South African Union for Progressive Judaism Report for the year ending 2014

Our SAUPJ Biennial meeting took place in Cape Town during June 2014. This was the last event chaired by Steve Lurie, who had served as our National Chairman for the past 10 years. The following people were elected to our National Executive:

  • Alvin Kushner (National Chairman)
  • Prof Antony Arkin (National Vice-Chairman) East Coast and (Arzenu Chairman)
  • Linda Thorn (Regional Chairperson} Western Cape
  • Lynton Travis (Regional Chairperson) Gauteng. (Reeva Forman was subsequently appointed following emigration of Lynton Travis.)
  • Rabbi Greg Alexander (Chairman) SA Association of Progressive Rabbis
  • Lewis Kaplan (Chairman) SA Foundation for Progressive Judaism
  • Giddy Lief (President) Women of Progressive Judaism SA
  • Kendyll Jacobson (Mazkir) Netzer South Africa
  • Leah Livni (Chairperson) SA Centre for Religious Equality and Diversity
  • Hayley Brown (Administrator)

The year marked the retirement of 2 of our Rabbis in the Gauteng Region, Rabbi Robert Ash and Rabbi Robert Jacobs. They were replaced by Rabbi Saar Shaked and Rabbi Adrian Schell. Our 2014 highlight was the ordination of Rabbi Julia Margolis, the first South African female rabbi, and currently the only female rabbi to hold a pulpit in this country.  We were honoured to have had a visit by Rabbi Joel Oseran, Miriam Kramer as well as Rabbi Shoshana Gelfand. Rabbi Shoshana was the keynote speaker at the annual Rabbi Sherman Memorial Lecture.

This year the Cape Town Progressive Jewish Congregation reached their 70th year. This event was celebrated at a well-attended function at a unique beach club venue in the Cape Town harbour.

Beit Emanuel, Johannesburg celebrated its 60th anniversary. Their event was feted at a lavish gala dinner which was held at their Synagogue venue. An excellent glossy Jubilee publication was distributed to mark the occasion.

We also saw Temple Israel, Hillbrow, our mother Synagogue in Johannesburg, being honoured with the prestigious status of being declared a National Heritage Site. A plaque was presented and unveiled during November. A dedication ceremony was attended by members and civic dignitaries.

Our Johannesburg synagogues have, in spite of strong leadership, not experienced any significant growth during the past year, mainly due to the strong active Orthodox community in the region. The need for a pro-active membership recruitment campaign is well recognised. More will be done in that regard. During the past year the Johannesburg Progressive community has had no Netzer Shaliach, but has made an effort to ensure that Netzer remains active.

Cape Town has remained constant with just under 1000 families (20 % of Cape Town’s Jews) attending their 3 shuls. Effort has been made to upgrade shuls where needed and to encourage youth participation. High Holy Days and Friday night services are relatively well attended. Numerous shiurim as well as other communal activities are well attended. Education including lishma is prioritised. The annual Jews-by-Choice classes have been well attended.

East Coast has a smaller Jewish Community than the other regions. The large, impressive but obsolete, Durban synagogue building has been sold and a new site has been acquired to build a shul that would be more proportionate to the current size and needs of the Progressive community. The Durban Progressive congregation prides itself on the establishment by Durban’s Sisterhood of a hospice at Mavela, their award-winning crèche and education centre. The community received a visit by the Premier of KwaZulu Natal, Durban’s Mayor, and Catholic cardinal to Durban’s Temple David which sometimes serves as a centre of religious outreach.

I had the pleasure of visiting Temple Israel, Port Elizabeth (800 km from Cape Town) together with Rabbi Richard Newman for a Shabbaton during November. What I found was a well organised, happy community. They are particularly involved in ongoing community projects in the townships. We hope to visit them from time to time.

We have a small but committed congregation in East London. I understand that the breaking the fast function at the conclusion of Yom Kippur in East London, always includes the entire community. The smaller congregations need our support. I hope to visit each of them as soon as possible.

Netzer is active but there is a need for wider youth participation. They had a very successful annual summer camp in Simon’s Town, 30 km south of Cape Town, which was attended by members from throughout South Africa. The SAUPJ needs to be more involved with Netzer.

Women of Progressive Judaism (formally the Sisterhood). The WPJ has been active in all of our Regions. They have recently held their local AGMs and have some new blood in their management.

SACRED – the South African Centre for Religious Equality and Diversity. Their highlight this year was an inter-religious event that they held at the Women’s Jail at Johannesburg’s Constitution Hill recently presenting a programme called “The Role of Women in Religious Leadership”. Representatives of Protestant, Baha’i and Cape Town’s Open Mosque addressed the meeting together with Rabbi Julia Margolis. The meeting was competently chaired by Reeva Forman.

