Sandton pays tribute to extraordinary rabbi
Kraines announced his resignation earlier this month, citing ill health over the past few years as a primary reason for his decision. He and his family are due to relocate to Israel in December.
For 27 years, Kraines was the face of the Sandton Ohr Somayach Jewish community.
On Monday night, the Sandton community gathered to pay tribute to its rabbi, the shul hall packed wall to wall with dozens of people who benefited personally from his years of service.
Ohr Somayach Director Stephen Segal reflected on Kraines’ arrival in South Africa. “He was involved in the shul from day one. When he applied for the position, he was perfect,” says Segal. “His personality was great, his davening [praying] and leining [reading from the Torah] were good, and we saw an ideal candidate for the job. That was 27 and a half years ago. We’ve never looked back on this decision.”
The Californian-born Kraines became involved in Ohr Somayach in 1983, when he and his wife, Nechama, became founding directors of the group’s outreach branch in North America. Subsequently, he served as assistant rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina, and principal of Emuna Primary School of Mexico City, Mexico, before heading to South Africa in 1992.
“When the rabbi arrived in South Africa, my brother went out with a combi and trailer to fetch him, tons of bags, and a few kids,” says Segal. “Those of us who had started the shul were all sitting there waiting for him to arrive. We’d been told he was from Mexico, and everyone was expecting a man to arrive in a sombrero. He disappointed us, arriving in a black hat only.”
Over the years, he also served as mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) of the Ohr Somayach Yeshivah & Kollel, and was founding director of Sandton’s Maayan Bina Women’s Seminary. In 2001, he was appointed principal of Shaarei Torah School, a position he held until 2014. Under his watch, the Sandton Shul grew from 20 members to more than 150 families.
“The Kraines family taught us that it’s all about family,” said Ohr Somayach Director Maurice Goodman. “Based on the example that the rabbi and Nechama set, the community grew rapidly.
“The Kraines family was a victim of its own success. It created people who wanted more. As you can see tonight, the link has remained strong, and we will build on the legacy that they have created here in Sandton.”
Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein thanked Kraines for his dedicated leadership and service to his shul, Sandton Jewry, and Johannesburg Jewry.
“Each one of us stands here in awe of your achievements, and what you have done in your time here,” he said. “As a family, you have had an impact on all of us. This shows it’s not just a job, but a selfless mission and a privilege.”
Goldstein cited the establishment of Sandton Sinai School as an illustration of Kraines’ selfless philosophy. “A few years ago, there was a big debate about how to start a Torah school in Sandton,” he said. “At one of our meetings, Rabbi Kraines offered the nursery school he’d built, saying we could use it to build a primary school. He just gave his nursery school over to us. That then became Sandton Sinai, which today is a beacon of light in Sandton.”
“I’ve never seen anyone who created an institution say on the spur of the moment without thinking: take it, it’s yours. He realised that this could be the foundation of something great.”
The loss will perhaps be felt most keenly by shul members, whose fond memories shared with the SA Jewish Report speak for the sincere passion the rabbi and rebbetzin had for kindling a genuine love for Judaism in others.
“Rabbi Kraines made many people grow in yiddishkeit with a gentle but effective approach,” says Norman Aronowitz. “He encouraged people to attend more religious schools even though it meant people moved to Glenhazel – that’s selfless.”
Tali Goldberg echoes the sentiment. “Rabbi and Rebbetzin Kraines exemplify true chesed (compassion) and selflessness,” she says. “They taught us love for the Torah, and opened up a whole world of what it means to be a frum (observant) Jew.”
Kraines thanked his community, and declared his time in South Africa to be a tremendous gift. “We take pride in what our family is about, and we attribute it to being embraced in this loving community,” he said. “I have flourished personally thanks to the opportunities I’ve had here. My involvement with schools, youth organisations, and so many people has made me so much more than what I would have been.
“South Africa has enabled me to work together with my life partner, Nechama, on the same mission. It has brought us much closer together, and there are so many precious memories and deep meaningful relationships we’ve been able to forge. Those will always be treasured.
“The South African community is facing a challenge,” Kraines says. “Our community needs to go forward, and it has all the resources necessary to meet the challenge. We need to keep the Jewish spirit alive. It’s all there, it just needs to be kindled. We need everyone to come aboard to make it happen.”