Festival Calendar for 2014 to 2016

Jewish Year

Sept 2013 – Sept 2014


Sept 2014 – Sept 2015


Sept 2015 -Sept 2016

S’lichot Sat Aug 31 Sat Sep 20 Sat Sep 5
Rosh Hashanah Thurs – Fri Sept 5 – 6 Thurs – Fri Sept 25 – 26 Mon – Tues Sept 14 – 15
Yom Kippur Sat Sept 14 Sat Oct 4 Wed Sept 23
Sukkot Thurs – Fri Sept 19 – 20 Thurs – Fri Oct 9 – 10 Mon – Tues Sept 28 – 29
Atzeret/ Simchat Torah Thurs Sept 25 Thurs Oct 16 Mon Oct 5
Channukah Thurs – Thurs Nov 28 – Dec 5 Wed – Wed Dec 17 – 24 Mon – Mon Dec 7 – 14
Tu Bish’vat Thurs Jan 16 Wed Feb 4 Mon Jan 25
Purim Sun Mar 16 Thurs Mar 5 Thurs Mar 24
Pesach Tues – Mon Apr 15 – 21 Fri – Thurs Apr 3 – 9 Sat – Fri Apr 23 – 29
Yom Hashoah Mon Apr 28 Thurs Apr 16 Thurs May 5
Yom Hazikaron Mon May 5 Wed Apr 22 Wed May 11
Yom Ha’atzmaut Tues May 6 Thurs Apr 23 Thurs May 12
Lag B’omer Sun May 18 Thurs May 7 Thurs May 26
Shavuot Wed Jun 4 Sun May 24 Sun June 12
Tishah B’av Tues Aug 5 Fri Jul 31 Fri Aug 19

Durban Sisterhood wins world award

The Durban Sisterhood has won the Or Ami Award for Excellence in Sisterhood Programming for its work with the Mavela Creche in Ndwedwe, which it has supported for the past four years.The project forms part of a programme of the World Conference on Religions for Peace, aimed at child-headed households, orphans and other vulnerable children in rural communities. The Sisterhood of Temple David in Durban is a founder member of the pilot study and continues to be a major partner in the project.The Or Ami “Light of my People” Award, which will be presented to the Durban Sisterhood at the Women of Reform Judaism’s (WRJ) biennial conference in the US in December, honours a sisterhood or district that undertakes outstanding and significant social action, community service, or educational projects.”This is, I believe, the fourth time this award has been made by the WRJ to a South African Sisterhood,” said Monica Solomon, president of the South African Union of Temple Sisterhoods (SAUTS). “It is a wonderful achievement for the women in Durban who have done wonders at this creche.

Kol Hakavod to all of you on winning this prestigious award. Your Sisterhood has set an outstanding example to us all,” she said.

Children, including some who head their own households, celebrate with the Durban Sisterhood after painting the walls of their creche.

Sleeping time at the creche, which has 26 babies under 12 months in its baby group

There are a number components to the Mavela project, of which a few include:

MAVELA CRECHE. The first part of the project, intended to ensure that older siblings in child-headed households could go back to school. Mavela créche opened in February 2003 with 36 children. It grew very rapidly. The Sisterhood built a new classroom and ablution block in 2004/5 and today there are 91 pupils in the school, aged from six months to five years, many of whom are from child-headed households and orphans.

FOOD DROP OFF. Thirty two child-headed households – families who have lost their parents to HIV AIDS – are supported through funds provided by the Jakamar Trust and other donations. The Sisterhood does food drops every four to five weeks, and provides blankets, clothing, assistance with school uniforms and school fees.

CHILDREN’S TRANSPORT. The Sisterhood pays for transport of children who live too far to walk to the créche. Initially 25 children were transported, but the costs of transport have increased and fewer children are now transported.

INCOME GENERATING CENTRE. The Sisterhood has assisted in building a log cabin which will be used for income-generating projects to create capacity and sustainability within the community. This is done in conjunction with the Friends of Mavela in Holland and Dianne McColl and family. The Sisterhood is now looking for projects and assistance in setting up these programmes. The women have started making clothes for children in the community and hope to obtain a sewing contract from the Department of Health.

BABY CENTRE AND HOME BASED CARE HOSPICE. The Sisterhood are collecting funds to provide a room for a baby centre at the créche, where space is now at a premium. There are also plans to build a room for home-based care workers to meet and train, as well as a place for patients to come for relaxation and care.

Care-givers and children line up outside their créche after a day spent repainting it. The drab white walls were transformed into hills and trees and flowers and a river with fish. More than 25 people were involved, including children from the child-headed households.
Click here to see the full photograph.

The Or Ami award

The United Sisterhood received the Or Ami Award for the MC Weiler School in Alexander Township, Johannesburg, in 2005, the year it celebrated its 60th anniversary. The primary school was started in 1945 by Rabbi Moses Cyrus Weiler, his wife Una and Rita Marx, in order to get the children off the streets of the township and into school. The United Sisterhood, with the help of its sponsors, provides food, clothing and education for these children.

The Or Ami award-winners are selected according to the following criteria. The programme should:

  • translate Jewish values into practical service to the congregation and the Jewish or general community;
  • raise the consciousness of sisterhood members to the expanding horizons of service through sisterhood;
  • be broadly replicable; and
  • be innovative or implemented in an unusually creative manner.

When sisterhood means service

The founder of Progressive Judaism, Rabbi MC Weiler, encouraged the women who attended his services to form a sisterhood where they would work for the movement and the community at large. That was the beginning of the SA Union of Temple Sisterhoods

United Sisterhood helps the Jewish way

The United Sisterhood, umbrella body for the three Johannesburg-based synagogue sisterhoods, is world-renowned for its social action programmes in areas like Alexandra

MC Weiler School: 60 years service

For more than 60 years, the MC Weiler School in Alexandra has provided education, food and uniforms to children from the poorest families

Bringing matric to the underprivileged

For more than two decades, a unique school at Bet David has enabled hundreds of poor students from Alexandra to pass their matric

Helping the children of Hillbrow

Nelson Mandela is patron-in-chief of the Temple Israel (Johannesburg) project MaAfrika Tukkun, which works with underprivileged and street children in Hillbrow

Temple Israel hosts MaAfrika Tikkun

MaAfrika Tikkun was established in 1995 as a foundation to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged South Africans through empowering communities to uplift themselves. MaAfrika Tikkun has projects running throughout South Africa.MaAfrika Tikkun’s Hillbrow Project – a crêche – is based at Temple Israel in Hillbrow. MaAfrika Tikkun supplies this project with equipment for the school and training for its teachers, and the children are taken on various outings during the year.

