Parashat Miketz: Jew by choice should feel pride and be viewed as courageous

In this week’s portion, Miketz, Joseph moves from being falsely imprisoned to becoming second in command in Egypt. As Joseph settles into his new life, he is given a new name by Pharaoh: Zaphenath-paneah. This name reflects Josephs new status in life and the journey on which he has embarked. We, as a congregation, as the Jewish people, do something similar when we admit new Jews by choice into our holy covenant with God.

To receive a new name marks such an important moment in this person’s spiritual journey and should be something very joyful and outstanding, but unfortunately it is not always, as the second half of the new name, the ancestral link (bat / ben Avraham ve Sarah) is sometimes used by “born Jews” to shame or stigmatise those who converted. Using what should be a symbol of pride – to be a true daughter or son of those who have chosen to follow God’s path for the first time – to single out “converts”, leaves the bitter taste that Judaism is understood by them as a closed club for a born elite in the air, and that those who have joined the covenant are second class Jews, at the most.

The fact that anyone with the drive and honest wish to convert is allowed to do so is one of the most important ideas on the Jewish conception of our covenant with God; being Jewish is not a genetic condition, but a complex hierarchy of identity and choice.  Judaism is an inclusive religion that is willing to welcome individuals who desire to become Jewish. Jewish tradition teaches that Jews by choice are not less authentic or authoritative than those who are Jewish from birth.

When a convert receives an aliyah to the Torah for the first time, he or she should feel uplifted by a process of inclusion and holiness, not deflated by alienation and degradation. Jew by choice, like immigrants, should feel pride about their journeys and be viewed as courageous for responding to their transformative calling. This is why we bestow a new name on them and why we link them to Abraham and Sarah. There is no space to shame them.

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Adrian M Schell

Torah Reading Shabbat Miketz / Chanukah
Genesis 41:1−44:17;and Numbers 7:30-41
Reading: Gen 41:47-55 – Plaut p.271; Hertz p.158
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14-4:7 – Plaut p. 1448

Rosh Chodesh Tevet is on Monday and Tuesday

Shabbat Vayigash
Genesis 44:18−47:27
Reading: Gen 45:1 – 9- Plaut p.288; Hertz p.170
Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:15 – 37:28 – Plaut p. 302; Hertz p.178

Shabbat Vayeichi
Genesis 47:28–50:26 (End of Bereshit)
Reading: Gen 49:1-12 – Plaut p.309; Hertz p.183
Haftarah: I Kings 2:1 – 2:12 – Plaut p. 323; Hertz p. 191

Chanukka @ Bet David

A second chance to light the chanukiah with us will be this Friday, 15 December as part of our Kabbalat Shabbat service.

 The last candle is lit on Tuesday night, the 19 December.



Gusti Braverman’s encouragement for unity and engagement

Last Shabbat we had Gusti Yehoshua Braverman (pictured above) from the World Zionist Organisation visit Bet David. In her talk prior to the Shabbat service she highlighted the importance of the World Zionist Organisation and of the Progressive Judaism in Israel, and how important it is that we—Progressive Jews—need to made our voices be heard in order to keep the dream of Herzl alive, making Israel a place where all Jews feel connected with.

In her sermon, during the service she explained why destructive organisations – such as BDS – can‘t create anything that leads to a positive solution, as boycott and disengagement always leads to seperation and division. She understood that many of us struggle with and criticise the current goverment in Israel, and she encouraged us continue this, but in a positive, constructive way, which will lead to  more unity and engagement.


My Chanicha Patrizia

Our Parashat Matot Masei, which brings the Children of Israel to the plains of Moab on the border of the Land of Israel, deals with the nexus between two of the founding stories of Judaism. The story of peoplehood frames the Jewish People as a family and a tribe bound together by a shared history and destiny in mutual responsibility. The story of nationhood views the People of Israel as a community that is associated with a specific land, Zion, from which it was exiled and to which it ever seeks to return.

In the second half of our Torah portion, the tribes are informed of the borders of their future dwelling, while the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Menashe chose to remain beyond those borders; on the east of the Jordan river. Thus, we see that even before the Jews entered the land, life beyond Israel’s borders was already a reality accepted and validated by the Torah. However, such a “proto-diaspora,” was not freed from its own obligations to the rest of the Tribes of Israel.

Indeed, in the first half, Moses challenges the two and half tribes: “Shall your brothers go to war while you dwell here?” (Numbers 32:6). However, the tribes assure Moses that they will join their sisters and brothers to conquer the Land of Kana’an, only returning when all of the people are settled.

Thus, the roots of Diaspora Judaism are long and deep; so too are the expectations of the Jewish People from Jews beyond Israel’s borders to contribute to the unity and wellbeing of the people within the Land of Israel, while Israel itself is the beating heart for all, keeping all Jews connected—close by or far away. This obligation has taken many forms in different times and contexts over centuries. This is highlighted in this very moment while we discuss the egalitarian extension of the Western Wall Plaza and the conversion bill.

On the one hand, multiple missions of solidarity especially from the Progressive Diaspora Communities, millions of Rand, Euros and Dollars of financial assistance and broad mobilisation on social media have all embodied our commitment to Israel. On the other hand the on-going diminishing and out-casting of the non-orthodox communities in Israel have left severe marks on our Jewish souls.

Progressive Jews in South Africa, and all over the world have continually shown their unbroken solidarity with Israel. The security and well-being of our sisters and brothers in Israel are without a question part of our “DNA“, and no group or organisation in Israel or outside of Israel has the right to challenge or even cut this bond we have.

