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Dan builds Tree of Wisdom for Madiba school

President Jacob Zuma officially opened The Science and Technology School in Mvezo last Friday. The school was inspired by former president Nelson Mandela, said his grandson Mandla – pictured here with Daniel Popper – arguably one of SA’s most innovative young artists. Dan built a 4-story high tree for the school as well as the surrounding infrastructure.





The school was commissioned “mainly because of (Madiba’s) vision and the manner he regarded education to be a weapon which one could utilise to change the world,” said Mandla about the Mandela School of Science and Technology.

“That is really the ethos that informs us… as a nation to do better and to strive to contribute towards humanity,” Mandela said.

Popper treeThe school, which is surrounded by green hills, is the first high school in Mvezo. Before it was built, children had to leave home to go to high school in Mthatha, about 50km away, and often dropped out.

Tree of Wisdom

Mandla said parents and locals were motivated and committed to the school’s success. The school runs on renewable energy. There are three big wind turbines in front of the school. Each classroom block is fitted with solar panels.

On the school grounds is a metal sculpture of a tree, called the Tree of Wisdom which was commissioned from Dan Popper. Surrounding it are wooden benches into which Dan has etched inspirational quotes.

Popper Tree openingHow it came about

“It was then crucial for us, as the leadership of this community, to look at how we could come up with a mechanism to ensure that we are able to build an end-to-end programme for the kids of this community,” Mandela said.

“We initiated the project by firstly speaking to—world-cup.jpg” />Who is Daniel Popper?


The Tree of Wisdom sculpture at the new Mandela School of Science & Technology by artist Daniel Popper celebrates Nelson Mandela’s contribution to education.

 Popper at Tree opening


Born in 1983 in Johannesburg, South Africa, Daniel Popper is a man with a knack for creating artworks that bring fantasy to life – something that has always had the support of his parents Mike and Cookie.

Having earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts (with distinction in Oil Painting) at the renowned Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town in 2006, his career has developed onto a global stage with many mediums of art such as puppetry, performance, instillation and sculpture


Popper - Afrika Burn


See the burning version on HOME PAGE or on ALL SAJR VIDEOS


The spark that ignited Daniel’s career was the creation of his first giant puppet for the AfrikaBurn art festival in 2007. The attention generated by this saw Daniel commissioned by mobile operator MTN to produce 14 more for Fan Fests around South Africa during the FIFA World Cup 2010.

At the same time, Daniel’s solo exhibition of oil paintings was held at the Obert Contemporary gallery in Johannesburg. Since 2010, the popularity of Daniel’s puppets have seen him interviewed on South African television for shows such as Woza M-net, Supersport and Top Billing, and saw him take the puppets to the Portuguese electronic music festival, Boom, and build a new giant puppet for the Young Illustrators Awards in Berlin.

Expanding his work on puppets, 2011 saw Daniels’ gorilla puppet featured at many Cape Town events (such as Earthdance, the J&B Met, an MTV Base concert and the Adderley Street parade). In the same year Daniel participated in a group painting show at Salon 91, with his oil paintings curated by Andrew Lamprecht in an exhibition titled ‘Figuring Difference’.

On his return to AfrikaBurn in 2011, Daniel’s large-scale sculpture ‘Hand Of God’, which featured an Argon laser that beamed across the festival site, was a highlight for many festivalgoers.

This sculpture was instrumental in Daniel being commissioned by Siemens and Ogilvy to create a 15-metre Baobab tree featured 3,000 LED lights and was powered by solar panels and bicycles, for the COP17 climate change conference in Durban, South Africa.

In 2011, Daniel attended the Burning Man festival in Nevada for the first time.

With interest in his projects growing, 2012 saw Daniel commissioned to build two 25m Quetzalcoatl serpents for the Boom Festival, which were suspended above the crowd in the main dance temple. Subsequent to this, he embarked on a world puppet tour, which saw him performing his puppets at three festivals in The Netherlands (De Deining, Zwarte Cross and A Day In The Park), as well as at Boom in Portugal and at Burning Man in the USA.

Daniel’s interest in interactive art, puppetry ,art and architecture in public spaces, stage design and installation art, continues to expand, all the while still engaging with the fine art world and oil painting.

BELOW: Surrounding the tree are wooden benches into which Daniel has etched inspirational quotes:
Popper bench Bottom

Daniel Popper currently lives and works in Cape Town. See more on his WEBSITE

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  1. David Shapiro

    Jan 23, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    ‘WOW!!!Danny,well done!!! All the amazing art work that you have done.CONGRATULATIONS!!!!! from Melanie and I.