According to the MaAfrika Tikkun Times, a Review of 2004, the school is now fully recognised by the government and a parents’ association has been established.

“MaAfrika Tikkun donates blankets, food and clothing to the Hillbrow street children and, twice a year, hosts parties for about 200 children.”

Former president, Nelson Mandela, is the ‘patron-in-chief’ of MaAfrika Tikkun. Other patrons include Gill Marcus, Raymond Ackerman, Eric Ellerine, Bridgette Radebe, Cyril Ramaphosa, Ronnie & Bertie Lubner and many more. Its chief executive officer is Herby Rosenberg.

“In the early days, MaAfrika Tikkun was approached to develop projects that would assist disadvantaged and impoverished communities in a variety of ways,” says the review.

“Experience has taught us to focus on the particular fields of expertise in which we excel. These include: skills development; pre-school education and development of crèches; day-care for the elderly and renovation of homes; primary health care and support with the emphasis on assistance to HIV/AIDS-affected patients and their families; home economic skills training, including computer literacy and instructor training; taking care of orphans and vulnerable children; and feeding schemes for vulnerable groupings; among others.”

Temple Israel chair Reeva Forman and Head of Projects Anne Harris with MaAfrika Tikkun children

Support MaAfrika

Contact Reeva Forman for further information. Email: reeva@intekom.co.za

Mitzvah School celebrates 21 years


THE Mitzvah School celebrated its coming of age at the end of 2007. A birthday party for alumni, sponsors and other guests was held at The Middleton on the grounds of Bet David.

Guest speakers included Khotso Schoeman, CEO of Kagiso Trust and Moshe More, CEO of Dinala Trust, both of whom were among the first pupils of Mitzvah School in 1987.

Other speakers included Mitzvah School founders, Molly Smith and Lesley Rosenberg (current principal), and alumni, Noko Leopeng, who helped organise the event. Current and past Mitzvah School learners provided the entertainment.

Over the past 21 years, the Mitzvah school has touched the lives of thousands of youngsters and put them on the road to achieving success. Doctors, lawyers, businessmen and women, entrepreneurs, actors, musicians and more have graduated from Mitzvah School since its inception in 1987.


Alumni, current learners, sponsors and other guests attended the Mitzvah School’s 21st birthday celebrations


Desmond Sweke, chairperson of Bet David, with Rabbi Robert Jacobs, Bet David’s rabbi


Phineas Khosa, the Mitzvah School bus driver, has driven learners to and from Alexandra since the school began


The Class of 2002 sing a tribute to bus driver Phineas Khosa


Former student Noko Leopeng helped organize the 21st birthday celebrations


Khotso Schoeman, who matriculated in 1987, is now CEO of Kagiso Trust

All together now. Principal Lesley Rosenberg and former students blow out cakes representing each of the school’s 21 years. Each former student represented the graduating class of a particular year, blowing out candles in honour of that year. The cakes were donated by the Bet David Sisterhood


Related article: History of Mitzvah School

For more than two decades, a unique school at Bet David has enabled hundreds of poor students from Alexandra Township to pass their matric. Principal Lesley Rosenberg tells the story

Bringing matric to the underprivileged


THE Mitzvah school was started in 1986 at the height of the apartheid-era State of Emergency, as a crisis class providing a year of tuition to matric students from Alexandra Township. At that time, the country was in turmoil. The student slogan was “Liberation before Education”. There were, however, students who felt that being involved in politics was not helping them shape a future for themselves and who wanted to complete their schooling.

With assistance from various companies and individuals, including the management and rabbi of the Bet David congregation in Sandton, the school opened with 25 students, some of whom, unbeknown to us, had been political prisoners. Molly Smith was the principal at that time. She and I learned a tremendous amount about the needs of young people in Alexandra and felt that we should continue until the crisis in education had passed.

We were an illegal school and our students were registered at Alexandra High. After two years, we became a registered school and examination centre. When the students in the township had “stay-aways” or the teachers were on strike, our school was not affected. We were able to forge ahead and assist young people to pass their matric in beautiful and carefree surroundings taught by dedicated, well-qualified and experienced teachers.

We have consistently produced a pass rate of over 90%. By comparison, the national average is just over 50%, and some of the schools from which our students come have pass rates as low as 12%. For the past four years (2004 to 2007), we have achieved 100% pass rates, a remarkable achievement, as our students are with us for only one year.

We try to expand the students’ horizons in every way and give them a feeling of self-worth. We have many guest speakers on subjects such as Aids awareness, drug and alcohol abuse, women and child abuse, street law and vocational guidance.

Some of our students are involved in projects in Alexandra Township. Mpho Malatji, a student at Wits University who matriculated at Mitzvah School, is a mathematics tutor at our school and also runs a Saturday school at the Scripture Ikemeleng Centre in Alexandra. He helps students from Alexandra with mathematics and science and is assisted by past students of Mitzvah School. These students also help him run a project at Ikemeleng to keep young children and youths occupied during school holidays and weekends.


Principal Lesley Rosenberg … “we try to expand horizons”


First principal of the school, Molly Smith … ‘an illegal school”

Many of the past students revisit the school to assist us with various aspects of the school. Shera Masheka, a past student, initiated a feeding scheme in Alexandra. Nonhlanhla Sithole has graduated as a medical doctor. Nonhlanhla came from an extremely deprived background, and with the assistance of the community and the Mitzvah School he is now able to go back in to his community and “give back”.

We are assisted by the Bet David Sisterhood to help students who require food and clothing. Certain sponsors provide bursaries and we have set up a small bursary fund ourselves to help past students with tertiary education.

Students pay a nominal monthly amount for school fees and transport. The amount they pay does not cover the monthly cost per student (some of the students are unable to pay at all) and the shortfall has to be covered by our own fund-raising efforts. We no longer receive a government subsidy as we have only one class and are considered an elite school.

We have been extremely fortunate to receive funding from the business sector. The JD Group, a company listed on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange, came to our rescue some five years ago, when we were on the verge of closing the school. The JD Group continues to give us a substantial monthly sum, without which we would not be able to survive.

