Delegation and community members in front of the Ohel at the Mozambique Jewish cemetery


Collage compiled by Vivienne Pivo


The Jewish community of Maputo, Mozambique, received a welcome boost last month with the visit of a delegation from the African Jewish Congress (AJC), the umbrella representative body of the Jewish communities of Sub-Saharan Africa. After many years of relative dormancy, Maputo Jewry has shown signs of revival in recent years and is in the process of reclaiming its century-old heritage following decades of political and economic turmoil in the country.

Activities took place over the weekend of 23-25 March. South African participants included AJC representatives Mervyn Smith (President), Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft (Spiritual Leader), Irene Zuckerman and Cecile Smollan, Israeli Ambassador Avi Benjamin (who is based in Luanda, Angola), Union of Jewish Women representative Jenny Kahn, Dalia Lichtenstein (representing the World Jewish Congress) and Lawrence and Daphne Miller (Cape Council, SAJBD). A meeting was scheduled with Mozambique President Armando Guebuza, but this had to be cancelled due to an explosion at the ammunition compound near the international airport.

The weekend activities began with a Friday night service, conducted by Larry Herman from the USA and held in the eighty-year-old synagogue. To accommodate all the participants, the service was held in Hebrew, English and Portuguese. Following Rabbi Silberhaft's sermon, which was translated in to Portuguese by Samuel Levy, Smith presented Mr Rogerio Levy Fonseca, President of the Maputo Jewish community, with a collage detailing the history of the synagogue. The collage was compiled by Vivienne Pivo, whose grandfather was instrumental in the establishment of the synagogue in 1926.

The service was followed by a Shabbat dinner for visitors and local community members at the city's famed Polana Hotel. In the course of the dinner, members of the local community were invited to relate interesting anecdotes and facts concerning their lives and that of the Jewish community in Lourenco Marques/Maputo. A copy of the collage was also presented to Alkis Macropulos, a local gentile who was responsible for having the synagogue returned to the Jewish community in 1989.

Following Moçambique’s independence in 1974, the synagogue fell into disuse and became a place for "bandits, prostitutes and drug addicts". At some point, it was briefly used as a church. Like other disused structures, it was also frequently broken into by people seeking to scavenge wood for otherwise unavailable fuel to survive the deprivation of the years of civil strife. Eventually the Red Cross, housed in an adjacent building, acquired the property for storage.

Macropulos' campaign to restore the synagogue to the Jewish community included running an advertisement in the country's only newspaper, Noticias, seeking support, and sending letters to government and nongovernmental private charities. At the dinner, he delivered a short message.

On Sunday, the delegation and community members visited the historic Jewish cemetery, whose earliest graves date back to the late 1870s. Prior to doing so, they were addressed by Smith, Ambassador Benjamin and Vivienne Pivo, who spoke on her family's journey to Moçambique and their involvement in the establishment of the synagogue and congregation. Benjamin related that his meetings with the Foreign Minister and various other members of government had shown "a clear willingness to do business with Israel, not only on an economic level but on many other levels". Extracts from articles written by historian Hyman Jocum were also read to give those gathered a deeper insight into the history of the Jews of Moçambique.

Smith took the opportunity to hand over a donation of fifty chairs, Hebrew English siddurim and chumashim, Pesach Hagadoth, Jewish books to establish a library for the community, a large amount of Pesach supplies for a communal Seder and a cash donation of US$850.00 to enable the community to purchase Hebrew-Portuguese siddurim, fans, bookshelves and other items for the shul. The much-needed repair of the ceiling of the shul was also discussed. It is hoped that the arrival of Rabbi Mordechai Makor will assist with the increase in regular services and communal activities.

Extensive restoration work has taken place at the cemetery through the AJC and the local community. When this commenced in 1992, the plot was a garbage dump and a homeless person was living in the Ohel. The walls were raised, tombstones repaired and re-erected and tons of garbage removed, in the process of which more graves were discovered. Water was piped in and trees grass and flowers were planted. Today, the cemetery is in good repair and is guarded 24 hours a day.


