Sprightly Temple Israel turns 80 in grand style

  • Temple
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau and Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa Arthur Lenk, were among the dignitaries attending a packed service at Progressive synagogue Temple Israel in Hillbrow last Saturday, celebrating the 80th anniversary of its opening in 1936 by Rabbi MC Weiler.
by OWN CORRESPONDENT | Jul 13, 2016

It was also the launch of the Temple Israel Heritage Centre (TIHC), which defines its mission as tikkun olam and will focus on combating intolerance, discrimination and xenophobia among the cosmopolitan communities of Hillbrow and its surrounds.

The service was attended by some 300 people, including international delegates of the Progressive movement.  

The TIHC project is driven by its chairman, Reeva Forman, who says it aims to engage with diverse local communities, be a meeting place for people of different cultures, and promote healthy interfaith relations, based on the Jewish principle of “Justice, justice shalt thou pursue”.

It will run workshops on discrimination whether religious, racial, gender or otherwise, engage with experts and interact with government; it will host performances, meetings and other events with different communities to help them get to know and understand each other; and it will work with all faith groups for the good of society.

Forman is determined that the South African Jewish community will become more involved in these activities through the TIHC, and bring to bear its skills and resources.

Several decades ago Hillbrow was an important centre of Johannesburg Jewish life, containing many Jewish residents. Since then the demographics have changed and only a small number of mostly elderly Jews remain in the area. The synagogue has been threatened with closure several times because of the lack of a viable local Jewish community.

A dedicated group of stalwarts, however, have kept it going, providing regular Saturday morning and other services. In 2014 the building, an impressive structure in the art deco style designed by legendary architect Hermann Kallenbach - who was a friend of Mahatma Ghandi when he lived in South Africa - was declared an official heritage site of Johannesburg.

In her address after the service, Madonsela described the crucial role of the public protector’s office in achieving justice for all “when the world is in turmoil and our country itself is in turmoil”.

She quoted Nelson Mandela, who said even the most benevolent government can contain people with potential for wrongdoing, which is why institutions like the public protector, the Human Rights Commission, the Constitution and others were essential. She paid tribute to some great Jewish fighters against apartheid, such as former Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson and parliamentarian Helen Suzman, who had not been religious, but were informed by the Jewish tradition’s emphasis on justice.

Mayor Tau lauded the TIHC’s creation as an agent in combating racism and xenophobia, and said “its location is ideal in the melting pot of South Africa in Hillbrow”. For many immigrants, he stressed, Hillbrow has historically been and continues to be the “reception area” to Johannesburg, where people begin building new lives in the city and country.

He believed the city’s new “Corridors of Freedom” project of transport links between formerly black and white areas, would bring new unity to the whole urban fabric. Hillbrow and the busy Louis Botha Avenue were integral parts of the programme.

Ambassador Lenk spoke about the crucial role of leadership in history, referring to the Torah portion of the week, and how debate and discussion defines “who we are as Jews”. He called for increasing genuine debate between Israel and South Africa.

Following the launch of the TIHC, Forman is embarking on a publicity campaign to raise awareness and funding, and developing practical programmes. 



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