    David & Melanie Shapiro’

  2. Gary Wolff

    Jan 25, 2014 at 3:59 am

    ‘Wow Danny! It’s amazing to see you grow into a world renowned artist. Keep your dream alive and the inspiration flowing. Mazeltov!’

  3. Merle and Dave

    Jan 25, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    ‘So thrilled you are getting the recognition you so deserve. Mazeltov Dan, may you just go from strength to strength ! All our love’

  4. terry diamond

    Jan 26, 2014 at 12:30 am

    ‘Danny, absolutely amazing! so very proud of you. Keep building, the sky is the limit.

    Diamond Clan’

  5. Leanne Dogon

    Jan 26, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    ‘Danny your work is truly inspirational! I am so proud to have an original Danny Popper hanging in my home. May your talent take you to great heights.’

  6. gail

    Jan 28, 2014 at 8:20 am

    ‘wow Danny , your work is so impressive. What an incredible talent you have. keep it up. your wonderful parents must be so proud of you,’

  7. Dan Shamir

    Jan 28, 2014 at 8:27 am

    ‘Would this incredibleyoung talent be prepared to consider a commissionin Israel? HBow can we get hold of him? ‘

  8. Ant Katz

    Jan 28, 2014 at 8:47 am

    ‘Hi Dan,

    Daniel’s website link is just above these comments – or you could mail me and I can forward on to him. As far as I am aware he is in Melbourne Australia right now so don’t try and phone him.

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Yochanan’s gamble: the controversial move that saved Judaism



Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, known as the father of rabbinic Judaism, saved Judaism from complete and utter destruction during the Roman Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. However, his methods weren’t without controversy. He was crafty, practical, and pragmatic, and history has questioned his behaviour ever since.

Limmud@Home on 22 August 2021 featured Marc Katz, the author and rabbi at Temple Ner Tamid in New Jersey, United States, who discussed Ben Zakkai’s controversial gamble that saved Judaism, and the lessons that can be learned from it.

The zealots, a group of religious fanatics in Jerusalem, wanted to fight the Romans. When the sages refused to engage in battle, the zealots burned wheat, deliberately causing starvation to make the people desperate and have no other option but to fight.

“Show me a method so that I will be able to leave the city, and it’s possible that through this, there will be some small salvation,” Ben Zakkai told Abba Sikkara, the leader of the zealots.

Heeding Sikkara’s advice, Ben Zakkai pretended to be dead. In a coffin, he could possibly travel outside the city to seek a solution with the Romans.

Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua successfully carried Ben Zakkai past the guards, who were of the faction of the zealots, by telling them that they were burying the coffin outside the city.

When Ben Zakkai reached the Roman camp, he spoke to Roman leader Vespasian. Ben Zakkai helped Vespasian cure his swollen feet. Vespasian offered something in return, and Ben Zakkai asked for certain Jewish lives to be spared and doctors to heal Rabbi Tzadok.

Why didn’t he ask the Romans to spare Jerusalem? He maintained that Vespasian might not do that much for him, and there wouldn’t be even this small amount of salvation. Therefore, he made only a modest request in the hope that he would receive at least that much.

Katz said several lessons could be learned from this story.

He drew a comparison to US President Abraham Lincoln at the time of the American Civil War in the 1860s, who freed slaves.

“One of the things he’s famous for is that he surrounded himself with people who disagreed with him in order to build the best coalition and understand that he didn’t have all the right views in a time of discord,” said Katz. “So, many of his secretaries – like his treasury secretary, his war secretary – were people who were actually his political rivals but he brought them in because it was really important for him to listen to them. It was pragmatic because he knew the social capital he was going to gain from it. It was also hopeful because he wasn’t so caught in his ways that he couldn’t hear them out or heed their warnings. That is exactly what Ben Zakkai is doing. Not only is he creating this plot of land where he is going to save Judaism, but he is the kind of guy who tends to think about politics in the way he governs.”

Another lesson is to try to seek compromises, just like Ben Zakkai did with Sikkara.

A further lesson is to have love and kindness, not regret and hatred. Katz discussed what happened when Ben Zakkai was leaving Jerusalem with Yehoshua, and they witnessed the destruction of the Temple. “Don’t be bitter, my son, for we have another form of atonement which is as great, and this is [an] act of love and kindness [gemilut hasadim],” Ben Zakkai told Yehoshua.

An additional lesson is not to be afraid of people. If they kill you, you won’t be dead for eternity as there is life after death. But the supreme king of kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He, lives and endures forever and all-time, and if he kills you, you are dead for eternity.

“Yochanan doesn’t know if he is going to heaven or hell,” said Katz. “I truly believe that’s because he doesn’t know whether he made the right call or not – he doesn’t know if the pragmatic decision he made was better than going for broke and asking for Jerusalem to be saved.”

