul, the event dedicated the historic entrance of its Great Synagogue as the “Gateway of Hope” to “express our continued hope for the future of the Gardens Shul and South African Jewry, as we celebrate 181 years, beginning the next cycle of 180 and beyond”, according to congregation leader Rabbi Osher Feldman.

Cape Town Executive Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis echoed this optimism. “For almost 200 years, Cape Town’s Jewish community has been a backbone of civic life in our city. For the past 181 years, the Gardens Shul has stood at its spiritual and historical heart. This is South Africa’s mother shul, the place from where all of South African Jewry’s immense contribution to our society ultimately arose,” he said.

“It would be easy to stand up here tonight and talk about the past. It’s more difficult, especially at this point in time in South Africa, to talk about the future. I suspect that most of us here have experienced the painful reality of loved ones leaving South Africa. And I also know that most of us have experienced anxiety about the future: will we and our children be safe? Will we have electricity and water to supply our homes and conduct our businesses? What will happen to our economy?”

A year in as mayor, “I’m more confident than ever that Cape Town can and will be a beacon of hope for all in South Africa,” said Hill-Lewis.

“The Gateway of Hope symbolises two important things. First, that people will pass through this gateway on their way to prayer, life-cycle events, joining friends for lunch, and communal meetings. They will pass through it on their way to celebrating community. The action that community enables is crucial for building thriving cities.

“Second, it’s recognition that hope isn’t something that simply exists, especially when circumstances seem dire. Rather, we have to build hope.”

Hill-Lewis said he was “inspired daily by a concept that comes from Jewish liturgy, the Aleinu prayer. Aleinu translates into English as ‘it’s on us’. Surrounded by an imperfect and broken world, it’s on each of us to do what’s necessary to fix it.”

As a city, “we’ve decided that we can’t sit around waiting for the national government to do something about the disuse, disrepair, and disorder that has become a trend in South Africa”, said Hill-Lewis. “It’s on us to do what we can to make our city safer, cleaner, kinder, happier, and more prosperous.”

“The Gardens Shul was founded in 1841 as the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation. Benjamin Norden gathered a minyan for the Kol Nidrei service on 24 September 1841, precipitating the founding of the first Jewish congregation in sub-Saharan Africa,” says Feldman.

“The original Hebrew name of the congregation was Tikvat Yisrael [the Hope of Israel], and this continues that theme of hope – so important in these times,” he says. “On the Shabbat of Hope, we unveiled a Tree of Life representing the past, and a Tree of Hope representing the present and future, where people inscribe names of loved ones.

“The Great Synagogue was opened in 1905 by the then mayor of Cape Town and president of Gardens Shul, Hyman Lieberman. In a certain sense, symbolically, the Gateway of Hope is a continuation of that initial consecration,” Feldman says.

Incredibly, “a stroke of bashert [fate] is that Lieberman’s great-niece happened to be in Cape Town last week – she has been living in Hong Kong – and visited the Gardens Shul the day before the event,” says Feldman. “She was present for the unveiling of the Trees of Life and Hope and for the consecration of the Gateway of Hope. It was as if her unexpected presence was a message of continuity, support, and blessings from leaders of the past.”

To those who have lost hope in the future of the community and South Africa, Feldman says, “Hope is one of the pillars of resilience. If we can maintain our hope in spite of the difficulties, we give ourselves our best chance for the future.”

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