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Russell Cohen

ARZENU SOUTH AFRICA : THE 37th WORLD ZIONIST CONGRESS

I have just returned from an exhilarating few days in Jerusalem the 37th World Zionist Congress. Since Theodore Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland on March 29, 1897, the gathering of world Jewry has been the forum to move forward the Zionist enterprise, the national liberation of the Jewish people. While the work of nation building continues, much of the focus has shifted from building Israel the state to shaping Israel the society.

The Congress, made up of 500 delegates from Israel, North America and all around the Jewish world, ( 6 from South Africa) met in Jerusalem in the midst of the current wave of violence and incitement. At the Congress, delegates vote on resolutions that range from constitutional and budgeting procedures to passionate statements of values that reflect the diversity of Jewish community, practice and beliefs. The Congress then serves as the vehicle whereby the budgets and positions of influence in Israel’s national institutions are determined. These resolutions impact future priorities, programming and practices.

This matters as the Congress is a vehicle that allows Arzenu’s values, democracy, religious equality, religious pluralism, human rights, peace and social justice to be reflected in the policies of Israel’s government and its national institutions.(Jewish Agency, World Zionist Organization, the Jewish National Fund and the Israel United Appeal)

Arzenu’s pre-Congress Program surrounding the WZC gave us the opportunity to meet with high level individuals that left significant impressions. During the opening session we were challenged by Rabbi Michael Melchior, the former Cabinet Minister to raise the level of discourse in the Congress. Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of the IMPJ took us through the growth of the Israeli Reform Movement and its impact on Israeli society. We spent an afternoon in the Knesset, meeting with MK’s from across the political spectrum. This was inspiring and challenging as they pulled no punches. We benefited immensely from meeting MK Michal Biran -Labour (Zionist Union) MK Michael Oren -Kulanu MK Ayman Odeh – Joint Arab List MK Benny Begin – Likud MK Tammy Zandberg – Meretz

The keynote address of the Congress was delivered by Prime Minister Netanyahu. He described the “ten lies that the Palestinians are telling”. Included in his remarks was a statement about the second World War, claiming that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem convinced Hitler to annihilate the Jews rather than simply expel them. We heard from the leader of the opposition, Yitzhak Herzog, who offered a more conciliatory message, and Minister of Defence Yaalon, whose address on the situation facing Israel was a highlight.

Yet the most important messages coming out of the 37th Zionist Congress were those delivered by the delegates themselves. Their votes indicated that Zionism has entered the 21st century with increasing focus on the character of Israeli society. The defining is enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. By passing resolutions that called for the combatting of racism and hate crimes, fostering democracy and equality, promoting religious pluralism and supporting protections for the LGBT community, the delegates gave a clear message that the work of Zionism has entered a new phase.

RESOLUTIONS:

With a vote of 359 – 190. we passed an historic statement supporting the LGBT community. It called for the World Zionist Organization and the Education Minister of Israel to support and develop educational programming for the LGBT community and to “enforce complete equality of their admission to Zionist entities and within National institutions”.

We insisted ( 382-163) that the government recommit its efforts to building an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. The ARZENU group stood on that new platform by Robinson’s Arch on Wednesday, and envisioned what it will look like in the near future – it will be an incredibly proud gift to the Jewish people.

We overwhelmingly (525-24) passed a resolution against hate crimes committed in our name. After a summer that saw the rise of “price Tag” retributive violence committed by small groups of Jewish terrorists, this resolution was profoundly important.

Several resolutions were passed, sometimes by disturbingly narrow votes, reaffirming the Declaration of Independence’s vision of an Israel committed to the values of democracy and freedom for all its inhabitants.

We echoed the US Congress’s call for the recognition of the rights of Jewish refugees historically expelled from Arab lands and northern Africa..

We passed vital resolutions regarding the protection of Israel’s environment and precious water resources.

We affirmed classic Zionist mandates of promoting Aliya, supporting the best practices of absorbing immigrants into Israel, and promoting education and outreach to the communities of the Diaspora, especially in the face of growing worldwide anti-Semitism.

We also passed critical resolutions for transparency and clean government within the Zionist organizations and under this umbrella.

With our coalition partners, we also beat back some resolutions that proposed an alternative, and deeply troubling, vision of Zionism. While we all oppose BDS, attempts to combat the BDS movement can be twisted to suppress real democratic debate. Thus, there were resolutions that would sanction legitimate left-wing organizations within the Zionist tent, or would stifle the right to dissent and debate within our own community. I am proud to say that we stopped those resolutions in their tracks.

Clearly resolutions do not immediately establish realities on the ground, but they do give the indication to the direction in which Zionist thought and Israeli society, is trending. I came out of the Congress aware that our vision of a strong, proud, pluralistic and inclusive State of Israel is alive and well.

