Rabbi Cyril Harris: A man for all seasons
Rabbi Harris passed away on the 9th of Elul 5765, which corresponds this year to August 24.
Rabbi Harris, who had given devoted service to two large London synagogues and the British rabbinate and who came with a very positive recommendation from the late British Chief Rabbi Lord Jakobovits, was chosen to succeed the late Chief Rabbi Bernard Casper z”tl.
Rabbi Harris’ chief rabbinate proved to be very different from what went before. While other chief rabbis certainly had the ear of the government of the day and had ready access to various government departments, Rabbi Harris projected a much larger than life image on the larger South African scene.
He sat on many different committees and participated in government affairs and in inter-faith relationships to a far greater extent than previous incumbents.
Rabbi Harris arrived in South Africa at a very opportune moment in our history. Apartheid was in the process of being dismantled and all the means were being set in motion for transforming the country into a democratic society with a new constitution and a bill of rights exorcising racism from its agenda.
Rabbi Harris positioned himself in a prominent role in this process and was also able to forge a close friendship and relationship with Nelson Mandela, the first president of the new South Africa. Rabbi Harris was an important guest at Mandela’s inauguration and participated in the proceedings.
Together with his wife Ann, the chief rabbi continued to play a major role in helping the needy and less fortunate members of the community through their involvement in Afrika Tikkun, an outreach organisation which serves the needs of the wider community.
He was a great supporter and promoter of the new South Africa and was constantly urging the community not to emigrate but to remain here and contribute to the consolidation of the new South Africa.
A chief rabbi, as the very title indicates, is immersed also in the specific needs of the Jewish community. Rabbi and Ann Harris travelled the length and breadth of the country, visiting every Jewish community in South Africa and even further afield. His broad Scottish brogue and picturesque speaking style, as well as his sense of humour, was known far and wide and greeted with warmth and acclaim.
After 17 years of loyal, devoted and passionate service, Rabbi Harris decided to go into retirement and passed away a few months later after a lengthy illness