Does Zimbabwe Jewry have a future ? - 2004
Delegates to the Central African Zionist Federation biennial congress.


Does Zimbabwe Jewry have a future? This, in keeping with the ongoing downward trend in the Jewish community and the country as a whole, was the theme of the combined Zimbabwe Jewish Board of Deputies and Central African Zionist Federation biennial congress, which took place on 4-5 September in Harare. This was the second consecutive occasion in which the two organizations had held a joint conference, with delegates from nearly all the 450-strong community’s Jewish organizations attending.
South African participants at the conference were SAJBD National Chairman Michael Bagraim, who delivered the keynote address at the opening, Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, Spiritual Leader to the African Jewish Congress, Irene Zuckerman, chairperson of the African Region, International Council of Jewish Women and Mark Notelovitz, National Chairman of the Community Security Organisation. Both Bagraim and Rabbi Silberhaft emphasized the need for serious rationalization and consolidation to take place within the Jewish communal structure if the community was to survive the current crisis.
In his report Peter Sternberg, President of the Zimbabwe Jewish Board of Deputies and a Vice-CHAIRMAN of the African Jewish Congress (AJC), gave an overview of the work of the ZJBD, including its recently concluded restoration project for all the country Jewish cemeteries. Because of escalating costs and because the day-to-day workload no longer warranted meeting those increases in expenditure, he said, it had been necessary to close the ZJBD’s offices in both Harare and Bulawayo earlier that year. To ensure the continued functioning of the ZJBD, certain duties were being split and this would continue for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, inter-religious relationships were positive, and Zimbabwe Jewry remained relatively untouched by anti-Semitism.
Interviewed by the S A Jewish Report after the conference, Sternberg said that it was imperative that Jewish organizations begin running along proper business lines business instead of carrying on as before and hoping for the best. While pointing out certain instances in which the community was starting to adapt to the challenges and stressing the importance of the assistance given by the AJC, and Rabbi Silberhaft in particular, to Zimbabwe Jewry, he was careful not to downplay the difficulties the community was facing. The reality, he said, was that most young people had already left, the elderly members remaining were either also leaving or passing away and Jewish immigration had dried up completely.
“It is very difficult to be optimistic in this climate. We can only hope that we can manage to keep things going for the foreseeable future” he said.
Rabbi Silberhaft, who also officiated at the Shabbat services, urged people not to bring their despondency with them into shul but rather to use going to shul as an opportunity to find renewed strength to face up to their problems. Difficult as the situation had become, it should be understood, and accepted, as part of G_d's masterplan, he said. Isaac Menashe, co-president of the Central Zionist Organisation appealed for more volunteers to come forward to ensure that Zionist activities in the country continued whilst paying tribute to the few dedicated people, particular from WIZO, who continued to shoulder the burden. Referring to the ongoing terrorist campaign in Israel, he stressed the need for every Jewish community in the Diaspora to show solidarity.
“Israel’s most permanent and vociferous supporters should be the Jewish Diaspora and that includes Zimbabwe, no matter how small we may be” he said.
A message of solidarity and good wishes was read out on behalf of African Jewish Congress President Mervyn Smith, who was unable to attend the conference. Smith wrote that the “unflagging devotion” of the proud Zimbabwe Jewish community to maintain its links with Judaism and Israel was “a remarkable example to all of us”.
Also giving reports were representatives of the Sephardi and (Ashkenazi) Harare Hebrew Congregations, Union of Jewish Women, WIZO and the Sharon School and Harare Hebrew Nursery School. In Bulawayo, drastically reduced numbers have already led to the amalgamation of all ladies organizations into a single Jewish Women’s Communal League. The Sephardi and Harare congregations again held separate Rosh Hashana services this year but will come together for Yom Kippur. Unlike Bulawayo, which despite having a smaller Jewish community still has the services of a rabbi, neither Harare congregations currently has a spiritual leader.


While only 19 of Sharon’s 200 pupils are of full Jewish parenthood, with another eleven having a Jewish father, the school enjoys a high reputation. 200 interviews being conducted for thirty 2005 Grade 1 places. Bertie Bondie, chairman of the Governing Body of Sharon, described the serious clash that had occurred between the Ministry of Education and all private schools, with the latter demanding that fees levied could not exceed the amount prescribed by the government. This had necessitated seeking donations to ensure that monies required by the school over and above that laid down by the Ministry would be forthcoming. Bondi attributed the Ministry’s stance to muscle flexing with a view to catching votes.