Desmond Sweke, Chairman of Bet David Sandton had a very constructive lunch meeting with Dr Hargey from the Open Mosque on 23 April. Desmond and his wife Ashley also attended Friday services in the Mosque on 24 April, and found that the egalitarian and other principles of the Open Mosque are remarkably similar to ours.
Last weekend, Bet David Progressive Jewish congregation in Sandton, Johannesburg joined thousands of Jewish communities around the world in celebrating Pesach, the festival of Freedom. Celebrations included Festival Services and a family Seder on the first night. More than 100 members and guests followed the invitation of Rabbi Schell and Rabbi Margolis to join the congregation for the Festival Evening and Shabbat service, and most of them stayed for the Family Seder.
The Guest of Honour was the Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk, who opened the Seder by remembering the strong connection of the festival with the Land of Israel, not only in the past, but also today, and how important it is to maintain such connections. In her sermon, Rabbi Margolis pointed out the important role of women in the Exodus narrative, while Rabbi Schell focused on the personal responsibility everyone has to protect the freedom Jews can enjoy today and to take part in the process to expand this freedom to every human being.
Bet David is the only Jewish Congregation in South Africa with a female Rabbi as part of the rabbinic leadership of the congregation. Both Rabbi Margolis and Rabbi Schell were ordained at the Abraham Geiger College in Berlin, Germany.
Guest of Honour: Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk
Bet David’s Chairman Desmond Sweke and Ashley Sweke, Chayim Schell, Rabbi Adrian M Schell, Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk, Rabbi Julia Margolis and Gregory Margolis
70 members and guests joined Bet David’s Family Seder.
Rabbi Shaked delivered a public lecture at St Augustine College of South Africa, one of the prominent catholic institutions of higher education. Looking at the ‘Paschal Lamb of God’ as a shared theological category, Rabbi discussed a number of parallels between Jewish Pesach and Christian Easter, and how the two traditions mutually influenced one another throughout the ages.
Initially we were a bit worried about attendance, as the public lecture has been scheduled before the long weekend, but Rabbi’s presentation attracted almost 80 people, including some of his friends-disciples from ‘Jews by Choice’ class.
We hope that this talk will mark the beginning of a fruitful collaboration between Beit Emanuel Progressive Synagogue and St Augustine College.
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.
Parsha in this week’s Jewish Report: Rabbi Adrian M Schell: Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei 5775 / 13-14.3.2015 Bet David Morningside
With this Shabbat’s Torah reading, we end the series about the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. In the last weeks, Jews all over the world have studied these instructions and have discussed the meaning of the Mishkan and of the Temple, which replaced the Tabernacle in later times.
Progressive Jews may have added their very own views to these discussions, as they no longer believe in a need for a Temple, a centralized “holy place” for worship and sacrifices, following the prophetic words that God is with us, wherever we are, and that prayers are the offerings God favours most.
Jews have proven over centuries that the covenant with God does not need a Temple. Jews could and can practice Judaism in a meaningful way everywhere in the world.
I can relate to this approach, because I, personally, cannot see any sense in going back to a system that limits our encounters with the Eternal to only one place.
“But tell me one thing Rabbi,” a congregant asked me once, “if you believe in the Temple, why do you support the campaign for an egalitarian Western Wall? Why should Progressive Jews, or Jews at all, pray at the Kotel?”
From a religious point of view, I stick to the position above because I am convinced that Jews don’t need the Kotel to encounter the Eternal. But Judaism is not a religion alone. It is so much more than that. It is a covenant between individuals as well – we are one people – “Am Israel”. We share a common history, common values and a common heritage. We are all connected in an invisible chain from the past to the future – “Le Dor va Dor”.
Our Sages, who, after the destruction of the Temple, transformed Judaism into a religion without the temple cult, did an amazing job. They detached “religion” from the place, but kept the people connected through and to this place. Even though they turned Judaism upside down, they kept Jerusalem as the centre of Judaism. Not only as a place where God should be worshipped, but as the centre of our hope and of our people, giving us strength in the most daunting moments in our history.
Our Torah reading ends with the powerful image of God taking possession of the Mishkan that was erected, “in the view of all the house of Israel”.
It was the centre of the camp, visible to all Israelites, and it was the stronghold of the people, giving them hope and much more of a sense of belonging together.
The Western Wall has always been a symbol of this and is still the central point of the Jewish People. The Western Wall therefore belongs to all Jews, no matter where we are, what we are, or how we pray.
As long as we are all facing Jerusalem, in prayer, song and thought, and sharing our common heritage, we are not losing the bond that connects us as one people – “Am Israel”.
Rabbi Adrian M Schell is the Community Rabbi of Bet David in Morningside.
The unveiling of the Heritage Site Plaque awarded to Temple Israel took place on 22 November 2014. It was a truly auspicious occasion. They were honored by the presence of Rabbi Julia Margolis, with Rabbis Jacobs and Shaked coming after their own services. Steve Lurie, Honorary Life President SAUPJ, Giddy Lief, Chairperson WPJ, Steve Cohn past Chair SAUPJ, and members of both Beit Emanuel and Bet David were present. Leah Livni & James Lomberg from SACRED, and Aviad Sela from the Israel Centre were present.
In addition we had good representation from several Christian organizations in the area. Notably, Impact for Christ Ministries and The Lutheran Church. There were brief articles in the Jewish Report both prior to, and after the event. Charisse Zeifert from Chai FM interviewed me after the event .
My special thanks to Jacob Hurwitz, Serona Reitzik and Temple Israel staff for all the work they put into making this event the success it was. Letters of congratulations were read out from Rabbi Joel Oseran, Vice President WUPJ, and Alvin Kushner, Chair SAUPJ.
