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Ronald Mink, superb teacher and historian, passes on

Yerachmiel Monat ben Dov Eliezer Ronald Mink, passed away last week in Johannesburg, after a long illness.

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ISAAC REZNIK
Mink was born in Vryheid, Natal to Barney and Cecelia Mink (née Reichenberg, one of six daughters of the late Rabbi Moshe and Rebbetzen Sima Lieba Reichenberg.

Rabbi Mink was the rabbi of the Jeppestown Hebrew Congregation. After matriculating at Vryheid High School, Ronnie completed a BA degree at the University of the Witwatersrand, before pending a year at the Johannnesburg College of Education where he obtained a higher education diploma. He also obtained a postgraduate B Ed degree and did research into the history of education in Swaziland for his thesis.

In 1974 Mink was appointed vice-principal of the Yeshiva College in Johannesburg and after three years he joined the staff of King David High School Linksfield, where he served with dedication and loyalty for 34 years as head of the Jewish studies department. He was also a vice-principal of the school, until his retirement, He did his profession proud.

In the words of Barbara Rigden, a close friend, he was a superb teacher to the thousands of learners who had the privilege of sharing in his great knowledge. But not only the young benefited from his knowledge. He was an absolute expert of Holocaust history and knowledge.

Ronnie will be remembered not only as an educator par excellence, but also as a kind and compassionate person who was warmly devoted to his family.

He is survived by his wife Marla, daughters Melissa and Daniella, sons-in-law, grandchildren, his brother Dr Jackie Mink and all his colleagues and friends.

May his memory be for a blessing.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Samuel Shalom

    Nov 6, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    In Memory and Honor of Ronnie Mink

    Ronnie Mink was a pioneering visionary without perhaps even knowing it. Already in the 1960s he was teaching Jewish pupils and at Jewish day schools in Johannesburg at a time when almost every Jewish man his age had chosen other career paths. And the thing is that he stuck with it and became a success story all the way through!

    Teaching as a career path, and certainly teaching Jewish History which was his passion and specialty, was not the way young Jewish men from his era chose to make a living. But for Ronnie his mission was not to make a living it was to do something real for the Jewish people in a  special way of fostering greater knowledge and teachings about Judaism, Torah and Jewish History to the young.

    Ronnie Mink had a greater vision that grew out of his own Jewish and Torah-observant religious background that he was proud of and never rejected. While most young Jewish men his age chose to become doctors, lawyers, accountants or go into business and the commercial world and in most cases become wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, this never interested Ronnie.

    Ronnie Mink had higher visions and nobler ambitions, to help the Jewish people and in particular The Jews of South Africa in Johannesburg learn about their own Jewish heritage and history. He loved to add more Torah content to everything he did, and to the best of his abilities he incorporated Judaism and his love of Israel and a passionate Zionism into his over-all teachings and classes.

    It was hard to make Ronnie angry. He was never really cross at even the most badly-behaved students and he had a high threshold of tolerance and compassion for the failings of his charges. Ronnie was a very caring and loving person. A true \”mush-ball\” as they say for someone who is in essence all heart and very sweet and kind. He did not have a bad bone in his body and it is hard to believe that he ever had any enemies because he was so well-beloved by all who met him.

    If you ever met and spoke with Ronnie he would show you his most earnest interest and take you very seriously. He listened carefully to what you had to say and nothing was trivial in his eyes especially if it meant that another person should be respected and that a pupil should be built up.

    Over the years Ronnie developed a very deep and profound interest in the Holocaust. In that way too he was not typical of South African Jewry who for the most part did not experience the Holocaust themselves and did not have to face its horrors and hardly anyone studied it, let alone teach about it the way he did. But Ronnie bravely delved into this horrifying and scary tragic chapter in Jewish history when millions of Jews were persecuted and murdered for no other reason than they were born Jewish.

    In some ways it was something of a mystery to figure out why Ronnie was so fixated on the Holocaust while his contemporaries worried about other more mundane things, like the stock exchange, profits from their companies and how the bottom line in their businesses and professional careers were shaping up. Not so Ronnie, he was literally worried and obsessed about what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust as if it was happening today in the here and now. He would get that very serious look on his face and become overcome with pain and angst as he would think about, discuss and describe various events and facts about the Holocaust. Anyone who met him knows this.

    It was that kind of concern for others, that innate empathy and fulfilling the mitzah of \”ve’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha\” — love your neighbor/friend as you love yourself as applied to all Jews and even to all human beings who Ronnie sincerely believed were all the Children of God made in His Image.