Acknowledgements

My thanks go to Arzenu Executive Director Dalya Levy in Jerusalem, for all her assistance, to my deputy, Reeva Forman, and to the following : JAKAMaR Trust, The Victor Daitz Foundation, and the Lazzarus Family Trust.

Prof Antony Arkin

 

2015 Annual Desmond Tutu Peace Lecture

21 Cheshvan 5776
3 November 2015

Vatican 1The 2015 Annual Desmond Tutu Peace Lecture held at St Joseph’s Church hall in Durban on the evening of Thursday, 29 October featured Rabbi Hillel Avidan, Cardinal Wilfred Napier and Sheik Saleem Banda addressing two Vatican statements, “Nostra Aetate” (from Pope Paul VI in October 1965) and “Laudato Si” (from the current Pope Francis).
Rabbi Avidan praised both papal declarations and gave credit to Pope John XXIII and Cardinal Bea who, between 1958 and 1963, did the groundwork for “Nostra Aetate”. Rabbi Avidan recounted how this declaration recognized the validity of non-Christian religions and repudiated the doctrine of ‘no salvation outside the Church’. The charge of ‘Deicide’ was lifted from the Jewish people and all negative references to Jews and to Judaism were to be expunged from the Catholic liturgy. He went on to say that this was particularly pleasing to the Jewish people because negative Catholic prayers and statements in the past had done so much harm. Rabbi Avidan gave credit to the many popes who had denounced the forced conversion of Jews (as in Iberia from 1390 onwards) and the infamous “blood libel” which first appeared in the English city of Norwich in 1144 and persisted in to the 20th century.

Vatican 2Despite papal protection of the Jews the Roman ghetto was the last one in Western Europe to be dismantled (in 1870) and during the Nazi period, while thousands of Jews were saved and sheltered by individual Catholics and Catholic institutions, there was no public papal condemnation of Nazi policy.

Turning to “Laudato Si” Rabbi Avidan, as a committed environmentalist since 1961, praised the commitment of Pope Francis to environmental care. Pope Francis, he said, is the single most important figure in the struggle to save our planet from further degradation at the hands of industrialists, arms dealers, multi-national companies and uncaring or shortsighted governments.

 

SAUPJ Press Release: No meeting with Hamas

Press Release on behalf of the South African Union for Progressive Judaism (SAUPJ) and the South African Association of Progressive Rabbis (SAAPR)

20 Oct 2015

It has been reported in the media that Hamas representatives will meet with a “Progressive Jewish Group” during their visit to South Africa. We have no knowledge of the source of this notice and have no dealings or intentions of meeting with Hamas.

We call on Hamas to distance themselves from anti-Semitism and terror and to remove from their Charter the aim of killing Jews.

Rabbi Greg Alexander
Chairman
SA Association of Progressive Rabbis

Alvin Kushner
National Chairman
SA Union for Progressive Judaism

 

SAUPJ Involvement in the 48th SAZF Conference and SA/Israel Expo

On Sunday, 8 March 2015 our various Synagogues countrywide and Women of Progressive Judaism came together to exhibit under the auspices of the South African Union for Progressive Judaism at the recent South African for Zionist Federation Conference and Expo, which took place at the Sandton Convention Centre. There were multiple exhibitors, attendees and delegates such as the Ambassador Arthur Lenk, Jewish Agency’s Natan Sharansky and Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat who mingled with the crowds.

We thank all delegates involved in the conference and volunteers for their help on our stands as well as for their positive participation. Our stand was colourful and vibrant, with a lot of interactive participation and involvement. Many brochures and booklets on our movement and synagogues were handed out. Our presence was certainly felt.

Rabbi Adrian M Schell did the opening prayer for the conference. Congratulations on Reeva Forman being nominated as Honorary Life Vice-Presidents and Antony Arkin re-nominated as Treasurer on the SAZF National Board.

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ARZENU response to utterances from DUT SRC

Professor Antony Arkin has responded on behalf of ARZENU SA to the recent statement by the Student Representative Council (SRC) of the Durban University of Technology (DUT) calling for all Jewish students to be expelled from the DUT.

Please click on the link below to view the full text of Prof. Arkin’s statement.

Disgrace at DUT

Netzer South Africa, the Reform Zionist Youth movement, issued a statement on Friday, 13 February 2015, strongly condemning the statements released and actions taken by the SRC of the Durban University of Technology DUT.