We are often able to find sponsorship for students who are unable to pay their school fees and these sponsors take an interest in their progress at school and sometimes even into tertiary education.

In the past few years, we have formed a relationship with MaAfrika Tikkun. We were very pleased last year to receive new desks and chairs from them and we were able to pass the old desks and chairs on to the Scripture Union in Alexandra.

More than 1 000 students have passed matric at Mitzvah School, and we are proud to have been involved in their lives. Many of them have graduated, some work in the banking and retail sector, to name a few, and many study part-time to achieve their goals.


Molly Smith with some of the Mitzvah School teachers at the school’s 21st celebration

Our school, with the help of the Bet David Sisterhood, provides breakfast daily for 75 Aids orphans at Zenzeleni Lower Primary School in Alexandra. We also have birthday parties for these children. We provide school uniforms and shoes for those children who come to school without shoes and are very poorly clothed. We have also been assisted to provide glasses for those children who have eye problems.

We have a feeding scheme in Eighth Avenue, Alexandra, providing breakfast and lunch daily for about 120 pre-school children as well as indigent adults in the area. The students of Mitzvah School assist to collect food monthly. This we do by standing outside supermarkets and asking the shoppers to assist with our feeding schemes. The community is extremely generous, and we are able to feed these people and send food parcels to child-headed families. The ‘kitchen’ in Eighth Avenue is however extremely basic, and in dire need of upgrading.

Our income is mainly spent on teacher salaries to ensure that we retain our staff, most of whom having been with us for many years. We spend very little money on upgrading the school, but feel that we now need to concentrate on giving our students a solid background in computer studies, an area where we feel we have failed. Here again, MaAfrika Tikkun has come to our assistance and installed six new computers for us. Our library and science laboratory remain in desperate need of upgrading.

If you can help the Mitzvah School in any way, please call +27 11 883 7177 or email mrose@iafrica.com, or visit the school’s website at http://www.mitzvahschool.org.za. Source: Shofar 2006

Support Mitzvah

YOU can help the Mitzvah school every time you go shopping – and it won’t cost you anything.The MySchool programme, which has raised R5 million for 600 schools across the country, has been introduced at Mitzvah School.

What you need is a special MySchool card ordered from the Mitzvah School. Each time you shop at a MySchool partner outlet, the vendor pays a percentage to the school – without adding anything to the price charged to you.

MySchool affiliates include Woolworths, CNA, Spar, Mica, Waltons, Link pharmacies and many others.

To support the Mitzvah school, please order a card by phoning the school on +27 11 883-7177 or emailing mitzvah@telkomsa.net. (South Africa only.)

Contact us

The Mitzvah School is a non-profit organisation, number 006-883. It can be contacted via Bet David, PO Box 78189, Sandton, 2146Tel/fax: +27 11 883-7177Website: http://www.mitzvahschool.org.za

Email: mitzvah@telkomsa.net

Related article


Mitzvah turns 21

The Mitzvah School holds a huge party, attended by ex-pupils and sponsors, to celebrate 21 years of matric success

A pioneering school that survived against the odds


mcweiler-paintingOutside the school, beneath a painting of founder Rabbi Moses Weiler, are United Sisterhood chairperson Marilyn Trujillo, Cynthia Duchen who provides food and cooking lessons to pupils, Armona Weiler, daughter of Rabbi Weiler, and Ellen Appleton, past chairperson

In 1945, Rabbi Moses Weiler, founder of the Progressive Movement in South Africa, was visiting Alexandra Township, where he noted the number of small children playing in the streets while their parents were at work. Realising the need for schooling for these children, he decided to find a suitable place to start a school, helped by his wife Una and Rita Marx (Hon. Life President of the United Sisterhood).

Eventually a small, dilapidated four-room house was found to rent. Una Weiler and Rita Marx cleaned up the house, painted it throughout and brightened up the exterior window frames and doors with blue paint.

A young teacher, Hilda Phahle, was employed at the rate of twelve pounds per month, and her first pupils were 36 children taken off the streets. She recalled smearing dung on the floors to keep the dust down and cooking meals for the children she had gathered off the streets.

The school was named “Jabulani” meaning “Happiness”. The enthusiasm of Rita Marx, Una Weiler, Ethel Smith and Selma Gottlieb contributed much in the first years of the school’s existence.

The Sisterhood continued to hold cake sales, jumble sales, bridge drives etc. to raise funds for the school. A dentist’s chair and dental equipment were donated to the school and a dentist, Dr Sergay, attended to the dental needs of the children on a voluntary and regular basis. Rabbi Weiler did much during these years to help raise funds for the school.

Building our own school

Four years after the founding of the school rapid growth called for new premises. A plot of ground was bought and a small school with four classrooms was built by the United Sisterhood. Under the supervision of Hilda Phahle, by now principal of the school, there were now 110 children and two teachers at the school.

On January 2 1949, the school was officially opened by the Mayor of Johannesburg Mr SP Lee, and was renamed the MC Weiler School, in honour of Rabbi Weiler.

By 1954, there were 266 pupils housed in 14 classrooms. Extra rooms were rented all over Alexandra and classes were held in old church halls, cottages and abandoned shops. Hilda Phahle spent a good deal of time and much shoe leather supervising her scattered domain.

The mayor ‘opens’ the Jabulani school, which is renamed the MC Weiler School

Government take-over of all black education

In 1953, the Bantu Education Board took over all black education in South Africa. With the exception of the Roman Catholics, the Seventh Day Adventists and the United Progressive Jewish Congregation, all other church and religious bodies either handed over their schools or closed them. The few who resisted soldiered on without state aid. In Nelson Mandela’s book Long Walk to Freedom, he makes a point of referring to the MC Weiler school as one of those that did not willingly submit.

Sadly, this was not to last. In 1955, the Bantu Education Board forcefully took over ALL black education in South Africa. The MC Weiler School was forced to become a “government” school. However, the upkeep of the land and buildings still had to be financed and serviced by the United Sisterhood. It was also necessary for the Sisterhood to subsidise the salaries of the teachers for many years. Although our jurisdiction over the school changed, our commitment to it never wavered. It must be clearly stated that we resented this take-over.

