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Johannesburg Rabbi Opens Conclave to Create a Democratic South Africa

May 21, 1992
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A leading Johannesburg rabbi recited the opening prayer at Codesa 2, the Convention for a Democratic South Africa, which convened here last week.

Rabbi Dennis Isaacs of the Johannesburg Beth Din (religious court) said he was honored to accept the invitation to deliver the invocation at the negotiations on the future of South Africa.

Isaacs, rabbi emeritus of the Cyrildene Hebrew Congregation in Johannesburg, joined a Roman Catholic bishop and a Dutch Reformed minister in a spiritual start to the negotiations, held at the World Trade Center near Jan Smuts international airport.

Moslem, Hindu and Anglican religious leaders said the closing prayers, the idea being to give recognition to the spectrum of religions in South Africa.

Although the outcome of Codesa 2 was disappointing because it failed to draft a blueprint for transitional government, Isaacs told The Jewish Telegraphic Agency that “it is good people are talking.”

Regarding the honor extended him, the rabbi remarked that “Jews have always had certain good standing at this kind of level. It is a good portent for the new South Africa.”

In addition to assembling the political players negotiating the future of the country, Codesa 2 attracted international leaders, including those from neighboring black states and the Organization of African Unity.

Among the Jewish dignitaries present were the Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Zvi Gov-Ari, and former Democratic Party parliamentarian Helen Suzman, a veteran leader of the opposition and anti-apartheid activist.

Key Jewish figures in the negotiating process included Joe Slovo, national chairman of the South African Communist Party, African National Congress and Communist Party leader Ronnie Kasrils and ANC spokesperson Gill Marcus.

Isaacs opened his prayer in Hebrew and closed in Afrikaans which, with English, is one of the two official languages of South Africa.

He blessed the deliberations and called for a society built on the principles of justice, one that “acknowledges, as the Bible has it, that man was created in the image of God and is deserving of dignity and respect, a society free from suspicion and mistrust and hatred and prejudice.”

Rabbi Isaacs made a plea for peace in a troubled land and called on the Almighty to “help us to help ourselves out of the darkness of strife and terror and violence and the destruction –especially of human life –that now plagues so many areas of the land.”

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