TRUE UNION OF COMMUNITIES HELD IN BULAWAYO
the 10 November 2003, at 5.30pm, The “Combined Faith Memorial
Service” was held outside the burnt shell of the synagogue in Bulawayo. The service was held to pay tribute to the synagogue ruined
by fire on the eve of Yom Kippur a month before.
Bulawayo Hebrew Congregation tasked me with the organization of the
memorial service and I was honoured by their choice.
We felt it was essential to hold this special meeting to thank
the incredible people who rallied around our small community in our time
of grief and it also gave the opportunity to provide closure for our
members. The local press gave some rather disparaging publicity at the
time of the burning of the synagogue, with their absurd speculations
that we were hording fuel as well as foreign and local currency in the
building, hence our distress. This
meeting took place with extreme pathos, dignity and respect despite the
cynicism of the ill informed.
was an extraordinary gathering to mark the passing of a very special
religious, spiritual and civic landmark.
The greater Bulawayo community’s response to the fire that
consumed the synagogue proves that the city is committed to the greatest
bonds of humanity, surpassing all faiths and differences.
service started with Carmel School Choir singing "Yedid Nefesh"
(Beloved of my Soul) and “Love in any other Language”.
notable dignitaries, spiritual leaders and some 500 members of the
Bulawayo public were welcomed by the President of the Bulawayo Hebrew
Congregation for over twenty years, Mr Allan Feigenbaum.
In his address he reiterated the insurmountable loss of the
synagogue to the Jewish community and the city as a whole.
He reaffirmed that the fire was an act of G-d, not arson, and
that he was overwhelmed by the response of people all over the world to
Chief Rabbi of Southern Africa,
Rabbi Cyril Harris, has not only made great contribution to Jewish
religious life but he has also played a pivotal role in civic
responsibility in the region and, indeed, around the world.
In a review on his published diary it was said of Rabbi Harris,
“His message is that of humanity’s concern for one another.”
Rabbi Harris has played an important role in the new, transforming and
reforming South Africa and he made time in his busy schedule to honour
the passing of the synagogue and reminded people that even though the
building is gone, it does not mean it is the end of the road for the
community. His emotional
address brought tears to the eyes of all gathered, recalling the time he
spent in prayer at the devastated shul. But he ended with optimism,
giving hope for continuity and accentuating the commitment of all
present to the future.
combined Christian churches were represented by Rev Noel Scott, a
greatly respected spiritual leader, committed to community and its
highest ideals and he read from the psalms.
Unfortunately, Pastor Ray Motsi of the Baptist Church was to make
an address, but he could not make it.
community has played an integral and vitally active part in building the
city of Bulawayo to its great strength.
They were represented by
President of the Muslim Society, who read from the Qur’an and extended
his and his community’s deepest regret, stretching out the hand of
friendship to the Jewish community in their time of need.
next part of the service was dedicated to lighting candles in memory of
the almost one hundred year old great and proud sanctuary.
Deputy Mayor of Bulawayo, Ald Charles Mpofu, was not able to come, so
Eric Bloch, a well known figure in Bulawayo’s civic community, stepped
forward to light the first candle in honour of the synagogue’s home,
the “City of Kings”.
the Bahai writings there are words which match the motivation to hold
the memorial service. "It is not for him to pride himself who
loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world.
The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens."
Iran Sohaili and her colleague both read prayers focused on the
significance of unity and community. A special visitor from overseas, Mr Stenberg, lit the next
candle in the name of the Bahai community.
Father Odilo is
known by many in Bulawayo, his warmth and humour making him a special
friend to all. His
relationship with the Jewish community spans many decades and on behalf
of the Catholic Church he was invited to light the fourth candle at the
Candle lighting is
a significant element of Hindu practice and to honour Bulawayo’s Hindu
Community Mr J Desai, its
president, came forward to light the third candle and he too spoke about
the importance of communities working together in times of distress. Bulawayo’s religious communities have always worked on a
basis of mutual respect and following the destruction of the synagogue,
a Hindu doctor, who tends to the needs of many in the Jewish community
came to the make shift synagogue at the Sinai Centre to end the Yom
Kippur fast. This gesture
is one of many that has proved the united front found in this city.
The fifth candle
was lit by Raj Yoga representative, BK Bhaviksha who also read a prayer
highlighting world peace and the significance of compassion in today’s
has taken care of the Bulawayo synagogue for sixty one years.
Starting his loyal service and friendship at the age of 19 in 1942, he
is an integral part of the community’s life.
He raised the alarm over the fire, then he and his wife managed
to save some of the library of irreplaceable religious books.
He came up to light the next candle.
Abrahamson, know to most as Uncle Laizer, was chosen to stand for the
Bulawayo Hebrew Congregation as its oldest member.
At 104 his life began in 1899 in Russia, and even now in the 2003
he is still one of the community’s most active religious members,
often conducting Shabbat and other services.
He was accompanied by some of the community’s youngest members
to light a candle in the name of continuity.
The last candle was
lit by the nine Jewish children of Carmel School, aged from seven to
twelve. This was lit to
validate hope for the future.
has recently been privileged with the arrival of a young and dynamic
Rabbi. Rabbi Natan Asmoucha has with him with his wife Katy and their
three young boys to make a meaningful contribution to the community with
their spiritual leadership.
Natan recited a memorial prayer for all who have passed on in the
community and spoke about the significance of the destruction of the
first and second temples in Jerusalem, calling attention to the fact
that life does go on and pointing to the importance of
rebuilding, perhaps not the synagogue itself, but to rebuild the life of
final address and vote of thanks was made by Rodney Lepar.
On the day of the fateful fire it was Rodney and Raymond Roth who
made the monumental decision to brave the smoke and flames in the
burning synagogue to save the Sifrei Torah. He is a man who values tradition and community based on the
strong foundation of family. He
spoke of the importance of tradition and ended the service with a
profound sense of dignity.
thanked all present for sharing in the day’s service. We ended with Carmel School singing the Zimbabwe National
the service some went into the synagogue to daven Ma’ariv, to recite
the evening prayers.
you all who made the day so special, those of you in Zimbabwe and
beyond. The fate of the old
synagogue is yet to be decided, services are now held at the Sinai
Centre and last week a bar mitzvah was celebrated there.
Life does go on…………
additional photos of the prayer meeting and memorial services held in
the burnt out Shul - visit the Bulawayo
Shul album in the Telfed Online Album section