For the record, herewith short press release:
Unveiling of the Heritage Plaque at Temple Israel Hillbrow
Temple Israel in Hillbrow is the oldest Progressive Synagogue in South Africa, having been established in 1936. The synagogue, which has operated continuously since then, has recently been accorded heritage status and the Blue Heritage Plaque will be unveiled on 22 November 2014. Temple Israel still serves a small but active congregation and holds services weekly.
The Chairperson of the synagogue, Reeva Forman, has expressed her gratitude to the Johannesburg Heritage Council for their decision to confer heritage status on Temple Israel.
“Temple Israel represents a genuine commitment to the inner city of Johannesburg,” she said. “It represents the early history of progressive Jews in South Africa, and holds important memories for our congregation. Our first Rabbi, the late M.C. Weiler, was a great proponent of human rights and believed that the essence of Judaism is a commitment to others. Under his leadership the congregation established a primary school in Alexandra – now known as the MC Weiler School – and continued to grow and support the school throughout the dark days of apartheid. He was also deeply committed to women’s rights and was the first South African Rabbi to promote the equal involvement of women in all aspects of Jewish practice. So, we have a proud history. At the same time, Temple Israel is a contemporary institution, a home for Jews from a variety of backgrounds, and a welcoming space for visitors. We engage with our neighbours in the Churches and in the residential communities and we are committed to the ongoing improvement of the area.”
Women in religious leadership came under the loupe in a panel discussion towards the end of last year at Hillbrow’s historical Women’s Jail, hosted by the SA Centre for Religious Equality and Diversity (SACRED). Community stalwart and deputy chairman of the SAZF Reeva Forman (pictured left), was MC. It featured Zaakirah Akram of Cape Town’s Open Mosque; Reverend Lutz Ackerman of the Lutheran Church of Peace in Hillbrow; Rabbi Julia Margolis from Bet David, Sandton; and Ba’hai representative Khwezi Fudu Cenenda
by ROBYN SASSEN | Jan 21, 2015 / JEWISH REPORT
Rabbi Margolis said: “Why do we need women rabbis? What does it say about the community in which a female is encouraged to hold such an office? If we ask such a question, we need to ask why we need women doctors – remembering that only a hundred years ago in England, Parliament considered it absolutely a breach of professionalism.
Cenenda, diplomatic liaison for the Ba’hai community added: “G-d created all of mankind with no distinction between male and female. G-d judges human actions, not actions as they are performed by a man or by a woman.
“When women are suppressed there is injustice. Until the world realises this, there will not be peace. I pray for the time where it doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman when you achieve things. I pray for the time when it doesn’t matter when you are ‘the first black’, ‘the first woman’. I pray for the time when humanity can identify itself as humanity.”
Reverend Ackerman is proactive in projects between his community and the Union of Jewish Women. In South Africa since 2001, he was ordained in Bavaria. With affiliation credentials in Lutheran and Anglican dogma, he said: “Transformation of theological thinking is nowhere near complete.” He itemised the growing number of women in Anglican and Lutheran church leadership as he interrogated Roman Catholic canonical principles.
“What is religious leadership based on? Education? A divine calling? And what’s the laity’s role? Sometimes it’s not only a question of legality but one of citizens making decisions.”
RIGHT: SACRED’s Chairman, Leah Livni, with Reeva Forman, deputy chairman of the South African Zionist Federation; and Bet David’s Rabbi Julia Margolis – PIC ROBYN SASSEN
Akram, a lawyer, said: “When you think of a Muslim woman, what do you expect? Someone like me?” Dressed in a tailored suit, she grinned at the audience’s perplexity. “The current stereotype for Islam is not about non-judging. It’s about terror. We, at the Open Mosque officially celebrate our second month,” she alluded to threats the establishment has weathered, before proceeding to examine the Qur’an’s exegesis regarding women.
“At the Open Mosque, women are treated as equals to men and access the mosque through the main entrance. We pray in the same area as our fathers, sons and brothers. We encourage women to empower and educate themselves through teachings in the Qur’an and by extension, teaching their male and female offspring they are equals.
“Women are actively involved in the Open Mosque, where they are encouraged to participate in a formerly male-dominated society. Gender equality cannot be achieved without active participation. We need to focus on not drawing attention to ourselves,” she emphasised.
Inspired by the idea of the Torah portion, Terumah, that an offering which comes from the heart is creating and sustaining a Jewish community infrastructure, Netzer South Africa organized, in co-junction with the progressive synagogues Bet David, Sandton, and Beit Emanuel, Johannesburg, a cemetery clean up at the Johannesburg’s Jewish Westpark Cemetery.
The Netzer Mitzvah day was held last Sunday for the first time. “The idea of the day is to connect the learning about Mitzvot with a concrete action”, explained Rabbi Adrian Michael Schell from Bet David, “and we wanted to give an example that giving doesn’t require a lot of money or materials. Time is one of the most precious things we can offer, and by which we can change more in this world than many of us can imagine.”
Steven Adler, President of the Chevrah Kadisha, who welcomed the group at the cemetery, thanked Netzer and the children for this wonderful idea and their dedication. At the Wall of Remembrance, Simon Hochschild gave a short introduction to the place, before the youth learned, in a Peula (learning session), more about the origin of Mitzvot and the idea of Tikkun Olam. As part of the program, all participants cleaned the memorial plaques and the area around of the Wall of Remembrance. Rabbi Margolis (Bet David), Rabbi Shaked (Beit Emanuel) and Rabbi Schell (Bet David) were moved by the engagement of all the participants and the Netzer Madrichim, and the contribution the youth movement is making to the Jewish community in Johannesburg.