Jews prominent in KZN interfaith council


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.

Progressive movement celebrates Israel’s 60th – CPT

Cape Town Shaliach, Omer Rabin, Rosh Cape Town, Tali Cassidy, and Netzer Mazkira Meghan Finn, at the Netzer Curry & Rice stall at the main Cape Town event


Cape Town Shaliach, Omer Rabin, leads the Netzer procession at the Ratanga Junction celebrations


Dressing up military style at the “Israel@60” sleepover at the Wynberg shul


Just some of the youngsters who attended the “Israel@60” sleepover at the Wynberg shul

THE Cape Town Jewish community celebrated Israel’s 60th anniversary in a long week of events in which Netzer was proud to play an important role.The week began with moving Yom-Hasho’ah and Yom Hazikaron ceremonies, followed by a huge Yom Ha’atzmaut ceremony, together with the entire Jewish community, at the Ratanga Junction Theme Park.

The Netzer team wore their new green shirts, and carried their blue flags. They sold curry & rice at their Netzer stall, marched inside the venue with their flags and with great “ruach”, and even went on stage to perform a memorable dance number.

And that’s not all: less than 24 hours later, the movement held a special “Yom Ha’atzmaut Ceremony” in the Green Point shul for the entire community, followed by an “Israel@60” sleepover at the Wynberg shul.

Check out the photos … we still need to catch our breath! 🙂

Omer Rabin

Cape Town Shaliach

Progressive movement celebrates Israel’s 60th – JHB

THE South African Union for Progressive Judaism and Netzer celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut with the rest of the Johannesburg Jewish community at the Wanderers Cricket Stadium on Wednesday night, 7th May 2008.Both the SAUPJ and Netzer were part of the procession of Jewish organisations and youth movements. Those who joined the procession through the stadium included Steve Lurie, SAUPJ chairperson; Rabbi Robert Jacobs (Bet David, Sandton); Moira Holz and Simon Hochschild (Temple Emanuel, Parktown); Rabbi Ann Folb (Bet Menorah, Pretoria); and Netzer shaliach Michael Szczupak.08-may-israel60bRabbi Ann Folb, Moira Holz and (right) Steve Lurie


Rabbis Ann Folb and Robert Jacobs, with Temple Emanuel shamas Simon Hochschild behind


Rabbi Robert Jacobs leads, with Moria Holz and Steve Lurie behind


Netzer Gauteng shaliach Michael Szczupak with a group of Israeli scouts


Netzer shaliach Michael Szczupak (right) with the Netzernik boys

08-may-israel60v4Israeli and South African flags …08-may-israel60v1

… and the Netzer flag


Netzer shaliach Michael Szczupak carries madrich Jared Durbach aloft


Simon Hochschild and Steve Lurie amid flags

Jewish family help fund faces possible closure

THE United Sisterhood is in serious need of financial assistance to avoid closing its Jewish Family Assistance Fund.The United Sisterhood, which will celebrate 75 years of helping the underprivileged in August this year, may have to cut down on supporting projects and people it has assisted for many years, and may have to close the Jewish Family Assistance Fund.

The reason for the lack of funds is varied, but neither the Jewish Family Assistance Fund nor the United Sisterhood have suffered from any maladministration or from any misuse or misappropriation of funds. Neither fund has any outstanding creditors.

The economic situation in South Africa has hit Jewish community, and many former regular donors are finding it more and more difficult to cope themselves with inflation. In addition, the Johannesburg Jewish community has become an aging community. Even though interest rates have risen, possibly giving our senior members more income from investments, the cost of living has increased way beyond this income. Their contributions to our Tikkun Olam programmes have either stopped or have been drastically reduced.

Another spin-off of the rising cost of living has been that the number of people in need has risen. Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) has also meant that more and more older white South Africans have been retrenched and cannot find employment.

The United Sisterhood is unique in that it does not ask what colour people in need are, nor does it ask the gender of these people, nor does it ask them what religion they follow. It asks merely what the need is, and how best to address that need.