The rabbis of the Talmud placed great emphasis upon proper preparation for good deeds. The Talmud uses the phrase hazmana milta – preparation is most important. This is undoubtedly a great idea in all areas of life.

In Judaism all of life is viewed as being a series of stages of preparation. The rabbis in Avot characterized this world and our mortal lives as being the “foyer” of the palace and the World to Come, the eternal world of our souls, as being the palace itself. They admonished us to prepare ourselves in the foyer in order to gain proper admittance to the palace itself. So preparation is undoubtedly one of the key traits of Judaism.

Preparation comes in many different forms and shapes. The holiday of Pesach which is almost upon us requires a great deal of physical preparation, more so perhaps than any other holiday on the Jewish calendar. Cleaning the house, removing the chametz, baking the matzot, koshering utensils.

But Jewish tradition always demanded a spiritual preparation as well. Not only do we need to have clean houses, we are also to have clean souls and minds, a clarity of vision and a strong sense of holy purpose. It is far easier to remove the physical chametz from our homes than to dislodge the spiritual chametz that infects our souls, personalities and behavior.

While the removal of physical chametz and physical preparation for Pesach requires hustle and bustle, strain and exertion and many times frustration and impatience, the removal of spiritual chametz demands calmness, contemplation, concentration and a good deal of tenacity and patience.

There really is no shortcut to becoming a truly free person, in the highest Jewishly spiritual sense of the word. Intense preparation is required in order to achieve that goal.

In his closing remarks at the consecration of this synagogue on 29 August 1926 Chief Rabbi Dr Landau said, “there are only a few of you hear, but you nobly set yourselves a task and have accomplished it in the building of this little shrine.”

My dear friends, there are some people who when called upon to help build the future try to avoid the cost of consecrated effort and do not give their best. They fail to understand that they are building for themselves and for their children.

Since 1989 when the synagogue was returned to the Jewish community, through the efforts of Alkis Makropolis, a few of you set yourselves a noble task to restore this little shrine, “you have done well”.

3319 years ago, on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, which we celebrated this past Tuesday the first sanctuary which G-d instructed the Jewish people to build in the desert, was consecrated.

It is interesting that we are gathered here this evening, to rededicate this little synagogue, during the Jewish month of Nissan.

The opening word of this week’s parsha and of the entire book that we now begin to read raises a basic question. Vayikra means that God, so to speak, called and spoke to Moshe. The rabbi took notice that the word vayikra as it is spelled in the Torah ends with a small-sized alef.

The rabbis inform us that the small alef in vayikra is indicative of the great modesty of Moshe. That very modesty and humility, the feeling that one should not overly indulge in in their self importance, no matter what position of public importance one fills, is the main reason that God “speaks” to people and guides them in their leadership roles. The Talmud teaches us that God detests arrogance in human beings generally - and in public leaders especially.

My dear friends, in conclusion let us re-validate our belief in the sublime proverb expressed by the prophet Zechariah, "Not by might and not by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts."

To this eternal truth do we rededicate this synagogue. We should make of this synagogue not a refuge from the anxieties of the world, but a renewed source of strength for waging the struggle for justice, freedom and peace. To this end we rededicate this synagogue. To this task do we rededicate ourselves.

Invisibly embedded in your synagogue is a firm unwavering hope for the future. The forebears founded and organized a congregation, not for themselves alone, but for those who would follow.

On this special day, we rededicate your community, not simply in the faith that there will be a future, but also in the conviction that the future will be congenial to the ideals and values cherished by your predecessors and by you.

Let us dream of those who will succeed you - whose lives "will shine as the brightness of the firmament’’ because the religious imperatives of their existence will stem from this synagogue.

In the presence of those gathered here this Shabbat, before the Lord our God we rededicate this synagogue and your community.

We rededicate it, as did your predecessors to the Worship of God and the Service of Humankind.

Amen and Shabbat Shalom