Sara Benatar, Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft and Yosi Kabli


This yearís Purim celebrations north of the Limpopo had an unusual, and in many ways unique, flavour compared with those held elsewhere in the Diaspora. In the Zimbabwean capital, the combined Harare Hebrew Congregation and Sephardi Hebrew Congregation were joined by many Israelis who are living and working temporarily in the country. Even more unusually, the organisers and participants in the Purim events held at the local Sharon Primary School were almost all not Jewish.

There are today about a ninety Israelis in Zimbabwe, mainly working in the diamond industry, in the agriculture-irrigation field and in working with the Zimbabwe government in producing new official documentation. While generally uninvolved in local Jewish affairs, they come together twice a year to celebrate Purim and observe Yom Kippur. Following the Megillah reading by the congregationís lay reader Yossi Kabli and seudah in the Harare shul, a number of them put on a Purim play, a tongue-in-cheek update of the story featuring Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Haman.

Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft travelled to Harare for the occasion, both in his capacity as Spiritual Leader and CEO to the African Jewish Congress and in his capacity as President of the African Jewish Congress Zimbabwe Fund (AJCZF). The latter was established a few years ago to provide needy members of the Zimbabwean Jewish community with basic necessities and medicines. During his stay, Rabbi Silberhaft met with AJCZF chairman and President of the Zimbabwe Jewish Board of Deputies President Sam Benatar to assess the situation of the community and what its current needs are. The also met with the leadership of the Sephardi and Harare Hebrew congregations, the local Chevra Kadisha and various people in need. Although conditions remain very difficult in Zimbabwe, there has been a steady, if slow, improvement in the economic situation in recent years, including increasing foreign investment.

While there remains only one Jewish pupil, out of 200, at Sharon Primary School, the institution itself remarkably continues to run as a fully-fledged day school. Shabbat and festivals are taught, the school is closed on Chagim and pork and other obviously non-kosher products are prohibited. On Purim, the pupils and teachers came to school in fancy dress and both the senior and nursery school put on plays for Rabbi Silberhaft and the visiting Jewish leadership. The first took the form of a skilfully staged puppet show. Rabbi Silberhaft was impressed at how the teachers had not only taught Purim as a historical event, but had succeeded in conveying to the pupils its enduring relevance as a reminder of the need to combat racism and oppression, one of the many (david, not sure what word to use here) of a modern day Haman.