Lag B’Omer 5781 at Temple Israel

The topic of our Difficult Fireside Conversations for this year’s Lag B’Omer celebrations was Lemba and Judaism in South Africa.

Rabbi Malcolm interviewed Dr Mahlodi Mantlha and Ishe Oded Stephen Maramwidze. Mahlodi is a member of Temple Israel and has roots in the Lemba community. She is a member of the Hamisi Clan of the Lemba Nation. Oded is of the Dumah Clan of the Lemba Nation and as a leader of the community bears the title Ishe. He is from Zimbabwe and based in Johannesburg.

Mahlodi and Ishe Oded discussed the history of the Lemba people, their rituals and liturgy and their connections to, and interaction with the South African Jewish community, both Progressive and Orthodox. The contentious topic of the necessity to complete an Introduction to Judaism course in order to become members of the broader Jewish community was discussed. It was pointed out that there is a difference of opinion amongst the Lemba about the need to formalise their Jewish status.

The speakers also talked about the Lemba community’s relationship with the State of Israel. Ishe Oded described the Lemba’s desire to make aliyah and contribute positively to the Jewish state, and mentioned the dream of establishing a Lemba school in Israel. It would admit students from other Jewish communities, from the Arab community and other religious or ethnic groups as well as Lemba students, thereby actively expressing the idea of unity within diversity.

The Lag B’Omer discussion with Ishe Oded and Mahlodi was really wonderful, and insightful. It was great to see these two Jewish worlds come together, displaying respect for each other and listening to the other without the need to be right or prove anything. I’m proud of the progressive community for showing respect and not dismissing.” – Jessica Jantjies.

The discussion was followed by a (virtual) Fireside Song Session led by Rabbi Emma Gottlieb, Rabbi Sa’ar Shaked (via video), Will Rivlin and Hannah Taylor.

Temple Israel

• Published in the PDF edition of the June 2021 issue – Download here.

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