On the downside, we had a handful of vocal members who did not support Israel in the recent Israel-Palestinian conflict. As some of them are well known members in leadership positions the media elected to misconstrue their statements as representing the views of our Progressive movement. We had to counter the disinformation through Radio interviews and articles in the Jewish Report as well as other media. After finally putting in paid notices in the media and addressing Zionist Federation meetings in our different Regions, I believe that we made the Progressive support for the Zionist Program clear.

The SAUPJ’s running cost is totally dependent on a contribution programme calculated on a small amount per member. We are no longer subsidised for shortfalls as we were in the past. We have the vision to give the Progressive movement more exposure and to undertake various projects. Regrettably the funding of the SAUPJ is limited so many of our good intentions will have to be put on hold until we can improve our financial position.

We wish to express our appreciation to all our volunteers who serve our community whether in or out of the various committees. 6 of our 10 South African Synagogues have their own Rabbis, while others have to depend on our many capable volunteers. These volunteers willingly serve as lay readers who run services, and occasionally even officiate at lifecycle events when a Rabbi is not available. We cannot function as a South African Progressive community without these dedicated people.

Alvin Kushner, National Chairman, South African Union for Progressive Judaism


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.

Parsha Toldot by Rabbi Julia Margolis

This week’s Torah portion is called Toldot, “Generations,” and it chronicles the history of our Patriarch Isaac and the generations that he and his wife Rebecca created through the birth of their twin sons Jacob and Esau.

We read about a dramatic and unsettling tale of family disharmony, a tragic story with Esau selling his birth-right to Jacob, who then turns around and steals the blessings that his blind father thought he was bestowing upon Esau on his deathbed.

We all have our personal chronicles of our own family, perhaps because I am an only child, sometimes its easier for me to see many families from a certain perspective, and to see how they are caught up in their internal fights, there is often no affection, and togetherness. They are perhaps too busy to appreciate that every day is a privilege to spend with your loved once. In our days we are caught up in modern technology and we spend so much of our time on different networks, or group chats that we start to forget the basis of our own “chronicles”. We can so easily get drawn into arguments and foolish disagreements over nothing really. That many times one should caution oneself to Stop, to simply take a step back – and take a moment to appreciate what is surrounding you. We need ultimately to study how to recognize the blessings that we are in each other’s lives.

We need to be grateful for each moment, unfortunately many times such gratitude is often too late. We should complain less in order to teach our next generation that complaints rarely bring anything good, in most cases we find ourselves on the receiving end of the opposite. We are all very busy in our work, homes and lives – I know how difficult it is my self. I am both a mother and a rabbi. Some days I’m more a mother and some days I’m more a rabbi. One somehow does one’s best to make it all work, I just know in my heart that it all feels right, and when the going gets tough I just keep putting one foot in front of the other – and I know I will get there in the end.

The experience of coupling motherhood with a career is something women fought for in the last century. The opening of the doors to women in the rabbinate was very much a result of the Women’s Liberation Movement. And Judaism is no doubt all the better for it.

I am trying to follow in the steps of my role models: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, Regina Jonas – the first female Rabbi, who was ordained in Germany in 1935 and murdered in Auschwitz in 1944. And another role-model, my own mother- Rabbi Rubinstein who today serves her congregation also far away from Israel.

We must always seek truth in our world, and not be afraid to live according to those truths. And we must not be afraid to speak up when those truths are questioned. We must know that we have received a gift from our ancestors, and passed this down through the generations of mothers following them.
This Shabbat Toldot lets us think about our blessings, encourages us to focus on building our internal gratitude, and to thank God out loud for all these blessings. Perhaps if Jacob and Esau, Isaac and Rebecca had done the same, then the entire course of Jewish history would have changed for the better. But we must hold close to our faith, to the lessons we can learn from it, and even closer must we hold to and appreciate the blessings our spiritual parent continues to bestow upon us “generation after generation” even if we are only aware of a few of the many, let us be truly grateful for them.

Parsha Noah by Rabbi Margolis

Parsha Noah as submitted to Jewish Report but never printed

Sometimes change comes upon us in a flood without warning. On other occasions we are warned, but don’t take heed of that inner voice giving us the preverbal heads-up. If we are to succeed in our endeavours and our future, we would do well to pay close attention to those little warnings life provides us with.

If we look at this week’s portion, we observe that Noah, while having been given instructions and specific tasks, was initially dismissive of G-D. He did well to follow those instructions with the due diligences that he did. There is not only forethought in this biblical illustration but there is ultimately a very strong sense of balance.

The balance is observed in the animals being placed in the ark on a two by two basis – there being a male and female representative of each. Nature in its infinite wisdom dictates simultaneously, polaric opposites and a balance. Whether hot and cold, light and dark or male and female G-D never implies that the male species is more important than the female, all would do well to understand this principal of nature – just as with light and dark – one simply cannot exist without the other – neither is more important than the other – when seen in such a light “no pun intended,” how could they be?

