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Chief Rabbi’s Report : UOS Conference August 2011

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1.  Introduction

This is the fourth report that I am submitting on behalf of the Office of the Chief Rabbi to the National Conference of the Union of Orthodox Synagogues.  At the end of 2011 it will be seven years that I will have had the opportunity to serve as Chief Rabbi and eight years, including 2004, during which year I served as ‘Chief Rabbi elect’.  The duty to report to the National Conference of the UOS is important and one which I take seriously. 

2.  Government and Interfaith

Since the last conference in 2009 there have been a number of important developments in the interfaith structures of South Africa which have also impacted on our interaction with Government leaders.  In 1994 President Nelson Mandela called upon the leaders of the various religious groups to form a national interfaith structure.  This led to the formation of the National Religious Leaders Forum (“NRLF”), which was the premier interfaith structure of South Africa.  Chief Rabbi Harris of blessed memory was a member of the Executive and I replaced him on the Executive when I took office.  The NRLF provided a regular structured interaction between national religious leaders also the contact point between the South African Government and the religious leaders, in which capacity we met with the President and Senior Cabinet Ministers twice a year. 

When President Jacob Zuma took office a new interfaith organisation was established, called the National Interfaith Leadership Council (NILC).  There has been a lot of speculation as to why NILC was set up but either way the result over the last two years has been great turbulence within the interfaith movement with the existence of two competing structures.  All of the major religious organizations, such as the Catholic, Anglican and Methodist Churches and others remained within the NRLF structures.  I decided to remain within the NRLF structures but made contact behind the scenes with key leaders within NILC in order to look at ways of achieving an amalgamation between the two organisations.  I am pleased to announce that following negotiations between the two parties, a new unified single interfaith structure has now been established called the National Religious Leaders Council (NRLC).  This is an important breakthrough because it allows the good work of the interfaith movement to be properly ordered and also gives a single contact point with Government. 

The expectation is now that the regular meetings with the President and the Cabinet will resume.  This interfaith structure provides our community with an important space to interact with the broader South African society.  Through my position as an Executive Member, I meet on a regular basis with the religious leaders of all of the major faith organisations in South Africa, as well as providing an important platform to interact with the President and Senior Cabinet Ministers.  South Africa is a country where religion is regarded to be an important organising force and the Government’s recognition of this fact leads to an important role for the Office of the Chief Rabbi, leading the Jewish community in this respect. It is an interesting fact to note that most non-Jews view the Jewish community as a faith religious community and not as a political secular entity.  Therefore, it is crucial for our community that we have an institution of the Office of the Chief Rabbi, so that we can be represented at government and civil society level as a religious community, and not just as a political entity.

The position of the Jewish community within South Africa is highly regarded by the South African Government and as a result I am invited and regularly attend the State functions, such as the National Awards Ceremony and the Opening of Parliament.  These functions provide an important practical opportunity for me to network with Senior Cabinet leaders.  There are also numerous requests for prayers to be delivered at all State functions from the Opening of the Provincial legislatures to other Government events.  For the most important national ones, I make sure to attend myself.  For some of the localized events I request other rabbis to represent me.  It is also beneficial for those rabbis involved because it gives them a feel for what is going on in the country, which then transmits itself to their congregants via their experiences.  Very often these invitations come in at the last minute but I make every effort to ensure that our community is properly represented. Our position of esteem and respect within the broader society is greatly enhanced by our continued visibility. 

3.  Community Functions and Shul Visits

As mentioned in all the previous reports, personal interaction with the community is an important part of my work.  These interactions, as discussed in previous reports, take a number of forms, whether special occasions, gala dinners or anniversary occasions for various communities and their rabbonim. 

Over the last number of years I have developed a set pattern of visiting certain shuls and this works because it creates a sense of tradition and connection to those shuls.  My office keeps a full list of all communal events attended and shuls, schools or other organisations visited over the course of the year.  Just to give some indication of the scale, during the course of 2010, for example, I attended 84 communal events and made 61 shul visits.

These personal visits are important because they allow for direct person-to-person communication.  The regular nature of these visits and the variety of places and functions provide a unique opportunity to get a real understanding of what is happening “on the ground” in our community, and to give encouragement and recognition for all the good work which is being done by dedicated people. These events and visits also provide the opportunity to bring a Torah message to all parts of our community.