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The dispersal of the Bukharian Jews



The story of the Bukharian Jews, a community with deep roots in Central Asia, is sadly coming to an end, but the community’s legacy lives on in the United States and Israel, where most of the remaining Bukharian Jews now live.

Uzbekistan-born Bukharian Jew, Ruben Shimonov, told of this little known Jewish group which emanates mostly from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan, countries in the heart of the Asian continent.

Speaking to a virtual audience via Zoom at Limmud@Home last Sunday, 22 August, Shimonov said the different layers of culture, cuisine, music, and language in the region were an amalgamation of all the different cultures of Central Asia, and were also reflected in the small but deeply-rooted community of Bukharian Jews.

The Bukharian Jewish story begins with the Babylonian conquest of the ancient land of Israel, Judea, and subsequent exile of Jews east of the land of Israel to other regions of the Babylonian Empire, namely present-day Iraq and Iran.

The Babylonian Empire was conquered by the Achaemenid Empire in 539 BC. “Under the Achaemenid Empire, the king was a more benevolent king and he allowed Jews to return to rebuild Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash,” said Shimonov. “But many Jews stayed as they now felt safe and secure under this new reign and moved even farther east of this new large Achaemenid Empire. This, folks, was Central Asia.”

Shimonov believes that the Bukharian Jews were more integrated with the local non-Jewish communities in Central Asia than, for example, the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe.

“Even though Bukharian Jews for a large part of their history lived in quarters [maḥalla], there was constant interaction with the dominant societies amongst which they lived,” said Shimonov. “For example, the shashmaqam musical tradition is influenced by Sufi Islam, but many Bukharian Jews became the gatekeepers of this tradition.”

According to Shimonov, there are 250 000 Bukharian Jews in the world. Most of them now live in Israel or the United States, primarily in the New York City borough of Queens.

“In Uzbekistan, there are fewer than a thousand Bukharian Jews left – mainly elderly folk who are staying behind because it’s harder for them to emigrate,” said Shimonov. “Jews in Uzbekistan are highly protected; their safety is preserved. And Jews do go and visit Central Asia, including Uzbekistan, where there is one kosher restaurant and a couple of synagogues. But our story is quickly coming to an end in our place of origin.”

In the Tajikistan city of Khujand, where Bukharian Jews once enjoyed a rich communal life, the last remaining Jew, Jura Abaev, died in January this year. Zablon Simintov, a carpet trader who is the last remaining Jew in Afghanistan, is reportedly safe as the country comes under the control of the Taliban.

Shimonov, who emigrated from Uzbekistan three years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, said the main reason for the low numbers today was the struggle of the Bukharian Jews living in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan under the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

“State-sanctioned antisemitism and dispossession or marginalisation of Jews was part of that story even though there were more ups than downs. And then, the subsequent new instability of the newly formed independent republics – whenever new countries are formed after the colonial past there is more often than not a lot of political, social, and economic instability,” he said.

“As a democratic minority, we felt that even more. So, the urgency to leave was clear and present. In the decade of the late eighties to mid-nineties, we went from having the majority of our community living in this place where we had lived for centuries to the majority of our community living in a new diaspora. In Uzbekistan, the real impetus to leave was more about everything I mentioned than antisemitism coming from our Muslim neighbours.”

“Our Muslim neighbours were our friends, and we baked bread with them,” Shimonov said. “This is different to Jews coming from the Arab world, where Arab nationalism and Zionism came to a head in a way that the Jews were sadly caught in the crossfire.”

In contemporary times, Uzbekistan-born billionaire Lev Avnerovich Leviev and Israeli Dorrit Moussaieff are two of the Bukharian Jews who have made an impact. Known as the “king of diamonds”, Leviev annually sent large quantities of Passover food to Chabad emissaries in the Commonwealth of Independent States to distribute to Jews in these communities. Moussaieff, the former First Lady of Iceland, promoted Icelandic culture and artistic productions in the international arena.

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Shabbat Around The World beams out from Jozi



More than 75 devices around the globe logged in to Beit Luria’s World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Shabbat Around the World programme on Friday, 15 January.

Whether it was breakfast time in California, tea time in Europe, or time to break challah in Johannesburg, participants logged in to take part in Beit Luria’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.

Among those participating were Rabbi Sergio Bergman, the president of the WUPJ; chairperson Carole Sterling; and Rabbi Nathan Alfred, the head of international relations. Singers Tulla Eckhart and Brian Joffe performed songs from a global array of artists, along with Toto’s Africa to add a little local flair to the service. After kiddish was said and bread was broken, Rabbi Bergman thanked Beit Luria for hosting the WUPJ. The shul looks forward to more collaborations with its global friends in the future.

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