‘Chai’, the Hebrew word for life, is associated in Jewish tradition with its numerical value, eighteen. That association has special resonance for Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft in 2011, which marks his eighteenth year as Spiritual Leader to the South African Country Communities. Through his work, he has indeed played a crucial part in keeping Yiddishkeit alive in some of the most far-flung localities in the sub-continent.


On 13 November - SABC2’s will be screening a compelling new documentary on South Africa’s ‘Travelling Rabbi’. Entitled ‘Shalom, the Beloved Country’, it will be flighted on the station’s Issues of Faith programme at 09h00. The 48-minute documentary was scripted and directed by veteran journalist and author Gus Silber. According to a pre-publicity release, it “explores the challenges faced by Jews in small country communities, and captures Rabbi Moshe's warm and strong relationships with communities that once boasted thriving Jewish populations”.


To make the film, a team from the SABC accompanied Rabbi Silberhaft on his pastoral work in the North West, Free State and Western Cape provinces, and also went with him across the border for the opening of the Rabbi Moshe Library for under-privileged children in Bulawayo. The documentary shows various aspects of his duties, including conducting services, visiting abandoned synagogues, seeing to the maintenance of Jewish cemeteries and, most important of all, providing a direct connection with the view Jews who still remain on the platteland. Some of the latter, in addition, have fallen on hard times and require the community’s assistance. Also shown is Rabbi Silberhaft’s interacting with members of other faiths and communities, in which respect he acts as the public face of South African Jewry as a whole.


In addition to the TV documentary, Rabbi Silberhaft’s varied and eventful career as head of the SAJBD’s Country Communities’ Department will in the not too distant future be the subject of an entertaining book of reminiscences. Provisionally entitled “The Travelling Rabbi: My African Tribe”, it is scheduled to appear in the first half of 2012, and will be launched through a countrywide series of activities and functions.