4.  Rabbonim and Rebbetzins

The monthly luncheons with the Rabbonim as well as the Annual Conference give me an opportunity to interact with the Rabbonim and for all of us to build that sense of working on the same team. This year, in 2011, the average attendance of the monthly luncheons is up to 50 rabbonim. This communication and respect between Rabbonim is crucial for a healthy, functioning, thriving South African Jewish community.

The Annual Rabbinical Conference over the last two years since the last UOS Conference has been well attended and highly successful.  I would like in this respect to pay tribute to Rabbi Ron Hendler, who  assists me and invests months of work to ensure that these Rabbinic Conferences are the success that they are.  Almost 60 Rabbis attended the 2011 conference, which was held at the Orion Safari Lodge in Rustenberg. Most of the funding for the conference comes from the shuls which pay for the rabbis to attend.  I would like to use this opportunity to thank them for their support.  The conference is very valuable to our community in that it provides our rabbis with refreshing inspiration, new ideas and a platform to debate pressing communal matters in a spirit of unity and togetherness.

My wife has continued to host the Annual Conference for Rebbetzins which is her innovation.  This year she hosted the third Annual Conference, which was the most extensive one yet, taking place on a Sunday afternoon and was very well attended, with  approximately 75 rebbetzins who attended.

One project undertaken in respect of the Rabbinic community is the Torah Platinum Card, which Shane Solomon has carried out under the auspices of the Office of the Chief Rabbi.  Shane at his own initiative had the idea of approaching numerous service providers, asking for a special discount to be provided to the bearers of the so-called “Torah Platinum Card”.  More than twenty service providers have offered discounts between five and fifteen percent and more than a hundred Torah Platinum cards have been issued.

The philosophy behind the card is a way of showing support and acknowledgement for the important role that those who are involved in Torah leadership and education on a full time basis provide for our community at great personal financial sacrifice to themselves. It is the community’s way of saying thank you and ensuring that we invest in the well-being of our Rabbonim and Rebbetzins so that our community can continue to thrive. 

5.  Beth Din

As I have mentioned in previous reports, I meet regularly with the Beth Din and we work in tandem with full communication on many areas of common responsibility.  In particular, Rabbi Kurtstag and I are often involved together in the same communal matters. We have a very good working relationship whereby we share the responsibilities that overlap in a most open and positive way. 

I would like to use this opportunity in particular of thanking Rabbi Kurtstag for his constant friendship and support and advice over the last almost eight years.

Of course, all the members of the Beth Din have been supportive and the partnership between the Office of the Chief Rabbi and the Beth Din is a very important one from a communal point of view. 

I know that Rabbi Kurtstag will be addressing this in his Beth Din report, but since the last conference, Dayan Dovid Baddiel has been appointed and has done exceptionally well since his start. It is a great blessing for the community and our future to have found such an excellent dayan.  This is another area that I and the Beth Din have worked together on.  We did the interviews for the prospective candidates together and had to come to a decision whereby we were all in agreement with the step forward about adding another Dayan to the Beth Din. 

I know that Rabbi Kurtstag will deal with this in his Beth Din report but I do want to pay tribute to the Beth Din and the UOS for the Dayanut Program that has been running over the last eight years.  I am honoured to be one of the three remaining members – together with Rabbi Anton Klein and Rabbi Meir Trepp – of the group who received the dayanut certification this year. Rabbi Klein has done excellent work for the Beth Din in many areas but I have seen first hand his enormous contribution to the Eiruvin in our community. 2010 finally saw the establishment of the Sea Point Eiruv, and all involved can vouch that without Rabbi Klein, it would not have happened. I would like to further compliment the Beth Din and the UOS on the training of Shochitim program. These two programs are a very important farsighted component of the UOS and the Beth Din work in South Africa to ensure that we as a community have the requisite skills and personnel needed to lead our community in a Torah, halachic way of life.

6.  UOS

The importance of this conference cannot be over-estimated.  This national conference, together with the elections and the representatives of all the shuls who are members, gives the UOS the legitimacy and authority to create one community of the many communities that make up South Africa.  It is this legitimacy and authority that gives the UOS the halachic power to appoint the Beth Din and the Chief Rabbi amongst other things.  I mentioned this is my last report at conference, but I think that it is important to repeat, and that is to say that the UOS is the most representative Jewish organisation in the country in that we have more paid up members and constituents though the grass root membership of all of our member UOS shuls than any other organisation in this country.   

