Rededication of Honen Dalim – 19 May 2013
PICTURES by RABBI JACOBS and LARRY HERMAN
Mozambique Jewry hosted distinguished guests, including Minister of Justice Dr Benvinda Levi, the Israeli & US ambassadors, AJC president, Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, SAJBD leaders, past-Chief Rebbetzen Ann Harris, and SAAPR head Rabbi Robert Jacobs representing the SAUPJ as they consecrated their refurbished and restored Shul.
The Jewish Community of Mozambique, Honen Dalim, consecrated its refurbished and restored Shul building in Maputo with a service of Hachnasat Sefer ha-Torah on Sunday 19 May 2013 (10 Sivan), when the community’s Torah Scroll was returned after years in exile in South Africa.
About 100 guests and congregational members stood at the doorway, in front of a newly designed tri-lingual greeting in Hebrew, Portuguese and English: “ufros alenu sukkat shlomecha”—“Spread the tabernacle of your peace upon us.
” The list of distinguished guests was headed by Mozambique’s Minister of Justice, Dr. Benvinda Levi who unveiled a new dedicatory plaque on the outside of the building, the ambassadors of Israel and the United States of America to Mozambique, President Mervyn Smith of the African Jewish Congress, Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, Ann Harris, Irene Zuckerman and Lee Boiskin of the SA Board of Jewish Deputies, Geoff Ramokgadi, representing the Swaziland Jewish community and Rabbi Robert Jacobs of Bet David representing the SAUPJ.
Other distinguished guests included the leader of the Islamic Council and Bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church along with representatives of other Christian communities in Mozambique.
The Mozambique Jewish community traces its roots to the 19th Century, with the support of Rabbi Joseph H Hertz (later Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom) during his tenure in South Africa. Formed as the Associação de Benevolência Israelita Honen Dalim in 1921 with the founding of the cemetery, the synagogue was built in 1926 in a classical baroque style reminiscent of many synagogues of the Spanish-Portuguese colonial diaspora.
The other known Honen Dalim stands as a monument to that past on the Caribbean island of St. Eustacius. It is now a museum, its last member thought to have perished in 1846.
Community all but disappeared
The difficult period for Mozambique between World War II and the end of its internal strife in 1992 was marked by the near disappearance of the Jewish community. The building was nationalised, and for a time served as a Red Cross relief station. In the late 1980s, synagogue and cemetery reverted to the Jewish community. By 1994, regular worship resumed for Shabbat and holy days.
Rabbi Cyril Harris brought a Sefer Torah for congregational use from Johannesburg. Later in the decade, with declining membership and the deteriorating condition of the building, that scroll was removed and placed in the custody of a Johannesburg congregation whose identity was subsequently lost.
With the dawn of the new century, renewed energy and membership arrived including Larry Herman and his wife Diane, who since 2003 have been instrumental in inspiring a regeneration of the community. In 2009, they turned to the SAUPJ and SAAPR for assistance with completing the process for a Jew-by-Choice, his subsequent wedding in 2010, and the brit milah of that couple’s son thereafter.
2010 was also marked by the legal step of reconstituting this small but diverse congregation as Honen Dalim, Comunidade Judaica de Moçambique.
Sadly, by this time the building was showing marked deterioration and degradation of its structural integrity. A dream of construction of other facilities for a community centre, including kitchen and multipurpose meeting space was diverted to shoring up the roof.
Help poured in & missing Torah was found
Construction expert Andrew (Betsalel) Davey accepted the challenge of directing the repair project which was supported by his employer Rushtail Construções.
The project started top down and was expanded through the realisation of the dire condition of the building. From foundation, to floor, walls, windows, roof trusses and supporting columns, sacred ark and entry way, up to the vents circulating air just below the roof ridge and ending with the blue metal roof, all was renewed, replaced, restructured and finished to an elegant renewal of world-class historic preservation.
Donations from the local community and support from private donors whose lives have been touched by this warm, inclusive and embracing Jewish community led to the search for the missing Sefer Torah, and its re-entry into the shul at its dedication.
Ann Harris, widow of Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris who brought the scroll to Maputo, told of her memory of the location of the synagogue holding the scroll. With the assistance of Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, responsible for SA Country Communities on behalf of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and the African Jewish Congress, Mrs Harris traced the path back to the proper synagogue setting the stage for Hakhnassat Sefer HaTorah on this beautiful, sunny, dry day in Sivan, in fulfilment of a first stage of the project known as Ginat Shalom begun in 2012.
In the interior, the reconstructed steps to Aron Hakodesh, donated by Alex Greenbaum (New York and Tel Aviv) in memory of his family who were in their lifetime pillars of the Jewish community on the Island of Jersey, now contains the retrieved scroll. He also took responsibility for windows. A stained glass Magen David window at the rear of the building was dedicated by Congregational President Samuel Levy and Lauren Wojytla to honour Rosalind Ratner Levy.
A reading table of Mozambican chamfuta wood, chosen for its insect resistance, with a tree of life carved facing the Ark, was created in memory of Rachel Esther Joseph, young sister of Dvora Joseph Davey. Additional supporters and dedications are recorded in a printed colour programme distributed on the day.
Creating “a viable Jewish life”
The week-to-week existence of the congregation is supported by its loyal members, with Larry Herman, who dedicates his time to teaching and leading worship, Diane Herman, who specializes in Hebrew education, and an array of volunteers who see to the continuity of congregational life.
For the occasion, Bet David and the SAUPJ asked Rabbi Robert Jacobs to represent them at the dedication. He presented a copy of the World Union Edition of Mishkan T’filah to President Samuel Levy.
During a dinner hosted by the African Jewish Congress, Rabbi Jacobs expressed the support of the SA Association of Progressive Rabbis and the SAUPJ for the work being done in Maputo to create a viable Jewish life in Mozambique, the acceptance of Jews by Choice deemed qualified by the congregational teachers through the Bet Din Tzedek of Southern Africa and the willingness to participate in life cycle events as needed in the future.
The congregation accepted gratefully: in the words of Larry Herman at the dedication: “We are a pluralistic community.”
Kawl haKavod to the few, the willing and the really committed that have made Jewish life function in Maputo.