Rabbi Nachman Bernard combined Torah and love

  • Memorial
Over 500 people (on Monday night, October 6) attended a tribute at the Oxford Shul to Rabbi Nachman Bernhard, who died in Johannesburg the week before. He was the rabbi at the shul for 35 years from 1965 until his retirement. Chief Rabbi Goldstein paid tribute to R. Bernhard’s “awesome work”. He “was friend to all”. Lubavitch Foundation head R. Lipskar spoke of R. Bernhard as a shaliach of the Rebbe. Adrian Gore, CEO of the Discovery Group and a member of the shul, said R. Bernhard was the quintessential community rabbi - positive, a patriot, never treating Judaism as just a bunch of rituals.
by MICHAEL BELLING | Oct 07, 2014


Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, paying tribute to Rabbi Bernhard’s “awesome work”, said he had made a major contribution both nationally and internationally. He was friend to all. Rabbi Bernhard had characterised his work in his induction speech as focusing on care, concern and love.

He was a pioneer. He and Rebbetzen Joan Bernhard, Rabbi Goldstein said, had a hand in many of the things we take for granted today, from establishing a religious school at the shul (a precursor to Torah Academy and other schools), to setting up the Oxford Synagogue Skills for Adults Centre (OSSAC) and his stance against the apartheid regime.

Several other speakers also mentioned the role of Joan Bernhard in Rabbi Bernard’s life and work.

Rabbi Mendel Lipskar, head of the Lubavitch Foundation, spoke of Rabbi Bernhard as a shaliach of the Rebbe. He was an exceptionally sincere human being, with a sense of clarity and dedication. Rabbi Bernhard, he said, was not a controversial rabbi, but was not afraid of controversy. Whatever he touched was exceptionally successful.

Adrian Gore, CEO of the Discovery Group and a member of the shul, said Rabbi Bernhard was a great leader, the quintessential community rabbi - positive, a patriot, never treating Judaism as just a bunch of rituals, and compassionate - he stood by people in need, the poor, the vulnerable.

“His real special quality was authenticity.”

Several speakers mentioned Rabbi Bernard’s love of music, mentioning that early in his life he was considering making music his career. Yudi Cohen, cantor of the Sydenham-Highlands North Hebrew Congregation, sang one of Rabbi Bernhard’s favourite cantorial pieces, accompanied by Evelyn Green.

Rabbi Menachem Raff said Rabbi Bernhard played a major role in the establishment of Torah education in South Africa.

“He was a great builder of institutions and even more so a builder of people.”

Dr Graham Cassel said Rabbi Bernard had for many years been his rabbi, friend and patient.

Levi Singer, a grandson of Rabbi Bernard, said the rabbi was a unique combination of Torah and love. 

“He was always the perfect gentleman,” he said. “Every person was important to him. He was a lovable man, full of chein.”

Kivi Bernard, the son of the rabbi, termed his father “a holy and saintly soul”.

Three fundamental points flowed from his pulpi: the relevance of the Jew, a light unto the nations; synthesis, with no space between heaven and earth; and kindness, seeking out opportunities for acts of kindness and connection.

Looking at the rabbi’s coffin at the funeral, Kivi asked himself how such a giant of a man could be contained in such a small box. The answer was that he could not.

“He has dialled into the soul, not the body and touched into generations.”

Master of ceremonies Rabbi Michael Katz said that according to Rabbi Bernhard, the aim of Judaism was to take a man and make a mensch out of him.

Rabbi Yossi Chaikin, spiritual leader of the Oxford Shul, welcomed those present.

Also read on SAJR.CO.ZA


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