The purpose of this report is to give an overview of some of the most important aspects of the work of the Office of the Chief Rabbi. It is, of course, important to report to the Union of Orthodox Synagogues’ (UOS) National Conference, which takes place every two years. This is my third conference report, having been in office for almost 5 years as Chief Rabbi, and almost 6 years have passed since my being appointed Chief Rabbi-elect. It is an honour to serve our special community, and I am grateful to the Union of Orthodox Synagogues for the opportunity to do so.
Politics and Government
The last UOS national Conference was held on 19 August 2007. Since then so much has happened in South Africa that it is worth reflecting on the last two years. We have seen two new Presidents assume office in South Africa, first President Kgalema Motlanthe, and then President Jacob Zuma.
During times of change the community looks for guidance and reassurance from its leadership. To meet this need at the beginning of 2008, I published a letter to the community which was distributed throughout all shuls and schools. The letter directly addressed people’s concerns by setting out a Torah framework of values within which to relate to the situation, in order to place things in perspective and to deepen commitment to our ancient faith. The feedback received from the letter was enormously positive. In addition, to help the community navigate this time of transition, I invited the newly elected President of the ANC, Mr. Jacob Zuma, to address the community at a public gathering which was held at Investec Bank in March 2008. There was a very large turnout of people and it gave our community a chance to see and hear the new leader of the ANC in person.
Another challenging dimension of the changing South African politics is to establish connections to the President and senior government people. I had well-established lines of communication to President Mbeki via his closest aides, and now new work had to be done in order to lay the groundwork for new lines of communication. I first met Jacob Zuma, at his request, in the lead up to the Polokwane conference. Soon after his election as ANC President we met again at his house in early 2008. During his first official address as President of the ANC, Mr Zuma spoke about the importance of reviving the ANC street committees in order to tackle crime, and so in our meeting I offered him the support of the CAP project in order to make that possible. These connections with the new President have been important because part of my responsibility is to ensure that our community has channels open to the political leadership of the day. In the lead up to the elections, I also met the leaders of the other parties such as Helen Zille and Rev Mvume Dandala.
Representation and Prayers at National Events
One important dimension of my interaction with government is via attending official state functions, such as the Presidential dinners and award ceremonies, and the State of the Nation Address in Parliament. When necessary I deliver prayers on behalf of the Jewish community. For example, at the ANC Conference at Polokwane at the end of 2007 I attended to deliver a prayer. It was very important to be there even though it meant interrupting my holiday in order to make it up to the far north of the country, because it meant we were represented as a community.
In this context, it is important also to report back as to what occurred around the time of the inauguration of the President. The inauguration took place on Shabbat. As has been the tradition in the last number of Presidential inaugurations from the first of the new South Africa, the Chief Rabbi has always delivered a prayer, and I would have done so again on this occasion, had it not been on Shabbat. I was able to convey this personally to President Zuma when I saw him at Parliament at the swearing in of the members of Parliament, where I was able to deliver a prayer because it was held on a weekday. I informed the President that the community would be praying for him on the Sabbath day, and he was most appreciative of that and fully understanding of our position. I sent out a letter to the community informing them of the situation and calling upon the community to say special prayers on the Shabbat of the inauguration. I did have an arrangement with the Office of the President and the National Religious Leaders Forum that the prayer that I had composed would be read out at the inauguration on my behalf, with a special message of explanation and apology. They had agreed to this arrangement, but in the end it was not delivered. The Chief Operating Officer of the Presidency, Mr Trevor Fowler, contacted me personally to apologise, saying that because it had rained on the morning of the inauguration and there was confusion, a mistake was made and the prayer was not read. So even though things did not work out as planned, it was very important that the precedent of the Chief Rabbi delivering a prayer was followed so that for all future years this practice should be maintained. It is an important part of the manner in which our community is represented, and attendance at these functions, as well as delivering prayers, becomes a very important way of maintaining Jewish presence in all of the public affairs of South Africa, as well being an opportunity for Kiddush Hashem.
The public letter about the Presidential inauguration was an important opportunity too, to promote the importance of Shabbat and the power of prayer in our community, as well as to provide a framework of Torah principles to understand the events that are taking place in the country. This is an important part of what I try to do in general and that is to show that through the Torah, Hashem guides us on how to view everything in our lives and in the world. As the Mishna says so profoundly of the Torah, “Turn it over and over for everything is in it”.
