The duty to report to the National Conference of the Union of Orthodox Synagogues (UOS) is important because it involves providing a full and open account to the community of the work done by the Office of the Chief Rabbi.
At the end of 2016, it will be, please G-d, twelve years that I have had the privilege to serve as Chief Rabbi, a privilege which began on 1 January 2005. In December 2016, it will be thirteen years since my appointment was announced in December 2003. During 2004, I served as Chief Rabbi elect, which involved many duties already.
This is the seventh report that I am submitting on behalf of the Office of the Chief Rabbi to the National Conference of the UOS.
2. South African Society
An important dimension of the responsibilities of the Chief Rabbi is to represent the Jewish community and Torah values in the context of the broader South African society. Since the last UOS Conference, I was involved in representing the community during the period of public mourning in South Africa for the passing of former President Nelson Mandela in December 2013. I was involved in arranging and spoke at the Jewish community’s memorial service of Mandela on Sunday, 8 December 2013, at the Oxford Synagogue. I attended the State’s official memorial service on Tuesday, 10 December 2013, at the FNB Stadium. The memorial service was opened with prayers and I delivered the opening prayer on that occasion. It was a historic occasion, with world leaders in attendance, including US President Barack Obama and many others.
I represented the community at the State of the Nation Address in February 2014 and February 2016.
Another important dimension of my interaction with the broader South African society is in the area of interfaith relations. This takes many forms. I am an executive member of the National Religious Leaders Council (NRLC), which is the official interfaith organisation of South Africa, and I attend regular meetings and engage with my colleagues from other faiths. I was invited to be the main interfaith guest speaker at the Catholic Bishops Conference, in Swaziland, on 28 January 2014. This conference is the main gathering of all of the senior leadership of the Catholic Church throughout southern Africa. I furthermore hosted two symposiums for religious leaders, one in June 2014, with Rabbi Abraham Cooper of The Simon Wiesenthal Centre as the guest speaker, and a second one in June 2015, with Chief Rabbi David Lau, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, as the main guest speaker.
I have worked together with fellow religious leaders on matters of social importance, such as participating in a march and a rally against xenophobia in April 2015. There was another initiative led by the NRLC, which I participated in, and that was to meet with political parties to help facilitate a peaceful State of the Nation Address. These meetings took place in early 2015 and involved religious leaders meeting with the heads of the political parties, including the senior leadership of the DA, EFF and ANC. Although the intervention was not successful, it was an important example of how the NRLC, and my involvement in it, is an important part of interacting with the social issues confronting South Africa.
The most dramatic example of the NRLC’s engagement with social issues came in April 2016, when a meeting took place at Luthuli House between religious leaders on the one hand, and the ANC on the other. The ANC was represented by Secretary General Gwede Mantashe, Deputy Secretary General Jesse Duarte and Treasurer General Zweli Mkhize, and their delegation included other senior figures within the ANC. Religious leaders brought a message on behalf of the NRLC and on behalf of the South African Council of Churches, requesting President Jacob Zuma to resign as a result of the Constitutional Court judgment regarding the Nkandla scandal, as well as the allegations of state capture levelled by senior figures within South Africa society, including the Deputy Finance Minister. Following the meeting with the religious leaders, there was a press conference held in which we addressed all of our concerns about the future of the country and the importance for the resignation of the President. I subsequently published an article, calling for the resignation of the President.
3. The Rabbis
One of the crucial strengths of the South African Jewish community is a strong unified rabbinate working together in a spirit of unity for the greater good of our community. The rabbis are on the frontlines of leading our community and are crucial partners in all of my work. This partnership takes many forms. One example is working together for unity projects such as Sinai Indaba, Generation Sinai and The Shabbos Project, the success of which is due to the wholehearted support of the South African rabbinate.
On average, every four to six weeks, I host a rabbinical luncheon for the Johannesburg rabbis, which is always well-attended. At the luncheon, I invite one of our colleagues to deliver an address on matters of halacha, which is followed by discussions and debates relating to communal issues. This regular forum has proved an invaluable platform for me to interact with my rabbinic colleagues on a regular basis. With regard to the Cape rabbinate, I make sure that on my regular visits to Cape Town, there is always an opportunity to meet with the full Rabbinic Association so that we can discuss matters affecting the community.
