‘Our Modern Joseph’


The Jewish community of Johannesburg paid tribute this week to the memory of former President Nelson Mandela, who died at 95 on Dec. 5.

At a memorial ceremony in Johannesburg’s Oxford Synagogue, all of whose 2,000 seats were occupied, Thabo Mbeki, Mandela’s successor as leader of South Africa, and Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein recalled the late president’s role in shaping post-apartheid society. The Sunday event at the synagogue was part of a nationwide series of prayer and memorial ceremonies held in Jewish, Christian and Muslim houses of worship suggested by South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma.

“After centuries of conflict, we come together now, rather then to mourn Nelson Mandela, but to celebrate his life, ask what legacy he left and have serious reflection on the future,” Mbeki said, according to the South African Jewish Report. “We need to say thank you to Madiba” — the Xhosa tribal name by which Mandela was popularly known — “and his generation.”

Rabbi Goldstein, referring to the week’s Torah portion in which Joseph reconciled with his brothers, called Mandela “our modern Joseph. He put 27 years of prison behind him so that the family of South Africa would not be torn apart.

“To embrace those who hurt him so much, that is greatness, [that is] why people are awestruck,” Rabbi Goldstein said. “This became part of the new South Africa. It was a nation of heroes and he personified it.”

Israeli Ambassador Arthur Lenk, in a tribute to Mandela, read a message of condolence from Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Other memorial ceremonies were planned this week in synagogues in Cape Town, Pretoria, Durban, Port Elizabeth, East London and Bloemfontein.

A memorial service was held Tuesday at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, and Mandela is to be buried Sunday in a family plot in his boyhood village of Qunu.