FFEU Kickstarts Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committees Across North America


First meeting of the Greater Los Angeles Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee at the Islamic Center of Southern California

By: Walter Ruby, FFEU Muslim-Jewish Programs Director

FFEU Kickstarts Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committees

In January 2014, FFEU opened a new chapter in its quest to create closer ties between Muslims and Jews in cities and metropolitan areas across North America with the creation of the first Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committees in New Jersey, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Toronto, Queens, and Atlanta. A fourth Solidarity Committee is also slated to be activated later this week in Queens, NY.  The Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims, an existing organization with close ties to FFEU, will work to bring together Jews and Muslims in Toronto and other parts of Canada as well. We hope that  solidarity committees will soon be created in other cities where FFEU has worked successfully with local Muslim and Jewish communities to build ties of communication, reconciliation and cooperation over the past six years.

The Solidarity Committees will build on the inspiring success of the Weekend of Twinning in order to strengthen Muslim-Jewish communication in communities across North America on a year-round basis. The Solidarity Committees will serve as umbrella bodies for Muslim-Jewish relations in their metropolitan areas, with the task of coordinating and publicizing the work of local Muslim-Jewish groups, which until now have often been unaware of the work being done by others in their own areas. The Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committees will also be able to use the FFEU blog to advertise events and post reflections on their own work.

Several of the solidarity committees are organizing sub-committees focused on specific tasks; including Standing Up for Each Other, Muslims and Jews taking joint public stands against hate crimes, incitement or discrimination directed at either community; Learning About Each Other, programming that will counteract Islamophobia and anti-Semitism within our respective communities; and Organizing and Publicizing Cultural, Festive and Social Service Events, in order to deepen communal ties and allow individual Jews and Muslims to connect on a personal level.

There has already been exciting activity by several of the committees. Three members of the Greater Washington Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee, Symi Rom-Rymer, Dr. Maqsood Chaudhry and Parvez Khan, took part in the recent meeting of a Muslim-Jewish delegation with the Danish Ambassador to the U.S., spearheaded by FFEU, in order to protest Denmark’s recent adoption of a law outlawing kosher and halal slaughtering.  Additionally, Rom-Rymer and her co-chair of the Standing Up for the Other Committee, Suhail Khan, recently contacted a local cable television station, DCTV to express concern about the recent airing of an virulently anti-Jewish documentary entitled “Understanding Anti-Semitism” by Holocaust denier Christopher Bollyn.  Plans are underway for an event that will bring together rabbis and imams from around the Washington metropolitan area and get them more involved in Muslim-Jewish activities.

Participants in the second meeting of the New Jersey Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee at Masjid-e-Ali in Somerset

Participants in the second meeting of the New Jersey Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee at Masjid-e-Ali in Somerset

The New Jersey Solidarity Committee has focused attention on a case involving one of its members, the Islamic Center of Morris County (ICMC) in Rockaway, NJ. ICMC is fighting seemingly discriminatory rules by local zoning officials that forbid teaching  Arabic and bringing catered food into the mosque. After hosting New Jersey Assistant Attorney General Paul Salvatoriello, who said his office is fully committed to ensuring that mosques or synagogues are able to exercise their full rights to freedom of religion, members of the Solidarity Committee attended a meeting of the Borough of Rockaway Land Use Board and addressed the board about the importance of ensuring that the mosque is accorded the same rights given to local synagogues and churches. At the end of the meeting the Board appeared to reverse previous positions and to acknowledge that there is no just cause to deny personnel at ICMC the right to teach Arabic, knowledge of which is necessary for the practice of Islam, or to prevent the use of chafing dishes or a coffee machine.

In Los Angeles, members have set a goal of developing joint programs across the sprawling metropolitan area that will strengthen Muslim-Jewish ties by working together to serve the larger community. There will be an effort to greatly increase the number of LA twinning events during the upcoming Weekend of Twinning. It is anticipated that Claremont-Lincoln University, an ecumenical and inter­religious university with affiliated Muslim and Jewish seminaries (Banyan-Claremont and Jewish Institute of Religion), will sponsor a conference in the fall highlighting the deepening of Muslim-Jewish relations in LA.  FFEU Chairman Russell Simmons will speak at Claremont-Lincoln graduation ceremonies in May.

According to FFEU President Rabbi Marc Schneier; “We are gratified that the Solidarity committees are off to such a strong start. We believe these committees will help propel Muslim-Jewish relations to the next level in cities across North America.”

