World Jewry is rallying to Zimbabwe Jews’ assistance – May 2008

African Jewish Congress Spiritual Leader Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft (centre) with Lord Greville Janner,
President of the Commonwealth Jewish Trust, left and Chief Rabbi Sir. Jonathan Sacks of the Commonwealth

There is widespread concern internationally over the situation in which the remaining Jews in Zimbabwe find themselves, coupled with a strong desire to assist. Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, Spiritual Leader and CEO of the African Jewish Congress, recently completed an intensive two-week-long visit to Israel and London, in which he met with a wide array of senior Jewish communal leaders. The visit was aimed at raising awareness of the issue and securing financial assistance for various relief projects headed by his organisation, specifically the African Jewish Congress Zimbabwe Fund (AJCZF).

All funds raised for Zimbabwe Jewry, both in South Africa and internationally, are channelled through the AJCZF, which assists over 160 needy Zimbabwean Jews with food parcels, rent and medication, etc. While donations from South Africa comprise a significant component of the AJCZF’s budget, overseas contributions, including from the American Joint Distribution Committee and Chai South Africa in the US, are assuming increasing importance in light of the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe.

During the London leg of the trip, Rabbi Silberhaft met with Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks and Lord Greville Janner, President, Commonwealth Jewish Trust (CJT) to brief them on the Zimbabwe situation and on ways in which UK Jewry could assist. Other meetings took place with Flo Kaufman, vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and Leon Silverton, a senior representative of the Hebrew Order of David.

Rabbi Silberhaft spoke at a CJT function. It was subsequently agreed that the CJT would be the UK link to the AJCZF and would channel all UK-raised funds to it.

Rabbi Silberhaft said that he had been most gratified by the concern and helpfulness shown Chief Rabbi Sacks and by Syma Weinberg, executive director in the Office of Chief Rabbi (herself a former Zimbabwean). Rabbi Sacks offered to assist where possible in fundraising and stressed the urgency of the situation in a message to the wider Jewish community. As quoted in the UK Jewish press, he said: “This is a genuine humanitarian crisis and I ask the community to hold the people of Zimbabwe in their prayers”.

While in London, Rabbi Silberhaft also addressed a meeting of the World Jewish Relief, which takes on projects on behalf of distressed communities, both Jewish and non-Jewish, throughout the world. It is one of the supporters of Savyon Lodge, the Jewish aged home in Bulawayo, and also helps fund projects on behalf of Zimbabwean HIV/AIDS orphans and grandmothers whose children have died of HIV/AIDS and who must now raise the grandchildren themselves. The latter projects are headed by Bulawayo resident Ruth Feigenbaum, a leading member of the local Jewish community.

In Israel, Rabbi Silberhaft met with the leadership of Telfed, including Maish Isaacson (chairman), Dave Bloom (Vice-chairman), Sid Shapiro (director), and Doron Kline (Director of Project Development). Potential aliyah from Zimbabwe was one of the issues discussed. Both Bloom and Kline are former Zimbabweans. A reunion of former Zimbabweans in Israel, which will focus on responses to the current situation in Zimbabwe, has been arranged for 11 July.

Potential Zimbabwe aliyah, and the possibility of special assistance being arranged for such olim, also featured in Rabbi Silberhaft’s meeting with Zev Bielski, Chairman of the Jewish Agency. Bielski confirmed that the report that the Jewish Agency was planning to airlift the Zimbabwe Jewish community to Israel had been totally inaccurate, as well as irresponsible.

Rabbi Silberhaft further met with Solly Kaplinski, who heads the Israel office of the American Joint Distribution Committee.

While in Israel, Rabbi Silberhaft took the opportunity to deliver a Sefer Torah on behalf of the Messina Jewish community in Limpopo Province (Northern Polokwane) to the Rehabilitation Centre at Tel Hashomer Hospital in Tel Aviv. He also officiated at a wedding of the daughter of a former Pietersburg couple today living in Israel.