Learning with and from Rabbi Sofia

Rabbi Sofia Zway

By Rabbi Greg Alexander

There are rare moments in a congregation’s life that are a reflection of where they stand.

For Temple Israel, these include a meaningful anniversary (we are going to be 80 years old soon), the passing of our founding rabbinical couple (the Sherman legacy lives on strongly), the installation of a member of the rabbinic team (we now have three full-time rabbis, one part-time and one student rabbi) or the opening of a new building (West Coast is our newest physical building and our online shul was launched in 2020 in response to COVID-19 and continues to be a gateway for many to connect with our services).

Last month we saw another one of these defining moments. Rabbi Sofia Zway was ordained as a rabbi at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, and I got to stand beside her representing our congregation with so much pride and naches. It represented, in many ways, who we are as a community.

Firstly, the importance of ongoing study. Rabbi Sofia is someone who has grown up in the South African Progressive movement, been a leader in Netzer, a teacher in our cheder, and throughout her five years of study in America maintained a close relationship with the community here. She and her husband Rabbi Brett Kopin chose to have their Chuppah in Cape Town last year, and we have all rejoiced in her life’s progression to now serving the Jewish people as Rav. And as our community continues to grow in number, may we grow in our thirst for learning too.

Secondly, the contribution that each and every member can make to our community. Rabbi Sofia is not the first woman to get smicha, and she is part of a growing number of woman rabbis serving around the world.  We have Rabbi Emma and Student Rabbi Andi here in Cape Town, and as we grow, we pray that number will grow too. More importantly we have worked to create a community where any member of any gender, age, orientation, race, whether born Jewish or chosen it, who chooses to take on the responsibility of leadership, can and should. As we see members of our community step up to be lay leaders, teachers, Jewish professionals, cantors and rabbis, we ensure the spiritual growth of our community. 

Thirdly, the centrality of rabbinic leadership. As much as the Jewish world has changed in the past 2000 years, we still look to our rabbis and rabbinic teachings for guidance.  According to tradition this connects us back to the original revelation at Sinai, and for sure it connects us —  vertically to our teachers of the past upon whose shoulders we stand, and horizontally to the rabbis around the world who give their energy and passion to teaching Torah.

Wherever Rabbi Sofia gives her time and energy as a Rav (we hope we will have the chance to have her and her husband working in Cape Town one day), we know she will bring the values and spirit of Temple Israel to the people she inspires.

Mazal tov to her and to our whole community.

Temple Israel www.templeisrael.co.za

• Published in the PDF edition of the July 2022 issue – Click here to read it.

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