MAY 2008

Amidst a backdrop of worsening political and economic turmoil, a delegation from the African Jewish Congress, headed by AJC President Mervyn Smith, visited  Zimbabwe on 25-6 May to show solidarity with the local Jewish community and assess what its needs are. The delegation included AJC Spiritual Leader and CEO Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, executive member Ann Harris, Rabbi Richard Newman (Temple Israel, Cape Town), Irene Zuckerman (African Region – Union of Jewish Women) and Li Boiskin, vice-chairperson Cape Council, SAJBD. Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein participated in the Harare leg of the visit.

140 people, comprising nearly three-quarters of the remaining Jewish population of Harare, attended a meeting for the general community, which was addressed by Smith, Rabbi Goldstein, Rabbi Silberhaft and Rabbi Newman. Zimbabwe Jewish Board of Deputies President Sam Benatar presided over the proceedings. All four speakers stressed the importance of the community pulling together in the current times of distress in order to help one another and ensure the continuance of Jewish life. Afterwards, a monthly distribution of various basic necessities, such as jam, coffee, salt, toilet paper and cereals, took place.

In a thank you letter to Rabbi Silberhaft, President of the AJC Zimbabwe Fund, one of the recipients wrote: “You have brought us peace of mind and this doesn’t go unnoticed. One is so grateful for each and every item. It all makes the difference. I thank you all for making this possible. Tears are rolling down my face as I type this to you, so best I close now. Shalom from my heart”

While many Jews in South Africa have called on the Jewish community in South Africa to speak out against human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Jewish leadership was unanimously against this since it would only serve to focus unwelcome attention on themselves. Smith gave the assurance that whatever was done regarding Zimbabwe would only take place with the full concurrence of the Zimbabwe Jewish leadership. 

Prior to this, a welfare meeting was held between the African Jewish Congress Zimbabwe Fund and the Zimbabwe Jewish Board of Deputies to discuss what assistance was required for the needier members of the Harare community. 

Thereafter, the delegation travelled to Bulawayo, in the evening attending a communal dinner at the home of Alan and Ruth Feigenbaum. In her address, Ann Harris remarked on the “energy and integrity” that distinguished the Jewish community of Zimbabwe. She recalled the many occasions she and her husband, the late Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris ztl, had visited the country and the warm welcome they had always been given. 

Shachrit the following day took place at Savyon Lodge and was led by the Bulawayo Hebrew Congregation’s Rabbi David Alima. Delgates then had the opportunity to meet with the residents at Savyon Lodge over breakfast. This was followed by visits to the site of the old Bulawayo shul, which was destroyed in a fire in 2003, the new shul come community centre and the well maintained Jewish cemetery.

The Jewish community in Bulawayo, while smaller, has proportionately fewer needy members than Harare. A number of community members are provided with meals by Savyon Lodge, the city’s Jewish aged home.