Unveiling of heritage plaque at Temple Israel

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.”

Gender equality golden discussion thread

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


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.”

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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.

Netzer Mitzvah Day at Westpark Cemetery

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.


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:



The Role of Women in Religious Leadership

SACRED—the South African Centre for Religious Equality and Diversity—returned to its roots at the Women’s Gaol at Johannesburg’s Constitution Hill , presenting a programme called “The Role of Women in Religious Leadership.” Representatives of Protestant, Baha’i and Cape Town’s Open Mosque joined Rabbi Julia Margolis.

In her keynote address, Rabbi Margolis pointed out the difficult road to acceptance as a Jewish leader—a path made easier by the role-model provided by her mother, Rabbi Ylena Rubinstein and earlier women Rabbis including Regina Jonas. Rabbi Margolis and her mother are the first known mother-daughter rabbinic dynasty.

Zaakhira Akram, a practicing lawyer, represented the now two-month old Open Mosque. She spoke with passion of the shifting social norms the innovative Mosque represents, in which females enter, pray, study and lead alongside men. Her mention of a perceived obligation for practitioners of Islam to blend into their surrounding society, showed a close resemblance to the beginnings of Progressive Judaism in the 19th century.

A common theme amongst the three main Abrahamic religions was that many of the obstacles in the path of full acceptance of female religious leaders derive, not from foundational texts, but from later interpretations. Another theme was the vital importance of female education, which was particularly highlighted by Khwezi Fudu Cenenda from the Baha’i Office of Public Affairs. The session revealed that each of the represented faith communities has reached a different stage in the roles women take and the acceptance if female leadership.

Other participants included Reeva Forman as facilitator, a musical meditation by Rabbi Saar Shaked and Rev. Lutz Ackermann (Lutheran Church of Peace, Hillbrow).



From left to right: Desmond Sweke – chairman of Bet David Progressive Synagogue, Zaakirah Akram from the Open Mosque, Rev’d Lutz Ackermann from the Lutheran Church of Peace in Hillbrow, Rabbi Julia Margolis from Bet David Current Chairperson of SACRED, Reeva Forman – MC, James Lomberg – executive director of the South African Centre for Religious Equality and Diversity (SACRED), Khwezi Fudu-Cenenda from the Baha’i Office of Public Affairs and Leah Livni – Past Chairperson of SACRED.

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.