From left: Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, Leon Cohen, Rael Salkinder, Jules Katz, Anthony Rabie, Barney Horwitz, Goldie Mehl and Rael Codron after the quadruple barmitzvah celebration in Kimberley

A barmitzvah with a difference took place in Kimberley, Northern Cape, last Shabbat when four celebrants – all of whom were well beyond the customary age of 13 years – were put through their paces. Goldie Mehl, 83-year-old president of the Griqualand West Hebrew Congregation (Kimberley shul), celebrated his “second barmitzvah” along with Jules Katz – both having attained the age of 13 years beyond the biblical three-score and ten.

Leon Cohen, 75, did not have a barmitzvah as he was suffering from meningitis at the relevant age. Anthony Rabie, also a first-timer who is in his forties and has recently begun returning to his Jewish roots, completed the unusual foursome.

Capetonian Rael Codron, 25, a doctor who is completing his community service at Kimberley Hospital and acts as the congregation’s spiritual leader, trained the group. Katz read the Maftir, and Mehl the Haftarah. Rabie was honoured as “revi’i” (the fourth person called to the Torah) while Cohen delivered the D’var Torah. All were presented with “Sefer Barmitzvah” certificates and Artscroll siddurim – the traditional gifts on such occasions.

Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, country communities’ rabbi of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies who attended the celebration, pronounced the enthusiasm surrounding it “wonderful”. “When Leon Cohen finished his part, his wife got up and started to throw sweets at him,” he said, referring to the customary activity.

“His daughter came from Toronto and his son from Cape Town and Jules Katz’s children came from all over the country.”

Codron said there had not been a barmitzvah at the 102-year-old shul for “probably 20 years, so it’s just a wonderful time to have a celebration. It’s an ageing community, so we have funerals and consecrations and our annual Jewish functions, but never personal milestones – the last wedding was in 1991.”

Codron is the fourth in a line of Jewish doctors to have come to do their housemanships at the hospital. They perform the dual role of doctor/reverend, serving the general as well as the Jewish population and have led a revival of Jewish life in this dwindling 44-strong community.

“We have an agreement with the hospital and they know that a Jewish doctor will perform both roles.” Amazingly, they in fact give preference to Jewish doctors as a favour to the Jewish community, Codron says.

“It’s mutually beneficial,” he adds. “The community needs us and we need a Jewish community – it’s a wonderful programme.” So much so, that Codron and fellow doctor Rael Salkinder decided to stay on in the city for their “community service” year.

Silberhaft pays tribute to Barney Horwitz, chairman of the congregation, whose brainchild the scheme was. “It’s thanks to him and his dedication that the community has carried on for so long – it would have been defunct ages ago.”

Horwitz describes the celebration itself as a “great morale booster” both to the individuals involved and the community. “The ‘second barmitzvah’ is a wonderful idea – it gives people in their senior years a feeling of worth and a new meaning to life.

“We had 65 people attending from a community that normally turns out 15 men on a Friday evening – this meant a great deal.”

Commenting on the “doctor-reverend” scheme, he said he thought it had been a “great experience” for those involved. “I think that they’ve come to Kimberley as young doctors and they’ve left here not only as experienced doctors but as well-rounded men.”

Codron has also taken on the ceremonial role as representative of the Jewish community concomitant with his religious duties. This has seen him attend the opening of the Northern Cape provincial parliament, bless the health minister and meet the country’s president.