Zimbabwe remains stricken by more than a decade of economic meltdown and political chaos, yet the establishment of a coalition government has generated a tentative mood of optimism amongst the country’s hard-pressed population. For too long, the visits of Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, Spiritual Leader to the African Jewish Congress, have focused on crisis management, assisting the embattled Jewish community in day to day survival in a disintegrating society. During his most recent visit, however, he detected for the first time in years amongst those he met with a cautious mood of hope that the country might at last be turning the corner.

Rabbi Silberhaft was in Bulawayo last week on behalf of the African Jewish Congress Zimbabwe Fund. During his stay, he met with the Jewish communal leadership and residents of the Jewish aged home Savyon Lodge and addressed a public meeting for the local Jewish community. He was joined for the latter occasion by Ilan Baruch, the immediate past Israel Ambassador to South Africa and the newly appointed Non-Resident Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia.

Rabbi Silberhaft remarked on how heartening it was to see how many Jewish individuals, whether in Zimbabwe, South Africa and even overseas, were involved in initiatives assisting the greater Zimbabwe population at this difficult time. A high-point of his visit in this regard had been the presentation, on behalf of the organisation Australian Books for Children of Africa, of second-hand school books to SGOFOTI (“Support Group of Families of Terminally Ill”).

SGOFOTI, an organization devoted to providing emotional and psychological support to the families of HIV/AIDS victims in Zimbabwe, was virtually single-handedly established and is now run by Ruth Feigenbaum, a former South African today resident in Bulawayo. Ben Margow and other South African Jewish expatriates now living in Australia were likewise responsible for the establishment of Australian Books for Children of Africa, which focuses on recycling books and empowering children in Africa to read. Book distribution within South Africa is largely overseen by Sheryl Furman and Lauren Klavansky (formerly from the Free State towns of Marquard and Bethlehem), with the latter working through the Port Elizabeth branch of the Union of Jewish Women.