Every year, I host a Rabbinical Conference for all rabbis. The conference provides the opportunity to unify the rabbinate and to debate all the important issues facing our community, as well as to give inspiration and professional training to all. This year’s Annual Rabbinical Conference, which is named after Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris, will take place, please G-d, in Israel as an act of solidarity with the Israeli people following the months of terror attacks. The last time the conference was held in Israel was in 2008, and the access that we have to leading Jewish figures in all fields makes the experience truly inspiring for the South African rabbinate, and has many benefits, both in terms of motivating and inspiring the rabbis, as well as providing a deep connection and understanding of events which are taking place in Israel, which are of immediate relevance to our community. I would like to thank Rabbi Ron Hendler for his dedicated efforts in working with me on the conference every year, and in particular, this coming year with the extra complications involved in arranging a conference in Israel.
4. The Shuls
In recent months, I have made a great effort to reach out to the chairmen and senior gabboim of our shuls, who do such outstanding voluntary work for the sake of our community, with the utmost dedication. One forum which has been very well received is a breakfast event to which the chairmen and senior gabboim are invited. Two such breakfasts have been held in recent months: one in August 2015, to brief the chairmen on the latest developments within the UOS; and a second in April 2016, when two international speakers from Sinai X addressed the chairmen on shul leadership issues. Both events were well attended and greatly appreciated.
In addition, Julian Nathan, the chairman of the Sydenham Highlands-North Shul, has played an important role with two new, significant initiatives. Firstly, inviting a small group of between three to five chairmen of various shuls at a time to an open meeting in my office to discuss what is happening in their shuls, and to brainstorm together ways of strengthening all of their activities. This process has begun with a few meetings, and will continue, please G-d, in the months ahead.
The second initiative was started by Julian together with the chairmen of five other shuls within our community: Waverley, Great Park, Linksfield, Pine Street and Ninth Street. This big shuls forum was put together with the vision of looking to share resources and find ways of saving costs. Already, through combining buying power, they have accumulatively saved R500 000 in insurance policies and there are more initiatives which they are working on. I am now assisting fully with this initiative and the UOS will be integrated with it to look for ways to support the shuls in these cost-saving initiatives, by beginning, for example, with helping to oversee the bookkeeping and financial services of the shuls in such a way that shared resources can help bring down the costs for everybody.
5. The Beth Din
The Rosh Beth Din and the dayanim are close partners of mine in leading the South African Jewish community. We meet regularly and work on many areas of shared communal responsibility. Rabbi Kurtstag and I in particular have been working very closely on the management of the UOS, but I will deal with that in greater detail under the next section.
One area in particular that we have worked on was the establishment of a Commission of Enquiry headed by Judge Phillip Levinsohn, retired Deputy Judge President of Kwazulu/Natal into a particular circumcision which took place, resulting in serious injury to the baby. One of the recommendations of the Commission of Enquiry was the establishment of a Brit Mila Regulatory Board. Working with the Beth Din, this has now been established and comprises Dr Richard Friedland as the chairman, who is joined by his fellow board members, Advocate Natie Segal, Rabbi Dr Pinchas Zekry and Rabbi Anton Klein. They have begun their work. I would like to thank them for taking on this serious responsibility. Their mandate, among other things, is to establish proper procedures for the practice of brit mila, both in terms of the actual surgery which is performed, as well as the qualifications of mohalim. A seminar for mohalim will be hosted in June 2016 and will be addressed by Dr Joseph Spitzer, a world-renowned expert in this field from the UK, who will be giving guidance on these matters to the mohalim, as well as to the Brit Mila Regulatory Board.
6. The UOS
My involvement in the general affairs of the UOS has increased greatly since the last conference. The chairman and treasurer’s report at the conference give much of the background, but I feel it necessary to also report.