Tribute to Rabbi Azriel Chaim Goldfein ZTL
Since the last conference, I personally suffered a great loss, and so did the entire South African Jewish community with the passing of the late Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshiva Gedolah of Johannesburg, HaRav Azriel Chaim Goldfein of blessed memory. I would like to use this conference to pay tribute to the memory of the late Rosh Yeshiva, who came from America to establish a Yeshiva here in Johannesburg, far from the shores of his birthplace. It involved great sacrifice and dedication, effort and personal risk, not only of himself, but also that of his entire family. He achieved great success in the more than thirty years of his remarkable service to the South African Jewish community, producing many leaders, who have gone on to serve the community in different capacities. I myself was taught by the Rosh Yeshiva for virtually my entire Yeshiva training and received smicha from him, as did Rabbi Craig Kacev, who is the General Director of the South African Board of Jewish Education. Rabbi Matthew Liebenberg, who is the rabbi of the Claremont Wynberg Hebrew Congregation in Cape Town, as well as the Chairman of the Western Cape Rabbinical Association, and who is currently registered on our dayanut program is one of his illustrious products. And there are many others who have made and continue to make great contributions to the South African Jewish community. It is appropriate as a community that we pay tribute to the work that the Rosh Yeshiva ZTL did and acknowledge our deep gratitude.
As a community, I think we need to do more to acknowledge the contributions of those who have passed on. The yarzheits of previous Chief Rabbis, Roshei Beth Din as well as of other great leaders such as Rabbi Aloy and Rabbi Goldfein who made significant contributions to our community should be a fixed part of the communal calendar. I have approached Dov Grauman, who so wonderfully edits and compiles the Pick ‘n Pay calendar to include in it the yarzheit dates of these and other great South African rabbinic leaders. He has agreed to do so. I note with reverence and affection that the yarzheit of my illustrious predecessor, Chief Rabbi Harris ZTL takes place on 9 Elul – this year on Shabbos 28/29 August. Perhaps it is a worthwhile idea for the UOS to establish a research project to record the life stories of these great people, so that as a community, we can acknowledge with gratitude what has been done, and draw inspiration for the future.
‘Beit Midrash’ Program
An important focus of my work since the last conference has been establishing a ‘Beit Midrash’ program at King David Linksfield High School. I presented the idea of this program to Rabbi Kacev, the General Director of the South African Board of Jewish Education, who received it enthusiastically. The concept is that during Jewish Studies classes, the Grade 10s and 11s (this is where the program is currently applicable) can choose to attend regular Jewish Studies or to join the Beit Midrash stream. In the Beit Midrash, students learn as one would in a Yeshiva, albeit pitched at a level suitable to them. They can choose to learn Gemorah or in-depth Chumash. The idea is to give the children a taste of authentic Torah learning as Jews have learnt for thousands of years; for example the children learn “chavruta” style where they prepare the text, and then attend a shiur on it. This positive experience will hopefully, with Hashem’s blessings, empower the children with learning skills and more importantly a love and appreciation for what Torah is all about.
The Rosh Yeshiva of the Linksfield project is Rabbi Ryan Goldstein (he is not related to me). Rabbi Goldstein and I developed the curriculum and structure of the classes together. A crucial part of this project has been (to package it in such a way so as) to make it as attractive an option for students as possible. The goal from the beginning has been that this project should be for all of the King David learners, irrespective of their level of observance. In order to achieve that, the marketing and packaging has been very important. The Beit Midrash was renovated and given a brand new look and feel, with an exciting design. This involved choosing a room, revamping and painting it, clearing out furniture and the installation of new doors. A new age/new look Aron Kodesh was designed. Fancy pamphlets with lanyards were designed and distributed to the children. To enhance its prestige in the eyes of the children, the project was linked directly to the Office of the Chief Rabbi, and so is known as “The Chief Rabbi’s Beit Midrash”. I go in at least once a term to teach the children.
The project was launched properly at the beginning of 2009. Thank G-d, 70 children have signed up in Grades 10 and 11. Rabbi Ryan Goldstein is doing an outstanding job. The success of the project has been not only in the numbers, but in how much the children have enjoyed it. The work material is examined. I checked the examination paper that was set by Rabbi Goldstein and was most impressed with the level – it was very difficult – and the children did exceptionally well, with most getting in the 70s and 80s. What has been remarkable is how much they have loved it.
I am excited to announce that in 2010 we will, please G-d, be establishing the Beit Midrash program at Kind David Victory Park and at Herzlia High Schools.
