Like last week, I’m sending this message from South Africa where Jill and I are finishing up our two week visit. We have spent most of this week in Cape Town, where there is an exceptionally strong Jewish community.
Although Reform Judaism (Progressive Judaism, as it is known here) is not as well-established in South Africa as it is in North America, Cape Town is home to a large Progressive congregation comprised of three rabbis and almost 1,000 families. Incidentally, it’s known as Temple Israel!
Among our many stops, Jill and I also visited the Orthodox “Gardens Shul,” named for the suburb in which it is situated. Also known as the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation, it is the oldest Jewish congregation in South Africa, founded in 1841. Their original building is no longer standing, but it has two other buildings – one built in 1863 and the other, right next to it, built in 1905.
The one built in 1905 may be the most beautiful synagogue I have ever seen. It includes a raised lectern from which the rabbi delivers his sermon, perhaps because it’s the only spot where he can be seen from all the seats, including those in the back of the women’s section up in the balcony. Rabbi Feldman (seen in photo) allowed me to check out the view.
As I stood there, I reflected on this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha (Gen 12:1-17:27), and thought about Abraham’s journey upon leaving his home. I thought about the many Jews who left their homes and journeyed to South Africa over the past few centuries. It’s a beautiful and abundant country with resources (including lots of diamonds), making it possible for them to thrive. I can see why so many chose to call this land their home.
We all have reasons for being wherever we are. It’s good to think about that; not just why we are here on this planet but why we are where we happen to be. What brought us here? What is keeping us here? The answers usually have to do with our families, friends or livelihood. For some, it is a conscious choice; for others, it just happened to work out that way.
Many commentators note the peculiar phrase, “Lech Lecha.” It would have been more direct for God to tell Abraham, “Lech” which simply means “Go.” The additional word “Lecha” suggests that God was saying something else, like “Go for yourself” or “Go to yourself.” In other words, “Go find your self. Go pursue your destiny,” which is what Abraham proceeded to do. Perhaps for that reason, God promised Abraham that all the peoples of the earth would be blessed because of him.
I recommend Cape Town to anyone searching for a beautiful place to pursue his/her destiny. Of course, there are many factors to consider when choosing a place to travel or to live. The most important factor is that it be a place where you can continue that inner journey; a place you feel called to be, where you can best fulfill a promise or pursue your destiny.
May the Holy One bless us on our journeys and, like Abraham, may all the people with whom we come in contact be blessed because we are here.
R’ Moshe Tom