In 2013, the Executive Council of the UOS became very concerned about the operational capability as well as financial sustainability of the UOS. The Executive Council approached Rabbi Kurtstag and I to take on a more direct management role and to form what has been called the Executive Management Team (EMT), with the mandate to help manage the organisation in its day-to-day running in order to set it on a path of greater efficiency, as well as long-term financial sustainability, and improved service delivery to the South African Jewish community. At first we were reluctant, given the extra burden of responsibility that would have fallen on our shoulders, but in the end, we came to the conclusion that we had no choice but to assist and to go beyond the call of duty, given the fact that the functioning ability and sustainability of the UOS is so vital to the very existence of the South African Jewish community.
One of the first things that we did together with the Executive Council was to bring in an independent management consultant, Luizet Ruzow, to assess the organisation and to make recommendations. Among her recommendations was a strategic restructure of the organisation. It was a strategic restructure presented to the Executive Council of the UOS and adopted by it. She recommended that the position of Executive Director be split and that we appoint a dedicated Head of Group Services and Finances, as well as a dedicated Head of the Kashrut Department. In the process of this restructure, Darren Sevitz opted to leave the organisation, and subsequently, Jarred Abelson was appointed to the position of Director of Group Services and Finance, and Greg Bloch to the position of Head of Kashrut. I would like to thank Luizet for her great insight and assistance throughout this process.
The reports delivered here today by the chairman and the treasurer, as well as by Jarred Abelson and Greg Bloch, describes the turnaround of the organisation. A very important snapshot is that of the financial position: in 2014, the organisation had a deficit of R1.6 million, and in 2015, it was reduced to R700 000. So far, 2016 shows a profit of R500 000 at this point of the year, with indications of maintaining a profit situation by the end of the year. The reports I have mentioned all detail the enormous overhaul that has been done to the organisation and improvements made to the organisation in terms of its financial management, efficiencies and systems. It’s important to refer in detail to all of the reports submitted at this conference. I would like to commend and thank Jarred Abelson on his sterling work in this regard and his financial management of the organisation. I would also like to thank Greg Bloch for his determination in improving the operational excellence of the kashrut department.
The common thread is how the organisation is slowly being turned around and will be stronger and more sustainable going forward. We have many plans for the way ahead, including the appointment of a dedicated head of new business for the Kashrut department. This will be coupled with a bold initiative to rebrand the concept of ‘kosher’, with a vision of attracting more people to eat kosher more often at less cost. Robbie Brozin has been assisting with these new ideas for ‘kosher’, and I would like to thank him for his support and involvement. Part of the vision is to improve levels of service delivery to the community, but also to improve revenues and profitability so that the financial burdens on the community can be alleviated.
These added responsibilities have placed great pressure on my time, as well as capacity. But I believe that it is the right thing to do for the sake of our community. The Kashrut Department, the Beth Din, the Office of the Chief Rabbi and everything that the UOS does is so important for the continued welfare of the South African Jewish community, that I have felt that I have absolutely no choice but to do everything possible to make this organisation more efficient, more sustainable and more outstanding in its service delivery to the South African Jewish community.
With regard to the period leading up to and during the restructure of the organisation, I would like to pay tribute to the bravery and vision of the Executive Council, in particular the outgoing Chairman, Jonathan Levitt, the President, Harold Novick, and the Treasurer, Gary Stein, among others, who have boldly led the UOS to face up to serious challenges. So often when an organisation faces serious problems, it is much easier to pretend that the problems do not exist and certainly to avoid the pain and difficulty of confronting them head on. The Executive Council of the UOS has been strong and resolute in its determination to confront these problems head on and has made bold decisions for the sake of the future of the UOS and the South African Jewish community, and I would like to commend them all on that.
At the same time, I would like to acknowledge the work of the Cape Council of the UOS, which, of course, is a separate and independent council, with whom I work very closely, as of course, the work and vision of the Office of the Chief Rabbi incorporates Cape Town as well. I would like to thank Ivan Klitzner, the Chairman, and Eric Berger, the Executive Director, for their support and leadership.
