By SA Jewish Post
On Friday night, Rabbi Osher Feldman, spiritual leader of the Gardens Synagogue, ascended the pulpit and greeted congregants by exclaiming, tongue-in-cheek, “Good Yomtov!”
The occasion that had drawn the record turnout of over 1200 was the second anniversary of Friday Night Live, an initiative that is held monthly to encourage the community to attend shul.
Special guest at the event was Western Cape Premier Helen Zille who spoke at a dinner afterwards of her Jewish roots – two of her grandparents were Jewish.
Obviously familiar with a number of Yiddish expressions, she referred to family get-togethers in Germany with “the whole mishpocheh” – both the Christian and Jewish sides – much to the audience’s amusement.
She also described the children sitting behind her as “nachas machines.”
At question time, Zille covered a range of topics, including her excellent relationship with President Jacob Zuma, the ups and downs of a politician’s life and her amazement that Minister of Public Enterprises Barbara Hogan and president of the ANC Youth Leader Julius Malema, could co-exist in the same party.
Since the event took place on Friday 13, the Premier noted in her speech that 13 was a lucky number in Judaism, providing several examples of its significance.
She also spoke of the important role – in history and today – of religious leaders and religious communities in upholding rights and freedoms across faiths. She made particular reference to the work of Helen Suzman and the Progressive Party, which had been formed 50 years previously to the day.
Zille also made the specific point that the party – then and now – owed a lot to Jewish support.
Introducing Zille, South African Jewish Board of Deputies’ President Michael Bagraim, noted that in the months since her election as premier, “we have seen a whirlwind of activity and certainly have experienced enormous growth in governance.”
He referred to a paragraph in Pirkei Avot in which we are told to keep our distance from government should it deviate from the ethics of our teachings.
“As I stand here tonight I can safely state that with Premier Helen Zille at the helm of the Western Cape government, our ethics are certainly intact and we do not need to keep our distance.”
Each Friday Night Live has a different theme, with a brocha after the services, which include those catering for teenagers and children. This time congregants and visitors enjoyed “Sushi and Scotch” in a magical atmosphere under a marquee in the Company Gardens adjacent to the Shul, known as the Mother Synagogue as it is the oldest in the country, having been founded in 1841.
Since being initiated at the Gardens Synagogue two years ago, Friday Night Live has been adopted by Shuls around the world, including Cape Town’s West Coast, Johannesburg, Sydney, and Connecticut. At the service, the rabbi launched what he termed “the next step” – “Super Shabbos,” a similar undertaking focusing on creating a family atmosphere at Shul on Shabbos morning.
Noting the increase in membership over the last year of close to 100 individuals, he said that the number of young people and teenagers becoming involved in the Shul was “very positive and encouraging.”
The rabbi referred to the “Ruach” at the dinner as “something special” and akin to “a family Simchah,” while the anniversary celebration was described by participants as “probably one of the most amazing Friday nights in Cape Town’s history.”