My Safari to a Truly Engaged Community

My Safari to a Truly Engaged Community

From the Publisher

By Michael A. Morris |

In May, two of my daughters had graduation milestones. My oldest, Jacqueline, graduated from Washington University, and Lydia finished Woodward Academy High School.

(I must make a quick interjection and note that Jacqueline, several of her friends and half a dozen other adult children I know who graduated from university this May are still searching for jobs. Jobs for graduates are scarce, regardless of any economic statistics.)

I took some of my children on safari in the southern part of Africa for their accolades — certainly a very different vacation.

Whenever I travel to another country, I text Rabbi Hirshy Minkowicz of Chabad of North Fulton and ask him whether there is a Chabad rabbi I can visit. When I was in Cape Town, South Africa, I sent my usual text. As always, the response was “Of course!”

Michael Morris
AJT Publisher Michael Morris

Two days later I met with Rabbi Osher Feldman, who, as it turns out, is the chief rabbi of the oldest and largest synagogue in Cape Town, Gardens Shul. Clearly the congregation, which predates its synagogue, built in 1906, by more than 60 years, did not begin as Chabad; however, the congregants chose a Chabad rabbi about 10 years ago to be their chief spiritual leader.

In another coincidence — something Rabbi Minkowicz does not believe in; rather, he sees the hand of G-d at work — I had met the rabbi’s wife, Sarah, a native of Johannesburg, some 10 years ago when she was working for Rabbi Minkowicz’s summer camp.

Rabbi Feldman, when visiting the United States, was set up on a date with her in Atlanta that summer. They ultimately married and moved to Cape Town as new shluchim.

Now that we know it is a small world after all, let me share with you what I learned. Rabbi Feldman believes that about 16,000 Jews live in Cape Town and that they represent a little over 5,000 family units.

Cape Town has eight synagogues. I asked what percentage of the Jews there belong to one of these shuls.

That is when he explained to me that engagement in South Africa is different from engagement in America. Virtually all 16,000 Jews in Cape Town belong to one of the synagogues. He guessed that over 95 percent of all Jewish children go to Jewish day school, and virtually all Jewish children celebrate becoming b’nai mitzvah.

The same is true of belonging to the Jewish Community Center, engaging with the Jewish Federation and, of course, attending summer camp. Now this is an attribute to be commended.

Being Jewish in South Africa is not a question up for discussion.

There are questions as to how engaged each person is in the community. And while most of the synagogues are Orthodox, the majority of Cape Town’s Jews do not keep kosher, nor do they fully observe Shabbat.

Religious observance is open to individual interpretation, but being a Jew is not a choice. It is woven into the nishama of society, an attribute to aspire to.

My last question about the Jewish community was whether it has a newspaper. The answer is yes. What percentage of the community receives the paper? As you might surmise, 100 percent. What admirable engagement. For me, for the AJT, it’s an attribute to strive for.

Just think: A community one-eighth the size of our Jewish community in Atlanta has a newspaper with a readership loosely approximating our readership.

In truth, it is not just our readership that disheartens me. Atlanta has eight times as many Jews as Cape Town, but we might have only two or three times as many people who are truly engaged with the community.

Spend a few moments thinking about what our community would look like if we even had 50 percent engagement.

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