This is the season of political conventions. Over the next few months the Republican and Democratic parties in the United States will gather at spectacular conventions to rally in support of their respective presidential candidates as America heads towards elections in November. In South Africa, the ANC prepares for its 53rd conference amidst a fierce battle for the presidency of the organization and of the country. Political conventions are held throughout the democratic world, reflecting a deep psychological need to gather in large numbers to debate, to be inspired, and, of course, to rally the party faithful on the journey forward.
This phenomenon is not unique to politics. It is found in other spheres as well. Take a wedding, for example. Theoretically, the bride and groom could get married with just a few people present, and yet grand wedding parties are ubiquitous. A wedding banquet, with its speeches, dancing and other ceremonies, is an opportunity for people to come together to pay tribute to the couple and to the institution of marriage, as well as to celebrate and reaffirm the bonds between family and friends.
There is a deep human need to come together to celebrate and reaffirm the values and ideals we hold precious, and to unify around a shared moral vision. This imperative is expressed by the mitzvah of the pilgrim festivals, when the entire nation of Israel thronged to the Temple in Jerusalem, on Pesach, Shavuot and Succot, to celebrate the precious values represented by these festivals—freedom, the Divine revelation of the Torah, and the joy of Divine protection, respectively. The streets of Jerusalem and the Temple mount were filled with the bustle and excitement of an entire nation mobilized around their history and moral vision for the future. Today the commandment to ascend to Jerusalem on these festivals does not apply because the Temple has yet to be rebuilt; but on Yom Tov we gather in large numbers in our synagogues across the globe to celebrate and reaffirm the values sacred to us. There is power in numbers. There is strength and inspiration in communities uniting in celebration of shared values.
In two weeks’ time South African Jewry will rally together in cities across the country for our annual national convention, Sinai Indaba. “Indaba” is the Zulu word for a discussion at the gathering of the tribe, and it is truly a spectacular convention, with leading international Jewish thinkers sharing fascinating Torah insights on family, spirituality, Israel, politics, happiness, and more. Even with its scholarly firepower, Sinai Indaba is not only about an intense intellectual experience but about the emotional and spiritual energy and cohesive power which come from being part of a great Torah convention which rallies a community.
So often we lose our sense of direction and inspiration, as individuals and as a nation. We all need to rally together around a shared vision, which is unifying, inspiring and life-giving. And that is what Sinai Indaba is about. It celebrates, reaffirms and strengthens the moral vision of some of the core values which form the pillars of South African Jewry. One such value is unity. At Sinai Indaba, Jews of every kind participate, including Jews from national-religious, Haredi and Chassidic communities, as well as traditional and secular Jews, those who are affiliated members of shuls and those who are not. All come together to share the same space, hear the same lectures, eat the same food and, most importantly, connect with fellow Jews, transcending the barriers which usually lead to fragmentation in the Jewish world.
The other aspect of the moral vision which is reaffirmed, explored and celebrated at Sinai Indaba is that the Torah’s wisdom and values are relevant and inspiring for all times. The guiding principle of the convention is that Torah is not merely a religion, confined to the transcendent or the ceremonial, but rather is an all-encompassing way of thinking and living. The philosophy of Sinai Indaba is the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot which states, “Turn it [the Torah] over and over for everything is in it,” and the Midrash which says that G-d “looked into the Torah and created the world.” Torah is indeed the blueprint for every facet of human existence. Through His Torah, G-d teaches us a way of thinking and living which has the ability to transform and sanctify all human endeavors—medicine, government, psychology, history, agriculture, economics and politics. The Torah offers us the framework with which to create a loving marriage and nurture children, to be ethical in business, to be sensitive in our interpersonal relationships and to be compassionate and generous with those in need, to run a modern economy and a judicial system, and to relate to G-d and lead a meaningful life, connecting to the ultimate truth.
Sinai Indaba brings together a diverse mix of speakers who have the knowledge, experience and eloquence to enlighten and inspire participants from different levels of education and religious observance, representing the depth and breadth of the Torah’s wisdom. For example, at this year’s convention, Rabbi Dr. David Pelcovitz, renowned psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University, will speak about how Torah values inform and guide us on marriage, parenting and emotional wellbeing; David Weiss, screenwriter for some of the most famous Hollywood movies including Shrek II and The Smurfs, will speak about life as a Torah Jew in Hollywood; Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a leading analyst of the Middle East, will speak about the geopolitical and military situation of Israel; Rabbi Yissocher Frand, eminent Rosh Yeshiva at Ner Yisrael Yeshiva in Baltimore will speak about Torah ethics and spirituality and the Jewish mission; and many more. The common feature uniting this rich array of topics and speakers is the acceptance of the basic tenets of Judaism as defined by the 13 principles of faith set out by the Talmud and codified by the Rambam. At the heart and soul of Sinai Indaba is the principle that G-d gave us His Torah for all times, all places and all circumstances; and, therefore, its breadth and depth are limitless, as is its capacity to inspire, enlighten and guide Jews in every generation.