Meeting in Washington DC to protect religious rights abroad

      Last Thursday, February 27, 2014, Rabbi Schneier of FFEU and Dr. Sayyid Sayeed of ISNA, Islamic Society of North America,  spearheaded a delegation of ten Muslim and Jewish leaders in a meeting with Denmark’s ambassador to the U.S., Peter Taksøe-Jensen.These ten men and women met with the ambassador to appeal a  new Danish law that effectively bans halal and kosher ritual slaughter. 
The law, passed just a few weeks ago, mandates that animals must be stunned before slaughter for consumption. This law directly contradicts both Muslim and Jewish injunctions regarding halal and kosher slaughter, forcing both Muslim and Jewish communities in Denmark to import their meat and constricting the practice of these religions. As Dr. Sayyid Sayeed said before the meeting, “one can only wonder if the Danish government is seeking to make life so difficult for Muslims and Jews that many will decide to leave the country.”The delegation included: Professor Marshall Breger, former Presidents Ronald Reagan’s and H.W. Bush’s liaison to the American Jewish community; Symi Rom-Rymer, co-chair of Standing Up for Each Other sub-committee of Greater Washington Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee; Dr. Mohammad Elsanousi, ISNA director of community outreach; Dr. Masqood Chaudry, president of the Mclean Islamic Center, Jason Kampf, FFEU board member; Parvez Khan, of Jews and Muslims (JAM) DC; and Will Eastman, Executive director of FFEU.These leaders expressed their concerns that such a law is discriminatory and violates the religious rights and freedom of Denmark’s Jewish and Muslim communities. During the meeting, the ambassador acknowledged the delegation’s concern and agreed that the new law may be tarnishing Denmark’s image in Muslim and Jewish communities around the world. He promised to bring these concerns to his government in Copenhagen. Further, the FFEU will continue to work on protesting this law and is organizing similar meetings with Denmark’s ambassadors in London and Paris.

Read more about the meeting in Danish and Jewish press.


Muslims and Jews stand together as part of International Weekend of Twinning

Muslims and Jews around the world came together during the Annual International Weekend of Twinning.

In the North West the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester (MJF) hosted several events around the County.

MJF Twinning activities started at Khizra Mosque in North Manchester on Friday with the Lord Mayor of Manchester, Cllr Naeem Hasan, welcoming Rabbi Arnold Saunders and Rabbi Daniel Walker to the Muslim Friday prayer service.

Following the service, the Rabbis were given a tour of the mosque and community centre led by Cllr Afzal Khan, a former Lord Mayor.

They were then met by group of worshippers and both Rabbis were given a copy of the Quran in English by a member of the Muslim community, Rasheed Mustapha.

Qari Jameel gave the Rabbi’s a recital from the Quran following by a translation, and the group discussed just how similar their scriptures are.

On Saturday,Rabbi Arnold Saunders from Higher Crumpsall Synagogue welcomed Cllr Afzal Khan to join in the service & kiddush, whilst the same time the South Manchester, Cheadle Yeshurun Synagogue opened their doors to a group of local Muslims who included Lord Mayor Cllr Naeem Hasan, Shahid Adam Saleem, Abdullah Saleem, Afzal Chaudhri and Jameela Chaudhri to join in the Jewish service.

The guests were impressed with the warm hospitality and Jewish service, and particularly touched when an Islamic reference was quoted as part of the service.

On Monday, Cheadle CMA Masjid, Chair, Dr Usman Choudry, welcomed the Chair of Yeshurun Synagogue, Dr Tony Kaye, along with Mrs Lesley Kaye, HHJ Charles Bloom QC, Janice Bloom and Amanda Kremnitzer to observe the Muslim Isha prayer.

Following the prayers the guests enjoyed a lively meeting with the trustees & worshippers whilst eating kosher food provided by the CMA which was blessed by Charles with a traditional Hebrew prayer.

Usman thanked Shahid from MJF for arranging the social and described the 3 hour event as very informative gathering where both faith communities demonstrated many common aspects during their broad discussions increasing empathy and understanding.

Shahid Adam Saleem, who led on the organisation for the MJF, said, “Thank you to all participants for their positive contributions and we look forward to building on the positive relations formed to increase community harmony and make this an annual event with many more activities”.

Jonny Wineberg, Co-Chair of The MJF, said, “We are proud to stand up for each others rights and challenge intolerance wherever it exists. But even more, we are proud of the respect and understanding we foster between our two great communities and present to the wider community.