The most important issue to address from the perspective of Judaism is that of ignorance, which is the root of all our religious ills, whether assimilation, apathy or lack of observance. We need to embark on programs that upgrade the Torah education of the children and adults of our community. It is only through learning and becoming literate in the awesome teachings of the vast Torah literature that our community can continue to grow in commitment and strength.
Community Active Protection (CAP)
At the last conference I gave a report on the establishment of CAP, its background, strategic aims and early beginnings. As explained there, CAP is a joint project between the Office of the Chief Rabbi and the CSO, bringing together other community and business leaders as well. Since then the CAP project has expanded dramatically, both in its areas of operation, as well as the number of people being protected. The CAP project continues to be a major focus for me because of the great mitzvah of protecting our community from the life-threatening trauma, and the horrific human suffering of violent crime; also, because CAP is vital to the future sustainability of our community. In an environment of violent crime our community has no future. I do not think that it is an exaggeration to say that the remarkable successes of CAP, thank G-d, have ensured the future of our community.
Since the last conference, new CAP areas have been established in Melrose/Birdhaven, Houghton, Senderwood, Linksfield, Victory Park, Saxonwold, Gresswold, Sandown/Strathaven, Rouxville and Sandringham. The number of residents currently being protected by the CAP project amount to about 150 000, with approximately half a million people included in the general human traffic moving in and out of the areas on any given day. Contact crime in the areas of application has been brought down by between 80 % and 90 %.
The future intention of the project is very much to consolidate what has been achieved and to build further. The consolidation phase is about building a financial model which is sustainable. We have such a model. The model is based on voluntary debit orders and CAP Central has established a central facility to help the regions collect their voluntary debit orders. We are looking to expand into newer areas, but the expansion cannot be done from the top down. It has to come from the bottom up. Residents have to fund this project in their own area. I would like to use this conference as an opportunity to encourage you to have a look at the map if you are in an area which does not have a CAP yet, and you would like to set one up, to contact me or the CAP Centre in order to facilitate it. CAP had the endorsement of the previous Minister of Safety and Security, and I recently met with and briefed the new Minister of Police, Mr Nathi Mthethwa, who is very interested in the project.
Here is a graphic overview of aspects of the project:
The above graph has the 2008 statistics because the South African Police Services have not released the 2009 statistics yet. These two projects, the Beit Midrash and CAP referred to above, represent two major areas of focus for me , that of the security and the Torah education of our community.
Community Visits and Functions
Personal interaction with the community is absolutely vital and this takes place in a number of ways. One is obviously through shul visits. These take place throughout the year, but obviously at Yom Tov they are more extensive. I have been working on establishing set times in the year to visit individual shuls, so that a type of ‘tradition’ is created and congregants know when to expect a visit. This is not always possible given the large number of shuls involved and special occasions such as anniversaries; and so flexibility in this regard is also important. Just to give a few examples, although this is obviously not a comprehensive list, during the last few months I visited and spoke at :
- on Purim, the shuls of Greenside, Victory Park, Edenvale and Ohr Somayach Sandton;
- on Pesach, the shuls of Yeshiva College, Sydenham-Highlands North, Ohr Somayach Glenhazel and Savoy, Mizrachi, Sunny Road, Maharsha and Adass Yeshurun;
- on regular Shabbatot, the shuls of Sandton, Linksfield, Oxford and Great Park;
- on Rosh Chodesh Elul, at Chabad House.
Since assuming office, I have visited the following communities which are situated outside of Johannesburg on at least one occasion, and for some of them, on numerous occasions : Durban, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, East London, Klerksdorp, Plettenberg Bay, Krugersdorp, Hermanus, Oudtshoorn, Somerset West and Benoni. Although outside my jurisdiction, I have also visited Harare. In respect of the Zimbabwe Jewish Community, I would like to pay special tribute to the outstanding work of Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft and the African Jewish Congress.
This coming Rosh HaShana I will, please G-d, be at the Waverley, Pine Street, Yeshiva College and Sydenham-Highlands North shuls.
This is obviously not a comprehensive list and does not include my monthly visits to Cape Town, where my involvement is extensive. During Yom Kippur I will, please G-d, speak at the six shuls in the Sea Point area : Green & Sea Point Congregation and its overflow shul, Morasha/Arthur’s Road, Ohr Somayach, Sephardi and Chabad. Cape Town, with its very large Jewish community and own UOS structure is a major focus of my work. I have visited the following Cape Town shuls : Gardens, Camps Bay, Constantia, Claremont/Wynberg and Milnerton.
