By RABBI EMMA GOTTLIEB
In my five years in Cape Town, I’ve had opportunities to get to know the ins and outs of our unique and special Jewish community. We are small but strong. We are tight-knit. And we are diverse. Often, when we talk of the Jewish community in Cape Town, we sadly focus on our differences. We have different ways of understanding and practising Judaism. We have different political leanings. We have different world-views. We have different views on Israel. We have different cultural backgrounds. We speak different languages. We come from different parts of the world. To put it plainly, there are a lot of things that could divide us.
Recently we were reminded with excruciating clarity that what unites us all is far clearer than what might divide us. We are Jews. No matter how we see ourselves, how we identify ourselves, how we group ourselves, or label one another, there are times when, for better or for worse, we are only seen by others as one thing and one thing alone: Jewish. And on a day like October 7th, and in the week that have followed that horrible day, as I’m writing this, we learned – if we didn’t already know – that nothing that could divide us matters half as much as what we share.
This dark period in Jewish history will be remembered long after we are gone. But it won’t only be remembered for the horrors. It will also be remembered for the unity. We will remember how we reached out to one another. How we supported one another. How we prayed together and sang together and cried together. How we bonded over dark humour. We will remember how we checked in with one another. How we kept one another safe. How we came together as one Jewish community to say in one clear and consistent voice: Am Israel Chai.
This week, I am not a female Progressive Rabbi. I’m not Canadian. I’m not a South African resident. I’m not left-leaning, or centrist, or pro-this or anti-that. I’m just like you. I’m Jewish. And not just this week, but every week – every day – that really should be all that matters between us.
We are taught, Kol Yisrael aravim zeh l’zeh (All of Israel is responsible for one another). We are all Israel. We are all connected. We live and die together. If this experience has taught us anything, it has taught us that.
You will notice that here, in our Temple Israel section of the Chronicle, we have chosen not to promote our shul events or share our photos of our recent Holy Day and festival celebrations. Instead, we are holding space for mourning, for memory, for courage. This isn’t a time to focus on who we are, separate from one another. This is a time to focus on who we are together: The Jewish community of Cape Town – United. Strong. Resilient.
I am thinking of each and every one of you. Each of us knows someone who lost a life, or knows someone who knows someone who lost a life. Each of us is feeling sad, angry, vulnerable, scared. But each of us also knows that the Jewish people overcome tragedy time and time again. We face the worst horrors that humanity can face, and we come out stronger on the other side.
As we begin to move out of darkness and God-willing into better days ahead, let us not forget the feelings of unity that we have been expressing throughout this time. Shema Yisrael! God is One and we are One. We are only ever as divided as we want to be. We can choose to be as strongly bonded together always as we are right now.
Kein Yehi Ratzon – May it be God’s Will
Temple Israel www.templeisrael.co.za
• Published in the November 2023 issue – Click here to start reading.
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