You can read the complete statement on their Website here:

OFFICIAL STATEMENT: NETZER SOUTH AFRICA CONDEMNS RECENT ACTION OF SRC OF DUT

 

RABBI JULIA MARGOLIS – ORDINATION

Rabbi Julia and her supporters

Rabbi Julia and her supporters

Rabbi Julia Margolis LY7A0007

In moving ceremonies in the restored, historic White Stork Synagogue of Wroclaw, Poland, Julia Margolis of Johannesburg received her Smichah from Potsdam-based Abraham Geiger College, the first woman ordained in Poland, at the first ceremony of Ordination in the former home of the German Jewish Theological Seminary and as the first daughter of a woman rabbi.( Her mother, Rabbi Ylena Rubinstein serves the Progressive Community in St. Petersburg.)

Rabbi Margolis was presented to Geiger President Rabbi Walter Jacob by her mother and Bet David’s Rabbi Robert Jacobs who shared in her training in Johannesburg.

The historic event coincided with numerous significant anniversaries including the start of World War II on September 1, 1939, the 140th Yahrzeit of the seminary’s namesake. Abraham Geiger and the 15th anniversary of the Geiger College – Germany’s first Rabbinic training institution after the Shoah.

Wroclaw was known as Breslau until its 1945 return to Polish sovereignty. In an address by German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeyer, the specificity of Germany’s historic responsibility represented in strong government support for the renaissance of Jewish life in central and east central Europe, accompanied remarks by Wroclaw’s Mayor at a Memorial Concert on Monday Evening (1 September) decrying the resurgence of Antisemitism and the unsettled climate created in the Ukraine, at NATO’s edge.

Rabbi Margolis was one of four rabbis Ordained, along with 3 Cantors invested, all trained through the German seminary.

Graduates of the Abraham Geiger College Ordained.Updated 03.09.2014 16.03 by Heide Sobotka, 16:03 – von Heide Sobotka

Seventy-five years after the German military conquest of Poland, the Abraham Geiger College convened its Service of Ordination in the historic White Stork Synagogue in Wroclaw, formerly Breslau [Germany]. The College ordained four Rabbis and invested three Cantors.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) underscored the enormous political significance this location by his presence. He came specifically from Berlin to offer his congratulations to the seven candidates: Cantors Sofia Falkovitch, Aviv Weinberg and Alexander Zakharenko, as well as Rabbis Julia Margolis, Nils Ederberg, Jonas Jacquelin and Fabian Sborovsky.

At the time, the Foreign Minister called to mind the religious meaning of the venue, which served as a centre of Higher Jewish Education until the end of the 1930s. It was clearly impossible to misunderstand Steinmeier’s statement against anti-Semitism, which elicited spontaneous applause. It starts from the miracle that 75 years after Germany’s military offensive against Poland, Christians, Jews Poles and Germans celebrate this Ordination together, Steinmeier said.

The Graduates: The seven graduates received greetings from a representative of the Polish Community, the President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism [Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander] and of the Ernst Ludwig Erhardt Foundation, Charlotte Knobloch. Good wishes from the Central Organisation of German Jewry were presented by Richard Schramm, Chairman of the Jewish State Community of Thuringen, offered in Polish in thanks to the host community. Each of the speakers mentioned the great significance of the ceremony.

The Abraham Geiger purposely chose this Polish city for the Ordination Service. Rabbi Abraham Geiger, for whom the Rabbinical Seminary is named, served some 20 years in Breslau. After a seven year term in Frankfurt, he became one of the founders of the Berlin Hochschule fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums [Seminary for the Academic Study of Judaism] where he taught from 1872 until his death in 1874.

The new Rabbis and Cantors come from France, Paraguay, Russia, and Germany. Going forward, only two of the newly ordained will serve in Germany. Alexander Zakharenko will assume Cantorial duties in Erfuhrt, and Nils Ederberg has strong ties to Berlin. The remaining graduates will be scattered in the wind. For example Jonas Jacquelin returns to his hometown Paris, Sofia Falkovitch is called as Cantor to Luxemburg, and Julia Margolis will go to South Africa.


Temple Israel Cape Town’s 70th Anniversary celebrated in ‘Grand’ style

Temple Israel - 70th Bash (1 of 3)

Sunday 19 October saw over 300 people gathering at the Grand Cafe and Beach near the Waterfront in Cape Town to enjoy this special event as we commemorated 70 years of Progressive Judaism in Cape Town. The beautiful venue and Spring weather ensured that all who attended were able to kick off their shoes, relax and enjoy the wonderful food and drink on offer. With entertainment provided by Gabriel Shai as well as a musical interlude from our newly formed Shira Chadasha choir, a d’var torah from Rabbi Greg and a speech marking the congregation’s achievements by our President Roy Fine, the afternoon was brought to a close by the drawing of the prizes in our raffle drawby Rabbi Malcolm. Mazel tov to all the prize winners and a huge thank you to all who contributed to the success of the day.