Should the United Sisterhood not raise the required amount, the results will be as follows:

  • For the first time in 62 years, we will not be able to give the educators at MC Weiler School an end-of-year “thank you” party;
  • For the first time in 62 years, we will not be able to give the learners at MC Weiler School an end-of-year party pack;
  • For the first time in 62 years, we will not be able to give the outstanding achievers at MC Weiler School a prize (which is normally part of their school uniform for the coming year);
  • For the first time in 62 years, we will have to stop helping the many orphaned learners at the MC Weiler School with the provision of uniforms;
  • For the first time in 22 years, we will not be able to give a prize to an outstanding achiever at the Mitzvah School;
  • For the first time in 12 years, we will not be able to give the learners of the New Nation School an end-of-year party pack;
  • For the first time in decades, we will have to reduce the special (and very expensive) food we give to the HIV/AIDS sufferers at the MC Weiler and New Nation Schools.

In addition to the above, the United Sisterhood render the following services:

  • We provide 150 street people with a meal every weekend;
  • We feed 2 500 learners every day;
  • We provide a number of learners and educators at both the MC Weiler and New Nation Schools with weekly food parcels;
  • We give specially formulated, highly nutritional breakfasts to hundreds of ill learners at both the MC Weiler and New Nation Schools;
  • We provide a minimum of 36 Jewish families with food parcels and food vouchers every week;
  • We pay for rental, utilities, food, education, transport and other essential needs for a minimum of 15 Jewish families every month;
  • We help with the tertiary education of a minimum of five learners;
  • We provide casual employment for a minimum of four single, unemployed mothers;
  • We provide a monthly lunch for approximately 60 elderly Jewish folk;
  • We provide monthly entertainment for the patients at Tara hospital;
  • We provide monthly “goody” bags for the HIV/AIDS babies at Sizwe hospital;
  • We provide magazines, playing cards and craft materials for the adult TB patients at Sizwe hospital;
  • We provide transport to and from hospital for the aged Jews living in Hillbrow, Berea and Yeoville so that they can obtain their monthly life-giving medication.

We have provided these humanitarian services for many decades. We will have to stop doing all of this unless we raise sufficient funds to do so. Please help us to help all these people!

ABOVE: Ellen Appleton, past chairperson of the United Sisterhood, with children at the New Nation school.LEFT: Children at the MC Weiler School on prize-giving day

UNITED SISTERHOOD OFFICESInside the grounds of Temple Emanuel, corner Oxford Road and Third Avenue, Parktown.

Bank account for direct transfers:




ACC NO: 1916 004 172


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

A unique school in the grounds of Bet David has enabled hundreds of poor students from Alexandra to pass their matric. The Mitzvah School recently celebrated 21 years.

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

Netzer get creative in a busy winter

TWO British youngsters who recently finished high school, have embarked on a round-the-world trip to visit branches of the youth movement Netzer, and aim to join South African Netzer at their December youth camps in Cape Town.

J.J. Silverman and Dan Raanan, youth leaders in Britain’s Reform movement, have embarked on a six-month journey to visit branches of Netzer Olami, the Progressive movement’s international Zionist youth movement, on six continents. Silverman grew up at Maidenhead Synagogue in Berkshire, while Raanan’s family belongs to Sinai Synagogue in Leeds.

“Whilst trying to decide what to do with our gap year,” they said in the newsletter of Britain’s Movement for Reform Judaism, “we concluded that a year in Israel wasn’t adventurous enough for us. We wanted to stay in touch with the movement at the same time as traveling the world, and what better way than to meet with all the Netzer branches throughout the world?”

As their plans gained momentum, Silverman and Raanan made contact with every branch affiliated with Netzer, and their itinerary grew to include stops in Europe, Israel, South Africa, Australia, South America and the U.S.

“We are looking forward to learning all about the different Reform Jewish customs from around the world,” they wrote, “especially from summer camps in both South Africa and Australia. We hope that our trip will strengthen the connections between us and Reform synagogues around the world, and [that] we inspire the world to come a little closer.”

(Edited extract from an article on the World Union for Progressive Judaism website).

Making Judaism fun for tomorrow’s leaders

The Progressive Jewish youth movement, Netzer, provides regular events for young people ranging from Grade 1 to post-matric

Netzer’s big 2007 summer camp

Get a taste of the fun you can have with Netzer, from our report and photographs of the December camp at Glencairn, near Cape Town.
Pictures from the 2006 summer camp

Passing the light to the next generation

What happens when the youth are no longer so young? They join TaMaR, the young adults movement

Michael’s the new Gauteng Shaliach

Meet Netzer Gauteng’s new shaliach, Michael Szczupak, previously an instructor in an Israeli youth movement.

Israeli Progressive Union faces crisis

THE World Union for Progressive Judaism has called for emergency funding to help the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), which has been hard hit by the current global economic downturn and devalued US dollar, forcing it to make massive staff cutbacks.