“Our thanks go to all those involved in organising and delivering these events and we invite Synagogues and Mosques from around the County to start building relations with their nearest twin and participate in the 7th Weekend of Twinning in November 2014″.

The Weekend of Twinning is an annual event sponsored by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) and held every Autumn.

This year, there were more than 130 twinning events involving Muslims and Jews in more than 30 countries on all six inhabited continents. Participating Synagogues and Mosques and Muslim and Jewish organisations around the world undertook a wide range of activities.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, the President of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a New York-based not-for–profit that sponsors the Weekend of Twinning, asserts that “Dialogue is an important first step in building ties of communication and cooperation between Muslims and Jews, but it is not enough. Whenever Jews or Muslims are targets of bigotry anywhere in the world, members of the two communities should stand together against both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism”.

Imam Shamsi Ali, co-author with Rabbi Marc Schneier, of the newly released book Sons of Abraham; A Candid Conversation about the Issues that Divide and Unite Muslims and Jews (Beacon Press) asserts, “No two faiths in this world have more in common than Islam and Judaism. In that spirit, we must truly become our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers”.

The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding is encouraging participants in this year’s Weekend of Twinning to join the movement against bigotry by forming local Muslim-Jewish Solidarity committees and by signing a pledge on Twitter reading: “I pledge to combat Islamophobia, anti-Semitism + all forms of hate for #WeekendofTwinning.”

Welcoming the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims to the Muslim/Jewish Film Series during the Weekend of Twinning of Synagogues and Mosques

Monday, January 13, 2014

Samira Kanji, Azeezah Kanji, Barbara Landau, and Karen Mock

On Jan. 18, Temple Emanu-el and the Noor Cultural Centre, an Islamic educational and cultural organization, will continue their ongoing dialogue through the vehicle of film.

The first film in the Muslim/Jewish series was held in November during the annual Weekend of Twinning of synagogues and mosques, conceived by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) in New York, N.Y., and co-ordinated in Canada by the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims (CAJM). Since it began in 2008, the twinning program has expanded worldwide to Jewish and Muslim communities who get together to build connections of understanding and friendship.

In November, members of Toronto’s Jewish and Muslim communities gathered at Temple Emanu-el to watch Arranged, a beautiful tale of unlikely friendship based on a true story, in which Rochel – an Orthodox Jewish woman – and Nasira – a conservative Muslim woman – meet as new teachers in a Brooklyn, N.Y., public school. Both are in the process of having their marriages arranged (or more accurately, of being introduced to potential partners by family and community members.) Their similar journeys to betrothal, and their shared experiences as religiously devout women in a secular environment, bring Nasira and Rochel together.

This month, the Jewish/Muslim Film Series continues at the Noor Cultural Centre with an award-winning Lebanese movie, Where Do We Go Now?  which received Ecumenical Special Mention and the Francois Chalais Prize at the Cannes Film Festival (2011), and the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival (2011). This humourous and insightful film promises to stimulate a dynamic and fruitful discussion of how neighbours from different faith communities can diffuse tensions through various means, when political strife threatens peace and friendship.

The value of important initiatives such as the Weekend of Twinning and the Jewish/Muslim Film Series lies in their ability to illuminate the commonality of our struggles, diffracted through the prism of our differences. We hope more and more people from our two diverse communities will join us (admission is free) as we continue to find common ground and to deepen our friendships, thereby enhancing our understanding of and commitment to what it means to be Canadian.

Film is a wonderful vehicle for people to start what can be called ‘courageous conversations.’ It is very effective to share a common experience through a film, and then have a frank discussion afterwards.  As Jews and Muslims living in Toronto, we constantly encounter the diversity of religious beliefs and practices within our respective traditions, as well as the diversity between them. Such encounters with difference may be deeply challenging and yet profoundly enriching. Watching Arranged together helped bridge schisms across both interfaith and intra-faith divisions – between Jewish and Muslim, conservative and liberal, Orthodox and Reform – to dispel stereotypes by bringing into focus the humanity of those on the other side of the divide.

It may seem counter-intuitive to describe Arranged as a feminist film, given the popular portrayal of religion as utterly and irredeemably patriarchal. Religious women, Muslim and Jewish, are frequently represented as deluded by some figment of “false consciousness,” generated by their internalization of perniciously patriarchal norms. For example, the image of the oppressed religious woman haunts recent arguments supporting Quebec’s proposed charter of values, with restrictions on religious veiling imagined as freeing (if not saving) Muslim women.

