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R. Mirvis, cherry on top of SAJBD Conference

  • Mirwis
There was an appropriately celebratory mood at the SAJBD Gauteng Council conference, held at the Sandton Shul hall on Monday evening. The theme of the conference was looking back on 175 years of Jewish life in South Africa - what had been achieved on the communal level and what Jews had contributed to the country as a whole.
by STAFF REPORTER | Aug 17, 2016

In his keynote address, South African-born and educated Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, gave a global perspective on the fundamental changes and challenges confronting the contemporary world, and what the Jewish response needed to be.

A new divide has emerged, he said, namely between a particularistic versus a universalistic approach to dealing with one another as people. This has been reflected in the reaction against multiculturalism, immigration and free trade and growing insularity evident in Europe and the US, as evinced by the growth of factions espousing an exclusivist nationalism and “drawbridge-up” type of politics. The Donald Trump phenomenon and Brexit vote are very much illustrative of this ideological shift.   

The Jewish mission, Rabbi Mirvis stressed, is to maintain a balance between participating in and contributing to the world on the one hand and maintaining an appropriate distance from it on the other. A clue to how Jews in exile should conduct themselves, he explained, is provided by the word “Goshen”, the name by which the part of Egypt in which Jews lived prior to the Exodus was called in the Torah.

The root of the word - “gesh” - indicated approaching something, but not becoming a part of it. The lesson was that Jews should “contribute to society but remain apart from it, integrate but not assimilate”.

Rabbi Mirvis was introduced by Rabbi Avraham Tanzer who commented on how remarkable it was that South African Jewry, which in previous years had had to import its religious personnel from Europe, had now so far progressed in terms of its educational institutions as to be able to provide the world at large with religious leaders from its own ranks. Of the latter, Rabbi Mirvis is a striking example. 

Master of ceremonies, popular comedian Harry Sideropolous devoted his opening remarks to a review of the community’s evolution and a DVD presentation entitled “75 years in 75 seconds”, with photographs and video footage depicting different aspects of the community’s history since 1841, was screened. 

The presentation of the inaugural Bertie Lubner Leadership Award to veteran community leader and social activist Reeva Forman was one of the emotional highpoints of the evening.

Following the passing earlier this year of legendary philanthropist, businessman and Jewish communal leader Bertie Lubner, the SAJBD Gauteng Council decided to introduce a special award in his name, to be presented at its biennial conferences. The award was presented to Forman by Lubner’s son, Marc.

The Board’s National Director Wendy Kahn read out the citation, which acknowledged in particular Forman’s social outreach work on behalf of the greater Hillbrow community through her association with Temple Israel and her dedicated activism on behalf of Israel, including heading up solidarity tours to the country during the violence-torn period of the so-called “Second Intifada”. 

Another tribute at the conference, was in memory of Dr Melville Edelstein, the academic and social worker killed on the first day of the Soweto Uprising. Extracts from a DVD on Edelstein was screened, after which his daughters, Janet Goldblatt and Shana Rosenthal, spoke about the abiding example he had set for them in their own life’s journeys.

In his introduction, Sideropolous emphasised how in addition to his work on behalf of the underprivileged in Soweto, Edelstein had been much involved in social welfare projects within the Jewish community, particularly with Arcadia Children’s Home. 

Messages were given at the conference by SAJBD National Chairman Jeff Katz, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein and Gauteng MEC for Health Qedani Mahlangu.

Katz introduced a more sober note by referring to the recent arrests of the Thulsie twins and others on charges of planning terrorist attacks, including against Jewish targets. He urged the community to be vigilant at all times, just as they were regarding the crime threat, and to report immediately anything out of the ordinary that might come to their attention. 

Invoking the maxim “Do not separate yourself from the community” from Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Goldstein dwelt on the enduring value of being part of and contributing to one’s community and how this helped provide a sense of stability in the face of constant change.

Mahlangu said that in order to realise the vision of a united, peaceful and prosperous South Africa, all citizens needed to instil in themselves and their children the values of caring for, building bridges with and learning from one’s fellow citizens, regardless, of racial, cultural, or religious differences. 

Outgoing Gauteng Council chairman, Shaun Zagnoev, in his chairman’s report, commented that South African Jews had been blessed to have been able “to foster a rich and thriving Jewish communal life while at the same time fully participating in and contributing to the wider society” of which they were a part. This “dual aspect” of what being a Jewish South African is all about was reflected in the diverse activities of the SAJBD, the community’s representative spokesbody.