‘Black government schools’ were provided with very little other than school premises, an enforced syllabus and meagre staff salaries. Teacher qualifications were of no importance and anyone with a Std 6 certificate (8 years schooling) was eligible for employment at black schools.

The Sisterhood recognised the need for a healthy, safe and uplifting school environment and channelled their energies and funds into providing needy children with food and clothing and to seeing that classrooms were maintained and painted. They provided as many teaching aids as possible and stocked the library with suitable books.

Growth and development

During the following years, it became more and more difficult for the Sisterhood to provide services at the school, but they continued their sponsorship by feeding the children and supporting the staff and pupils on an ongoing basis.

In November 1956, when the final bond repayment on the school was made, the event was celebrated with a party at the school and each of the 370 children were presented with a new school shirt. Even though the school had forcefully become a ‘government school’ the United Sisterhood still owned the school buildings and the land on which the school was built.

Before he left South Africa in January 1958, Rabbi Weiler visited the school to say goodbye to the 650 children. At a moving ceremony, these underprivileged children handed Rabbi Weiler £40 which they had collected for him. Deeply touched, Rabbi Weiler acknowledged this wonderful gesture and then handed the money back to the children as a gift.

Despite the fact that the Sisterhood had to give up the official administration of the school, the buildings were leased to the Government and the income was used to sponsor the feeding scheme, clothing scheme, library, end-of-year parties and prize-giving.

The 16th birthday of the school was celebrated at the end of 1961. On this occasion, the soccer team was fitted out with new soccer shorts and sufficient fabric for new school dresses for the girls was supplied by the Sisterhood.

By 1963, the number of pupils had risen to 800 and there was a staff of 11 teachers, still under the diligent supervision of Hilda Phahle. Although the school was now administered by the Bantu Education Department, the Sisterhood continued to supplement the teacher’s salaries. A founding member of the Progressive Jewish Movement in South Africa, Jerry Idelson, spent many hours teaching the children new songs and training the choir. It was Jerry who composed the music for the MC Weiler School song, with the words written by Hilda Phahle. This song is still sung by the children today.

Township children in concert

In order to raise funds for the school, the Sisterhood planned a choral festival in November 1963 in which only Township children would participate. As it was not possible for white people to visit the township, this concert was held at Temple Shalom in Highlands North, Johannesburg. “The audience listened to music which, up to now, had only been associated with the large cities of the country. The children sang Jerry Idelson’s lovely composition set to the poem ‘Excelsior’ and poured forth songs in praise of the Lord in their vernacular, their voices echoing the glorious ‘Hallelujah’ of Handel.” (The Zionist Record, November 1963). This concert was a great achievement for Jerry, who trained these children almost to perfection.

Part of the proceeds from this successful performance were used to purchase a generator to provide much needed electricity for the school which had, till then, limped along without this necessity. The balance of the money was used to establish a library at the Alexandra Secondary School, which had by now been ‘adopted’ by the United Sisterhood.

On a cold winter morning in 1947, hot cocoa, food and clothing are handed out to pupils

A threatened school

The end-of-year party in December 1964 was very different from those happy parties that had been celebrated with the children of the MC Weiler school over the past 19 years. The party, which had been arranged to fall within the period of Rabbi Weiler’s visit to South Africa, was a sombre occasion. “There was a note of sadness in the voices of the children as they sang, and it was transferred to the audience.” (The Star, December 3 1964). The reason for this sadness was that the Bantu Education Department was planning to split up the school among several African schools on the Reef (now Gauteng). The Rand Daily Mail, December 17 1964, reported that the school would be disbanded as Alexandra would be cleared and its residents moved elsewhere. The Southern African Jewish Times, December 18 1964, reported that the Township was to become “a hostel for Bantu men”. Speakers on this occasion expressed sadness that, under the destructive Government plan for Alexandra, the largest primary school would be demolished.

The Sisterhood, together with Mrs Phahle, decided to start fundraising for a new school building in Diepkloof. Fortunately, the dreadful plan to uproot the township dwellers never came to fruition!

November 1965 was a triumphant celebration for the Sisterhood and the school. As they celebrated the 20th birthday of the MC Weiler School with 900 pupils, it was almost certain that the school would stay and that Alexandra had received a reprieve from destruction. Little did they know what lay ahead.

Progressive Jewish Children support the school

Pupils from the Temple Emanuel Hebrew School in Parktown, under the guidance of Rabbi Dickie Lampert, collected funds to purchase 46 new school desks. Not only was this a wonderful gesture from the Progressive Jewish children, but it was also a most urgent need as in some cases, up to three children had to share one desk. The Bantu Education Board refused to supply these vital items of furniture for black children. On October 21 1966, the Progressive Jewish children sponsored a party for almost 940 children when the desks were delivered. The support from these children was not an isolated event – on many other occasions, they raised funds to support the school.

Threatened again

In 1971, the Government once again thought of demolishing Alexandra Township and once again the fate of the school hung in the balance. This time it was suggested that the MC Weiler School be relocated to Meadowlands and that it’s name be changed. At this stage, some 34 years ago, the real battle for survival and a better education for the children started. Many petitions and complaints were lodged with the various Government Departments involved – these actions were not always beneficial to the Sisterhood status in the wider white community.

2005: MC Weiler pupils celebrate the school’s 60th birthday

Expropriation of grounds & buildings

In 1976, in accordance with the Group Areas Act of the time, which forbade whites to own property in black areas, the West Rand Administration Board expropriated the school buildings and the land on which they were built. At the same time, the Government was again thinking about whether or not to raze Alexandra to the ground and resettle it’s residents in Soweto. Such forceful moves of people from one area to another were not uncommon in South Africa in those days.

Building and upgrading again

By 1976, there were 960 children attending the school, which was still scattered all over in cottages, shops and other available premises. It was hoped that they could move into the recently vacated Holy Cross Convent next to the main MC Weiler School building and at last be housed under one roof. However this was not to be. During the 1976 unrest, the Alexandra High School was burnt down and its pupils were moved into the major part of the Convent building. All that was left were five dilapidated rooms that had neither floors nor ceilings. All concerned were grateful for the five extra rooms and once again, building operations and refurbishment had to begin. At great cost and with unflagging effort, five new classrooms, an office and a library were constructed with funds raised by the United Sisterhood.