7. National Torah Learning Projects
Torah learning is the life-blood of any Jewish community. It is one of the most important mitzvos, and our Sages teach us that it contributes to nurturing educated, inspired, engaged and committed Jews. It is catalyst mitzvah which has the power to transform the Jewish People. I have therefore devoted much time and energy to creating the following projects to advance Torah learning in every part of our community:
• The Beit Midrash Programme – continues to be successful and is well attended by a significant percentage of the student body of the King David and Herzlia high schools, where it runs. The details of the Beit Midrash Programme were reported on at earlier conferences, but, briefly, its vision is to expose high school students at King David and Herzlia to text-based Torah learning in a stimulating and enjoyable way, so they will be empowered and inspired to make regular Torah learning an important part of their lives, even after they leave school.
• The Roots Batmitzvah Programme – is a national batmitzvah programme for girls throughout South Africa. ‘Roots’ sets the curriculum for the girls as well as tests them on it and arranges a number of unity events for all the batmitzvah girls, including, for example, a chesed morning at the Chevrah Kadisha in the lead-up to Rosh HaShanah.
• Sinai Indaba – is a grand Torah learning convention, which hosts the Jewish world’s leading Torah thinkers and leaders. 2014 and 2015 saw increased numbers of attendees, with 2015 attracting almost 6 000 attendees in Johannesburg and 1 700 in Cape Town. The Sinai Indaba YouTube channel has had 872 733 views and has become a noteworthy site in the Jewish world. What is significant about the attendees of Sinai Indaba is not only an issue of quantity, but also the wide range of people who attend from all backgrounds and walks of life, from the most religious to the most secular, right across the ideological spectrum of our community. Sinai Indaba fulfils its mandate to unify the Jewish community and to present Torah ideas in the most inspiring and relevant way possible.
In the last conference report, I went into detail to explain the philosophy of Sinai Indaba and Generation Sinai, but allow me to say, in short, that through high-profile mass unity events which are emotionally, spiritually and intellectually powerful, a society is impacted in a profound way. Sinai Indaba’s impact goes beyond the content of the lectures and extends to repositioning Torah in the minds of our community as the source of profound, relevant and sophisticated wisdom and inspiration.
• Sinai X – was an innovation for 2016, as the format of Sinai Indaba was reinvented into a collaborative Beit Midrash style event, where, instead of seating people cinema-style, attendees were seated at tables as they would in any yeshiva, and engaged with the very first Mishna of Pirkei Avot. The vision was to present the experience of engaged text-based Torah learning in an inspiring and empowering format. Another innovative element was added into the mix, with headphones broadcasting short talks by some of the top previous Sinai Indaba speakers with regards to the first Mishna. The event then had a mix of live speakers, recorded shiurim on the headphones, as well as debate and discussion across the table, all of which resulted in a unique and electrifying atmosphere that brought great inspiration to people.
• Generation Sinai – brings parents and children together to learn Torah. The flagship event of Generation Sinai throughout the year is just before Shavuot, when parents and children come to their schools to learn Torah together. There have also been a number of other educational modules that we have released, including a special one dedicated to Chanukah, and then cards for the Pesach Seder containing questions and interesting information, which the community enjoyed very much. This year’s Generation Sinai material is devoted to the bensching, and participants will be able to take home with them a family benscher with a brand new child-friendly translation, as well as ideas about the structure and the deeper meaning of the bensching to really deepen the experience. Schools throughout South Africa participate, as well as schools in many cities across the world.
• Avot 101 – is the newest project, and was launched at Sinai X in April 2016. Avot 101 is a multimedia learning platform that guides through the teachings of Pirkei Avot. It consists of essays, audio tracks and a collection of sources in their original form. It is a comprehensive curriculum to take a person through the learning of Pirkei Avot from start to finish. I recorded short podcasts and wrote short essays, which form the basis of the commentary on Pirkei Avot. I also translated a selection of original sources which form the basis of the various ideas that make up the commentary. This dimension empowers people to experience a real Torah learning experience and to grow through it with an advancement of skills. It will operate on many platforms: print, WhatsApp, an e-mail journey and a website, and is designed to create the opportunity for our community to learn the entire Pirkei Avot from start to finish. Pirkei Avot is one of the very basic texts of Jewish life. It is one of the tractates of the Talmud and has had a place very dear in the hearts of Jews for generations. The vision of this project is that if, as a community, we can take the journey and learn all of Pirkei Avot together, en masse, it will transform and uplift the community in every way possible.
