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Rabbi Goldman passes on the baton at Sydenham Shul

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Sydenham Shul spiritual leader Rabbi Yossy Goldman will be stepping down from the pulpit after devotedly serving his community for 34 years.

The news was announced in letters from Goldman and the shul executive this week in which the congregation was informed that their beloved rabbi “has chosen to seek out new ventures and make way for a new leader to take Sydenham Shul into the next generation”.

Associate Rabbi Yehuda Stern will gradually assume the role, with Goldman slowly stepping back in a 16-month process which begins on Pesach 2021.

“This decision has taken us many months of thinking, deliberating, debating, and yes, agonising,” wrote Goldman. “In the end, we reached this conclusion for communal and personal reasons.

“I’m extremely excited at the opportunity for personal growth, to explore new horizons, and to be able to apply what I’ve learned with you over the years on a wider stage.”

As of Pesach next year, Goldman will be appointed rabbi emeritus for life of Sydenham Shul. While Stern will assume daily responsibilities from that time, Goldman will remain involved at the shul until Pesach 2022 to ensure a smooth transition.

The shul executive paid tribute to their long-time leader, saying that Goldman and his wife had devoted more than three decades of their lives to their community since joining the shul in September 1986. The couple were praised for bringing honour, dignity, and prestige to the congregation, which is admired and emulated by congregations across South Africa and around the world.

“Rabbi Goldman has been our beloved and esteemed spiritual leader for 34 years. He has married us, Barmitzvah’ed us, taught us, inspired us, counselled and supported us, and has seen us through good times and bad.

“During his tenure and under his exceptional leadership, Sydenham Shul became, in the words of the recently lamented Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, ‘one of the great synagogues of the English-speaking world’.”

Goldman and the executive expressed the need for the shul to plan proactively for the future, which is the motivation behind this dramatic shift.

“While I have reinvented myself more than once over the years, a new generation now looms,” Goldman wrote. “If we are to grow the shul and attract younger families, we will need new approaches, fresh ideas, and, indeed, new blood.”

The executive made similar points.

“The shul executive and both rabbis have spent many hours in strategy meetings about the long-term way forward for the shul, not least of all in light of the changes in the world this year.

“We have a new generation with new styles, mores, likes, and dislikes. It’s a new world with new realities. We’re not quite sure yet where the new order will take us, but COVID-19 has definitely hastened the inevitable changes in our world.”

The change will also give Goldman more time to spend with his family and pursue other opportunities including overseas speaking engagements and time to write.

However, Goldman stressed that he wasn’t simply retiring to the coast to take up fishing. “I’m starting a new chapter but not closing the book,” he told the SA Jewish Report. “I don’t believe in retirement, and this is definitely a transition more than anything.

“I won’t be taking up golf, but will still be an active rabbi, though I hope to broaden my horizons and reach a broader audience without losing touch with my own.”

In spite of several unknowns, Goldman said that the change had the potential to bring about positive growth for the shul.

“I’m 70 years old, thank G-d, I’m healthy and I could easily carry on like this indefinitely,” he said. “However, I cannot simply go with the flow. I’ve seen too many shuls fail to plan their futures and watch as their congregations decline. I would hate to preside over a dying congregation.

“Right now, our shul is a dynamic hub of activity, and I want to keep it that way.”

Goldman expressed confidence in Stern’s abilities, saying that his taking over of daily responsibilities would free him up to do the things he’s often wanted to but never had the time for.

“I’m not emigrating or leaving the shul,” he stressed. “I look forward to being around and making myself available to people who want me present at their milestones, rites or who need advice. I’ll still be giving my shiurim, and will take the pulpit from time to time.

“I look forward to having a meaningful presence at the shul for some time yet.”

Stern praised Goldman’s dedication to the shul, saying he looked forward to perpetuating the senior rabbi’s vision.

“I’ve worked with Rav Goldman for 13 years and consider him a mentor who has taught me a lot in the world of rabbinic and communal affairs,” he said. “He has inspired me.

“My wife, Estee, and I are excited to continue the work he has done in the community for the past 34 years.”

Chairman Stanley Seeff, who has served the shul for many years, credited Goldman for his invaluable contribution to the shul.

“I’ve seen a number of rabbis over the years, but Rabbi Goldman is a unique individual,” he said. “I’ve worked really closely with him, and he has created a solid foundation on which the future of the shul can be built under Rabbi Stern.

“He has so much to offer the broader community and the world. He’s really a young 70.”

Messages of praise and support from rabbis and congregants have poured in since the announcement was made.

“You have set the bar for the rabbinate, not only for this country but for rabbonim worldwide,” Linksfield Shul’s Rabbi Levi Avtzon wrote to Goldman. “I’ll always appreciate the guidance you offered me, the opportunities at your shul, and your consistent support.”

A congregant wrote, “I have regarded you for so many years as a teacher, mentor, guide, and friend and I know I will miss your presence immensely. In my view [and I’m not alone], you have lifted Sydenham Shul to great heights, and you deserve all the plaudits you have received from so many quarters in no small measure.”

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