Zagnoev went on to refer particular functions of the Council as specified in its Constitution and then highlight some of the activities that had been undertaken in that regard. These included the recent “Make Us Count” pre-election education and awareness campaign, actions taken in response to anti-Semitic incidents and the Board’s partnering with Chabad in the Jewish community’s participation in the 2015 Heritage Day parade in Tshwane

In his closing remarks, Gauteng Council member Mark Pozniak commented that while many communities marked important anniversaries at a time when their best days were behind them, this was not the case with South African Jewry. The community, he said, could look to the future with confidence, just as it looked back on its past with pride. This, however, was predicated on the community today committing itself to continuing and building on the work of its predecessors. 

 “The message that we need to take to heart is that this community cannot exist purely for us - it is essential that it exist because of us. Thus, even as we enjoy the benefits of being part of the Jewish community, we should continually be looking for ways to contribute to it” he said.




  1. 6 Gary Selikow 17 Aug
    The comments made at the recent SA Jewish Board of Deputies Conference by UK Chief Rabbi Efraim Mirivis on the UK, Brexit and Immigration are hugely misguided and this attitude among Jewish elites in the UK are creating great anti-semitism among good people.Mirvis really cannot understand why working class people in the UK are against mass immigration from the Middle East and the Third World?
    Is he aware that hundreds of veterans from the British armed forces who gave everything to protect Britain are homeless and live on the streets while Muslim immigrants ('refugees') are housed in spacious council houses and have all their needs met with free medical care, free schooling and a budget for groceries etc.
    Thousands of British children go to bed hungry while migrants are put up at top hotels.  The brilliant journalist and true voice of and conscience and nonconformity to the prejudices of Britain's left elites Julie Burchill  makes the very important and true point that it is easy for the middle and upper classes not affected negatively by immigration to condemn the working classes who suffer as a result of it: "That the working class might have a thoroughly legitimate reason for becoming more agitated about immigration that the tolerant middle class with their health insurance,private schools and comfy cars is never considered by these usually oh so caring people".
    I hope SAJR will print my comments about ... [Nope, Gary, sorry. We won't. That is hate speech and racism  -ED].
    "Furthermore Mirvis speaks of the main threat to British Jews as being the British right wing Actually although there are small Neo-Nazi groups existing like National Front and Combat 18 and these must be condemned they have paled into insignificance today. Genuine patriotic organizations like Britain First and people like Paul Weston and Tommy Robinson   support Israel and have condemned.Whether Rabbi Mirvis and his ilk like it or not the vast majority of anti-semitic attacks in the UK today [sorry again, G, if you don't show us facts that is libelous  =ED] and [Deleted   -ED] anti-semitic hate speech comes from Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party and Muslim clerics like the execrable fanatic Anjem Choudary.People like Mirvis and other British Jewish elites are living in a 40 year time warp.
  2. 5 nat cheiman 21 Aug
    It is true, that liberals tend to be cocooned and protected. Indeed, Germany & France spend billions in helpin refugees, when, in fact, they have many unemployed citizens. Refugees should not be so. They should be sent back to their own countries, like it or not.
    I see no sense siding with people that are not true Brits. Anti semitic feelings arise because of numerous factors, but one of them, is when Jews tend to support liberal ideals which clearly are opposite to nationalistic ideals.
  3. 4 Joshua Grigst 22 Aug
    But Nat, your argument forgets that our people were refugees for thousands of years - and many are still. Do you not think your argument is a bit unfair in the light of this?
  4. 3 Gary Selikow 22 Aug
    Grigst our people when they were given refuge did not rape and traffick the children of their host nations or declare 'halacha zones ' like the Muslim declare sharia zones in every city they settle
  5. 2 Imraan 22 Aug
    All is not as bad. If GB want to leave the European Union it's sole purpose is to keep the integrity of is own people. With out the European Union pressure they can refuse to except the overwhelming amount of refugees. I am not say they should totally shut them out but limit there numbers. Isreal needs to take the lead ND show that they aren't a nation the preaches without practice. Take them in. But that's just my opinion 
  6. 1 nat cheiman 23 Aug
    Hi Josh. I see your point and respect it. Consider that Jews are "menschen" and muslims not. What I mean is that Jews do not hate and want to kill human beings like the Nazis did and like the Shiites ( & Sunnis) do.
    Of course we are refugees ( were and still are) and if the "host "countries want us to leave, then we must. No question. Jews now have their own homeland.
    But to allow [Racist, try using many of whom...   -ED] is suicidal. Europe is already experiencing problems because of Islam. As refugees, Jews never gave their host countries cause for concern. But Joshua, your point is well taken, however I do disagree, for reasons mentioned.


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