Rabbi Andre Ungar, the only rabbi to be deported from South Africa for his opposition to apartheid, has died in New York, aged 90.
Rabbi Ungar spent his teenage years hiding from the Nazis in Budapest, which profoundly affected his outlook. He fled the Russian take-over of post-war Hungary and qualified as a rabbi in London. His first rabbinic appointment was at the progressive congregation in Port Elizabeth in 1955, aged 25.
He never did fit in to conservative white Port Elizabeth. He made black friends, among them Govan Mbeki, father of Thabo Mbeki and the activist poet Dennis Brutus. He hosted racially mixed dinner parties which horrified at least some of the white guests, and went on a long camping holiday with black friends.
But what enraged the government – and his many Jewish critics – were his fiery sermons, which attracted enough attention to be regularly quoted and condemned in the Afrikaans newspapers.
He described cabinet ministers as “arrogantly puffed-up little men of heartless stupidity”. When he spoke at a huge protest meeting alongside Alan Paton, the newspapers quoted only the rabbi, saying “Hitler is once again on the march in the Transvaal, Natal, the Cape and in the ironically named Free State.”
In December 1956, a sheriff arrived at the door of Temple Israel with a deportation order, giving the rabbi until January 15 to leave the country. The local Jewish newspaper said it came as a relief to see him leave. Rabbi Ungar went to live in America, where he soon became prominent among the rabbis who supported the civil rights movement of Martin Luther.
— Irwin Manoim
(Rabbi Ungar figures prominently in Irwin Manoim’s recently published history of the Progressive movement in South Africa, Mavericks Inside the Tent, which will be launched as soon as the coronavirus lockdown ends.)
Please see also this article on the website of the SA Jewish Report: