Michael Galaun - Mervyn Smith and Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft


Nearly a hundred people, including a 14-person delegation from the African Jewish Congress (AJC), participated in a rousing rededication ceremony of the Lusaka synagogue on 29 January. The resounding success of the occasion underlined how the Zambian Jewish community, after decades of steadily declining to the point where organised Jewish life came close to ceasing altogether, is today experiencing an unexpected revival, both in terms of increasing numbers and renewed communal activities.


Mervyn Smith, a former president of the SAJBD who has headed the AJC since its founding in 1993, described the ceremony as having been "an extremely moving recommitment to fostering anew the once flourishing Jewish life in Zambia". The part the AJC delegation had played in its success, he said, had shown once again how important AJC contacts were in maintaining Jewish solidarity in Southern Africa.  


The welcome and introductory message was given by Michael Galaun, President of the Council for Zambian Jewry. Galaun paid tribute to the community's founders, and also warmly thanked the members of the AJC delegation for being present.


One of the speakers was Simon Zukas, a veteran political leader who played an important role in Zambia's struggle for independence from Great Britain during the 1950s. Zukas expressed the hope that the renovated synagogue would "represent the proud Jewish heritage in Zambia's history" and stand as a reminder to all of the Jewish contribution to the country, something that had begun in the closing years of the 19th century and continued through to the present day. Zukas mentioned the Gersh, Galaun, Rabb, Susman and Wulfsohn families as examples of Jews who had helped build the Zambian economy. He further noted the impressive contribution the Council for Zambian Jewry and other Jewish individuals had made to local charitable initiatives, including the distribution of hundreds of wheel-chairs to disabled Zambians (including war veterans) and assisting Hospices.


Smith congratulated the local Jewish communal leadership for their efforts in ensuring that Jewish life continued and on its success in the current revival of the community and the shul. He pledged the ongoing support of the AJC in the continuation of these efforts. 


Rabbi Silberhaft exhorted Zambian Jewry to continue the work of the community's pioneers. 


"Your 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" he said.


Ann Harris, who has had a long association with the Zambian Jewish community on a number of previous occasions, directed her stirring address specifically to the eighteen children present. She spoke of the difficulties and challenges of living in a small community and of the added responsibility of maintaining one's Jewish identity in such a situation.   


Local residents Gus Liebowitz (Kitwe) and Leslie Szeftel (Lusaka) recited prayers for Israel and Zambia respectively. There was also a ceremonial lighting of a memorial lamp in memory of all deceased members of the congregation.


Prior to the ceremony, the AJC delegation visited the Mother of Mercy Hospice - Chilanga, one of a number of hospices that the Lusaka Hebrew Congregation supports. Dr Michael Bush, a member of the congregation and the recipient in 2004 of the OBE for his services to HIV/AIDS victims and their families in Zambia, is honorary medical supervisor of the institution.


The following day, the delegation visited the two Jewish cemeteries, located in the general cemetery (which today contains the graves of tens of thousands of HIV/AIDS victims). This was followed by a tour of the house of Kenneth Kaunda, who lived there before he became the first President of the Republic of Zambia.


The renewal of Jewish settlement in Zambia is in part attributable to the fact that the country's railways have been taken over on a 99-year lease by an Israeli firm, as well as to the current strong price of copper. A number of American Jews connected with the local US Embassy were also in attendance at the rededication ceremony.

Ivan Levy - South Africa, Simon Zukas - Zambia, John Rabb - South Africa and Mervyn Smith

Mervyn Smith addressing the gathering

Ann Harris - Hermanus, South Africa

Ann Harris addressing the "next generation"

Gus Liebowitz - Kitwe and Leslie Szeftel - Lusaka

Delegation at the house of Kenneth Kaunda