I would like to thank the Executive Council for their support, encouragement and leadership over the last two years. I would like to pay tribute to Darren Sevitz, our CEO, whose dedication and commitment to the UOS is an example to us all.  In particular, I would like to pay tribute to our outgoing Chairman, Mr Jackie Sifris, with whom I have worked closely for close to five years.  It has been a pleasure and an honour to work with Jackie.  He devotes hours of his week to the UOS and we as a community are deeply grateful to him for his loyal and dedicated volunteerism over these years.  In my personal interactions with Jackie, I have seen his wisdom and commitment to principle, as well as a respect for the Office of the Chief Rabbi and he manages to balance well the nature of a partnership interaction between a Chairman and his Executive Council on the one hand, and institutions of the UOS, such as the Office of the Chief Rabbi and the Beth Din on the other.  I am pleased that Jackie has agreed to stand for the office of President in the coming term.

This year the UOS celebrates 70 years of the kashrut administration of our community and in this regard I would like to pay special tribute to the Beth Din, to Darren Sevitz, Rabbi Boruch Talberg and the entire team of the Kashrut Department for providing the incredible kashrut infrastructure for our community.

7.  UOS – Cape Council

As is well-known, the UOS Cape Council is constitutionally a separate organization from the UOS Federation Council, the latter of which has authority in Gauteng, KwaZulu/Natal, Free State and the Eastern Cape.  The Office of the Chief Rabbi and that of the Rosh Beth Din are joint institutions of these two councils and so an important part of my work involves Cape Jewry.  I am in Cape Town approximately once a month for communal events and shul visits, as well as meetings relating to communal affairs.

I would like to pay tribute to Eric Berger, the Executive Director of the Cape Council, for his efficient and dedicated assistance in my work in Cape Town. I would also like to thank the Chairman of the Cape Council, Mr Ivan Klitzner, for his support, encouragement and advice, together with his Management and Executive Committees.

8.  Oversight and Problem Solving

An important function of the Office of the Chief Rabbi is to have a dedicated institution for communal leaders and organisations to come to help solve problems and also to proactively identify problem areas and help solve them.  By way of one example, over the last two years I have been extensively involved with the Port Elizabeth Jewish community in two different areas of their development.  One was the issue of where to build their new shul and how it should be constructed, and secondly, the appointment of a new rabbi.  Both issues proved very complicated and in respect of the first mentioned above there was an attempt to move the shul on to the school premises with which I and a number of others disagreed.  I actually flew down to Port Elizabeth to participate in a public meeting.  In the end, Baruch Hashem, Port Elizabeth is in the process of finishing its renovation of a new shul on its current premises and upgrading its facilities all around.  I put them in contact with Lewis Levin, who is an outstanding shul architect. I will be going down to Port Elizabeth, please G-d, on 18 September for the inauguration of the new shul building as well as the induction of their new rabbi, who is Rabbi Shmuel Bloch.  Before that they had contracted with an American rabbi and many complications arose with the Department of Home Affairs. I spent many hours trying to assist them with this matter.  In the end that appointment fell through but I am very excited that Rabbi Bloch is taking up this position.  I know him and I am confident that he will do an outstanding job with Hashem’s help.

The Office of the Chief Rabbi also provides an important oversight function for the community.  On a fairly regular basis members of the community write to me with complaints concerning a particular communal organisation.  I then take up this complaint with the relevant leadership and ensure that the matter is properly addressed.

9.  Community Active Protection (“CAP”)

As co-founder of CAP in 2006 this project continues to consume much of my time and effort.

The full details and background to this project have been extensively described in my previous reports, but for this report I would like to focus on some of the new developments.

Firstly, there is an update on the overall success in the fight against crime. Here are the graphs of the various areas indicating the reduction of crime, baruch Hashem, from the pre-CAP to post-CAP environment.

2010 has been CAP’s best year to date in fighting crime. CAP is currently active in 15 areas and protects at least 150 000 people on a daily basis.