    Ronnie was a sweet and special man, unique in his generation, who worked to instill Jewish pride and work with Jewish children when with his credentials he could have easily gotten a job working in high-paying private school or college or even gone on to become a world-class university lecturer. Or he could have moved away and taught overseas in some far off Jewish day school or work with some Holocaust museum and project of which there are plenty in America and Canada, but Ronnie never left South Africa, he felt it was his life’s mission to stay and teach in Johannesburg at King David, and so he did.

    Ronnie chose to educate children at Yeshiva College and for the majority of time at King David School in Linksfield, where he felt he would have the greatest impact on the Jewish people that way and mainly have the joy of working with the wonderful young Jewish teens who could benefit from his knowledge and above all else bask in his warmth, passion and love of each every human being that came into his orbit, no matter how great or small, everyone was important in Ronnie’s eyes, he never discriminated against anyone at any time!

    May his family and his students and disciples be comforted among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem, may they know of no more pain, may they be granted a long and happy life, and may Ronnie be a meilitz yasher a good emissary before the Kisei HaKavod the Throne of Glory upon which Hakadosh Baruch Hu the Holy One Blessed Be He rests beseeching on behalf of our welfare and safety and for all of Israel and the Jewish People, as Ronnie surely will be doing given his constant greater vision of caring for his fellow-Jews and all of Israel, with his deep love and respect for Judaism and Torah and may he remain as a source of inspiration to the to all who knew him and to the Jewish People, Amen! He will be greatly missed!’

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Yochanan’s gamble: the controversial move that saved Judaism

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Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, known as the father of rabbinic Judaism, saved Judaism from complete and utter destruction during the Roman Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. However, his methods weren’t without controversy. He was crafty, practical, and pragmatic, and history has questioned his behaviour ever since.

Limmud@Home on 22 August 2021 featured Marc Katz, the author and rabbi at Temple Ner Tamid in New Jersey, United States, who discussed Ben Zakkai’s controversial gamble that saved Judaism, and the lessons that can be learned from it.

The zealots, a group of religious fanatics in Jerusalem, wanted to fight the Romans. When the sages refused to engage in battle, the zealots burned wheat, deliberately causing starvation to make the people desperate and have no other option but to fight.

“Show me a method so that I will be able to leave the city, and it’s possible that through this, there will be some small salvation,” Ben Zakkai told Abba Sikkara, the leader of the zealots.

Heeding Sikkara’s advice, Ben Zakkai pretended to be dead. In a coffin, he could possibly travel outside the city to seek a solution with the Romans.

Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua successfully carried Ben Zakkai past the guards, who were of the faction of the zealots, by telling them that they were burying the coffin outside the city.

When Ben Zakkai reached the Roman camp, he spoke to Roman leader Vespasian. Ben Zakkai helped Vespasian cure his swollen feet. Vespasian offered something in return, and Ben Zakkai asked for certain Jewish lives to be spared and doctors to heal Rabbi Tzadok.

Why didn’t he ask the Romans to spare Jerusalem? He maintained that Vespasian might not do that much for him, and there wouldn’t be even this small amount of salvation. Therefore, he made only a modest request in the hope that he would receive at least that much.

Katz said several lessons could be learned from this story.

He drew a comparison to US President Abraham Lincoln at the time of the American Civil War in the 1860s, who freed slaves.

“One of the things he’s famous for is that he surrounded himself with people who disagreed with him in order to build the best coalition and understand that he didn’t have all the right views in a time of discord,” said Katz. “So, many of his secretaries – like his treasury secretary, his war secretary – were people who were actually his political rivals but he brought them in because it was really important for him to listen to them. It was pragmatic because he knew the social capital he was going to gain from it. It was also hopeful because he wasn’t so caught in his ways that he couldn’t hear them out or heed their warnings. That is exactly what Ben Zakkai is doing. Not only is he creating this plot of land where he is going to save Judaism, but he is the kind of guy who tends to think about politics in the way he governs.”

Another lesson is to try to seek compromises, just like Ben Zakkai did with Sikkara.

A further lesson is to have love and kindness, not regret and hatred. Katz discussed what happened when Ben Zakkai was leaving Jerusalem with Yehoshua, and they witnessed the destruction of the Temple. “Don’t be bitter, my son, for we have another form of atonement which is as great, and this is [an] act of love and kindness [gemilut hasadim],” Ben Zakkai told Yehoshua.

An additional lesson is not to be afraid of people. If they kill you, you won’t be dead for eternity as there is life after death. But the supreme king of kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He, lives and endures forever and all-time, and if he kills you, you are dead for eternity.

“Yochanan doesn’t know if he is going to heaven or hell,” said Katz. “I truly believe that’s because he doesn’t know whether he made the right call or not – he doesn’t know if the pragmatic decision he made was better than going for broke and asking for Jerusalem to be saved.”

