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Publicising dissention with chief rabbi destructive for community

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Letters/Discussion Forums

Two disturbing letters dominated your letters page in the 15 July edition of the SA Jewish Report. The fact that they appeared on the eve of Tisha B’Av was of major significance.

Our sages address the reasons why the two Temples were destroyed on Tisha B’Av. Two of the reasons given are sin’as chinam (baseless hatred) amongst the Jewish people, and another – perhaps less well-known – reason is general disrespect for Torah.

Airing these two letters by two prominent people in our community regrettably compels people to take sides in the issue.

Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein and the office of the chief rabbi represent Torah in our community. Over the years, Goldstein has filled an incredible leadership role. From the Sinai Indaba to the Shabbos Project, he has achieved prominence for South African Jewry in the world. His approach to the COVID-19 pandemic has enabled Jew and non-Jew to bring experts in the field into our homes through his webinars. Leading doctors, clinicians, and other experts have publicly praised Goldstein for this.

Medical experts, political commentators, and other leaders in the wider community have been unapologetic in their criticism of the government’s tardy handling of the epidemic – from the strange banning of cigarettes amongst other things to ineffectual law enforcement and the vaccine rollout.

The common theme running through both letters was criticism of the chief rabbi.

Perhaps a lesson should be taken from Moshe Rabeinu (Moses) in parshas Korach, who, when he encountered opposition within the community, humbly went and approached the dissidents in their own homes. The authors of these letters should have resolved these issues privately with the chief rabbi.

By airing these letters in public, the office of the chief rabbi and consequently rabbis in our community, whom he represents, have been undermined.

I appeal to people of influence in the community to consider whether their public statements will benefit the community or create further division.

Our community is going through a crisis. Let’s move forward with achdus (togetherness) and unity, and ahavas chinam (baseless love).

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Letters/Discussion Forums

Rabbinate’s silence allows abusers to flourish

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A few years ago, I read in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) about a schism in a small American synagogue, and saw red. Rabbi XYZ had recently joined this congregation as a member after a stint in prison. Half of the shul objected to having him in the shul and having their children near him, the other half felt that he had served his sentence, and should be forgiven and welcomed back.

I was incensed. In 1989, the Cape Town synagogue to which I belonged had sent the same Rabbi XYZ packing after discovering that he had been sexually abusing their children. He had arrived some months before from New York, with glowing references about his abilities and his vast Talmudic knowledge. The New York rabbis who had composed those references knew what they were doing, and knew what he had done, and thought South Africa would be far enough away to avoid exposure. Our chief rabbi then ensured that no other South African synagogue would employ him, in spite of those references.

The implication of the JTA article was that for more than 20 years afterwards, Rabbi XYZ had moved from shul to shul in America, accompanied by glowing references from rabbis who thought it more important to keep quiet and take care of their own than to protect children from a known sexual predator until finally, some principled congregational leaders ignored mesira (reporting the conduct of another Jew to a non-rabbinic authority), and he was charged and sentenced to prison.

The Catholic Church has been rightfully condemned for protecting sexual abusers in its fold. Unfortunately, hiding behind the notion of lashon harah (derogatory speech about a person) and the unwillingness to admit wrongdoing among their colleagues, our rabbinate often does the same. Surely it should be as important to protect our children as it is to protect the reputation of rabbinical rascals?

When the scandal about Chaim Walder broke, many Israeli Haredi authorities chose to attack the journalists who had exposed him and caution against the harm of gossip, rather than focus on the pain of the victims and the culture of silence that had shielded the sexual perpetrator for years.

We are grateful to the SA Jewish Report for not conforming to the culture of silence, and for its willingness to publish articles like those from Rabbi Thurgood, Rozanne Sack, and Wendy Hendler, and to organisations like Koleinu SA, which take action to ensure that monsters like Rabbi XYZ will be exposed in South Africa and victims of abuse will be protected and supported.

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Letters/Discussion Forums

Antisemites don’t discriminate between Jews, neither should we

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I learnt about what was going on at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, in the United States (US) late on Saturday, 15 January, from a Facebook post made by one of the rabbis at Temple Israel in Cape Town, of which I’m a member.

What became clear as the nightmare played itself out over hours – for us through the night in real time, for others, after Shabbat ended and they became aware of what was going on – is that the people of Israel, the global Jewish community, were with Rabbi Cytron-Walker and his three congregants as their captivity wore on. Jews of every denomination felt this in their gut. They shared each other’s posts of prayer and then release. This is who we are. This is am Yisrael!

Let’s remember this as we move onward. Let’s remember as we collectively pray for the healing of the four who endured the horror as hostages many kilometres away (in our case and that of others who are outside of the US), or not so far away – that we are all bonded as a people. That our differences of prayer style and interpretation didn’t matter over the hours of their captivity.

It didn’t matter if we called ourselves reform, conservative, orthodox, reconstructionist, renewal, or secular – terrorism and antisemitism know no boundary and don’t discriminate unequally. What mattered is that our people were once again victimised at the hands of a madman. We’re better together than divided, and we must learn from this. We cannot help the world to heal in our quest for tikkun olam if we don’t repair these rifts within.

We cannot afford to come together over victimisation only, we must come together over the love of each other, and respect for each other. All who call themselves Jews felt the anguish experienced by Congregation Beth Israel. No one checked pedigree.

Congregation Beth Israel literally means the house of the people Israel – and that’s what we are – am Yisrael – the Jewish people. It’s also how we must act.

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Looking for Bessie

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I’m seeking the whereabouts of Bessie Taurog, a junior primary school teacher and art teacher at King David Primary School Linksfield in the 1960s.

Please help me to find out what became of her. Email arnoldjlevy@gmail.com.

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