JEWISH COMMUNITY HONOURS PRIEST – KROONSTAD – OCTOBER 2013
A boyhood encounter with an Auschwitz survivor inspired Father Stephen Giles, head of the Catholic Cathedral in Kroonstad, both to enter the priesthood and to devote himself to building bridges of friendship with the Jewish people. Last week, a special function was held in Kroonstad to honour him for his the whole-hearted and generous support for Kroonstad Jewry over many years. The function took place in the home of Eve Goldsmith, one of the four remaining Jewish residents of Kroonstad, and was organised in conjunction with the SAJBD Country Communities’ Department. Amongst those in attendance were leaders of the various Christian denominations, local dignitaries, Jewish visitors from neighbouring Welkom and the remaining members of the town’s Jewish community.
Giles grew up in Perth, Australia, where he was engaged to assist the local rabbi in performing certain halachically prohibited tasks on Shabbat and Yom Tov. On one day noticing a number tattooed on the rabbi’s arm and asking him about it, the rabbi took him aside and related what he had experienced. This left a lasting impression on the boy, who became resolved to learn more about his religion and through this to reach out to the Jewish people in as many ways as he could. Since settling in Kroonstad he has, amongst other things, assisted with the closure of the synagogue and the full restoration of the new Jewish cemetery. He has been a regular participant in Jewish communal events, in particular the Yom Haatzmaut celebrations.
Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, Spiritual Leader to the Country Communities, presented Father Giles with a certificate of appreciation as well as a JNF Golden Book certificate recording that a tree had been planted in his name in Israel.
In accepting the award and thanking South African Jewry for the honour bestowed on him, Father Giles said that to be antisemitic and a Christian was a contradiction in terms, not least because Christianity was rooted undeniably in Judaism. In a letter of thanks subsequently sent to the SAJBD and the Kroonstad Jewish Community Trust, he warmly praised Rabbi Silberhaft, whom he said had a “G-d given gift of making we Gentiles feel included and at home in Judaism”.