The difficult 80’s

In the early 1980s, an organisation called “Alexandra Schools Association” was formed. It’s aim was to find business organisations to sponsor each of the 15 schools in Alexandra. Within a short space of time, the Association had managed to find sponsors for most of the schools. These were, in the main, American companies subscribing to the Sullivan Code. The MC Weiler School could not find a business to ‘adopt’ it as the United Sisterhood was considered it’s official sponsor.

The struggle for survival

At this particular time, the United Sisterhood was facing a grave financial crisis of its own. Their very existence was threatened due to a lack of funds and it was almost impossible to continue with all their other projects. Continual unrest in the township and the burning down of other schools made it even more difficult to get financial assistance. Fortunately Burroughs Accounting (Unisys) agreed to make an annual grant towards the work at MC Weiler School, although they could not adopt the school. Unfortunately, this annual grant came to an end with disinvestment and the departure of most American companies from South Africa in 1988. At this time, the overall condition of the school buildings had deteriorated alarmingly and by now the toilet block had become a real health hazard.

In 1981, when Hilda Phahle retired after 36 years of unflagging effort, the school accommodated 1010 pupils, taught by 23 teachers in various buildings in five locations. In the same year, a pre-school class of 54 five-year-olds was started. This had been a dream of Hilda’s for many years. That year, Hilda was nominated as an ‘Unsung Heroine’ by The Star, but her dream of a new building to house all her scattered classes had still not been realised.

In February 1982, Clare Herman who, for more than 20 years, had been the MC Weiler School Project Convenor, left South Africa to join her children in the USA. Her departure was a great loss to the Sisterhood and the school. This devoted woman had been deeply involved with the school and was a constant source of encouragement to Hilda Phahle. Clare Herman also never saw her dream of the school under one roof realised.

Armona Weiler, daughter of Rabbi Moses MC Weiler, outside the school with principal Flake Ramothata and pupils

Adam and Gideon Weiler Scholarship

When Rabbi Weiler’s son, Major Adam Weiler, died in defence of Israel, the United Sisterhood decided to establish a scholarship in his honour. This scholarship was awarded to the top pupil leaving the MC Weiler School to continue with higher education. The first recipient to receive a seven year scholarship was Ezekiel Cebekhulu.

In 1983, the United Sisterhood changed the name of the scholarship fund to include the name of Gideon Weiler in order to honour Major Gideon Weiler, Rabbi Weiler’s second son to die in defence of Israel.

Under one roof at last

It was only in 1984, when the new school building had been erected for Alexandra High School, that the Holy Cross Convent was vacated and the 1000 children of the MC Weiler School were at last housed under one roof. The building was in an extremely dilapidated condition and for the next seven years, the United Sisterhood carried on a running battle with the West Rand Administration Board and the Department of Education and Training to persuade one of them to take responsibility for the repair of the school. This they refused to do and not one cent was ever spent by either of them for improvement of the school buildings or grounds. Meanwhile the Sisterhood did what they could to make life pleasant for pupils and teachers.

Upgrading of teacher skills and qualifications

Teacher qualifications at black schools was of little importance to the Government. In 1984, most of the teachers at the MC Weiler School were not fully qualified.

In 1987, Unidata sponsored a programme to upgrade the qualifications of the teachers. The first step was for the teachers to get their matriculation certificates in order to qualify for University entrance. Twenty teachers joined the programme and three years later, all had received their matriculation certificates. These teachers then went on to study for a Secondary Education Diploma at Vista University. By 1991, all had received their diplomas. Most teachers now set their sights on studying for a BA degree. Congratulations must go to the teachers on the wonderful effort they made. The United Sisterhood appreciates the sacrifices made in order to upgrade their skills and, by doing so, raising the standard of education of the children.

Obtaining tertiary education was indeed an achievement for each and every one of these women who attended Vista University.

Upgrading of school buildings – again

In 1986, broken window panes and doors were replaced, classrooms painted and heaters provided. Application for electrical installations was made on an ongoing basis. (It was only in 1992 that electricity was supplied to the school.) The teachers painted the outside of the building with some delightful murals in an effort to create a friendlier environment for the children. However, despite all this, the overall condition of this already dilapidated building continued to deteriorate.

Feeding Scheme

“You cannot educate a hungry child” has always been the motto of the United Sisterhood, and since 1945, the feeding scheme at the school has always been a priority.

The feeding scheme has now been running for more than 60 years with very few interruptions despite many difficulties. During the years when permits were required by white people to enter black residential areas, these permits were sometimes denied, and at other times, the unrest and violence made it too dangerous for our volunteers to enter the township. Despite all these problems, the United Sisterhood never abandoned the feeding scheme or the school, often at great personal danger to the volunteers. The Sisterhood was fortunate that many Christian women came to their assistance, especially the women of the French Embassy and Consulate who were able to obtain permits to enter the township. On occasion, these kind people not only prepared and distributed food, they also undertook to do the shopping.

Fortunately, for the past 17 years the feeding scheme has run most successfully. However, without the support of Mazon – a Jewish response to hunger (an organisation in the USA), the Sisterhood would not be able to assist every hungry child.

The United Sisterhood salutes all those who continue to contribute and gives special thanks those who supported them during difficult years, including Wanda Albinski and Berry Prentice, both women from a Christian organisation; Gabriella and her co-workers from the French Embassy in Pretoria, assisted by ladies from the French Consulate in Johannesburg, who managed to obtain permits and police escorts into the township to keep the feeding scheme going during the darkest years; and Martin and Andrea Janit who totally financed the feeding scheme for a number of years.

End-of-year parties

Education for black children has always been of paramount importance to us, yet the Sisterhood never failed to understand the necessity for children to enjoy themselves. Black township children have very little exposure to this kind of activity. Very few of these children have ever experienced the joy of a birthday party, and for most of them there are hardly any Christmas celebrations due to the lack of employment opportunities for their parents.

When the school was started 62 years ago, it was agreed by the founding members that the United Sisterhood would host a party and prize-giving at the end of every school year. This has been faithfully done and although there were years when members of the Sisterhood could not personally attend, as a result of legal restrictions or township violence, the party packs were prepared and ways and means were always found to get these to the school. Colddrinks, biscuits and sweets are still given to every child at the end of each year. Prizes are awarded to all the top students in the form of new school shirts.