Reform synagogues, seminaries and rabbinic organizations in the US and Canada have joined in the campaign on behalf of the Israeli movement. An e-mail sent to more than 70 000 leaders of Reform Jewry in North America said:

“We need your help to save the future of the Reform Movement in Israel. Through no fault of its own, the IMPJ has 2 million fewer shekels than originally budgeted, representing more than 30 percent of its funding. To stay afloat, the IMPJ has had to lay off half its staff and has drastically cut back on its operations.”

The timing of this financial crisis is a blow to the increasingly dynamic growth of Progressive Judaism, the branch with which more Israelis identify than Orthodoxy. Many thousands of Israeli Jews are now enjoying this spiritual alternative – through worship, education and social action – thanks to the efforts of dedicated movement staff and volunteers. Their programs and support are now gravely threatened by the current revenue shortfall.

The goal of the appeal is to raise at least $500,000 to alleviate this emergency and sustain the movement. Contributions are being coordinated in the US at

(Edited extract from an article on the Union for Reform Judaism website).

Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism

The Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) is Israel’s liberal Jewish religious movement, and a member of the World Union of Progressive Judaism.

World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ)

The World Union for Progressive Judaism is the international umbrella organisation of the Liberal, Progressive and Reconstructionist movements, serving 1 200 congregations with 1.7 million members in 42 countries.

Union for Reform Judaism

The central body of the Reform Movement in North America, founded in 1873. It is the largest Jewish movement in North America and represents 1.5 million Jews in more than 900 congregations.

Obama swept the US Jewish vote

DESPITE a long and often vicious campaign to paint Barack Obama as anti-Israel, exit polls reveal that more than three quarters of American Jews voted Democratic.

  • NBC television’s exit polls said 77% of Jews voted for Obama; 22% for John McCain
  • CNN television’s exit polls said 78% of Jews voted for Obama; 21% for McCain

No other major religious group voted so overwhelmingly for Obama. Among mainstream Christian denominations, 55% of practicing Catholics voted for Obama, and 45% of Protestants.

In the months before the election, a number of experts predicted that Obama would receive the lowest Jewish vote of any recent Democratic presidential candidate. A Republican campaign to position Obama as untrustworthy on Israel was widely considered to have hit home. So were poison emails describing Obama as a closet Muslim and anti-Semite.

Yet in the end, Jews appear to have voted for Obama in similar numbers to how they voted for previous Democratic candidates such as Al Gore (79%), Bill Clinton (80%) and John Kerry (76%). American Jews, dominated by the Reform movement, remain overwhelmingly liberal in their political attitudes.

The only Democratic candidate to have failed to win the Jewish vote was Jimmy Carter: only 45% of Jews voted for him in his second term run. In Carter’s first term, 70% of Jews voted for him. The candidates who enjoyed the most Jewish support were John F Kennedy (81%), Lyndon Johnson (90%) and Hubert Humphrey (81%).

Jews in high places

There are 13 Jewish senators, the highest number ever, and 31 Jewish congressmen. A total of 59 Jews ran for Congress. In some cases, Jews opposed one another for the same seat. Jews made up 2% of the voting population.

Max Price gives Sherman lecture

“Is medicine still a good job for a nice Jewish boy or girl?”

THE newly appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, Professor Max Price, will be giving the this year’s Rabbi Dr David Sherman lecture.

The lecture, in memory of the much-loved Rabbi Sherman, who was the outspoken leader of Cape Town’s progressive community for many years, is an annual feature at his former congregation, Temple Israel.

Professor Price recently moved to Cape Town from Johannesburg, where he and his family were active members of Temple Emanuel. His talk is titled “Is medicine still a good job for a nice Jewish boy or girl?” a topic that will resound with many young adults and parents.

He will respond to the question of whether the quality of the training in South Africa is still as high as it has been, and whether a matriculant contemplating a career in medicine would be enhancing their prospects studying here or would be better off going overseas.

And in the same light, is it ethical for someone with doubts about a long-term future in this country to take up one of the few places available in the Medical School? And for that matter, with changing criteria for admissions selections, will I or my child actually get in?

Another issue that has raised a number of questions is whether it is reasonable to expect medical students and graduates to do community service, when the same is not expected of other students.

Dr Price has been a Rhodes Scholar to Oxford, studied at Harvard and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, was Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits, has been a consultant to the South African government on several health issues, and was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town in July 2008.

