Ohr Somayach The Light Fantastic

Rabbi Abramson with Chief Rabbi Goldstein, dancing with the Torahs through
a sea of children.

For the last ten years, Ohr Somayach Cape Town has been on the road. During this time, the congregation epitomised the wandering Jew — traveling from place to place, uprooting itself regularly, not really fitting in anywhere, but somehow still flourishing.

From someone’s living room, then a school hall, a cramped basement, and another school hall, the community has grown both spiritually and in numbers, and the good vibes and good times have continued to roll.

In early 2007, Ohr Somayach Cape Town found itself a beautiful shul building — albeit one with obtrusive pillars and walls, and corners in all the wrong places. Wholesale renovations ensued, until one warm summer evening in late December 2010; the congregation finally unveiled a home of its own.

Hundreds attended the grand opening. The air crackled with electricity, hearts swelled with pride, and knees buckled at the sight of Merle Rubin’s astonishing ‘light snacks.’

The occasion found the Ohr Somayach community not tired and depleted from the long, arduous journey, but energised and excited for the future — proud of what had been achieved and eager to continue the momentum. Far from slumping across the threshold, the community sang and danced their way, wedding style, into the new premises.

And what premises! The Byzantine ceiling, stately brass chandeliers, and antique wooden floor remain from the original building, refurbished and rearranged into a new open plan layout, encompassing a new mechitza, a beautiful slab of white marble around the aron kodesh and a fresh coat of white paint still drying on the walls. Grand and dignified, but not ostentatious; smart and sleek but also warm, spacious and inviting. A building that truly epitomises the community.

300 caretakers
Chief Rabbi Goldstein remarked on the smell of paint in his opening address, enjoining the community not to forget the excitement and newness in the air and to carry that inspiration forward through times that may not be as inspiring or new.

Rabbi Gavriel Abramson (who has helmed the Ohr Somayach CT ship for more than six years) was in a similar philosophical mood. He paid tribute to the community for taking ownership of the building of the new shul (“a building with 300 caretakers”), and for how far they have come in a relatively short period of time.

“We are personally thrilled with the progress that has been made,” he said. “The growth in our daily minyanim (both in numbers and quality of genuine prayer); the numerous students who have spent time learning in yeshivot in Israel; the increased observance of Torah and mitzvot, and the incredible commitment to chesed.”

Rabbi Abramson reserved special praise for Rabbi Dani Brett and his wife Nechama, who joined the shul two years ago with a mandate to advance the area of Torah learning. “The Bretts’ wealth of Torah knowledge and ability to convey the Torah’s rich wisdom to a range of audiences has been astounding, and something
that Ohr Somayach, and Cape Town in general, are very privileged to have access to.”

Happiness and light
Indeed, it is Torah learning which has kept the spark alive and the twinkle in the eye of this congregation, and is the secret to Ohr Somayach Cape Town’s ongoing expansion and spiritual growth. “A Jewish
community thrives when it provides opportunities for deep Torah learning,” explained Rabbi Brett. “It is the vehicle that transforms superficial rituals into deep and transformative processes, andgreatly enhances every Jewish experience.”

The ceremony ended with Rebbetzin Ruthie Abramson lighting candles to commemorate each of the attributes that make this community so special, followed by a (spontaneous) rousing rendition of Tov lehodot l’HaShem. Arms entwined, voices lifted, candles were in the air — it was neither syrupy nor sentimental, but rather genuinely moving.

As it settles into its new home, Ohr Somayach Cape Town can look back with pride on ten wildly successful years, and forward to a path of exciting growth. This is a shul set to continue sharing its “happy light” with all of Cape Town, highlighting the true depth, beauty and fulfillment of authentic Torah Judaism.

In addition to its Shabbat, festival and weekday services, Ohr Somayach Cape Town offers a wide range of Torah learning programmes. These include a Monday Night Young Adults Shiur, a Tuesday Night Pirkei Avot Shiur, Shabbat learning programmes, a daily Gemara shiur and a Sunday morning Beit Midrash with various study groups, as well as regular one-on-one learning opportunities. Then there are a number of well-attended “Jewish life cycle” events – a barmitzvah club, a monthly ladies Rosh Chodesh club and Chagim prep courses. Rabbi Brett has also been instrumental in city-wide learning programmes such as PBM, Dad’s Spot and the Chief Rabbi’s Beit Midrash programme at Herzlia School.