CAP estimates that prior to the launch of the initiative, there were an average of 130 contact crimes per month in our areas of operation. This figure was calculated by taking the reported crimes gathered by CAP prior to launch of Glenhazel CAP (GAP), and apportioning these crimes based on the amount of residents in each area.  With limited resources at the time, the 20 incidents in GAP is a conservative estimate, the actual number not fully reported at that stage is believed to be much higher. With CAP active, this average was reduced, Baruch Hashem, in 2010 to 12 incidents per month across all 15 CAP areas, a reduction of over 89%.

Due to a number of factors, the monthly average in 2011 in CAP areas for January to August 2011 has increased to an average of 16. One of the main factors that contributed towards this increase was a particular gang that perpetrated 11 attacks and was Baruch Hashem arrested by CAP units on Sunday, 19 June, although the increased trend is now reversing and we hope that by December the average will be closer to the 2010 figures.

Some of the new developments in this project include expansion of CAP into less affluent areas.  We have identified certain areas where a large number of our community members live, who remain unprotected due to being unable to afford CAP.  We have now been expanding CAP into these areas, such as Orange Grove and certain parts of Highlands North and Sydenham. 

Here is the current map of CAP areas:

This has been made possible through donor funding, but also through another new development in the CAP project since the last conference report and that of “CAP at Home” – which is a non-profit armed response, the first and only such company in South Africa. All of the profits from these armed-response contracts are put back into the project to ensure the financial sustainability of the project as a whole and also to even improve security available by increasing the number of patrolling vehicles.  “CAP at Home” has been especially important as we expand into the less affluent areas where people are able to afford armed response but unable to afford in addition to that monthly subscriptions to proactive patrol vehicles.

The most important part of the CAP project is our Incident Command and Control Centre (ICCC). Here is a schematic diagram of how it functions and leads the security operations of the entire system.

Last year CAP was awarded the ABSA Achievers Community Service Award at the ABSA Jewish Achievers dinner.  Bradley Sifris and I received the award on behalf of CAP.

10.  Sinai Indaba

The Sinai Indaba Convention took place this year in the June 2011 led by the Office of the Chief Rabbi in partnership with other rabbonim, shuls and outreach organisations.  As by now everybody knows that the Sinai Indaba Convention was a gathering of top international speakers from all different parts of the Jewish world, coming together to debate and to discuss relevant issues from a Torah perspective.  The response of the community has been overwhelmingly positive. 

It involved a huge amount of work on my part. In order to get the logistics of a marketing campaign, a line-up of guest speakers and ensure full communal participation in three short months proved to be an enormous challenge.

Most of the funding for the conference came from an anonymous donor as gratitude to Hashem for personal refua.  Another important part of the finances came from the entrance fee money as well as other smaller donations along the way. But what made the project manageable from a financial as well as logistical point of view were the various community partnerships.  Here is where one sees that the Office of the Chief Rabbi is an institution for our community which plays such an important role in being the neutral ground that can put together these partnerships. And so, for example, with the Sinai Indaba there was a partnership  between my office and the following  organisations which brought guest speakers :  Aish HaTorah, Arachim, Chabad, Mizrachi, Ohr Somayach, and the following shuls : Marais Road, Sandton and Durban.  It really made it a project that belonged to everybody and we all shared the costs.  

The community’s response was way beyond all expectation even from the most optimistic observer.  Firstly, in terms of sheer numbers, in Johannesburg on Saturday night there were approximately 1 500 people and on Sunday approximately 2 500.  In Cape Town on Saturday night there were approximately 350 people and on the Monday night approximately 500 people, and in Durban on Thursday, 16 June approximately 200 people.  These sorts of numbers were way beyond anyone’s expectation and the single biggest problem of the Sinai Indaba, (fortunately) turned out to be the lack of space. 

The other very successful part of the Sinai Indaba was the energy on the day.  There were throngs of people with a great passion and desire to learn Torah, and even with the crowded space and people trying to get into shiurim, the whole experience was very uplifting and inspirational for people.  I received so many e-mails and messages describing how overwhelmingly positive their experience was.  The unity, seeing all the different parts of the community come together was uplifting for people and seeing the fulfillment of the verse “Be rov um hadrat melech” – “the multitudes of the nation is the glory of the king”.  The major theme of Sinai Indaba was contained in is slogan “Torah talking to a modern world”.