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The dispersal of the Bukharian Jews

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The story of the Bukharian Jews, a community with deep roots in Central Asia, is sadly coming to an end, but the community’s legacy lives on in the United States and Israel, where most of the remaining Bukharian Jews now live.

Uzbekistan-born Bukharian Jew, Ruben Shimonov, told of this little known Jewish group which emanates mostly from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan, countries in the heart of the Asian continent.

Speaking to a virtual audience via Zoom at Limmud@Home last Sunday, 22 August, Shimonov said the different layers of culture, cuisine, music, and language in the region were an amalgamation of all the different cultures of Central Asia, and were also reflected in the small but deeply-rooted community of Bukharian Jews.

The Bukharian Jewish story begins with the Babylonian conquest of the ancient land of Israel, Judea, and subsequent exile of Jews east of the land of Israel to other regions of the Babylonian Empire, namely present-day Iraq and Iran.

The Babylonian Empire was conquered by the Achaemenid Empire in 539 BC. “Under the Achaemenid Empire, the king was a more benevolent king and he allowed Jews to return to rebuild Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash,” said Shimonov. “But many Jews stayed as they now felt safe and secure under this new reign and moved even farther east of this new large Achaemenid Empire. This, folks, was Central Asia.”

Shimonov believes that the Bukharian Jews were more integrated with the local non-Jewish communities in Central Asia than, for example, the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe.

“Even though Bukharian Jews for a large part of their history lived in quarters [maḥalla], there was constant interaction with the dominant societies amongst which they lived,” said Shimonov. “For example, the shashmaqam musical tradition is influenced by Sufi Islam, but many Bukharian Jews became the gatekeepers of this tradition.”

According to Shimonov, there are 250 000 Bukharian Jews in the world. Most of them now live in Israel or the United States, primarily in the New York City borough of Queens.

“In Uzbekistan, there are fewer than a thousand Bukharian Jews left – mainly elderly folk who are staying behind because it’s harder for them to emigrate,” said Shimonov. “Jews in Uzbekistan are highly protected; their safety is preserved. And Jews do go and visit Central Asia, including Uzbekistan, where there is one kosher restaurant and a couple of synagogues. But our story is quickly coming to an end in our place of origin.”

In the Tajikistan city of Khujand, where Bukharian Jews once enjoyed a rich communal life, the last remaining Jew, Jura Abaev, died in January this year. Zablon Simintov, a carpet trader who is the last remaining Jew in Afghanistan, is reportedly safe as the country comes under the control of the Taliban.

Shimonov, who emigrated from Uzbekistan three years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, said the main reason for the low numbers today was the struggle of the Bukharian Jews living in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan under the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

“State-sanctioned antisemitism and dispossession or marginalisation of Jews was part of that story even though there were more ups than downs. And then, the subsequent new instability of the newly formed independent republics – whenever new countries are formed after the colonial past there is more often than not a lot of political, social, and economic instability,” he said.

“As a democratic minority, we felt that even more. So, the urgency to leave was clear and present. In the decade of the late eighties to mid-nineties, we went from having the majority of our community living in this place where we had lived for centuries to the majority of our community living in a new diaspora. In Uzbekistan, the real impetus to leave was more about everything I mentioned than antisemitism coming from our Muslim neighbours.”

“Our Muslim neighbours were our friends, and we baked bread with them,” Shimonov said. “This is different to Jews coming from the Arab world, where Arab nationalism and Zionism came to a head in a way that the Jews were sadly caught in the crossfire.”

In contemporary times, Uzbekistan-born billionaire Lev Avnerovich Leviev and Israeli Dorrit Moussaieff are two of the Bukharian Jews who have made an impact. Known as the “king of diamonds”, Leviev annually sent large quantities of Passover food to Chabad emissaries in the Commonwealth of Independent States to distribute to Jews in these communities. Moussaieff, the former First Lady of Iceland, promoted Icelandic culture and artistic productions in the international arena.

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Shabbat Around The World beams out from Jozi

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More than 75 devices around the globe logged in to Beit Luria’s World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Shabbat Around the World programme on Friday, 15 January.

Whether it was breakfast time in California, tea time in Europe, or time to break challah in Johannesburg, participants logged in to take part in Beit Luria’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.

Among those participating were Rabbi Sergio Bergman, the president of the WUPJ; chairperson Carole Sterling; and Rabbi Nathan Alfred, the head of international relations. Singers Tulla Eckhart and Brian Joffe performed songs from a global array of artists, along with Toto’s Africa to add a little local flair to the service. After kiddish was said and bread was broken, Rabbi Bergman thanked Beit Luria for hosting the WUPJ. The shul looks forward to more collaborations with its global friends in the future.

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