My Cape Town office is run by the Executive Director of the Cape UOS. Mickey Glass occupied this position for many years until his recent retirement, and I would like to pay tribute to him for his years of dedicated service, as well as express my thanks to him for his help to me. Eric Berger has been in this position for a number of months and I look forward to working with him in the future.
Another avenue for direct communal interaction is through attending functions hosted by the numerous and extremely active communal organizations. At many of these functions, I am called upon to speak and to deliver a Dvar Torah, which facilitates the teaching of Torah on a large scale.
In particular, I engage with the youth movements through the Annual Youth Leadership Forum, as well as camp visits and other meetings.
These visits and direct interactions with our shuls and organizations provide the opportunity to support and strengthen the work of the shuls and organizations. They also bring me into contact with literally thousands upon thousands of members of our community, which is important in so many respects.
Oversight and Problem-solving
I am constantly involved with serious and often difficult issues arising in shuls and in other areas of communal life. For obvious reasons, virtually all of this work takes place confidentially, but it is important to report to the conference that I have at all times many files on such issues.
Furthermore, there are numerous issues affecting our community as a whole and which require attention from a broader perspective which the Chief Rabbinate as an institution is best placed to provide. For example, a lot of work went into how to deal with the large number of ‘meshulachim’ that come to our community to collect funds. A particular structure was experimented with, but in the end, in my opinion, it created more problems than it solved, and so was disbanded.
Another example is the issue of home alarms on Shabbos where a lot of work has gone into creating a special “Gramma” switch. In this regard, I would like to commend Rabbi Klein, who has overseen this project. Rabbi Klein has also assisted me tremendously with hard work on the Sea Point and Milnerton eiruvin where his halachic and practical expertise have been invaluable. Of course, he oversees the functioning of all the Johannesburg eruvin which is another area that needs co-ordination and adequate financial investment to ensure continued proper maintenance.
On a proactive basis, I stay in communication with the major Jewish communal organizations to provide assistance and input, particularly from the perspective of Torah principle. I sit on the National Executive Committees of the Board of Deputies and of the Zionist Federation, and am in regular contact with the Chevra Kaddisha and many other organizations across the spectrum of the community. By virtue of office, I am the Honorary President of the South African Board of Jewish Education and this enables me to contribute positively on education issues from a Torah point of view.
Israel and Anti-Semitism
During the Gaza War the situation here in South Africa became very heated. It was necessary for me to write articles and be interviewed on radio in order to defend the reputation of State of Israel, which is important to do for the following reasons: to fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem; to fight the injustice of the unfair criticism of Israel and to give our community strength. A prayer meeting was held and was very well attended. Prayer is a key Torah response to the situation. Our prayers through G-d’s will can change the world.
I meet regularly with the Beth Din. This is important as there are often overlapping areas of work between us. It is also important because the Beth Din is vital to the survival and success of our community. So much of what makes South African Jewry special can be attributed to the remarkable successes of the Beth Din, under the strong leadership of the Rosh Beth Din, Rabbi Kurtstag. Since the last conference, I have worked closely with the Beth Din on its succession issue and, as Rabbi Kurtstag will explain in his report, we have taken the decision to appoint Rabbi Dovid Baddiel, a fine Talmid Chacham, to take up the position of Dayan on the Johannesburg Beth Din. We are also constantly working on expanding and refining the dayanut program, in terms of which the UOS seeks to provide the framework for the training of local Rabonim in the areas of halacha which are so crucial to the functioning of the Beth Din, and in so doing to, hopefully, nurture future Dayanim for our community. This is done through a reputable Kollel in Israel called Eretz Chemdah. I myself am involved in the learning of this material as part of this dayanut course, together with a number of other Rabonim. Most recently, Rabbi Gidon Fox from Pretoria and Rabbi Matthew Liebenberg in Cape Town have joined the program.
As reported at previous conferences, regular and close interaction between the Chief Rabbi and the Rabbonim is very important. I am pleased to be able to report that monthly luncheons with the Rabbonim continue to provide a very successful forum, both in terms of attendance and content.
The other major interaction with our Rabbonim occurs when we have the Annual Rabbinical Conference, which is hosted by the Office of the Chief Rabbi. In this respect, I must pay special tribute to Rabbi Ron Hendler, who project manages the event, as he has done for many years now. It is a highlight on the calendar of the Rabbinical community and provides an opportunity for building unity amongst the Rabbis, as well as an opportunity to be refreshed and re-inspired with new ideas. It also provides a platform for the Rabbis to debate the most pressing issues facing our community and to seek a common way forward. In 2008 the conference was held in Israel with a wide range of guest speakers. It was a very successful conference, thank G-d. This year, please G-d, our conference will be taking place shortly in Cape Town. The conference line-up is looking very exciting and it should once again be of great benefit. I would like to use this opportunity to thank the UOS for its generous contribution to the conference.