I worked closely with a steering committee of some leading rabbonim in the various cities. In Johannesburg it included Rabbi David Masinter, Rabbi Laurence Perez, Rabbi Shmuel Moffson and Rabbi Yossy Goldman. In Cape Town, the Rabbinic steering committee included Rabbi Osher Deren, Rabbi Osher Feldman, Rabbi Gavriel Abramson and Rabbi Eitan ben David. In Durban, Rabbi Pinchas Zekry worked to ensure that everything was organized.

I am hoping to, please G-d, to establish Sinai Indaba as an annual event. 

11.  Generation Sinai 

Another major Torah educational initiative launched this year was Generation Sinai, which involved a co-ordinated mass parent and child learning session on the Friday before Shavuot, which fell out on Rosh Chodesh Sivan. 

For a number of months before the event I met with the heads of schools in Johannesburg and Cape Town in order to plan for this. On that Friday morning, 3 June, virtually every Jewish day school across South Africa arranged for the parents to come in to learn a pre-arranged piece of Torah with their children, which the children had been trained and educated in by the school. There were between 8 000 and 9 000 students and between 3000 and 4000 parents participating, making it probably the single largest Torah learning event that a community has ever experienced.

The program was an overwhelming success right across the country.  I prepared a video message which was broadcast in most of the schools. Another extra dimension to the day was the live broadcast of Chai FM.  People could feel the real sense of excitement.

The flood of positive messages and photographs and video clippings was so overwhelming that I established a blog site, www.generationsinai.com.  You can go visit it to see some of the feedback.

What I found so amazing was the very powerful emotions that this experience evoked for so many people.  The power of real Torah learning and that of parents connecting with their children really struck a chord.  With Generation Sinai before Shavuot and Sinai Indaba after Shavuot, the month of Sivan was a very powerful month of Torah learning.  The connection between these two projects is significant and intended.  Both carry the name “Sinai”, linking to Mount Sinai and therefore around Shavuot, which obviously marks the anniversary of the giving of the Torah.  Both are projects made possible by having the institution of the Office of the Chief Rabbi, a neutral unifying space for the community to come together to combine efforts. If the numbers attending these two projects is added to the numbers attending the Shavuot Tikkun Leil programs, it emerges that over the month of Sivan/June there were at least (probably more than) 18 000 people learning Torah in community programs.

12.  Beit Midrash Program

Since last conference this project has now expanded to two new schools. At the time of the last conference, the project had been running at King David Linksfield High School and since then it has opened at the Herzlia High School in January 2010 and then at King David Victory Park High School in April 2010. 

The Beit Midrash is headed in King David Linksfield by Rabbi Ryan Goldstein, in Herzlia by Rabbi Dani Brett and in King David Victory Park by Rabbi Ricky Seeff.

The program continues to be a great success with 90 pupils in King David Linksfield, 160 pupils in Herzlia and about 115  in Victory Park participating.

I have also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the three schools which entrenches the fact that the heads of the Beit Midrash as well as the curriculum and teachers of the Beit Midrash can only be decided together with my approval as well.  The Memorandum of Understanding is important because it ensures the continuity of the project in its current form as well that the quality levels be maintained.

I meet with the heads of the Beit Midrash twice a year – every six months – at the end of the second term and then at the end of the fourth term to discuss and to share experiences between the three Batei Midrash.  At these meetings we also discuss ways of expanding the platform and reaching out to the parents.

A very successful dimension of this project has been an evening once a year with when the parents come in to learn with their children and the children teach their parents what they have been learning in the Beit Midrash and I attend the function and speak after the learning session has been done.  This is always a very inspiring part of the program. I also try at least once a year to teach in each of the three batei midrash.

13.  Website and E-mail Platform 

The benefits of personal, physical visits have already been pointed out.  The shortcoming is that they only allow for connection with the narrow segment of the community that happens to be hosting me on that occasion.

Therefore, a few years ago I identified the importance of establishing an electronic communications platform to engage with the community on a regular basis.  Since the last conference I have established a website, www.ChiefRabbi.co.za, on which is published the contents of my speeches and articles, including some that go back to 2005, such as all the speeches delivered at my inauguration.