In 2004 he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa in recognition of his leadership role in public health medicine and medical education.

The lecture is on Tuesday, February 17, 2009, at 7.30 for 8.00pm at Temple Israel, Green Point. Contact the shul at 021-434-8901.

Join the protest against Netzer schools ban

STEVE LURIE, chairman of the SA Union for Progressive Judaism, was silenced mid-way through a public speech in November in which he called for an end to discrimination against the Progressive youth movement Netzer at King David Schools.The incident unbottled long-simmering tensions over the treatment of Progressive Jews by the SA Jewish Board of Education, and plans are being drawn up around the country for public protests.

On November 3rd, Rabbi Craig Kacev, general director of the SA Board of Jewish Education, confirmed that a policy to restrict Netzer activities at King David schools, first imposed in March 2005, would remain unchanged – despite six months of negotiations to have the ban lifted.

In a letter to Lurie, Rabbi Kacev said that Netzer representatives could appear at King David schools only as representatives of the Jewish Agency. They would not be permitted to wear Netzer apparel, and could not “promote reform ideology”. They would be allowed to meet current members of Netzer at the school, but would not be permitted to promote their activities to the rest of the school.

None of the other Jewish youth movements, some of them secular, are restricted in this way. The Progressive movement’s difficulties date back to 2005, when the King David constitution was changed, turning general Jewish community schools into avowedly orthodox schools. The controversy flared up again earlier this year, when Netzer Gauteng Shaliach Michael Szczupak was barred from taking part in a schools Zionist programme, despite having been invited by the Israel Centre.

The SA Zionist Federation and the SA Jewish Board of Deputies called upon the SAUPJ not to protest in public, but to negotiate in private with the Board of Jewish Education. The SAUPJ agreed. Negotiations seemed to make an encouraging start, but after months of silence, Rabbi Kacev’s letter confirming that there would be no change, arrived in November.

The day after the letter arrived, Lurie was due to speak at an SA Zionist Federation memorial service to slain Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Lurie began by saying he agreed with Rabbi Dovid Hasdan of Great Park Synagogue, who had talked earlier about Rabin’s kindness, generosity and tolerance. Lurie said Rabin had stood for “pluralism … that we all have a place in the sun”.

He continued: “It is a great pity we cannot learn from Rabin’s example. I think that he would be disappointed and sad if he knew that the SA Jewish Board of Education was treating the Progressive youth movement, Netzer, in a discriminatory way.”

Before Lurie could get much further, Avrom Krengel, chairman of the SA Zionist Federation, stepped up to the podium and silenced him by switching off the microphone. It is almost unprecedented for an invited speaker at a Jewish function to be prevented from finishing a speech. Krengel, who has generally been sympathetic to the Netzer cause, told Lurie he would not be invited again to speak at any Zionist Federation function.

The Jewish Report newspaper, which led its edition of November 14 on the incident, said that there had been “mutterings from a large section of the crowd who believed this occasion was not the time or place for such a diatribe”. Lurie apologised to Krengel and the organisers, and wrote an open letter of apology to Jewish Report, saying it was not his intention to disrespect the memory of Yitzhak Rabin.

But there are many in the Progressive movement who believe it was high time the matter was aired in public, and that the Rabin memorial was an appropriate forum to talk about the failure of sections of the South African Jewish Community to live up to his ideals.

The issue was summarized by Mr Justice Dennis Davis, in a recent Jewish Report column: “The South African Jewish community used to adhere to an overlapping consensus … our cohesion made us remarkable as we carried on with our diverse views while protecting and promoting the community as a whole. Truly, it was a case of each Jew is responsible for the other. No longer. We now experience a discourse of there being Jews and members of another religion … A triumphalist form of Orthodoxy is expounded which eschews any other form of Jewish life. Our schools become a battleground rather than a forum for love and respect of all Jews …”

Meghan Finn, the National Mazkira and Gizbarit (Chair and Treasurer) of Netzer South Africa, has set up a Facebook group around the issue, which within two days attracted a hundred members, including the head boy of King David Victory Park, and a number of sympathetic Jews from outside the Progressive movement.

One of the aims of the group is to collect 500 signatures to a petition that can be sent both to Rabbi Kacev and to Jewish Report. The petition is online, and can be signed in a matter of seconds. Click here to add your name. (November 17, 2008)

Steve Lurie, SAUPJ chairman, provoked controversy at the Rabin memorial service

Sign the petition!

