DA ‘very sorry’ for its religious faux pas

  • DAConference1
The DA has unreservedly apologised for a faux pas in calling on Progressive Rabbi Julia Margolis to say a prayer at its electoral conference last weekend, and not even inviting the Chief Rabbi of South Africa.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Apr 12, 2018

As protocol would have it, the country’s various religious leaders usually say a prayer at larger-scale political conferences or events. These usually include Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim clerics. Since Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein is recognised as the spiritual leader of the Jewish community, he is usually the first port of call for these events.

In this case, the DA went directly to Margolis, who is not affiliated to a specific shul, and is Progressive when at least 80% of the Jewish community is Orthodox.

“The chief rabbi is always considered to represent the Jewish community at important events we host,” explained Jonathan Moakes, chief of staff for the DA. “For our conference, we didn’t approach any major heads of any of the religious communities. We accord the chief rabbi respect as the main representative of the Jewish community, a fact illustrated by his appearance at our major events which are broadcast on television. We didn’t feel that this conference was a major event.”

Margolis lives in Pretoria, where the conference was held. She said her prayer this past Sunday as the representative of the Jewish community. She was approached last Wednesday by the conference’s organising committee to represent the Jewish community. She had been recommended as a potential representative for such events three years ago by DA MP Darren Bergman. So, her name was suggested to the DA executive for the conference and she agreed to appear alongside the other religious leaders in the prayer recitation.

“It was the first time I was asked to do something like this,” Margolis said. “But I felt honoured and happy, rather than nervous. Beyond my being the only female rabbi in South Africa, the event co-ordinator had also heard about the interfaith work in which I am involved and contacted me to offer me the opportunity.”

Drawing on four different textual sources, Margolis composed a prayer which expressed hope that the leadership of South Africa and all of its people would enjoy security and peace.

Margolis said her recitation was well received by those present, and that she was approached by many well-wishers after the ceremony. “A lot of people asked for my card afterwards, and the Christian representative said he would like to encourage more engagement between the Jewish and Christian communities.”

Despite the warm reception she received, the DA was this week alerted to the fact that she represented only a very small minority of the predominantly Orthodox community and that it should have gone via the chief rabbi’s office.

The puzzling thing is that Goldstein and DA leader Mmusi Maimane are friends, and a number of the DA leadership are Orthodox Jews (including Bergman). The DA also enjoys a great deal of support from the Jewish community.

When it comes to ANC conferences, there have been a handful that the chief rabbi hasn’t been asked to attend. For the most part, this occurred during the latter days of former president Jacob Zuma’s term of office – after Goldstein took a stand in calling for Zuma to be removed or to stand down as president because of his corruption.

DA member and shadow minister of labour Michael Bagraim explained that the DA’s failure to contact Goldstein was nothing more than a minor mistake. “I think it was purely an oversight,” Bagraim said. “On a previous occasion, they invited the progressive rabbi because the address was taking place on a Shabbos, and on this occasion, they clearly followed suit. I have now explained to the office that the chief rabbi is the appropriate person if it’s not on a Saturday.”

Added Bergman: “If this were an occasion of significance, I’m sure that protocol would have been adhered to and the chief rabbi invited. The truth is that to have any Jewish representation at a political event, at which Jews account for such a small percentage of the population, is remarkable, and the presence of Rabbi Margolis at the conference is a positive thing.”

Bergman said the extension of an invitation to a Jewish leader who is not necessarily Orthodox allows for Jewish representation at events held in churches, mosques or temples – venues which would otherwise preclude Jewish attendance.

Bagraim also stressed that the DA has made a concerted effort to accommodate its Jewish members who observe Shabbat when it comes to voting. At his request, the DA has made special provision for its Jewish members to be allowed to vote on a Sunday when a vote is taken on a Saturday.

“The party is very considerate and has allowed this provision to be made without any objections. Although the provision has been couched in general terms to allow voting under exceptional circumstances, it effectively allows observant Jews in the party to retain their right to vote when they would otherwise be unable to do. This is a very progressive and encouraging development.”

Moakes apologised on the DA’s behalf for any slight which the community or the chief rabbi may have taken. “Our choice of representative was by no means intended as an offence. While it is clear that we could have devoted more attention to the selection, we affirm that we have only respect for the chief rabbi, his office and the community which he represents.

“He and Mmusi Maimane share a special connection, and we hope that this will last well into the future. When we selected the religious representatives, we did not look to give any faith precedence by choosing particular leaders. The representatives we selected were chosen simply because of their involvement with their respective religious communities, but we do apologise for any offence this may have caused.”

1 Comment

  1. 1 Kathy Keyser 16 Apr
    And this woman who was asked out of DA ignorance should have set the record straight on protocol. I am also surprised that DA in our area (that is if they in Johannesburg area) are all Jews in the DA, surely they should have known and set the record straight. Whether they are frum or not, it is their business to know these things the way they know who is who in DA.
    Kathy Keyser


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