August 2005

Yehuda Danziger, King Letsie III and Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft

On Tuesday last week, a small piece of history was made when King Letsie III of Lesotho hosted a delegation of the African Jewish Congress at his Royal Palace in Maseru. This was the first time that the AJC had met with the Lesotho leader. The AJC, which operates under the auspices of the SAJBD, acts as a coordinating representative body for the Jewish communities of Southern Africa.

The delegation comprised Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, Spiritual Leader to the AJC, and long-time Maseru resident Yehuda Danziger. On first seeing King Letsie, Rabbi Silberhaft took the opportunity of pronouncing the blessing "...Who has given of His glory to human beings", a special bracha said on seeing any monarch with genuine temporal powers. He explained the significance of the bracha to King Letsie and prayed that he should be accorded the wisdom and ability to utilise his Divinely bestowed powers to promote peace and harmony in his kingdom.

Rabbi Silberhaft also presented His Majesty with a ceremonial shofar on behalf of the AJC. A plaque affixed to the shofar includes a quotation from Leviticus 25: 9-10, viz. "You shall sound the Shofar...and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants".

In the course of the meeting, Rabbi Silberhaft outlined the role of the AJC while King Letsie asked for the AJC's assistance in his country being included under Israel's Mashav programmes. Mashav, or the Israel Centre for International Cooperation, runs a wide variety of courses in over 100 developing countries, offering training in such disciplines as agriculture, community development, rural and urban development, medicine and public health. When Rabbi Silberhaft commented on the giant picture of Jerusalem on the wall of the reception area in the royal parlour, the king explained that his mother had been a great admirer of the State of Israel and had visited the country frequently.

Danziger, who settled in Maseru in 1972, is the only permanent identified Jewish resident in Lesotho. A former Israeli, he originally arrived in South Africa, but soon moved on to Lesotho because of his abhorrence of the apartheid system. Apart from a few years spent in the US, he has been there ever since, engaging in a variety of business ventures. His current line of business is to provide a tracking system for recovering stolen livestock, as well as to provide solar heating power for the numerous isolated villages in the country that lack electricity. Livestock theft is a serious problem in Lesotho, where cattle ownership in many impoverished localities remains the only meaningful form of wealth.

Although a handful of Jews have lived there temporarily over the years, either for business purposes or through being attached to the US Embassy, there has never been an organised Jewish community in Lesotho. During the apartheid era, a number of Jewish businessmen ran their operations there to bypass international sanctions then in force against South Africa but very few have been active in the country since then. The earliest Jewish presence in Lesotho can be traced back to the Second Boer-Basutho War of 1864-5, when German Jewish immigrant Moritz Leviseur was a member of the Free State commando that invaded the country