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Israel’s message must come across loud and clear

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MICHAEL BELLING

PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL BELLING

Pictured: Ronald Lauder, World Jewish Congress president; Ann Harris, newly-elected African Jewish Congress president; and Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, CEO of the AJC.

There are some 40 countries in Africa that could theoretically vote with Israel.

Lauder said the WJC stood with the members of the AJC, which is active in 13 sub-Saharan countries, with nine represented at the meeting – Botswana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“Every place you are, you are the face of Judaism,” he said. “We stand with you. We are very proud of the African Jewish Congress,” Lauder added.

Israel does not do enough to explain itself. “We need you to talk about what Israel stands for,” he told delegates.

The WJC also needs Jews in the AJC countries to tell it what their problems are.

Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk, said Israel has a wonderful relationship with the majority of sub-Saharan countries. One example is the planned visit of the Swazi prime minister to Israel next year.

There are opportunities and realities in both directions, he said.

Ann Harris, newly-elected president of the AJC, said that the communities represented in the organisation had great variation in the strengths and challenges presented by their countries.

She paid tribute to Mervyn Smith, the former AJC president and vice-president of the WJC, who died in November last year. 

“He always saw the big picture,” she said. “The AJC was not only his vision, it was actually his creation.”

Peter Sternberg, who represented Zimbabwe at the meeting, paid tribute to Sam Benatar, another AJC leader who had died recently. He had held office as vice-president of the AJC and as national president of the Zimbabwe Jewish Board of Deputies.

Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, CEO of the AJC, reported on a wide variety of AJC activities in many countries, focusing in particular on the new Jewish museum in Mauritius and activities in Zambia, including significant funding for institutions of higher learning in Israel and Zambia that are now working in co-operation with each other.

Steve Felder, representing the Kenyan Jewish community, which had recently rejoined the AJC, said Kenyan Jewry comprised a number of distinct groups, including Kenyans, expatriates and diplomats.

“For most of its history,” he said – the community was founded in 1903 – “the community has functioned without clergy, but has managed to sustain Jewish life in Kenya”.

Future prospects were “mixed”, with only 300 affiliated to the community, of a Jewish population of around 1 000.  

There is a synagogue in Nairobi, the main centre, built in the 1940s to replace the small building constructed in 1912, as well a community centre, started in 1985.

Relations with Israel are good, he said, with senior officials from each country visiting the other.

The new AJC office bearers are: Ann Harris (South Africa), president; Mary Kluk (South Africa); Richard Lyons (Botswana); Geoff Ramokgadi (Swaziland); Peter Sternberg (Zimbabwe) vice presidents; Li Boiskin and Irene Zuckerman (both South Africa), sub-committees; and Steve Felder (Kenya) and Michael Galaun (Zambia), committee members.

 

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