• Torah teaching en masse via various media – takes place through a weekly e-mail and weekly broadcast on ChaiFM, as well as regular articles for all the local Jewish magazines, and a special publication over Yom Kippur. The Yom Kippur booklet has become a feature and is published in time for and distributed throughout the shuls for Yom Kippur. It gives me an opportunity to convey an important message to our community at a time when so many people are in shul.
8. The Shabbos Project
At the last UOS conference, The Shabbos Project was just being unveiled for the first time, to take place in October 2013. The response of the community was overwhelming. We did surveys afterwards, which indicated that about 80% of the community participated in The Shabbos Project, with most of them keeping Shabbos for the very first time.
The Shabbos Project in South Africa has grown in strength and has maintained its momentum over the three years that it has taken place. We had the best ever attended Challah Bakes in Johannesburg, with about 6 000 women, and in Cape Town, with more than 1 700. Some of the highlights in 2015 were the combined Ohr Somayach, Chabad street dinner for more than 1 000 people in the Savoy area, the wonderful Havdallah concerts, as well as strong activities taking place in the smaller communities of South Africa, such as Port Elizabeth and East London. The Shabbos Project has brought a real spirit of unity and inspiration to the South African Jewish community.
The news of the South African Shabbos Project in October 2013 electrified the Jewish world and I started receiving e-mails from different communities around the globe, expressing interest in participating in a Shabbos Project themselves.
In March of 2014, a video was published, in which my wife and I told the story of the South African Shabbos Project, with interviews and clippings from different people who participated and shared their experiences. The video became enormously popular and hundreds of e-mails poured in from all around the world, with people expressing interest in participating in The Shabbos Project. So for the 2014 Shabbos Project, also set for October, we invited the entire world to participate in the same Shabbos together with the South African Jewish community.
The response was remarkable, with Shabbos Project activities taking place in 465 cities in 65 countries, working together with 1 800 partners all around the world. These numbers grew exponentially in 2015, with the number of participating cities growing to 919 in 84 countries, working together with more than 5 000 partners all around the world.
It is impossible to give a full report that would do justice to what happened around the world, but I can share a few examples, such as the remarkable things which took place in Israel in the 2015 Shabbos Project, with activities in more than 135 Israeli cities. There were strong partnerships being forged with key municipalities, such as Ashkelon, Netanya, Tzfat, Herzlia and many others. In these cases the municipality became a full partner; for example, a municipality of Ashkelon hosted 15 separate events for The Shabbos Project over the course of the week, which was championed by the city’s mayor. In Tzfat, the mayor and the Chief Rabbi of the city led a grand Kabbalat Shabbat service, followed by a street dinner with hundreds of people. This was especially significant because Tzfat is the place where many of the highlights of the Kabbalat Shabbat service were composed, such as Lecha Dodi. The Ramat David Airforce Base was very involved in The Shabbos Project. It is the main air force base in the north of Israel to protect the country, with the most elite pilots living there, with all the support staff and their families. They held a unity Kabbalat Shabbat service, commemorative Friday night meal and a unity tisch.
In the United States there were more than 400 cities with Shabbos Project activities, ranging from a more than 3 000-person attended Friday night dinner on the streets of Los Angeles, to a small group of Jews in Fernley, Nevada, who gathered for that Shabbos. The woman who organised the event in Fernley wrote to tell us that she didn’t even know there were other Jews living in the city until she put a message out on Facebook calling any other Jews in Fernley to come forward, and six families responded. They all spent a wonderful and inspiring Shabbos together.
It’s hard to comprehend the scale of this project. One interesting fact that gives a bit of an indication is that in the two-week lead-up to the project, more than three quarters of a million people engaged every day on The Shabbos Project Facebook page.
