Last week I wrote about my incredible visit to Johannesburg. I feel blessed that this was my fourth time visiting that incredible community. In my previous visits, I came to Joburg (as the locals refer to it) and then headed to Israel. Due to my hectic schedule, I have never had the time to make it to Cape Town which is only a short flight away. This time I finally made it to Cape Town.
It was truly an amazing weekend. Thursday night I davened at the local Ohr Somayach Synagogue. Rabbi Shmuel Ozhek, the dynamic leader of the congregation, is a student of Aish Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits. He was not the only Rabbinic leader I met there. The Rabbi of Ohr Somayach Johannesburg, Rabbi Yechezkel Auerbach was visiting as well as Aish alumnus Rabbi Nissim Tagger, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Bircas HaTorah, our neighbor in the Old City of Jerusalem. I was honored to spend time with all of them.
On Shabbos, I had the opportunity to speak at three different institutions. The warmth of the community is outstanding. We were blessed to be hosted for meals over Shabbos by long-time Cape Town Rabbinic leaders, Rabbi Dovid and Rebbetzin Sarabayla Wineberg and Rabbi Dani and Rebbetzin Nechama Brett. Rabbi Brett is also a student of Rabbi Berkovits.
On Shabbos, I had the opportunity to speak at three different institutions. The warmth of the community is outstanding. We were blessed to be hosted for meals over Shabbos by long-time Cape Town Rabbinic leaders, Rabbi Dovid and Rebbetzin Sarabayla Wineberg and Rabbi Dani and Rebbetzin Nechama Brett. Rabbi Brett is also a student of Rabbi Berkovits. When I was saying kaddish in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia I was joined by Avi Levy. He had lost his mother and was also saying kaddish in her memory. So the two of us, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, said kaddish together in many interesting places. We became good friends, and I told him that after I was done with kaddish I would come to visit him. Finally last weekend we reunited. The highlight of the trip for me was a very special and emotional ceremony that I attended on Friday morning. At a dinner that Avi hosted for me Thursday night, he mentioned that they were naming a building at Cape Town Torah High in his mother’s memory the following morning. I told him I absolutely wanted to be there.
As I walked into davening that morning, I was struck by the name of the shul in which the school prays. It is called the Ponevez Synagogue. I was told that this shul was established in 1940 by members of the Ponevez community who at the time were unaware of the full brunt of the toll the Holocaust was taking on their families in Europe. As the facts started to come out, they rededicated the synagogue in their memory.
The prayers that morning were very interesting. We started praying in the Ashkenaz style and in the middle switched to the Sefard style of prayer. When I asked about that, I was told that whichever student leads the prayers, he is allowed to lead according to the tradition of his family. We then went down the street with Avi’s family to dedicate the building which was named “June’s House” and will be used for women’s education. The excitement to use that facility to educate the next generation of Jewish women was palpable. What an extraordinarily beautiful tribute to June Levy, of blessed memory.
The sum total of that morning started to hit me. During the Holocaust, Jews of Cape Town were building a synagogue to continue Jewish life. Today it is filled with young Jews who pass by the memorial plaque remembering the martyrs of Ponevez. In addition, the Levy family is continuing to build on what those Jews started 80 years ago. This is the secret of the Jewish people.
As depressing as the rise in antisemitism and hatred of Israel is around the world, to paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, we will never give in and we will never give up. Jews will continue to build. Jews will continue to educate the next generation. Jews will persevere. This is why AISHVision 2030 is so important.
Literate Jews who understand the massive contribution that our tribe has made to the world will uplift us all. We must make sure to follow the example of the Jews of Ponevez and build, build, build. We must build educational institutions filled with contemporary curricula to inspire all of our brothers and sisters. I am grateful to the Cape Town community and the Levy family for reminding me how important our mission is.