South Africa’s Jewish Community Mourns Nelson Mandela with Past President Mbeki

Songs and prayers in all religious congregations all over South Africa |

“As we celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, its become the central task that we reflect on what needs to be done to sustain his legacy to ensure we do not betray what he and other sacrificed for and stood for” former President Thabo Mbeki

By Melanie Nathan, Dec 08. 2013.

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Chief Rabbi Goldstein, former President Mbeki, at Oxford Shul, Johannesburg Photo: Melanie Nathan

Johannesburg, South Africa- Upon the passing of former President Nelson Mandela, current South African President Jacob Zuma called for all religions in South Africa, to hold memorial services, today, Sunday December 08, 2013. The Johannesburg Jewish Community, under the guidance of Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, held an official Jewish Community Prayer and Memorial Service at Oxford Synagogue, in Riviera, mere miles from the home where Madiba passed away peacefully on Thursday night December 05, 2013 at 8.50 PM. It was there that former President Thabo Mbeki spoke for the first time since the death of Madiba, making the statement calling for South Africans to honor the legacy of Nelson Mandela through future actions in terms of the continued progress in accordance with the principles of South Africa’s Constitution.

For me it was an extremely moving memorial, of great significance. This was the very synagogue of my youth, where on many occasions our Rabbi, Norman Bernard, preached against the ills of Apartheid, from the very pulpit which now served as the platform for reflection on the life of Tata Madiba, Nelson Mandela, who upon release from unconscionable persecution, ensured that ‘Never, never and never again would any one group suffer oppression in this beautiful land, South Africa.’ The Jewish community turned up in the thousands to honor and pray for the man who is credited for preventing a bloodbath and ensuring freedoms and liberty for all.

The congregants stood up and loudly applauded their appreciation as former President Thabo Mbeki entered the sanctuary and wearing a yamulka, he joined the Chief Rabbi in the front row, where we were led in a Mincha,  Ma’ariv service, the mourner’s kaddish, a memorial prayer and speeches by President Mbeki, the Chief Rabbi, Zev Krengel, President of the South African Board of jewish Deputies (SABJBD, and Israel’s Ambassador Arthur Lenk, who read a letter of condolence and tribute from Israel’s President Shimon Peres.

Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 11.16.51 PMPresident Mbeki’s speech was resolute and reflected on what South Africans could do in the times ahead. I transcribed portions of it as best I could:-

“So Chief Rabbi I think it is necessary that we must reflect on the future. That is the most important part of the celebration of his life. The constitution is the most important starting point…  Speaking of the future. We must ask ourselves the question … look very closely at the question, as to what we do about his legacy. What are we doing with regard to the goals which are contained the Constitution. How far are we in terms of democracy and a non-racial SA?  How far are we with regard to sexism and poverty? How loyal are we to the values that Nelson Mandela represented? And not only in terms of what we ‘say’ but also in what we do. Do his values continue to inspire the values in which we act to continue to develop the better South Africa?

To celebrate his life properly we need to ask ourselves the question about the quality of leadership. To ask to what extent are we measuring up to the standard Mandela and others in the struggle set in terms of the quality of leadership. The task of the transformation of SA is a very complex task. In some ways even more difficult than ending the struggle of apartheid itself. The challenge of leadership is much more complex in terms of of what needs to be done. Are we, in whatever echelon of our society, whatever we are doing in politics, business, women’s issues, etc.– do we have the quality of leadership as exemplified by Mandela sufficient to respond to the challenges that we face…

As we celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, it’s become the central task that we reflect on what needs to be done to sustain his legacy to ensure we do not betray what he and other sacrificed for and stood for. And it is our hope that we as a country can and should do it out of that dialogue, then as a country together we would be able to say not only we have a common vision as represented in the Constitution, but we also have a common road-map as to what we still need to do.”

Mbeki mentioned all other leaders of the struggle…and reiterated that we as South Africans ensure we do not betray this noble legacy which they all left behind.