Prize-giving at a school where many of the children have never had birthday parties

Gifts for teachers

Realising how little the teachers earned in the early years, it became a tradition to give a hamper to each teacher at their end-of-year party. Needless to say, this small gesture to the teachers can never express the Sisterhood’s thanks for their efforts in educating the children with so much care and concern.

Library and the READ Education Trust

It has always been the aim of the United Sisterhood to instil in the children at the school a life-long love of books. There has always been some sort of library at the school. In the early days, it was a shelf erected in a small room behind the Principal’s office, but it was always well stocked with a variety of books.

In 1982, the READ Educational Trust appointed a co-ordinator to liaise with all the schools in Alexandra on an on-going basis. At first, box libraries were installed in the many classrooms scattered around the township. Eventually when the school was at last moved under one roof, a special room was set aside as a library. Money was raised for books, shelves were built, the room was painted and carpeted, strip lighting was installed and the room was also equipped with educational toys and bright and attractive posters.

READ held special courses for selected teachers in many types of Library skills. A Festival of Books was held annually, highlighting story-telling, story-reading and dramatisation. In 1984, the MC Weiler School came first in the Story-Telling competition and tied with another school for first place in Story-Reading.

The United Sisterhood is indebted to the wonderful READ co-ordinators who worked so closely with them in setting up and maintaining the high standards of the library.

Further upgrading

In January 1991, the Kovler Institute in America made a generous grant of $20 000 to the United sisterhood. The aim of the Kovler Institute is the furthering of relationships between blacks and Jews. These funds were used to refurbish the school. Broken floors and ceilings were repaired or replaced, cracked walls were restored, broken window frames were replaced and new doors were fitted. Classrooms were painted and repairs were made where necessary.

Three years after this, the Department of Education and Training announced that a new building was being erected for the MC Weiler School. It is pleasing to know that other children from Alexandra would benefit from the refurbishment as it was almost certain that another school would be moving into the premises where so many years had been shared by the United Sisterhood, the teachers and the pupils.


The vast majority of the learners at the MC Weiler School come from single parent families where an unemployed mother single-handedly carries the responsibility of caring and providing for three or four children. Today, the situation is more serious as many children are the heads of their families due to HIV/AIDS. To help these children, we send food parcels home for their siblings and provide the HIV/AIDS infected children with a protein-enriched breakfast as well as the nourishing lunch that is supplied to all those who are hungry.

Several times a year, appeals are sent out by the United Sisterhood for monetary donations to “Our Children’s Fund” so that we are able to supply these lunches at the school. To supplement this, Cynthia Duchen launched a project whereby food is collected monthly at various Pick ‘n Pay stores. We express our gratitude to Pick ‘n Pay as well as to Cynthia and those collecting with her.

The new kitchen

As project convener of the MC Weiler School for 19 years, Henna du Plessis wanted to build a new kitchen for the school to replace the inadequate storeroom which was being used to prepare food.

Henna is a true “Woman of Worth” who, with love and dedication, did so much to enhance and uplift the MC Weiler School. Her commitment to the school is unequalled and she will be sorely missed. We wish her well in her retirement.

The kitchen project has been ably taken over by Belinda Katz, whose hard work and dedication has resulted in a beautiful new kitchen. This will not only be used for the hygienic preparation of food, but also as a ‘teaching centre’ to given women of the township the necessary skills to earn a living by baking. We thank our many donors who enabled us to turn Henna’s dream into reality.

And now, into the future

In 1996, the school catered for learners from Grade 1 to Grade 4 and approximately 890 were educated. In 2004, three extra classes were added, and over 1000 learners are now taught from Grade R to Grade 6.

Mary Buti, who became principal in 1983, retired in 2001 and Agnes Shibambu took over the reigns. On her retirement in 2004, Agnes was temporarily replaced by Nati Mnguni, and our current principal, Flake Ramothata, was appointed in May 2005. All who served in the position of head of the school were proud of the MC Weiler School and did all they could to promote its excellent standard. We thank them all.

In 1996, many shacks in the area were demolished and the learners allocated to different schools. This initially caused a fall in the number of learners, but this has now risen again.

After celebrating the 60th anniversary of the MC Weiler School in 2005, we look forward to 120th anniversary celebrations in peace and harmony.

rabbiweiler ritamarx
Joint founders of the MC Weiler school, Rabbi Moses Weiler and Rita Marx, long-time president of the United Sisterhood

1957: Rabbi Weiler says farewell to his school … and is deeply touched when he discovers that the pupils have raised money as a goodbye gift to him

History of the school

This history is based on research by Henna du Plessis, project convenor of the MC Weiler School for 19 years, and Ann Marx, daughter-in-law of Rita Marx. Ann was herself very involved in the school during the apartheid years. Henna secured the new school building and raised the funds to erect playground equipment and refurbish the school. The two produced a booklet to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the school in 2005

SA Faith Communities’ Environment Institute

The South African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute is an institute of people of many faiths, united in our diversity through our common commitment to earth-keeping. Our aim is to support the faith communities in fulfilling their environmental & socio-economic responsibility. The institute was founded in July 2005. Rabbi Hillel Avidan, chairperson of the SAAPR, is the SAUPJ representative on SAFCEI.OBJECTIVES
In the spirit of our respective faiths, through collaboration, networking, research & action, our objectives are to:

  1. Raise environmental awareness
  2. Engage in formulating policy & ethical guidelines within our faith communities
  3. Facilitate environmental responsibility & action
  4. Confront environmental & socio-economic injustices
  5. Support environmental training and learning.

We uphold as core values the principles of the Earth Charter:


Respect Earth and life in all its diversity

  1. Care for the community of life with understanding, compassion and love.
  2. Build democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful.
  3. Secure Earth’s bounty and beauty for present and future generations.


Protect and restore the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems, with special concern for biological diversity and the natural processes that sustain life.


Eradicate poverty as an ethical, social, and environmental imperative.


Strengthen democratic institutions at all levels, and provide transparency and accountability in governance, inclusive participation in decision making and access to justice.

Treat all living beings with respect and consideration.

Promote a culture of tolerance, non-violence and peace.

Some issues SAFCEI is addressing

Climate Change:
Climate change is being generated by greenhouse gases, primarily caused by the burning of fossil fuels, particularly coal-fired electricity generation, and by motor vehicle emissions. If we don’t take urgent remedial action, climate change could be devastating. We need to ensure that it is placed on the agenda of faith communities.

How we generate energy and the amount we use is closely linked to climate change. There is a need to bring faith communities into greater awareness of the need to use renewable energy. If we are to prevent catastrophic climate change, we need to move from our present policy of high capital, high-tech, high energy development, to renewable, people-centred electricity generation that is in the control and hands of local communities.

Economics and Ethics:
There are huge economic injustices and disparities in our world today. We won’t get our economics right or stem environmental degradation, unless we get our ethics right. Ethics is obviously an area faith communities should be involved in.

Biodiversity and Extinction:
As people of faith, we believe God brought life into being. It is not for us to destroy it. Life on our planet is dependant on the interconnectedness of the variety of species. If too many species are destroyed, the very fabric of life is threatened. Our present rate of extinction is alarming. Among our faith communities we need to promote an attitude that has a high regard for life.

Food Security:
We believe our people have a right to know what food they are eating. Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) food is not labelled. We are also greatly alarmed at the monopolistic control, notably by Monsanto, of sale of seed and distribution in South Africa. It is obviously essential for our African farmers to be able to continue saving seed for the next season. This is not possible with GMO seed under the control of multi-national corporations. Our food security is in jeopardy.

In all these environmental issues it is the poor who will be most effected, as climate change brings an end to their traditional farming, or fish stocks decline, or arable land is taken over by hungry developers, for example, housing and golf estates.

Waste Management:
The amount of rubbish and waste that we are generating is becoming unmanageable. We can do much through recycling, and composting of biodegradable waste.

Reduce, Recycle, Re-use:
We all need to learn to reduce our consumption of water or energy and there is much that every individual family can do to change direction so that we get onto a sustainable path for the future.

For the future of life the faith communities need to be involved. Our goal is to build a sustainable future for life on earth.

Contact us

Enquiries: Rabbi Hillel Avidan
Durban Progressive Jewish Congregation

Tel: +27 31 208 6105
Fax: +27 31 209 2429

For further information, go to our website: www.safcei.org.za

Interfaith initiatives


THE Durban Progressive Jewish community plays a prominent role in a provincial interfaith council, whose mission is to improve service delivery to the poor.

The KwaZulu Natal Inter-Religious Council, launched in October 2007, began when Premier Sbusiso Ndebele invited the province’s religious leaders to join a partnership to redress social ills such as poverty, unemployment, HIV/AIDS, lack of housing, education and clean water, and the high levels of crime and violence.

The council brings together eight faiths: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Bahai, African Traditional and Nazareth Baptists. The Jewish representative on the council is Rabbi Hillel Avidan, chair of the SA Association of Progressive Rabbis. Also active are Paddy Meskin, who heads the council’s Secretariat, and Professor Antony Arkin.

Premier Ndebele hoped the religious leaders would buy into a plan of action which he had already worked out. But, as explained by council chairman Wilfrid Cardinal Napier, the religious leaders felt that “with the wisdom gained from a similar partnership at national level, more was needed to play a meaningful role. For instance the co-ordination of current and future efforts would be essential.”

The process of establishing a body to co-ordinate the religious leaders took almost two years “due to the need for us to get to know and understand each other,” said Cardinal Napier. “A high degree of sensitivity was needed for this.”

Paddy Meskin plays a key role in setting up eight task forces which will do the actual work of the council. The eight task forces are poverty and skills building; moral regeneration; environnment; HIV and AIDS; education; youth; crime and violence; and advocacy and media. More than a hundred religious leaders from different faiths have already signed up to help with the task forces.

Training workshops for members of the task forces will commence in the first few months of 2008, as will fund-raising initiatives.

The council has enjoyed extensive media coverage in KwaZulu Natal, both print and radio. As a result, a flood of inquiries have come in, including calls from some 300 schools for help with workshops.

The council will also forge ties with similar bodies on the African continent. There are some 22 similar inter-faith councils on the continent, under the umbrella of the African Council of Religious Leaders, whose Secretary General, Dr Mustafa Ali, was guest speaker at the KZN launch.

All together now. Council members hold hands in a circle at their first meeting after the launch. The chairman, Wilfrid, Cardinal Napier, is at bottom left. The SAUPJ’s Paddy Meskin is two places to his left, and Professor Antony Arkin is at the top right.

Questions and answers about same-sex marriage

Why are we taking this decision now?

In December 2006, South Africa became the fifth country in the world to grant same-sex couples the same status and rights as heterosexual marriage partners. Our rabbis and lay leaders have, after long and thoughtful deliberation, and in the spirit of what Progressive Judaism is about – inclusion of all Jews regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity – decided that the time is right to give full recognition to same-sex couples who commit themselves to each other in a Jewish marriage.

Are we the first movement to do this?

The Progressive movement has come a long way on this question. Our fellow movements across the world have over the past 15 years made clear statements of where they stand. The Reform movement in America recognises the right of its rabbis to officiate at same-sex chuppahs, while the British Liberal Movement performs blessings over same sex unions. The American Conservative movement recently allowed gay and lesbian rabbis to be ordained by its seminaries, at last bringing them in line with all other non-Orthodox seminaries in that country.

However, due to civil legislation, none of these movements has been in a position to consecrate same-sex marriages both religiously and civilly. Due to South Africa’s legislation, we are able to do that. In November 2006, Israel’s highest court ruled that same-sex marriages that were legally performed in other countries will now be granted legal recognition in Israel.

What is the Orthodox position on this?

Orthodoxy has also moved a long way on this question. Where in the past there was blanket condemnation of homosexuality, over the past 30 years several recognised Orthodox rabbinic authorities have accepted that homosexuals do not have a “choice” over their orientation and that, while any homosexual act would be condemned as a “ma’aseh aveirah” (a sinful act), an outwardly gay man or woman can be a fully functioning member of an Orthodox community so long as they remain celibate.

This has not been seen as going far enough by a great number of Orthodox members as can be witnessed by the screening here of “Trembling Before God” and the visit of the Orthodox homosexual rabbi, Steve Greenberg.

Why are we calling them “Marriages” and not something else?

To call a Jewish ceremony recognising the lifelong commitment of a same sex couple to each other anything other than a marriage would imply that we see them as different from a heterosexual couple. This would defeat the purpose of our decision which is to grant equal recognition to all Jewish couples.

But this is against God’s law!