The website is updated on a weekly basis with a shiur on the parasha which is also sent out to a weekly subscriber base.  Currently, the weekly parasha column is sent out to approximately 1 500 e-mail addresses.  They receive an e-mail notifying them of the new shiur which can be downloaded as a podcast from the website as well as an edited transcript.  In addition, the podcast is broadcast on Chai FM and Radio Today, and a shorter version of it is broadcast on Radio 2000.  Approximately every six weeks a video message is also sent out to a much larger subscriber base.

All the costs of the website are being sponsored by Liberty Life in exchange for advertising on the website and on the e-mails.  This sponsorship has meant that UOS does not have to carry the additional costs of this. 

The website and e-mail campaigns have become an important part of creating a regular interaction with the entire community, and provide an important platform to get out a regular message to the community on a wide scale, whether of Torah learning on the parsha or important communal matters that need to be addressed. It also gives me the capability of getting a direct and urgent message to the community should there be some major event  that needs a response. For example, on election day I sent an email calling on people to go out and vote.

14.  New Book Published

I just published a new book called “Sefer Mishpat Tzedek”, which was reviewed in the Pesach edition of “Jewish Tradition”.  It deals with the Torah competition laws and other aspects of monetary law in halacha and I co-authored it together with Rabbi Moshe Goldfein.  As a book it goes through the detailed sources of the Gemora and the commentaries relating to that all the way through to the various codes and responsa, summarising all of the primary sources and extracting practical principles of application.  It has not yet been properly launched in the community and that will hopefully be done in the course of the next few weeks and months as well as ensuring a distribution of the book to key and important outlets overseas.  It does offer assistance to dayanim who are involved in these monetary cases and so an attempt is being made to make the book available to various Batei Din around the world. 

15.  “Freedom Agenda”

This year, instead of distributing a leaflet message about Pesach I published a short book of 40 pages, dealing with the issue of freedom.  It was written in response to the so-called Arab Spring in order to show a Torah perspective on current affairs.  It has four parts to it, dealing with freedom from Government power, freedom created by a compassionate society and freedom from a moral and spiritual point of view, as well as from a point of view of Jewish destiny.  The book was very well received and 10 000 copies were printed and distributed, as well as it being created into an e-book format, of which an additional 1 500 copies were downloaded from my website. One aspect of the importance of this short book was to demonstrate the power of Torah as a relevant and modern force through which to understand events occurring in modern day life.

16.  Defending Israel

As mentioned in previous reports, Israel continues to be a major issue that affects the community here in South Africa.  In this respect I have continued to write in defence of Israel, when appropriate.  Over the last two years I have published articles locally and internationally challenging the findings of the Goldstone Report, as well as an open letter to Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  These and other articles have drawn very positive feedback right across the community.

These articles are important because our community is correctly associated with the reputation of the State of Israel, and so both from an internal as well as external point of view, it is important to take a stand on these matters.  From an internal point of view, our local Jewish community draws much strength from the fact that they feel that they see a Chief Rabbi taking a public stand in defence of Israel.  It makes Jews feel that they can live comfortably within South Africa, despite the fact that there is such a large segment of the broader population and influential leaders within South Africa that take an anti-Israel position. Also, from an external point of view, it is well-known in South Africa that the Jews here are, in the most, ardent Zionists. Consequently, if we as a community are perceived to be supporting a so-called unjust apartheid state, we are tarnished with the same image.  It is important for the wider South African society to know that there is another side to the story and that although they may have one opinion about Israel, we have a very different one. To defend the reputation of the Jewish state contributes to the prevention of the spread of anti-Semitism in South Africa and the world, and also contributes to the fulfillment of the mitzvah of kidush Hashem.

In this struggle to defend the reputation of the State of Israel, it is important to deal with the issues and not embark on a program of vindictiveness towards the people who hold different views from us. And so it is well-known in spite of having written articles attacking their positions, I publicly took the position to say that Judge Goldstone should be allowed to attend his grandson’s barmitzvah without interference and that Archbishop Desmond Tutu should remain on as a patron of the Holocaust Centre.  A full explanation for those matters was published in articles on my website.

17.  Bill of Responsibilities

My previous reports describe the progress around the Bill of Responsibilities project, from its earliest days when I presented the idea and first draft to the Minister of Education. As you know, the Bill of Responsibilities is a complementary document to the Bill of Rights, which has been accepted and endorsed by the inter-faith community of South Africa, as well as the Department of Education and the South African Government.