The appearance of a female Rabbi in our part of the world, is a heads-up, a sign of change in our world. If we resent or resist such change, then we make “hot more important than cold,” – how could this be? We as a community would do well to find a balance, would do well to understand natures laws and embrace them as our own – natures laws are after all far higher than man’s (again no pun intended;) and once we have been sufficiently open minded to give each light and dark its full sway within our own mentality – then and only then, will we see the rainbow, that was otherwise hidden from our sight.

New Era Begins: SAUPJ Gathers in Cape Town for Biennial Conference


New Era Begins: SAUPJ Gathers in Cape Town for Biennial Conference


The SAUPJ(South African Union for Progressive Judaism) biennial conference, which took place at Cape Town’s Temple Israel from June 6-8, 2014, heralded a new era for the community. The gathering marked the end of Steve Lurie’s 10-year tenure as SAUPJ Chair. In his place, the Conference selected Alvin Kushner as SAUPJ’s new Chair. Kushner is a member of Temple Israel and has served in numerous positions, both in the Temple and on the SAUPJ national board.

The WUPJ’s Vice President for International Development Rabbi Joel Oseran noted, “The SAUPJ and the WUPJ have been blessed to have had the caliber of leadership provided by Steve Lurie during his long and distinguished service to Progressive Judaism nationally and internationally. We owe him and Rahle, who has been at his side always, our profound gratitude.”

The Conference program was chock full of sessions aimed at developing Jewish education and strengthening Jewish commitment so as to support democracy, freedom, tolerance and compassion.

The ‘Biblical References to the Importance of Unity in Diversity’ was a Conference highlight, as was the ‘What do we Want from the Future SAUPJ in an Ideal World’ round table group and plenary session.

Rabbi Oseran led sessions on Israel and World Jewry while Director of JHub and former head of the Reform Movement in the UK Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand served as scholar in residence for the Conference and gave sessions on leadership and group dynamics.

Parsha Noah by Rabbi Margolis
Sometimes change comes upon us in a flood without warning. On other occasions we are warned, but don’t take heed of that inner voice giving us the preverbal heads-up. If we are to succeed in our endeavours and our future, we would do well to pay close attention to those little warnings life provides us with.

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Netzer Winter Camp in KZN

all Exploring mind, body and soul at Netzer SA Winter Camp Chakirah.
Kathryn Henning, Netzer SA National Rosh Chinuch
Pennington Beach, Durban. 1-9 July 2013.What a wonderful camp filled with laugher, smiling and growing! We had such a blast learning about all the cool things in Netzer, and actually getting down to the fun stuff. Here’s a little update (as posted live at the end of each day) as to what went down on Machaneh Chakirah – Lets Go Exploring!

Day One:
What a crazy, busy day here in Pennington!
Early this morning we all indulged in delicious pancakes before heading off to some group bonding activities and obstacle courses. We overcame many fears throughout the day and did some rock climbing and zip lining. We spent the rest of the day eating chocolate, singing, praying and learning about our ideology and being a Maddie(leader) in Netzer!
Now it’s time for a night of chilling out in the wilderness!

Day Two:
We are proud to say that we are tired but also excited!
We took a trip down the road to the beach and enjoyed a relaxing few hours before getting back to learning.

Day Three:
We delved into our personal ideology, and learnt about the different focuses an ideology could have and did some drama games to learn how to project, speak and lead with Spontaneous Hadracha (leadership).
We finished off our day with a Ma’amad (creative prayer service) and a delicious stew to warm us up!

Day Four:
Early this morning we walked to the beach to take part in welcoming Reese Joseph, one of our Channichim (participants), into the Jewish tribe. With her Batmitzvah just a few weeks away, we were lucky enough to take part in her Mikveh Ceremony on the beach, as part of her conversion process.

Day Six:
Saturday started with a bit of a sleep-in and a “Choose Your Own Adventure” Ma’amad. The rest of the day has been pretty chilled and we’re all feeling rejuvenated and ready for the new week, jam packed with learning and friends before school starts again.
Mazkirut note: It has been an unexpectedly special Winter Camp with our Young Leaders inspiring us and making us proud through how much they have grown and learnt!

Day Seven:
A really productive day today with Netzer South Africa. Our Mazkirut and oldest age group – Keshet – have been hard at work over the past six months preparing proposals for their Va’adot. Today we finished the first two of our Kinnus Sessions, where we discussed and changed the way we vote and spoke in-depth about Shabbat and how to make it a special occasion on Camp. We are also in the process of adding new and creative ways to do Birkat Ha’mazon.
We’ve made a lot of progress in changing some of our year-long policies and camp policies for Summer Machaneh. We look forward to implementing the changes we have made to our T’filah policy throughout the year and on Camp.

To end off the day, Kinnus was followed by an amazing connectivity themed Ma’amad..