Since the beginning of 2016, a number of events, including a symphony concert and several public lectures, have been held in Cape Town as part of a year-long programme marking the 175th anniversary of Jewish communal life in the city. The founding of the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation shortly after the Yom Kippur of 1841 also marked the birth of organised Jewish life in South Africa, and indeed in Southern Africa as a whole. One highpoint of the commemorations will be an exhibition, to be hosted by the SA Jewish Museum. This will tell the colourful, multifaceted story of Jewish life in this country, not merely by spotlighting those who achieved fame and fortune, but to a large extent by portraying it from the perspective of rank and file community members. The Board is assisting in the process, including making available the extensive historic documentation and photographs it has at its disposal. It is intended that once it has been shown in Cape Town, the exhibition will travel to the other major Jewish centres.
Another highpoint of the 175 programme will be the participation of Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth. In addition to speaking at the Great Synagogue (Gardens’ Shul), the Mother Congregation of SA Jewry whose 175th anniversary is specifically being celebrated, he will be speaking at the SAJBD’s biennial Gauteng Council conference. Having someone of Rabbi Mirvis’ stature taking part already raises the profile of these events, but there is an additional dimension to this that makes his forthcoming visit even more meaningful. The Cape Town Hebrew Congregation started with a mere 17 members and for its first eight years it had no rabbi. Thereafter, its religious leaders were in the main provided by the Mother Country – Great Britain, whose Chief Rabbi was also heavily relied upon for guidance and input. The very idea of rabbis, let alone a Chief Rabbi, with a “Made in South Africa” stamp one day making their mark in the UK was for a long time unthinkable. In the end, though, it became a reality. South African-born and trained rabbis now can be found in all parts of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, as well as further afield. Rabbi Mirvis, who was born in Johannesburg and held his first pulpits in Cape Town, is one of them. His presence at the 175 anniversary will thus, inter alia, testify to how far this community has come since those pioneering days.
A second highly distinguished rabbinical leader who will be in the country around that time is Rabbi David Rosen, one of the foremost Jewish religious leader and spokesperson in the interfaith realm. He will be visiting Durban, Cape Town and finally Johannesburg. While not of South African birth himself he also, as it happens, served for a number of years as rabbi of Cape Town’s prestigious Green and Sea Point congregation in the 1970s. The Board is partnering with several other organisation in bringing Rabbi Rosen to South Africa, and intend giving him maximum exposure in our community and further afield (particularly amongst our own inter-faith colleagues) during his stay.