While this may be against Orthodox halachah as it stands today, there is no way of knowing what God feels on this subject. Judaism has always been concerned with trying to understand God’s intentions through study of Torah, and that is exactly what we have done in this case. The overwhelming principle that we have followed is that we are all made b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, and that requires that we do not in any way diminish or separate out the loving commitment of two Jews to each other, whether they be of the same or different sex.

Halachic sources over the past 2000 years do not deal with the possibility of a lifelong monogamous loving relationship, since they were written in societies that did not permit such things to take place. We can understand the existing laws as protecting men and women from abusive sexual relationships, which we fully support.

OK, but doesn’t the Torah clearly condemn same sex relationships?

The Torah condemns many things which rabbis over thousands of years, uncomfortable with the ethical implications, have sought to redress. Early examples are the stoning of a rebellious son (ben sorer u-moreh Dt. 21:18) which the Mishnah uses legal arguments to restrict to the point of practically impossible; the requirement of two witnesses in a legal case (al pi shei eidim Dt. 19:15) which the Talmud reduced to one in the case of confirming the death of a husband in order to allow his wife (the agunah) to remarry; and Hillel’s prozbul which allowed Jewish businesses to bypass the forgiving of debts once every seven years (Dt.15:1-2). In the last case, the Mishnah (Gittin 4.3), simply states: “Hillel established the prozbul in order to repair the world.”

That was then. What about more modern examples?

A much more modern Orthodox example is the case of a deaf person. According to the Talmud, a deaf person was considered to be retarded, mentally incompetent, an imbecile not able to serve as a witness or to be counted in a minyan, or to effect marriage or divorce. After visiting the Vienna Institute for the Deaf, Orthodox Rabbi Simcha Sofer (late 19th Century) saw that their impaired speech and hearing had nothing to do with their intelligence and accountability, and urged altering the older Rabbinic judgement. New information must lead halachah to respond anew.

In the Progressive movement, we now take for granted the equal involvement of women as rabbis and cantors, being counted in a minyan, called up to the torah and leading services in our synagogues. Our movement does not recognise the demeaning labels of mamzerim (bastards) and agunot (women unable to remarry). In all these cases, Progressive Judaism has taken its stance despite the Torah’s apparent stance.

Jewish law can’t just change to suit new fashions

That is true – but homosexuality and lesbianism are not fads. They have existed as long as human beings have and psychology and now legislation are recognising that fact. In the past, halachah has tried to respond to new information and social realities, and it needs to do so now too.

Are we not separating ourselves from the Jewish community?

Judaism is a wide umbrella that covers a full spectrum of observance and belief. While we don’t expect everyone to agree with our position, there are a great number of Jews who do, and those who don’t we ask, as we do in all matters, to respect it. We believe that Judaism needs to speak to the issues of the time, and in that respect not taking a positive position on this issue would be avoiding a major source of pain and prejudice in the Jewish community today.

Across the world, the entire Jewish community is currently debating and reviewing its position on the issue, and who knows where the other movements will be in 25 years time. We, the Progressive Movement, are not prepared to wait for them to catch up. We will take the lead, and others can decide whether or not to follow.

Can’t we just keep this all quiet – what someone does in their own home is entirely up to them?

Once again, the reason that the SAUPJ has made this declaration public is because we believe that a loving, monogamous relationship, irrespective of the gender of the couple, deserves to be sanctified in front of one’s family and community. Keeping this private would not achieve the egalitarian aim of this decision.

Find out more

For more information, call Rabbi Greg Alexander on 021 552 2484 or email him at ravgreg@templeisrael.co.za

What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

Most biblical commentators, Jewish and Christian, hold that the Bible is unambiguously opposed to homosexuality. But Professor Frederick Greenspahn argues that the scriptural references are often misinterpreted. From the CCAR Journal, a US Reform quarterly. (In PDF format: 67kb)

A quick guide to Progressive Judaism

Progressive Judaism embraces our traditions, and works to make them meaningful parts of contemporary life. Personal responsibility, egalitarianism, community and local tradition are the hallmarks

Minhag South Africa

Document outlining the current practices of congregations affiliated to the SA Union for Progressive Judaism (In PDF format:100kb)

Questions and answers on Progressive Judaism

Ten questions and answers about South African Progressive Judaism, as described in the 1980s by the late Rabbi Dr David Sherman of Cape Town. (Note: Some of these practices have since changed)

Landmark decision to allow same-sex marriages

In a landmark decision, the South African Union for Progressive Judaism (SAUPJ) has decided to allow marriages between Jewish couples of the same gender.

“This decision was arrived at after long and thoughtful deliberation, and in the spirit of what Progressive Judaism is about – inclusion of all Jews regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity,” said Steve Lurie, chairperson of the SAUPJ.

At the National Assembly of the SAUPJ held in Durban on 6 May, it was agreed that there should be no distinction in the status of religious marriages of same-sex partners and heterosexual couples.

“This is a matter of justice and principle and we believe it is what Judaism requires of us in this day and age,” said Lurie. “As an inclusive movement, and one with a strong commitment to ensure that injustice is not done in our communities, we believe that this move goes a long way to repudiate prejudice.”

In December 2006, South Africa became the fifth country in the world to grant same-sex couples the same status and rights as heterosexual marriage partners.

“The SAUPJ honours the divine within all human beings, and their right to live with dignity,” said Lurie.

Questions and answers about same-sex marriage

Rabbi Greg Alexander explains the reasoning behind the SAUPJ decision and how this relates to Progressive Jewish principles.

What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

Most biblical commentators, Jewish and Christian, hold that the Bible is unambiguously opposed to homosexuality. But Professor Frederick Greenspahn argues that the scriptural references are often misinterpreted. From the CCAR Journal, a US Reform quarterly. (In PDF format: 67kb)

A quick guide to Progressive Judaism

Progressive Judaism embraces our traditions, and works to make them meaningful parts of contemporary life. Personal responsibility, egalitarianism, community and local tradition are the hallmarks

Minhag South Africa

Document outlining the current practices of congregations affiliated to the SA Union for Progressive Judaism (In PDF format:100kb)

Questions and answers on Progressive Judaism

Ten questions and answers about South African Progressive Judaism, as described in the 1980s by the late Rabbi Dr David Sherman of Cape Town. (Note that some of these practices have since changed)