For The Shabbos Project and the national Torah learning projects of Sinai Indaba, Sinai X, Generation Sinai, Avot 101, and so much more, I would like to thank Laurence Horwitz and Rosy Hollander for their brilliance and dedication, which has made it all possible.
One of the great side-effects of The Shabbos Project has been to greatly enhance the reputation and standing of the South African Jewish community in the Jewish world. This strengthens us in so many ways, such as being able to attract global talent to our shores, as well as enhancing the global standing of our kashrut department and other aspects of the UOS work.
9. Community Active Protection (CAP)
CAP, in November 2016, comes up for its tenth anniversary, please G-d. As I have reported in previous conferences, this is a project in which I have invested great time and effort because of its absolute necessity to alleviate suffering and to preserve viable Jewish life in Johannesburg. CAP has been blessed over the years with an outstanding board of community leaders and it is an honour for me to serve with them. Over the last ten years it has achieved, with G-d’s blessings, remarkable success in bringing down contact crime between 80% and 90% in its areas of operation. I gave a full and detailed report on all of CAP’s activities at the last conference, looking at all of the different divisions, including its legal division, its proactive intelligence division and proactive patrolling division. Please refer there for full details. For this report, I will limit myself to a few highlights.
Since the last conference, CAP has continued to expand and cover more and more areas in the city of Johannesburg and now protects about 250 000 people. Here is the map and list of suburbs covered by CAP:
The vision is to continue to expand CAP to include more and more areas. Despite an 11% increase in crime levels across the Gauteng province between 2014 and 2015, CAP, thank G-d, over the same period time, has achieved in its areas of operation, a decrease in violent crime of 10%, from an already much lower base of crime rate than the rest of the city. Here are the 2015 crime statistics for CAP areas:
In the last two years, there have been a number of important developments within CAP, including greatly enhanced technological capability, such as the IBase system, which has intelligence-based analysis software utilised to capture all information collected by CAP security personnel and other sources into a central data repository. This information is used by the CAP threat analysis department to analyse trends, identifying criminal groups and patterns within and outside of the CAP areas.
CAP works very closely with the South African Police Services, and in 2015 alone, spent over 1 100 man hours performing joint operations with SAPS.
CAP is in the process of launching a canine unit, with the training of four canines as the newest weapons in the fight against crime. The dogs will be trained especially to assist security personnel in an investigation process, including searching for weapons, explosives and tracking criminal elements. It is hoped that it will be operational within the next six to twelve months.
Community involvement within the CAP system continues to be very important, with more than 12000 calls being made to the ICCC, the CAP Incident Command and Control Centre, on a monthly basis. These calls, among other things, involve community members calling in regarding suspicious activity, to which the tactical units are deployed.
An important aspect of the work involves leading the community in regard to the area of our connection to Israel. I speak at and participate in the events hosted by the South African Zionist Federation, such as Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom HaZikaron.
I write a regular column for the Jerusalem Post.
Since the last conference I have hosted communal services across the country in July 2014 in the memory of the three young boys who were kidnapped and murdered, Eyal Efrach, Gilad Shaer and Naftali Frankel. Furthermore, I hosted unity prayer gatherings across the country in November 2015 as a response to the wave of terror attacks in Israel to remember the victims who died, pray for the recovery of the critically ill and pray for an end to the terror attacks.
11. The Administration of the Office
To run the office with the numerous requests to attend functions, events and meetings requires a meticulous system of administration and responsiveness. There is a constant stream of correspondence. People write to me from all walks of life, requesting help and intervention in their problems. I do my best to respond and help where I can. I try to connect people with appropriate organisations that can assist. We are blessed in this community to have so many and varied organisations addressing virtually any conceivable need. There are constant requests for meetings coming from rabbis, shul chairmen, other communal leaders and social activists. To manage all of this in a professional and responsive way requires great effort. In this regard, I would like to thank Tracey Ribeiro for her years of outstanding and dedicated service in ensuring that all communication with the community and beyond is done with the utmost levels of professionalism.