Arranged disrupts the all-too-common-but-simplistic narrative that women’s empowerment necessarily lies in liberation from the shackles of religion.  Some women undoubtedly experience religion as an oppressive imposition. But for many women, religion is an important source of selfhood and belonging, of meaning and guidance. The film beautifully shows how the protagonists navigate multiple systems of norms – family expectations, culture and tradition, religion, liberal feminism, secularism – as they chart the courses of their futures.

As our subsequent discussion revealed, we are all shaped and limited by many influences we don’t necessarily choose, or even consciously perceive: the values of our families and religious communities; societal norms of gender and morality; state laws; popular media; advertising. None of us exercises choice wholly free of conditioning and social constraint.

Samira Kanji and Azeezah Kanji are with Noor Cultural Centre (www.noorculturalcentre.ca). Barbara Landau and Karen Mock represent the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims (www.cajmcanada.org), founded in 1996 and organizing the Weekend of Twinning in the GTA since 2008. For more information on the film series and/or to participate in further activities of the CAJM, please check their websites.

See more at: http://www.cjnews.com/arts/film-series-continues-jewish-and-muslim-twins-toronto#sthash.vO5HAvRU.dpuf

Bradford synagogue saved by city’s Muslims

Bradford synagogue saved by city’s Muslims

Faced with closure a year ago, today Bradford’s synagogue’s future is bright, a model of cross-cultural co-operation
by Helen Pidd, The GuardianFriday 20 December 2013 10.25 EST
Bradford Synagogue
Zulfi Karim, secretary of Bradford Council of Mosques, and Rudi Leavor, chairman of the Bradford Reform Synagogue. Photograph: Gary Calton

It was around this time last year that the trustees of Bradford‘s final remaining synagogue faced a tough choice. The roof of the Grade II-listed Moorish building was leaking; there was serious damage to the eastern wall, where the ark held the Torah scrolls; and there was no way the modest subscriptions paid annually by the temple’s 45 members could cover the cost.

Rudi Leavor, the synagogue’s 87-year-old chairman, reluctantly proposed the nuclear option: to sell the beautiful 132-year-old building, forcing the congregation to go 10 miles to Leeds to worship.

It was a terrible proposition, coming just after the city’s only Orthodox synagogue had shut its doors in November 2012, unable to regularly gather 10 men for the Minyan, the quorum of 10 Jewish male adults required for certain religious obligations.

But rather than close, Bradford Reform Synagogue’s future is brighter than ever after the intervention of Bradford’s Muslim community, which according to the 2011 census outnumbers the city’s Jews by 129,041 to 299.

A fundraising effort – led by the secretary of a nearby mosque, together with the owner of a popular curry house and a local textile magnate – has secured the long-term future of the synagogue and forged a friendship between Bradfordian followers of Islam and Judaism. All things being well, by Christmas the first tranche of £103,000 of lottery money will have reached the synagogue’s bank account after some of Bradford’s most influential Muslims helped Leavor and other Jews to mount a bid.

This burgeoning relationship is perhaps unexpected. When David Ward, one of the city’s MPs, had the Liberal Democrat whip withdrawn over disparaging remarks about “the Jews” and Israel as an “apartheid state”, he was publicly supported by many of his Muslim constituents. George Galloway, the Respect MP for Bradford West and an open opponent of Israel, has organised convoys to Gaza and was praised by many of his voters after refusing to engage in a debate with an Israeli student at Oxford University earlier this year.

The cross-cultural co-operation is warmly welcomed by Leavor, who moved to the city from Berlin as a refugee in 1937. “It’s fantastic,” he said this week, in a joint interview with Zulfi Karim, secretary of Bradford Council of Mosques. “Rudi is my new found big brother,” said Karim, who is on the board at the central Westgate mosque a few hundred metres up the road from the synagogue. “It makes me proud that we can protect our neighbours and at the same time preserve an important part of Bradford’s cultural heritage.”

Bradford synagogue

A fundraising effort led by the secretary of a nearby mosque has secured the long-term future of the synagogue. Photograph: Gary Calton

Now the two men get on so well that when Leavor goes on holiday he gives the synagogue keys to Karim, as well as the alarm code. They have begun what they hope will be a lasting tradition, whereby the Jewish community invites local Muslims and Christians to an oneg shabbat (Friday night dinner) and Muslims return the invitation for a Ramadan feast and Christians during the harvest festival. For the latter, Karim provided halal mince for the shepherd’s pie.