This year there will be an exciting innovation – a conference for our Rebbetzins. In the past, we have only had a conference for the Rabbis. This year there will be a special morning conference for the Rebbetzins. Their conference will take place in Johannesburg, please G-d, the day after the conclusion of the Rabbis’ conference. It has been organized by Rebbetzins Gina Goldstein and Wendy Hendler, and constitutes an important addition because Rebbetzins play a significant role in serving our community. Perhaps, the role of a Rebbetzin needs to be looked at afresh. Rebbetzins are very often involved in their shuls with little or no financial remuneration. This is something that needs to be addressed.
Mass communication is also very important. In this area, articles need to be written. In particular, at Pesach and Rosh HaShana an enormous amount of material needs to be produced: articles for the various shul magazines, the “Jewish Tradition” magazine, the “Jewish Report”, the Cape Jewish Chronicle, the “Jewish Life” and other publications. Also at these times of the year I write and distribute a long essay, “From the Desk of the Chief Rabbi”, which deals in depth with important Torah ideas for our community. My weekly radio talk, which generally deals with the parsha of the week, is broadcast on two stations, Radio 2000, which has a national signal, and Radio Today, which has a Johannesburg signal, and the talk is added to the website of my office as a podcast.
Of course, the general South African media also require attention. In regards to the media role of the Chief Rabbinate, it is important to have both a proactive and reactive capability; proactively, trying to put out universal messages based on Jewish teaching and reactively when the need arises. I need that capability. To that end, my office has been boosted with the addition of Peta Krost, who is a media consultant. Peta is a journalist of many years’ experience and has done excellent work for me. I write articles for the STAR and the Independent Newspapers for Rosh HaShana and Pesach, and also deliver a Television message on the SABC for Rosh HaShana.
There is a deluge of communication that comes via e-mail, fax and telephone, all of which needs responding to. There are invitations to speak, to write or to attend an event. There are complaints and requests for help that come from communal bodies or individuals with personal problems. Furthermore, it is important to keep track of and implement the various projects that I am involved in. All of this requires a highly structured, organized and efficient system which as far as possible leaves nothing unattended. I have had the great blessing this year of finding an extremely capable and brilliant assistant in Tracey Ribeiro, who commenced her duties in mid-February 2009. I would like to take this opportunity of thanking Tracey very much for the outstanding level of work she delivers, as well as for her dedication to getting the job done no matter what. The newly renovated office will be of great benefit. In particular, the enhanced meeting facilities will be a much-welcomed improvement.
One of the matters that has been addressed and improved upon in the last two years is the security of the UOS offices as well my own personal security. Jews are targets throughout the world, and South Africa is no exception. The high profile of my office comes with security risks, which are exacerbated during times of crisis in the Middle East and my role as advocate for our community in the general media. In this regard, I would like to pay tribute to the outstanding work of Shannon Brook, my main protector who accompanies me most of the time and has a team of substitutes available to him. Shannon is in charge of the security at the UOS offices, as well. Also in this respect, I would like to pay special tribute to the CSO for their ongoing assistance to me, and also for their outstanding and dedicated service to our community.
I have been working with the CSO to assist them in their Project Jozi, the aim of which is to improve security at all Jewish installations in Johannesburg. I have intervened at a number of shuls in order to encourage them to accept the CSO’s recommendations for upgrades in their security.
Bill of Responsibilities
I would also like to report on progress on the project of the Bill of Responsibilities, which is a document that articulates the responsibilities that flow from the Bill of Rights. At the last conference I reported on this project, which I had then initiated. Since then, at a press conference, the Minister of Education and I announced the official launching of this project in February 2008. There was excitement in the media as well as the broader public. It can be a transformative project for the country. The purpose of the Bill of Responsibilities is to generate and create a culture of responsibility in the country. Part of the project has been to distribute a copy of the poster of the Bill of Responsibilities to all the schools in the country. The Department of Education informs me that this has been done.
The main aim of the project is to teach the values of the Bill of Responsibilities as part of the school curriculum. A teaching manual has been developed and the Department of Education intends to begin a process of training teachers nationally. I have approached ORT to assist with this project. They have put together a plan for teacher training and school management training in the values and principles of the Bill of Responsibilities for seventy schools across Ivory Park, Soweto and Alexandra. This plan will, please G-d, be implemented very soon.
