SACRED Talk: SACRED kicks off exciting new series

On May 27, Beit Emanuel Progressive Synagogue in Johannesburg hosted a talk by the South African Centre for Religious Equality and Diversity (SACRED) entitled ‘SACRED geometry’.

SACRED Geometry: Greg Margolis speaks at organization's monthly talk

SACRED Geometry: Greg Margolis speaks at organization’s monthly talk

This was the first event held under SACRED’s new Chair, Rabbi Julia Margolis, and was very well attended. SACRED Geometry was the first in a series of monthly ‘Evenings of Interest’ planned by SACRED to deepen Progressive Jewry’s knowledge of the organization’s work in furthering interfaith co-operation and progressive religious ideas.

Motivational speaker Greg Margolis delivered the ‘SACRED geometry’ presentation, during which where he analyzed the links between the sacred geometry of many religions, both ancient and modern.

The next SACRED gathering  in the beginning of July will be given by a representative of the Open Mosque, South Africa’s progressive Islamic place of worship.


SAAPR response to arson attack on Benedictine Monastery Tabgha

The South African Association of Progressive Rabbis (SAAPR) has reacted with dismay to the alleged arson attack on the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes (attached to the Benedictine Monastery Tabgha) at the Sea of Galilee, Israel. The monastery has been the target of repeated attacks by radical religious Israelis in recent years. Two people suffered smoke injuries, while graffiti containing passages from the “Aleinu” Prayer was scrawled on the walls of the monastery.

The chairman of the SAAPR, Rabbi Greg Alexander (Cape Town), stressed that attacks against members of other religions are contrary to the spirit of Judaism. It was especially inappropriate to invoke the Aleinu Prayer, which contains the eschatological vision in which all religions respect each other, by recognizing God’s dominion.


Celebrating Freedom – Remembering Responsibilities

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.

Public lecture at St. St Augustine College of South Africa


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.

Rabbi Sa’ar Shaked

Beit Emanuel Progressive Synagogue,

38 Oxford Rd, Parktown, 2193.

Phone: 011 6466170/1/2  Fax: 011 6462035


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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Jewish Report: Rabbi Adrian M Schell: Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei

Rabbi Schell - Bet David

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.