I am pleased to report further progress and developments, which have taken place since our last conference. The Department of Education has said that the Bill of Responsibilities is now part of the national curriculum, and it has published a Teachers Training Manual which was launched in October 2010. Together with the Director-General of the Department of Education, I was asked to write the foreword to the Training Manual.  This manual is an important step because it enables the teachers to be trained in the relevant material so that they can teach it to the children. 

As mentioned in my last report, ORT South Africa has, at my request, taken on the Bill of Responsibilities as an important project and they ran a pilot training program at the Makhaorane Soweto Primary School.  I am continuing to work with them and we recently resolved that they would work on a project of training other NGOs in the field of teacher training of the Bill of Responsibilities, so in this way the impact would be increased.

Probably the most important development in the Bill of Responsibilities since the last conference is the fact that Lead SA has adopted it as their flagship project.  I met with the Board of Lead SA in order to present to them my proposal that they take the Bill of Responsibilities as their main project.  After much discussion over weeks and months, they agreed to do so and Lead SA officially launched the Bill of Responsibilities as their project during March and April 2011.  I was invited to write the inaugural column for the “Independent Newspapers” for the launch edition of the Bill of Responsibilities, as well as to speak at the launch at the Ingqayizele Secondary School in Tembisa.  There were 2500 students at the launch event, most of which was broadcast live on radio. 

This new development adds great impetus to the project because it allows for a very powerful combined media platform of Independent Newspapers and Primedia to promote these values in a major way.

18.  Media Communication

As mentioned in previous reports, I write regular articles for the various Jewish magazines and publications, such as Yom Tov messages for the “Jewish Report”, the “Cape Jewish Chronicle”, and also the various shul magazines which are published for Rosh Hashana.  Obviously, I am involved with “Jewish Tradition”, both in terms of writing the editorial as well as meeting with Marilyn Segal and the dayanim and other senior members of the UOS to discuss the content of the “Jewish Tradition”. 

My interaction with Chai FM has increased in the last two years, with as mentioned, the weekly parasha being broadcast on a Friday afternoon, as well as a full length interview being done on the morning show every four to eight weeks.  

I have a monthly column in the “Jewish Life”, “Q&A” section as well as regular contributions to the “Star” and “Independent Newspapers” at Rosh HaShana and Pesach time and a television message on SABC for Rosh HaShana time.

All of these messages ensure a constant connection with the widest possible range of people across our community.

Interacting, proactively or reactively, with the general media and journalists requires professional expertise, and in this regard I am pleased to have the services of Peta Krost, an experienced media consultant.

19.  Batmitzvah Program

“Roots” is the national Batmitzvah program of the Office of the Chief Rabbi. The “Roots” Batmitzvah Program continues to be successful. There are approximately 110 girls enrolled in the 2011 program. Ronit Janet, the director of “Roots”, administers the entire program and ensures the educational standards of the program throughout the shuls with regular communications with the teachers as well as setting and marking the Batmitzvah proficiency exam. Each shul appoints its own teacher who uses the “Roots” syllabus. The annual programs in which all the girls come together from all the shuls for a combined “Roots” activity are as follows : “The Amazing Race”, an erev Shabbos sms group, a chesed morning just prior to Rosh HaShana and a moms and daughter breakfast at the conclusion of the batmitzvah program, where the batmitzvah girls receive siddurim andcertificates, and which I attend and deliver a message.

In partnership with the UOS in Cape Town, we have now appointed a Director of the Cape Town division of this project, Samantha Benatar. We are currently looking at ways of expanding this project from batmitzvah to barmitzvahs as well.

20.  Annual Events Hosted

In the last two years since the previous conference I have established certain events as annual occasions where the Office of the Chief Rabbi hosts particular events.  The one is the annual Mandela Day event, which I co-host with Afrika Tikkun and this year it was done for a third time in a row.  The format of the event is relatively simple.  For 67 minutes, corresponding to the 67 years of Mandela’s public service, people bring goods (this year it was books and blankets and unperishable food substances) and donations for distribution by Afrika Tikkun.  The event is hosted at the Great Park Synagogue in Johannesburg, and Gardens Shul in Cape Town, and for the last three years has been, thank G-d, a great success.

