Speech at Herzlia 70th Anniversary Dinner
The key to our future as the South African Jewish community is only one thing, and that is a proper, authentic Jewish education for our children.
Madam Premier, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Herzlia School – Mr Gary Nathan, Head Principal – Jeff Cohen, Chairman of the Trustees – Elliot Osrin, Chairman of the Herzlia Foundation – Mr Eddie Oblis, ladies and gentlemen.
This is a very special occasion and I feel delighted and honoured to be able to share a few words with you. I was thinking that this evening is 70 years of Herzlia and that means, of course, that the start of the Herzlia Schools began in 1940. Just think about that for a moment. Think back to the year 1940 and what was going on in the world at that time, and think about the fact that the first grades of Herzlia School began in 1940, 41, 42, 1943, 1944 and 1945 – the world was burning. The Jewish world was burning. Our brothers and sisters were getting murdered in the concentration camps of Europe and here at the tip of Africa a group of courageous people were starting a school. You can imagine the leap of faith that it took, the courage to be able to face a world that was filled with so much uncertainty and so much fear. In a sense it seemed irrational to start building a Jewish school when surrounded by so much destruction; and now looking back can you imagine all of those who in 1940 began with such courage if they could have a flash forward to this evening to see the 70 years that came after them – to see all of the awesome achievements of the Herzlia Schools and the Alumni; the legacy of excellence that has been achieved in all spheres. Can you imagine what they would say?
They would say to us, all of those pioneers and founders, that it wasn’t irrational. And why was it not? There is an amazing passage in the Talmud when G-d Himself is about to make a leap of faith. We always think of ourselves making a leap of faith, but actually G-d Himself took a leap of faith when He gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai 3322 years ago. And according to the Midrash, the Talmud, G-d came to Moses and He said I want a guarantee that this Torah will be kept, I want a guarantee for the future. And Moses said, I will give you a guarantee, it’s the elders, it’s the avot, the forefathers. And each time, at each suggestion of Moses G-d refused and rejected that suggestion till Moses said I give you a guarantee for the future, and that is our children. And when Moses said that, G-d accepted that as a guarantee. And so the guarantee for the Jewish future is exactly our children and giving them a Jewish education.
So in retrospect there could have been nothing more appropriate than in those dark years of the 1940s than to build a Jewish day school and to give a Jewish education to generations of children in our community. What could be greater than that? And so here we are in 2010, seventy years later, and we look back with pride and with gratitude at the successes and the leap of faith and how it was rewarded – the leap of faith of the founders of the Herzlia Schools and how it was rewarded. We look back with a sense of gratitude at the awesome achievements of the Herzlia Schools.
But at the same time our greatest danger is that of complacency, because look at the blessings, look at the world – despite all of the problems and the challenges that we face – look at the world of 2010 so different from the world of 1940. And yet in spite of that there are serious challenges that we face that require the same leap of faith. When looking around the world we see our beloved State of Israel under siege to an international campaign of delimitisation, with the Iranian threat on the horizon. We see this great country South Africa suffering from poverty and lack of service delivery. In spite of all the great blessings and the wonderful spirit of the world, so much lies ahead in order to achieve. And in our own community we see challenges of assimilation and apathy and so, too, although we have to be grateful to G-d for the blessings of 2010 and it is so different from 1940, and yet our children who are going out into the modern world today require so much guidance and direction. Think of the modern world with its bewildering array of technologies and philosophies and life styles, opinions, information, value systems – the world is at the same time challenging and beautiful; it is painful and magnificent; dangerous, confusing and inspiring all at the same time and it is our children that go out into the world.
And so, what is the answer in 2010? It’s the same answer that it was in 1940, and it’s the same answer that it was 3322 years ago at Mount Sinai. The key to our future as the South African Jewish community, the key to our future as Cape Jewry is only one thing, and that is a proper, authentic Jewish education for our children. That is our future and that is why the success of the Herzlia Schools is key, it’s the gateway to the continued glorious future of the South African Jewish community in general and Cape Jewry in particular.
And so at this time on the 70th anniversary let us shake off complacency, let us shake off self-congratulations and let us re-dedicate ourselves to renewed levels of excellence because our children need us and they need what a Jewish education can provide. Because a true, authentic Jewish education which they receive at the Herzlia Schools is an education which provides them with a way of life and a way of thinking and to be part of the Jewish people because Judaism gives us the value system for how to cope with life and gives us the answers for everything that we need. In South Africa Judaism provides us with a value that it says it in the Mishna, “Beloved is the human being created in the Image of G-d”. Judaism provides us with the values of responsibility, of compassion, of care, and of kindness. Judaism provides our children with a sense of pride in what it means to be a Jew and what it means to be connected to the Land of Israel and the State of Israel; to realise that Zionism did not begin a hundred years ago, that Zionism began almost 4000 years ago when G-d said to Abraham, lech lecha, go. If there is one people on this earth that is not a colonial nation then it is the Jewish people in the Land of Israel where we have a connection which is longer than any other nation on earth to their land, a connection that goes back thousands of years. As we have said generation after generation – if I forget thee O Jerusalem. So we have to give our children that understanding and appreciation for what it means to be a Jew, what the Land of Israel means to them, what the State of Israel, the moral imperative to get involved and to build a new South Africa; the moral imperative to be loyal and dedicated members of the Jewish community; to build loyal, Jewish homes filled with Jewish values; to live a life filled with meaning and spiritual fulfilment in accordance with our values. And that is our future.
As we stand here today in 2010, seventy years after the school was founded, let us pay tribute to the legacy of the founders of the Herzlia Schools and summon up the courage they had in 1940. Let us summon up the exact same courage in 2010 and rededicate ourselves and say, we want to give our children a Jewish education and a Jewish identity through a Judaism which is authentic, which is strong, which is unapologetic, which is compassionate, inclusive, filled with Jewish knowledge and literacy, filled with Jewish pride and Jewish inspiration.
May G-d bless these wonderful endeavours and may G-d bless the Cape Town Jewish community through this wonderful united Herzlia Schools that has been a source of blessing to this community and may it continue to be so. We must redouble our efforts and go forward with confidence and conviction in the years ahead.
G-d bless you and thank you.