At the start of December, Karim and other Muslims attended a hanukah service at the synagogue. Yet until a year ago, Karim didn’t even realise the synagogue existed. “The Jewish community kept themselves to themselves,” he said. Since the last race riots in the city in 2001, there has been no sign to mark the building. “We didn’t want to be the cause of potential trouble, so we took the plaque down over 10 years ago,” said Leavor, who said there was an incident a few years ago when one man left the synagogue wearing his kippah, or skull cap, and was spat at by two Pakistani men passing in a car.

The Muslims only started to help the synagogue by chance, explains Leavor. He had been approached by Zulficar Ali, owner of Bradford’s popular Sweet Centre restaurant, which is just a few doors away from the synagogue. Ali wanted Leavor to help oppose a planning permission for yet another curry house in the area. Leavor agreed and together managed to block the application. Ali then introduced Leavor to a local social enterprise, the Carlisle Business Centre, which awards grants to worthy causes. They gave several hundred pounds for emergency roof repairs, and a local businessman, Khalid Pervais, donated a further £1,400.

It was only after getting involved that Karim learned that the mill where his father worked after emigrating from Pakistan in the 1960s was run by a Jewish descendant of Joseph Strauss, the rabbi who founded the synagogue in 1880.

Once all of the lottery funding comes through, together with £25,000 pledged by Bradford Council, work will begin to renovate the synagogue. The kitchen will be cleared up, disabled access will be improved and it will open for educational visits from school groups throughout the week. Karim is convinced such initiatives will help build tolerance. “You look at those who killed Lee Rigby, supposedly in the name of Islam. The question is: what makes these young men so radicalised, so angry, so intolerant? I really, really deeply, strongly feel that the way forward is interfaith dialogue – perhaps through food, perhaps through visiting a synagogue or other places of worship.”


BRUSSEL (KerkNet) – Zondagavond is een groep van een 30-tal deelnemers vertrokken voor een vierdaags bezoek aan Marokko. Doel van de vijfdaagse reis is een bredere kennismaking met de hedendaagse realiteit van de Marokkaanse samenleving, in het bijzonder wat het samenleven tussen moslims, joden en christenen betreft.

Dinsdagmiddag werd het gezelschap ontvangen door de Raad van Oelema’s of Raad van Theologen. De raad is een soort raad van wijzen, die een sterke referentiewaarde heeft voor het Marokkaanse volk. Ze hebben leergezag en oriënteren de manier waarop de imams het woord voeren in de moskeeën. Ze nemen ook beslissingen in belangrijke geloofsaangelegenheden. De Marokkaanse moskeeën in ons land voelen er zich nauw bij betrokken. De secretaris-generaal van de raad wordt met veel respect behandeld. In de rangorde staat hij direct onder de minister van Religieuze Zaken en koning Mohammed VI, waarvan een van de eretitels luidt: commandeur van het geloof. In zijn welkomstwoord onderstreepte de secretaris-generaal dat het voor hemzelf en de theologen een groot genoegen en eer is om het buitenlandse gezelschap te mogen ontvangen. Van de raad waren ook vier vrouwelijke leden aanwezig. Ook zij zijn theologen en houden zich vooral bezig met pastorale activiteiten in verband met vrouwen, zoals bijvoorbeeld het begeleiden van weduwen. De Raad van Theologen werkt aan een charter dat moet herinneren aan het wederzijdse respect en verdraagzaamheid tussen de grote godsdiensten van het Boek. Rabbijn Albert Guigui van zijn kant herinnerde eraan dat de Marokkaanse koning de Joden in Marokko in bescherming heeft genomen.

In Marokko vormen islam en volk één onlosmakelijk geheel. Als ik tegenover een van de jonge Belgische moskeeverantwoordelijken, die tot ons reisgezelschap behoort, opmerk dat men in Marokko geboren wordt als Marokkaan én moslim, antwoordt hij dat het nog niet eens zo lang geleden in Europa niet anders was, maar dan met het christendom… De geschiedenis heeft aangetoond dat dit niet altijd even probleemloos verliep en dat de verdeeldheid onder de christenen tot zware conflicten heeft geleid. Maar we zijn in 2013… Hoe kunnen religieuze en historische ervaringen in dialoog worden gedeeld en wel zo dat ze het iedereen mogelijk maken die broederlijkheid, waarover alle religieuze vertegenwoordigers die hier in Marokko aanwezig zijn en de plaatselijke verantwoordelijken het hebben, met elkaar te delen?

