Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau met last week with South African President Nelson Mandela at his Pretoria residence, where the two leaders compared notes on their periods of imprisonment.
Lau said in an interview that he and Mandela “found a common language from the very first moment.”
“We were both prisoners, he for 27 years and I for only six – between the ages of 2 and 8 in concentration camps during the Holocaust,” said the rabbi, who was on a three-day visit to South Africa.
Mandela’s opposition to apartheid in South Africa was a major factor in his imprisonment.
Lau also said, “I told the president that the only difference was, as written in his book `Long Walk to Freedom,’ that while he hoped for a better tomorrow, we didn’t want to see the sun rise on another day.”
“I also told him that now we could thank God we both had survived and were able to lead our people, as in Exodus, people who came from slavery to freedom.”
Mandela said he was hoping to finalize arrangements with the Israeli Embassy to visit the Jewish state in the near future, Lau said.
“I promised him the red carpet treatment when he comes,” the rabbi added.
Mandela has a great “warmth towards South Africa’s Jewish community,” Lau said. “He told me of the contribution Jews had made in this country in all spheres.”