If you would like to add your name to the Netzer-King David online petition,
click here

Facebook group

If you’re on Facebook,join Meghan Finn’s group by clicking this link

Rabbi Kacev’s letter

Full text of Rabbi Craig Kacev’s letter to Steve Lurie, which provoked the controversy (PDF document).

Steve Lurie’s letter

Full text of Steve Lurie’s apology letter, which appeared in Jewish Report on November 14.

Making Judaism fun for tomorrow’s leaders

Netzer, Progressive Zionist Youth Movement

The Progressive Jewish youth movement, Netzer, provides regular events for young people ranging from Grade 1 to post-matric

Passing the light to the next generation

TaMaR for yong adults

What happens when the youth are no longer so young? They join TaMaR, the young adults movement

In ancient synagogues, women sat with men

Women were regularly present in the synagogue. One early rabbinic tradition speaks of a halachic ruling allowing a non-Jewish woman to help prepare the meal until the Jewish woman of the household returned from the synagogue (Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah 38a-b).

Another mentions the right of women and minors to be included among the seven people called to read from the Torah on the Sabbath (Tosefta, Megillah 3, 11-12); the obvious assumption here is that these participants were regular attendees.

The Jerusalem Talmud (Sotah 1, 4, 16d) tells of a woman in Tiberias who went to the synagogue every Friday night to hear R. Meir’s sermons, and a late midrash (Yalqut Shim’oni, Deuteronomy, 871) tells of an elderly woman who, when consulting with the second-century R. Yose b. Halafta, mentioned that she went to the synagogue every morning.

A Christian source also confirms the presence of women, albeit in a less flattering light. Toward the end of the fourth century, John Chrysostom (later to become the Patriarch of Constantinople) preached that synagogues were places of abomination, the proof of which lay in the fact that men and women gathered there together.

He also denounced some of the women in his church as “judaizers,” an indication that they regularly attended the synagogue (Discourse against Judaizing Christians)…

For the first seven centuries of the Common Era, women and men in both Palestine and the Diaspora sat together in the synagogue. This practice was in stark contrast to that of Roman society, which regularly instituted segregation in the public realm along class, ethnic, or gender lines; and that of the early church, which by and large separated men and women as well.

The physical separation of men and women in the synagogue developed at a later time. There is no archaeological evidence from antiquity of a women’s section in any synagogue, nor a single inscription noting such a separation. The absence of epigraphical evidence is significant, given the fact that many synagogue inscriptions of the time do, in fact, name various areas within the building.

The majority of these edifices had only a single prayer hall where the congregation gathered, but no balcony. And even when a building did have one, there is no reason to assume that it served as a women’s gallery. It might have functioned as a space for meetings, court sessions, festive meals, study, or the hazzan’s (cantor’s) living quarters; according to rabbinic sources, the synagogue balcony was used for all these purposes.

Also notably absent from rabbinic sources is any discussion of separate seating for women. Four hundred or so traditions in rabbinic literature address the synagogue and its functions, and not one mentions a special women’s section.

One rabbinic source does attest to the separation of men and women, but this was in the Jerusalem Temple, when a special balcony was constructed around the “Women’s Court” to separate the sexes during the frivolous Water Drawing Festival on Sukkot (Mishnah, Middot 2, 5; Tosefta, Sukkah 4,1).

Notably, this stated exception to the rule makes it clear that on the other fifty-one weeks of the year, there was no such separation of men and women in the Temple precincts.

The sum of the evidence leaves little doubt that throughout Late Antiquity, whenever Jews gathered in the synagogue for ritual purposes, there were no gender distinctions in seating arrangements …

We know from Maimonides and the Cairo Genizah that the custom (of separate seating), in Egypt at least, was well in place by the eleventh and twelfth centuries, as these sources explicitly note a separation or partition (mehitzah).

Thus, at some point between the seventh and eighth centuries (our last-dated archaeological and literary sources for Late Antiquity) and the eleventh century (the above-noted sources from Egypt), this division was adopted by Jewish communities, likely because of Islamic or Christian influence, newly developing religious stringencies within Judaism regarding the impurity of women, or perhaps both of these considerations.

The full interview

Read the full interview with Professor Levine on the Reform Magazine website

Exerpts used with permission from the Union for Reform Judaism


“Four hundred or so traditions in rabbinic literature address the synagogue and its functions, and not one mentions a special women’s section”