For the first time the Chief Rabbi’s 1997 message sounded pessimistic. He focused on the appalling level of suburban crime and horrendous violence that seemed to be endemic to the country. “It is impossible to pick up a newspaper without reading about murder and mayhem, rape and robbery, looting and hijacking.” He concluded by hoping that the violence did not rob them of their belief in the basic goodness of humanity created in G-ds image. There was also a message from her worship the Mayor Alderman Theresa Solomon (her predecessor, the Jewish mayor Patricia F Kreiner, had provided a message the previous year) and from Seymour Kopelowitz on SA-Israel relations since 1990, concluding that the present government was genuinely committed to the peace process in Israel. The jury is still out on that one.
Possibly as a result of Rabbi Harris’ call the previous year, the 1997 G&SPHC Rosh Hashana bulletin ran an article “Charity work in the Cape Peninsula” [i] mentioning its Sick Visiting Committee under Sam Gross[ii] which visited hospitals including Valkenberg, Stikland and those ill at home and asked for volunteers who, like Rabbi Steinhorn, would be prepared to help at St Luke’s Hospice and as Friends of Alexandra. With the emigration of their younger members, theirs was now an ageing congregation and they employed a social worker Shirley Greenstein[iii] to provide support, including short term supportive counselling and attending to the needs of the ill, the needy and the bereaved. Shirley did home and hospital visiting, liaising with Sam Gross who co-ordinated the Hospital Visiting Service.
Rabbi Jack Steinhorn by Morris Robinson Hospice helpers, Rabbi Steinhorn on left
The bulletin also had a message from President Mandela.[iv]
One of the most important milestones of our young democracy was the recent adoption of our new Constitution. It lays a firm basis for the religious and cultural freedom of all our people. The Jewish community has made a major contribution to the well-being of South Africa in every sphere - enriching our culture, helping build our economy and giving impetus to our intellectual achievements. The community has given our nation many who participated in the struggle for democracy, some at great cost and sacrifice. We know that we still face many challenges in transforming our country. It is my earnest plea that the Jewish community should continue to help us meet these challenges. It is my hope that the peace process in the Middle East will continue, and that it will bear fruit. Our experience has taught us that with goodwill a negotiated solution can be found for even the most profound problems.
President Mandela and Chief Rabbi Harris
As the shul’s “Charity work in the Cape Peninsula” article was probably only for Jews, this was unlikely to be what the Chief Rabbi or President Mandela had in mind! In the following year’s Rosh Hashana bulletin Chief Rabbi Harris spelt it out. He said they were living in an ethnic enclave which allowed them myopically to ignore the deprivation around them, a morally untenable position.
Reality insists that we accept a meaningful role as participants in South Africa’s future by committing ourselves to an intensive course of action to help alleviate the massive sufferings around us. To this end, all our congregations and Jewish organisations are being asked to adopt a project – if they are not already involved – in a specific educational developmental or welfare programme as a conscious activity to make a truly beneficial Jewish contribution towards upliftment”.[v]
As anticipated, Chapter 2 of the Bill of Rights in the 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa enshrined the principle of religious freedom.
15. Freedom of religion, belief and opinion
1) Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.
2) Religious observances may be conducted at state or state-aided institutions, provided that:
a) those observances follow rules made by the appropriate public authorities;
b) they are conducted on an equitable basis; and
c) attendance at them is free and voluntary.
Again in 1997 President Nelson Mandela contributed a message, wishing them Shana Tovah, saying that the SA Jewish community had made a special contribution in all its spheres including the world of business and the struggle for human rights. He remarked that their community was amongst the builders of their new society, a community of patriots determined to make SA realise her enormous potential.[vi]
[i] Charity work in the Cape Peninsula G&SPHC Rosh Hashanah Annual 1997 – 5758, 51
[ii] Sam Gross designed a badge sponsored by the G&SPHC with a Magen David saying Hospital Pastoral Services Cape Town Jewish Sick Visiting Association and he hoped that the new committee would visit patients on a broader scale.
[iii] She contacted congregants in homes for the aged, Highlands House, Sea Point Place and Good Hope Park, Greenstein, Shirley, “Social Work with the G&SPHC”, G&SPHC Rosh Hashanah Annual 1997 – 5758, 85
[iv]Message from President Mandela, G&SPHC Rosh Hashanah Annual, 1997 – 5758, 6
[v] G&SPHC Rosh Hashanah Annual, 1998-5759, 12
[vi] Message from President Nelson Mandela, G&SPHC Rosh Hashanah Annual, 1997 – 5758, 6