Vandaag woensdag zijn de deelnemers van de interreligieuze reis te gast in Fez. Vanmorgen bezochten ze een synagoge. Voor rabbijn Guigui was het een bijzonder moment. Een deel van zijn familie is immers afkomstig uit de omgeving. Hij gaf het woord aan een vertegenwoordiger van elke godsdienst om daarna een synthese daarvan op te dragen in een gebed. Het was een gedenkwaardig moment waarin iets van Gods aanwezigheid voelbaar was, een moment van inwendige vrede. Zoals gewoonlijk sloot hij af met een verhaaltje, over een kleine herder die niet kon bidden, maar zo prachtig fluit speelde dat op zijn verzoek God zijn gebed het allermooiste vond. Het was immers de puurste uitdrukking van het hart van de kleine herder.

Gedachtewisseling over het gebed in de synagoge van Fez Bron: TS

Ontmoeting tussen rabbijn Albert Guigui en de secretaris-generaal van de Raad van Theologen Bron: TS

Het dagelijkse leven in Fez Bron: TS


Nelson Mandela

By Rabbi Ralph Genende
(Participant of the Mission of Muslim and Jewish leaders from the Southern Hemisphere in 2013)

Growing up in apartheid South Africa, the name Mandela was one to be feared and reviled; the most famous prisoner and terrorist who preached armed resistance and fomented rebellion. As a child I was apprehensive about the graffiti scrawled on the wall: “Free Nelson Mandela”. A proud, invisible (images and photos of him were banned) and articulate black man in a racist white society who dared to declare: “Freedom will come to South Africa one day; even if you hang me it will give inspiration to others.”

I knew that Mandela had been employed in his first job by a Jewish lawyer (Lazar Sidelsky), that his wife Winnie was a strident woman who stood by her husband, that he was imprisoned on Robben Island. What I didn’t know, what most South Africans didn’t know and the world may only have sensed was that “a great prince in prison lies”. That this windswept barren island not far off the beautiful Cape Coast was nurturing a spirit that would one day stun the world. As Mandela himself wrote from prison: “The cell is an ideal place to learn to know yourself…we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, wealth…but internal factors may be more crucial in assessing our development as human beings. Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others”.

Nelson Mandela didn’t become an icon because he was of royal African lineage; in fact his early life was marked by simplicity and relative poverty. He was in many ways an angry young man buffeted by strong impulses – as Oliver Tambo said of the young prisoner: “As a man, Nelson Mandela is passionately emotional, sensitive, quickly stung to bitterness and retaliation by insult and patronage.” He was, in his youth, a comrade in the arms struggle with a natural air of authority and even arrogance. He was criticised for issuing statements without consultation or permission of the ANC Executive. He was unabashedly forward; his son recalled him as a young man saying: “One day I will be President of South Africa.” In many ways he was like the young Biblical Joseph, preternaturally aware of his prodigious talent and gifts but not mature enough to recognise the impact of his vision on others.

Nelson Mandela became an icon precisely because he was a flawed man who came to recognise his frailties, overcome his shortcomings and rise above his own personal needs to heal a wounded people and lead a fractured society into a peaceful rainbow nation. When “Chazon”, a vision of destruction and chaos beckoned, Nelson preached: “Nachamu, Nachamu, ami” – find comfort and conciliation oh my beloved people, cry no more oh my beloved country…

Nelson Mandela enjoyed the limelight and was aware that his iconic status gave him extraordinary access to power and influence, but he never forgot he was a fallible human being. He became uncomfortable with the carefully calibrated biography designed (and edited by the ANC leadership) to portray him as almost perfect (‘Long Walk to Freedom’) and issued the more personal and intimate ‘Conversations with Myself’. In it he wrote “In real life we deal, not with gods, but with ordinary human beings; men and women who are full of contradictions, who are stable and fickle, strong and weak, famous and infamous”.