Part of the logistics of the office is also security, and in this regard, I would like to thank the CSO for their dedicated service. Security is unfortunately a very important requirement for running the Office of the Chief Rabbi, both from a point of view of protecting against a potential terrorist threat, as well as other threats that occur from time to time.
I am also grateful to the UOS staff for providing the infrastructure, not only through the functioning of the Office of the Chief Rabbi, but the Beth Din and the Kashrut Department.
12. Rebbetzin Gina Goldstein
Gina is involved in many aspects of the work of the Office of the Chief Rabbi. This involvement takes many forms and touches on many aspects of my work, and is, therefore, impossible to report on fully. What follows are some highlights.
She is directly and indirectly involved with the various projects of the Office. She was integrally involved in the formulating and planning of The Shabbos Project. She wrote the guidebook for The Shabbos Project, explaining to people how to keep Shabbos for those who have never done so before. Each year she addresses the Shabbos Project Challah Bake, as well as helps to campaign for the project by, for example, giving a speech to a group of King David moms encouraging them to participate. Gina is part of many of The Shabbos Project YouTube videos, most notably the one which launched the international part of The Shabbos Project in 2014. Gina is part of many of the planning meetings with Sinai Indaba in terms of speaker selection and other matters. During the time of Sinai Indaba, we host many of the guest speakers in our home for a Shabbos meal in order to welcome them to South Africa. Gina also accompanies me to Cape Town to host the Sinai Indaba in Cape Town.
Another aspect of Gina’s work relates to the rebbetzins. My wife has arranged a number of mini-conferences for the rebbetzins, such as in February 2014 with Dr David Pelcowitz, renowned psychologist from the Yeshiva University, as the guest speaker, as well as a Kids-Safe training workshop to help train rebbetzins in protective behaviour to prevent children from being molested. This was held in February 2015. In March 2016, she hosted another mini-conference, where new initiatives in the area of Taharat HaMishpacha were presented. Furthermore, in the same month, Gina hosted a brainstorming meeting in our home for rebbetzins to look at new ideas for their shuls.
Gina’s work sometimes involves delivering speeches at community functions, such as at WIZO in March 2015, on the topic of spiritual fulfilment, and in June 2015 she gave a speech for the Mizrachi Emunah batmitzvah girls programme on tzniut, and gave a Shavuot shiur in May 2015 for Sunny Road Shul, a speech for the Women’s Chabad Conference in March 2016, and other examples. On a weekly basis my wife hosts personal Torah learning groups at home, as well as teaching once a week at the Hirsch Lyons Girls High School.
Another part of Gina’s work is to host community functions in our home, such as in October 2015, where we had an event in our Sukkah with more than 50 high school students from the various schools’ Student Representative Councils to have a discussion with them about how to prepare for The Shabbos Project. And then in February 2016, we hosted the students leaders to encourage their involvement in Sinai X. Each year, we invite all of the Bnei Akiva madrichim for a Kiddush on a Shabbos shortly before they prepare to go off to camp. The students of the Yeshiva Gedolah of Johannesburg come virtually every month to our home for a Kiddush or a Seudah Shlishit. And every day we host my Gemara shiur at home.
Gina has written a number of articles for the various community magazines and has been interviewed by various media, local and overseas, on a relatively regular basis. My wife also accompanies me to virtually every community event that I attend in an official capacity, including Shabbos visits to shuls, when our family then moves for the Shabbos.
Most recently, just this month, Gina went as a city leader, with two other rebbetzins, of a delegation of almost one hundred South African women who participated in an educational trip to Israel, organised by JWRP, an international Jewish women’s organisation. The relationships established on the trip will be continued through regular interaction and shiurim back home in South Africa.
I would like to thank Gina and our children for their remarkable partnership, support and commitment in serving this community, without which I would not be able to do the work required by this Office.
I would like to thank the UOS and the South African Jewish community for the honour and privilege of serving as Chief Rabbi, and look forward, please G-d, to continue serving our special community with my best efforts. I would like to thank Hashem for His constant blessings that make everything possible.
Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein
Iyar 5776/May 2016
Chief Rabbi’s Report: UOS Conference May 2016