Israel hears about Madiba, Jewry's special relationship

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Beth Protea, Truth be Told (TbT) and Wits Alumni co-hosted a talk in Israel on Tuesday by Marlene Bethlehem titled: Mandela and the Jewish Community. Marlene is SA’s serial communal worker and had a close and special relationship with Madiba (pictured left walking with him in Jerusalem). Marlene is also an accomplished tennis player, won the Singles Plate at Wimbledon in ’62 – and her club Champs this year despite being a sprightly 75. She was in Israel to attend the 50th Anniversary of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, of which she is a vice president.
by ANT KATZ | Jun 24, 2015

The well-attended talk was also in celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the Freedom Charter. It was organised by David Kaplan of TbT, Lyn Bach of Beth Protea, and Dr Les Glassman of the Israel chapter of Wits Alumni.

AA15 final logo 2015 FULL - CopyThe event was opened by His Excellency, the South African Ambassador to Israel, Sisa Ngombane and a few illuminating insights by Rabbi Dov Sidelsky from Jerusalem.

RIGHT: Marlene and Madiba in an old picture from The Star. “No-one asked my name so they called me an unidentified SA tourist,” Marlene told SAJR this week

The latter’s late father, Lazar Sidelsky, played a monumental role in South Africa's destiny by taking on a young black law student as an article clerk - something unheard of in South Africa at that time - who would proceed on his "long walk" to free a nation.

The clerk was Madiba – see letter from Walther Sisulu below story

Many Jews in South Africa had a special relationship with Mandela in the struggle before his incarceration on Robin Island, during the long period of his imprisonment and the period following his release, emerging as the nation's first black president.

Marlene also showed a six-minute video made by the SAJBD showing Mandela’s relationship with the Jewish Community.

Marlene Bethlehem who had a close and special relationship with Nelson Mandela was a former chairman of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies from 1995-1999 and president from 1999-2003. In her youth, she was an accomplished tennis player, and won the Ladies Singles Plate event at Wimbledon in 1962.

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The original of the letter, above, from Walter Sisulu to Lazar Sidelsky (here spelt Lazer) written after a celebration attended by Sidelsky to mark the 50th anniversary of Walter’s membership of the ANC, is housed at the APARTHEID MUSEUM.


  1. 2 Jonni 25 Jun
    The firm of Kovalsky and Tuch also employed a well known ANC leader by name of Oliver Tambo.
    This is mentioned in Tambo's biography written by my ex teacher at KDHS Linksfield by name of Lulli Callinicos (Zampetakis)
  2. 1 Dorron Kline 03 Aug
    Telfed (South African Zionist Federation - Israel), was amongst the proud organisers of this event. This year's gathering with Marleen Bethlehem follows on from our public event last year which was a panel discussion regarding the legacy of Nelson Mandela. Details of the 2014 event, which was attended by over 230 people, can be viewed HERE.


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