He became an inspiration to billions across the world because he was just a man; he became a light to the nations because he was just a man who made himself into all that we call best in man. He is an inspiration to me as a Jew because he represents some of the highest values our Torah guides us towards: courage, restraint, humility, integrity, dignity, compassion but perhaps above all the power and potency of forgiveness. He fulfilled the Torah’s prescriptions not to avenge or bear a grudge with breathtaking precision. It didn’t come easy for him, his jailers were particularly cruel not even allowing him to attend his son’s funeral. He distrusted and felt betrayed by President FW de Klerk, but despite this he observed and knew too well: “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies”. He is an inspiration to me as a rabbi because he was an extraordinary leader, guiding his people with wisdom, self-deprecation and steely strength. His very names indicate this: his birth name Rolihlahla, the pulling of the branch or a tree or the one who disturbs the established order; Nelson (the English name given to him on his first day at school) after the great English naval commentator and strategist known for his bravery; Madiba his popular clan name which means reconciler and literally the filler of ditches.

Mandela may not have been an admirer of Israel and the ANC and its leadership have not forgotten Israel’s support (especially military) of the apartheid government. Notwithstanding this he was a friend of the Jews of South Africa and always acknowledged his first Jewish employers and the support they gave him.

In a meeting with Abraham Foxman (of the ADL) and American Jewish leaders in 1990, Mandela reflected a nuanced and pragmatic approach to Israel and expressed his unequivocal support for Israel’s right to exist. He also spoke of his profound respect for Ben Gurion, Golda Meir and Menachem Begin. Foxman recalled this meeting as a magnificent encounter “in the sense that Mandela said to us, “Look I appreciate what the Jewish Community has done for me. On the other hand, if the test of my friendship is that I have to be an enemy of your enemy, then I cannot be your friend…[In prison] I needed the support of anybody I could get. And Arafat gave me support. And Castro gave me support”. In view of the new South Africa’s ambivalent relationship with Israel, the decision by PM Bibi Netanyahu not to attend the Mandela Memorial Service was confounding and disappointing; the excuse of inadequate funds was simply insulting. Netanyahu squandered an opportunity to show statesmanship and heal a difficult relationship.

Nelson Mandela knew too well that a leader must both afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. He also followed the Torah’s guiding principles of leadership. “Appoint a man over the nation who shall go out in front to them, who shall take them out and bring them in…a man in whom there is spirit…place some of your majesty upon him” (Numbers 27:15-21). He exemplified leading from the front but he also knew what it was to lead from the back, to share the limelight and emulate Lincoln who once said: “It is wise to persuade people to do things and make them think it is their own idea.” He was a man in whom there was an abundance of spirit; he was principled, saw the good in others and believed that love makes the difference (see Richard Stengel’s portrait of Mandela’s extraordinary leadership).

During his long illness the South African Jewish community was as transfixed on the ailing giant as any other group in South Africa. On a visit to South Africa earlier this year, we went past the Houghton home of Mandela on several occasions to look at the tributes on the sidewalk, to hear the heartfelt voices raised in prayer and song. One of the colourful tributes read: “Yiddish Folk Kids (a Yiddish school) are following in Madiba’s footsteps” another in the shape of a heart simply said: “Madiba, We love you – please get better soon. All our love – Oxford Shule Pre-school.” The Chief Rabbi of South Africa’s prayer composed for Nelson Mandela summed up both the sentiment and the significance of this great leader and extraordinary human being:
“We are grateful for his courage and dignity in adversity and for his mighty power of forgiveness which helped create this great nation. We are grateful for how he united us, and served as a dedicated and humble President…we ask you oh Lord to…inspire our hearts to walk in the path of Nelson Mandela, to live up to his majestic legacy.”

When I heard that Mandela had died, I like so many across the world, felt a sense of personal loss. It also seemed that, as the rabbis put it, when a righteous man dies, the place in which he lived loses something of its spark, its beauty and its majesty. The world is diminished by his departure. After JFK was assassinated, his widow Jackie lamented “So now he is a legend when he would have preferred to be a man.” Nelson Mandela always preferred to be a man; he reminded us that a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying. He kept on trying and so inspired us to keep on going, to persist and never to stop trying to become our best selves. President Obama’s magnificent speech at the Memorial Service (which I only heard after I wrote this piece) captured Madiba, the man and his momentous achievements magnificently: “And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be better. He speaks to what is best inside us. After this great liberator is laid to rest; when we have returned to our cities and villages, and rejoined our daily routines, let us search then for his strength – for his largeness of spirit – somewhere inside ourselves. And when the night grows dark, when injustice weighs heavy on our hearts, or our best laid plans seem beyond our reach – think of Madiba…”