Patrizia (in the picture right) is one of my former chanichot at Netzer. She visited Israel for the first time when we had an exchange programme with Noar Telem (Netzer Israel) in 2014. Last year she made Aliyah after her Netzer-Shnat year, and today she serves as a lone soldier in the IDF. I could not be prouder of her, because she lives the values and ideals we teach in Netzer and the Progressive movement. And it is for her and all other Progressive Jews that we stand and fight for a more pluralistic Jewish Israel. Patrizia, as any other Jew, deserves a Jewish home and place that reflects their, our, values and traditions, too. Moses, in our Torah reading, challenges the diaspora to stand on the side of Israel. Today, we challenge Israel to stand on our side.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Josh Gottesman/Gidi Grinstein)


My suspension from the SAJBD Board – an update

New photo for RJMs column 19 MarchThis week I received a letter suspending me from the SAJBD – this, just a few hours before a scheduled meeting of the board – I serve on the SAJBD and am also Chairman of the board of SACRED. SACRED and SAJBD have a long history on the subject of discrimination against women. Below is my side of the unfolding story:

Going back in time to 2013; at this time I was not serving on either board when this issue came to light, I was made aware of what I understood to be the last written communication between the two boards – SAJBD’s explicit refusal to compromise on the issue. Moving to present time, from the time I realised that legal proceedings were unavoidable, I attempted to schedule a meeting with Wendy Kahn and Charisse Zeifert (calling well in advance, and explaining the purposes of my requested meeting) which was primarily to keep the channels of communication open, as well as offer to excuse myself from the table, should the (legal) subject be on the board’s agenda for discussion etc. I was informed only an hour before this scheduled meeting that they were cancelling it, and thereafter I received a letter suspending me.

With respect to being “repeatedly invited to attend meetings of the SAJBD,” for over a year as “a guest…” that is certainly far from my understanding of the word “co-opted” onto a committee, though I admit that English is my 3rd language – so perhaps I am naive. Yes, they called my boss  (Desmond Sweke) and asked that he replace me – he refused . I have letters of support from all over the world as well as from across the denominational spectrum, and right to the top of the WUPJ, there is naturally outspoken support.

SACREDs name; “South African Centre for Religious Equality and Diversity” speaks directly to its purpose, we have amongst other things; monthly evenings of interest, many of these inter-faith, often invite guest speakers, this month it was radio and TV personality Najma Khota.  We try as an organisation to deepen our understanding of many faiths, the difficulties people face within their faiths etc. and yes, if we observe blatant discrimination, then we speak up, try to engage with whomever we need to, or as a last resort we can approach the HRC or the courts etc.

Specifically here this (discrimination) includes the ban imposed by the SAJBD on women singing at Yom Hashoah. This decision is based in principle and is, in no sense, personal. I am therefore deeply unhappy at the manner in which this matter has become personalized against me, rather than focusing on the key issues involved which are of great importance to the manner in which the SAJBD operates and its commitment to constitutional values – and equality in particular. In essence there was never a need to take such drastic action as “suspending me from the board,” they could have simply been open to talking, listened to what I had to say, and requested that I excuse myself if the matter was on the agenda, but perhaps it is I who does not understand their agenda? In conclusion the SAJBD is a secular organisation, organising a secular memorial to a secular tragedy, which tragedy stands for all of time as a warning against the evils of discrimination IN ANY FORM! Then it goes on to implement a policy that excludes half of the people it is supposed to represent from full participation. The “justification” – supposedly to “be more inclusive!” This policy of exclusion, now entering its 11th year, in my opinion should be completely unacceptable to any thinking Jew worthy of the name. To make our policy perfectly clear: SACRED respects and defends Orthodox practises, in Orthodox settings. Our interest has, and always will – stop at the Synagogue door.  Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Julia Margolis  


SACRED Talk: A valuable insight into Najma’s fascinating life as an activist and journalist

Last night SACRED ( South African Center for Religious Equality and Diversity) was privileged to host a talk by Mrs Najma Khota. A broadcast journalist, radio and TV presenter,a counselling therapist and a trauma counsellor. This evening gave us a valuable insight into Najma’s fascinating life as an activist and journalist. She motivated all in attendance by her experiences, fascinating stories and charm.

In contemporary South Africa the promotion of equal rights for women, has created conflicts with those who argue that such rights violate religious beliefs and cultural traditions. Potential tensions between religion and culture, present multiple daily dilemmas for women. Mrs. Khota discussed questions such as; Is it possible for women to hold together their identities in a liberating way? Can women be true to their ethnic racial identity, or faith and tradition without confusion?”

Najma started her journey 20 years ago as a radio presenter, which was her childhood dream. Against the odds Najma founded a community radio station and later co-founded two others. All were unique to the country at the time. Najma was faced with a new challenge when she was told that according to Islamic teachings; women were not allowed to be heard “on air”. She did her own research into this “male-dominated assumption,” and gained support from the community – proving that there was no basis for what some claimed as an Islamic rule.

Najma became a voice for women through her platform on radio and television, a household name locally, and a ‘go-to person’ in her community for many women seeking advice on all fronts. Najma pursued her career as a counselling therapist concurrently with being a radio talk show host and television presenter. As a counselling therapist and a trauma counsellor, Najma is also the director of “Forever Blooming,” an organisation she founded in 2005. This stress and trauma centre offers counselling services to individuals coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. She lives by the adage: What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters, compared to what lies within us (R.W. Emerson). Najma is married with three children. Thank you to Bet David for hosting this event in the Rondavel and to the Kehillah for the delicious supper. It was an evening that will stay in our memory for a very long time.

Wishing you a lovely weekend.

Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Julia Margolis.