Another event which has now become an annual fixture, having been done twice and this year, please G-d, the third time, is a unity mincha/ma’ariv service during Aseret Yamei Teshuva – the Ten Days of Repentance.  This event is held in the main shul of the Yeshiva College Campus.  Part of the format is that, apart from the davening and tehillim, I give a short talk on a particular area of teshuva and suggest a particular area for communal teshuva.  In 2009 I launched a campaign for an hour free of loshan hora per day and last year a campaign for the saying of the blessings before food.  In honour of this campaign a plastic card the size of a credit card was produced and distributed. On the card was printed in a beautifully designed manner the blessings to be said before food.  The idea behind it was for those who do already say these blessings that the card should be a reminder to say the blessings with extra concentration and for those that do not, to start to learn to say them.  A letter was sent out to the community via the “Jewish Life” with the card stuck in to their final edition for 2010.

Now from this year, since the success of the Generation Sinai and the Sinai Indaba, there will, please G-d, now be a total of four annual functions hosted by my office :  Mandela Day, Ten Days of Repentance Communal Gathering, Generation Sinai and Sinai Indaba.

21.  Security

According to the CSO analysis it remains an unfortunate but necessary requirement that I be provided with personal protection. They continue to manage this with a professional team which is paid for by the UOS. I would like to thank Neal Feigen who has served as the head of security in this position for more than a year.

22.  Office Administration

In order to be able to run the various projects and keep up with daily correspondence which includes letters, invitations, requests for articles, complaints about communal matters and many other things, it is important to have an efficient office administration system that works well.  People’s impression of the institution of the Office of the Chief Rabbi is deeply influenced by how the experience interacting with me, whether for example, their requests or letters are being dealt with timeously etc.  In this regard, I would like to pay special tribute to Mrs Tracey Ribeiro, who continues to do the most outstanding and professional work in running all of this administration and making sure that nothing gets forgotten and everything is dealt with in a structured and orderly fashion. Tracey also contributes significantly to the administration of many of the projects run from this office, such as the website, Sinai Indaba, publications, etc. Her assistance is absolutely essential in all of these endeavours.

23.  Guiding Principles

One major guiding principle of my work is based on the words of the midrash where Hashem says even the Jews do not follow His mitzvoth, if they learn Torah then “the light within it will return them to the good”. Consequently, much of my work is dedicated to writing, speaking and establishing programs which spread the light of Torah learning as far and wide as possible. Some of the work involves teaching myself, such as sermons and shiurim at our shuls, leaflets and books published, podcasts and transcripts on the website and emails, magazine and newspaper articles, radio and television broadcasts. Some of the work involves establishing Torah projects which function throughout the year, such as the schools Beit Midrash program and the “Roots” Batmitzvah program. And some of it involves high profile events which focus on Torah learning in the context of a mass communal gathering, such as Sinai Indaba and Generation Sinai. The root cause of many of the ills which afflict our community as well as that of Jews all round the world is that of ignorance. The more light of Torah learning we can shine into the lives of our community the stronger more inspired we will all be.

Another significant guiding principle of my work is to seek to address the real issues and problems that affect the day-to-day life of South African Jews.  The best example of this is the CAP initiative, which has consumed a great deal of my time and energy over the last five years.  Violent crime is the major threat to the quality of life and very future existence of our community.  Rabbinic leadership is about implementing Torah principles such as pikuach nefesh (saving life) and protecting people from trauma and pain, and it is about leading and caring for our community.

Another major issue that affects our community is the damaging impact of the forces of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism that seek to harm us all, and so as the above report indicates I have also invested time and energy in the public defence of the reputation of the State of Israel. The political and social environment of South Africa is another major issue which affects us every day.  The Bill of Responsibilities is a project which seeks to make a contribution to moral regeneration in South Africa and also serves as an example of how Torah values can be implemented and have a dramatic relevance to modern life. 

These guiding principles are linked to an overarching philosophy and belief that the Torah, in general and Rabbinic leadership in particular, are focused on every  dimension of human security and that Hashem gave us His Torah to guide us in every aspect of our lives for all times and for all places.

24.  Conclusion

I  would like to thank the UOS for the honour  and privilege of serving  as Chief Rabbi and look forward, please G-d, to continuing to serve our special South African Jewish community with my best efforts.

Posted on 22 August 2011 in Text, Transcript

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