The last conference report referred to the batmitzvah program, called “Roots” which operates as a project of my office. Ronit Janet is now Director of the project/The South African Jewish Board of Education kindly allows Ronit to operate from their offices and she is required to report to the Director of Division of Informal Education for professional input.
This project uses the batmitzvah year as an opportunity to bring young girls and their mothers into a warm and attractive encounter with Judaism, as well to unify all the girls across our shuls to feel part of the broader community. The program continues to expand, with the Cape shuls joining most recently.
The batmitzvah program is taught by the various individual teachers who are paid for by their shul, but what the Roots program provides is the educational content, framework and guidance as well special unity events. We are now looking to expand this to the barmitzvahs as well. The idea behind it is to use the “bottleneck” opportunity of barmitzvah and batmitzvah year to bring them and their families closer to Judaism and to becoming more involved in their shuls.
“The Torah Speaks in the Language of Tomorrow”
These words were used by Rav Mordechai Pinchas Teitz of Elizabeth, New Jersey to explain his philosophy of bringing Torah to America in the 20th century. He came from Eastern Europe and his central philosophy was to make Torah relevant for the new world. This is an important part of my responsibilities, which is to show the community the relevance of Torah principles to everyday life and to all of the burning issues of our time. Partly to fulfill this mandate, I have established a public speaking forum called “Enriching Tomorrow – Sharing Ideas for the Future”. In that forum, I have hosted a number of high-profiles speakers, such as Ebrahim Rasool, Graca Machel, Mamphila Ramphele and President Jacob Zuma. The idea behind the forum is to deal with society’s current issues which are addressed by the guest speaker, and then I have a chance to provide a Torah perspective.
This year was the very special Birkat Hachamah – blessing for the sun – which only occurs once every twenty eight years. Because of the uniqueness of the occasion, I arranged a communal davening and Birkat Hachamah services in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria and Port Elizabeth.
This event was preceded by weeks of education. One of the outstanding Arachim lecturers, Yoram Bocagz, lectured to all communities who wanted to learn more about the Birkat Hachamah from a scientific, halachic point of view. A large marketing campaign was mounted in order to draw people’s attention to the significance of the event, and a special prayer booklet containing the blessing was published by my office. The events themselves were extremely successful. In Johannesburg, there was a very large crowd of people, more than 2500, and in Cape Town more than 500. This event highlights one of the functions which the Office of the Chief Rabbi performs for the community, and that is to be a unifying force for the community to come together and be inspired on significant occasions.
Another example of a unity event was the recent Mandela Day, which was the birthday of Nelson Mandela. It was declared to be a day for people to do 67 minutes of public service by President Jacob Zuma. It fell on Shabbat and so I arranged with Ma’Afrika Tikkun to co-host a drive for people to bring goods such as blankets, clothing and non-perishable foods, for 67 minutes on the following day, which was Sunday, 19 July. The event was arranged at relatively the last minute, and the response was overwhelming. About 1000 people arrived on the morning to deliver goods.
The UOS celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. It is important to understand the significance of what the UOS does for our community, not only in terms of actual services provided, such as those of the Beth Din and Kashrut administration, but also in a more philosophic and fundamental sense. The UOS creates a “kehillah” of all of the various individual communities making up the shuls of South Africa. It is this fact that actually gives it the legitimacy, halachically speaking, to appoint a Beth Din and a Chief Rabbi, and to provide all of those vital services which are necessary for the foundations on which the community is based. This national conference together with its elections, and the representativity of all of the shuls who are members, give the UOS the legitimacy and authority to create one community of the many communities that make up South Africa. We need to work at bringing in the very few shuls that are still not full members of the UOS.
It is true to say that the UOS is the most representative Jewish organization in the country. We at the UOS have more paid up members and constituents, through the grass-root membership of all those who are members of UOS shuls, than any other organization in this country.
I would like to thank the Chairman, Mr Jackie Sifris, and the Executive Council for all of their support, encouragement and counsel, over the last two years, and also a special thank you to Mr Darren Sevitz, the Executive Director of the UOS for all of his dedicated and loyal work for the community. Darren works tirelessly, way beyond the call of duty, to the benefit of the UOS and the broader South African Jewish community. It is an honour to serve our special community, and I am grateful to the Union of Orthodox Synagogues for the opportunity to do so.