The Chief Rabbi’s speech was particularly moving. Rabbi Goldstein mentioned the week’s Torah portion, and drew an analogy to the story of Joseph and how despite being betrayed by his brothers found it in his heart to forgive and pursue reconciliation, rather than revenge. A great coincidence that Madiba should depart at this time in the reading of the Jewish torah.  As we know Madiba indeed exemplified just that. And the very well being of all Jews who may otherwise have been in peril had it not been for Madiba’s peaceful impact when SA trabnsitioned to democracy. We as Jews came to South Africa as victims of oppression and persecution and Madiba’s reconciliation ensured our equal citizenry in South Africa, a home provided to us after pogroms in Eastern Europe and other persecutions against is Jews around the world at different times in history:

The Chief Rabbi noted our deep gratitude to Madiba for the freedoms we enjoy.

“The ethos of South Africa is that we can be who we are. These are the blessings we do not take for granted.”

The Rabbi also expressed his gratitude to former President Mbeki for choosing to spend his first public expression of grief with SA’s Jewish community.

The most moving for me was the singing, which I was fortunate to video, of the Israeli Anthem with N’Kosi Sikelel’, the South African National Anthem, both sung so soon after recital of the Jewish mourner’s kaddish.

We are now preparing in South Africa for over 70 sitting heads of States and 10 former heads of states. Journalists are pouring in for the funeral service which will be held tomorrow, Tuesday at FNB stadium with  many overflow stadiums providing space for the hundreds of thousands of people who are converging on the City. Madiba’s body will be held in State from Wednesday through Friday and it will travel the roads of Pretoria from the hospital to the Government Building each morning.  After that time Madiba’s body be flown to Umtata airport in the Eastern Cape and then he will be buried in his birth and home village of Qunu.

By Melanie Nathan, [email protected]

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8 thoughts on “South Africa’s Jewish Community Mourns Nelson Mandela with Past President Mbeki

  1. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    History in the making …. and Melanie Nathan was there. This happened this past Sunday …. Dec. 8. 2013!!

  2. Words are powerful and soothe the spirit but Mandela was a man whose words had meaning that he lived by. Jews around the world, unless they acknowledge the apartheid that exists in Israel cannot, with sincerity praises our fellow being of justice on the one hand without condemning the wrongs of Israel on the other hand. It is past time for those of us who are Jewish to give more than lip service, it is time to stand strong for justice and an end to Apartheid that our Palestinian brothers and sisters are enduring…Shalom…Nameste

    1. I believe at this time your comment is uncalled for. You could wait until our grief subsides because your comparison does zero justice for apartheid! I do not believe this is time for controversial remarks and yours is. I could have moderated your comment to the point of exclusion. But in the spirit of Madiba I have included it and will provide my heartfelt response, – Jews around the world speak out against injustice everywhere all the time- Moslems around the world speak out against injustice all the time -Christians around the world speak out against injustice all the time. And yet there are those in ALL these religions who represent anger, hate and injustice and often cause conflict and pain.

      That has nothing to do with the State of Israel and its right to exist. Madiba protected his people. I applaud the State of Israel for doing what it needs to do to protect its people -we know the majority in the ME would rather Israel did not exist. That is the bottom line for Jews who live there and many who do not.

      Madiba was willing to go to war for his people at the right time- and he was caught preparing the revolution – resulting in his 27 years in jail. Some believed it was wrong and others believed it was right. I believe that AT THAT TIME in history Madiba was right to Prepare for WAR. And when he came out of prison the TIME was right for peace.

      I believe that at this time in history, Israel is perfectly entitled to do all necessary to defend its people and at all costs by virtue of the desire of the majority who wish to wipe it off the face of the earth. When the Palestinians deny their “KILL THE JEW” culture and admit Israel’s right to exist, that is when I will start questioning the actions of a defensive Israel. Peace is what we ALL want including every Israeli I know. I abhor that you confuse the word Apartheid with a different complex issue. It is anything BUT apartheid and clearly indicates your lack of understanding while insulting the man who we now memorialize for fighting it.

      I also abhor that you politicize Madiba’s death at this time. PEACE!

  3. MEANWHILE: #Israeli government ‘doesn’t need to recognize’ gay people, claims minister HOGWASH! WAKE UP! #lgbt

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