Torah – the Jewish lodestar
A reflection on the Torah as the Jews’ GPS, was a theme touched upon by several speakers at this year’s Sinai Indaba. Among the 11, primarily American speakers, were acclaimed relationship instructor, Slovie Jungreis Wolff, daughter of Rebbetzen Esther Jungreis; Rebbetzen Rivkah Slonim broadly respected as a “Chassidic feminist” and award-winning comedy writer – known and celebrated for his work on series like The Simpsons, Third Rock from the Sun and Murphy Brown – David Sacks, who was there by electronic proxy.
Unable to be in South Africa, he conducted his hugely attended 45 minute talk via Skype.
Centring her talk on what happens between the time when brides and grooms “are beautifully in love” at the chuppah and when they’re bickering toward divorce, she told the story of Adam and Eve to explain how to make good marriage great.
Narrating how the snake tempted Adam and Eve to break rules, she called it one of the first pitfalls of marriage – the “’what if” factor, which can cause a married partner’s eye to digress”.
At the climax of the story, where Adam and Eve are banished by G-d from the Garden of Eden, she added that blaming other people for one’s behaviour is never an option.
“So what did Adam do? He looked at this woman and he says: ‘From now on maybe we won’t be in this Garden of Eden, but together we are going to create another Garden of Eden.’” The moral of the story is that we all make mistakes. We must have the ability to forgive ourselves and start again. “One of the most difficult emotions in marriage is regret.”
“I submit that the most succinct way to wrap up our challenge in the spiritual realm is we think of ourselves as people,” posited Rebbetzen Slonim, in launching her discussion of the soul. In 45 minutes, she touched lightly on everything from prayer to reincarnation, with an understanding on the purity of the soul, considering the anomalous nature of the human being, and offering a trajectory, which too, reached all the way back to Adam and Eve.
“It’s outrageous that a piece of G-d should be able to be contained in flesh and blood. It’s all about struggle and we should embrace that.”
Constantly bearing a smile on his face, Sacks explained how he began his career as an elevator operator. His career as a writer grew and burgeoned in unanticipated ways. The challenge of doing good work and keeping Shabbos was central to his talk and pivotal in how he had the chutzpah to determine his own path and make rules which brought him a unique respect from his non-Jewish contemporaries and professional superiors.
Speaking of the mottled butterfly which flies seasonally and generationally between Mexico and Canada, he said: “This is the story of the Jewish people. Whenever a Jew walks, he is walking toward Israel. Intuitively, we understand where we are going. G-d has invented the most amazing GPS system within ourselves.”
Cemetery in sad state & no funds for repair
The Jewish cemetery in Roodepoort on the West Rand is in a sorry state of disrepair, with nearly a third of the tombstones broken or pushed over. There is also no wall to demarcate the area from the general cemetery. Unfortunately, no Jewish congregation remains to deal with the problem, nor are there funds available to carry out the necessary restoration.
Pictured: The sad state of disrepair at the Roodepoort Jewish cemetery, is clearly visible in this photograph.
Currently, the Country Communities Department of the SAJBD is responsible for the maintenance of over 220 cemeteries in the smaller towns and villages around the country. What makes it possible to carry out this role, however, is the availability of funds from various trusts set up by the former Jewish congregations of the areas concerned.
In the case of Roodepoort, no provision was made for the maintenance of the cemetery while there was still a functioning Jewish community in the town and no funds remain from the sale of the community’s assets after the closure of the shul.
Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, spiritual leader to the South African Country Communities, said his department was willing to take over the responsibility for maintaining the cemeteries of other congregations in the event of their closing down. This, however, was predicated on the trustees of those congregations entering into an agreement with the SAJBD to ensure that adequate resources were available for that purpose.
This would be done, as in the case of other country cemeteries, through the establishment of a trust, set up through the sale of the community’s property and other assets. It followed that the larger the cemetery, the more funds are needed to be made available.
In the case of Roodepoort, he had met with the trustees before the congregation closed and strongly advised that they make provision for their cemetery’s future maintenance. They had taken a conscious decision not to do so, and unfortunately, there was now nothing that his department could do about the situation, he said.
Rabbi Silberhaft urged all communities outside the Greater Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban areas that had not yet made provision for the upkeep of their cemeteries, to do so as soon as possible, while they were still active and viable.
The upkeep of the final resting places of community members who had passed on, was a sacred responsibility, he stressed, and that in turn meant that the trustees of the congregations concerned needed to act responsibly when determining what to do with their community’s remaining assets.
Rabbi Silberhaft said that should they wish the SAJBD to take on that responsibility, they should contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange for the necessary legal document to be drawn up in anticipation of the community closing. Alternatively, they could contact SAJBD Country Communities Chairman Marlene Bethlehem on email@example.com.
Ambassadors talk about Israel and Germany
On Sunday May 29, SACRED (South African Centre for Religious Equality and Diversity) in collaboration with the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre, Bet David Progressive Synagogue and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, was an organiser of “Ambassadors in Conversation: Dealing With a Complicated Past, Creating a Common Future”.
RABBI JULIA MARGOLIS
CHAIRMAN OF SACRED
The ambassadors in question were Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa Arthur Lenk and German Ambassador Walter Linder.
“Today relations between the two peoples are astonishing given the recent past: the German government’s position is one of ‘unconditional support’ of Israel.
“Indeed, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that ‘Germany’s support for Israel’s security is part of our national ethos, our raison d’être’. These words have been backed up by action internationally.
“She has also been on an official tour of Israel and has addressed the Knesset. Jewish life in Germany is active and supported by the government. Israelis now flock to Berlin and Merkel enjoys high popularity in the Jewish state.
“With the Holocaust still within living memory, we were honoured to host survivors in the audience who could not possibly have imagined this state of affairs 70 years ago, at the end of the Second World War.
“This is attributable to determined efforts by both countries to keep the doors of communication open without ignoring the terrible events of the Holocaust. Both ambassadors agreed that although relations between the two states will never be ‘normal’, they had been able to make significant progress in the last 70 years and that this should serve as an example to other countries and peoples dealing with painful pasts.”
The setting for the discussion was the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre, whose director, Tali Nates, herself the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, was the moderator.
Remember those who refused to be mere victims
For Yom Hashoah 2016, the international theme chosen by Yad Vashem is remembering those victims of the Holocaust who resisted being brutalised by the horrific circumstances in which they were placed, but instead strove to maintain and preserve their essential humanity.
The SAJBD, which organises the ceremonies in the seven main Jewish centres countrywide, is this year putting a particular emphasis on educating the next generation and providing it with the tools to carry remembrance of the Holocaust forward into the future.
An information pack specially geared towards young adults has been prepared for the many high school learners from both the Jewish and government schools, who are expected to attend the ceremonies.
Over the past decade and more, the keynote speakers for Johannesburg and Durban have been prominent Holocaust survivors from abroad, brought out for the occasion by the SA Jewish Board of Deputies. These have included Auschwitz prisoner Eva Schloss, whose mother later married Anne Frank’s father, Otto, Wallenberg survivor John Dobai and Ben Helfgott, who went on to become an Olympic weight-lifter.
This year’s speaker, Veronica Phillips, is from Johannesburg. Born in Budapest, Hungary, she survived years of internment in the international ghetto in her home city, the Ravensbruck, Penig and Johanneorgenstadt concentration camps and the Death Marches.
The Johannesburg and Durban programme will also include a presentation by SAJBD National President and Director of the Durban Holocaust Centre Mary Kluk, who will focus on the specific lessons that the Holocaust has for South Africa today.
The traditional Yom Hashoah programme includes alternate Hebrew-English reading of “To everyone, there is a name/Lechol ish Yesh Shem”, lighting of six memorial candles by survivors, Holocaust poetry readings and renditions of the Hazkara, Partisan Song, Ani Ma’amin, Shiviti and Hatikvah.
Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa Arthur Lenk, will deliver a message on behalf of the State of Israel and Lt Hilton Kaplan, the Soldiers’ Tribute on behalf of the SA Jewish Ex-Servicemen’s League.
In addition, the Johannesburg ceremony will feature violinist Waldo Alexander playing the theme from the film Schindler’s List and Redhill High School pupil Gemma Davies reading an extract from her poem “Brother”, the prizewinning entry in the Writing, Poetry & Art Competition held by Chapman University, US.
Ceremonies will be held in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria and Port Elizabeth on Thursday, May 5 and in Durban and Bloemfontein on the following Sunday (May 8). The date of the East London ceremony is still to be confirmed.
SAJBD Gauteng Council Chairman Shaun Zagnoev will preside over the proceedings in Johannesburg which will take place as usual at the Martyr’s Monument in West Park Cemetery, at 12:30.
* For further information on the Yom Hashoah ceremonies around the country, contact (Johannesburg) Shirley Beagle, (011) 645-2583; (Cape Town) Gwynne Robins, (021) 464-6700; (Durban) Roseanne Rosen, (031) 335-4452; (Pretoria) Diane Wolfson, (012) 346-8792; (Port Elizabeth) Michael Simmons (041) 373-7433; (Bloemfontein) Leah Chabas, (051) 436-2207, and (East London) Ellen Ettinger, (043) 748-4481.
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