Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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10 Shevat 5766 - February 8, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Rededication of Lusaka Synagogue in Zambia

by Yated South African Correspondent

Nearly a hundred people, including a 14-person delegation from the African Jewish Congress (AJC), participated in a rousing rededication ceremony of the Lusaka synagogue on 29 January. A number of American Jews connected with the local US Embassy were also in attendance. The resounding success of the occasion underlined how the Jewish community of Zambia, after decades of steadily shrinking to the point where organized Jewish life came close to ceasing altogether, is today experiencing an unexpected revival, both in terms of increasing numbers and renewed communal activities.

The current renewal of Jewish settlement in Zambia is in part attributable to the fact that the country's railways have been taken over on a 99-year lease by an Israeli firm.

Zambia, a landlocked Southern African country formerly known as Northern Rhodesia, has had a Jewish presence since the beginnings of European settlement in the late 1890s. Jewish immigration to the country included a substantial influx of Sephardic Jews from the Greek island of Rhodes. The community peaked at around 1,200 souls in the 1950s before commencing a precipitous decline.

Mervyn Smith, a former president of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) who has headed the AJC since its founding in 1993, described the ceremony as having been "an extremely moving recommitment to fostering anew the once flourishing Jewish life in Zambia." The part the AJC delegation had played in its success, he said, had shown once again how important AJC contacts were in maintaining Jewish solidarity in Southern Africa.

The welcome and introductory message was given by Michael Galaun, President of the Council for Zambian Jewry. Other speakers included Rabbi Silberhaft, Mervyn Smith, Rebbetzin Harris and Simon Zukas, the latter a veteran political leader who played an important role in Zambia's struggle for independence from Great Britain during the 1950s.

Rabbi Silberhaft exhorted Zambian Jewry to continue the work of the community's pioneers.

"Your forebears founded and organized a congregation, not for themselves alone, but for those who would follow. On this special day, we rededicate your community, not simply in the faith that there will be a future, but also in the conviction that the future will be congenial to the ideals and values cherished by your predecessors and by you," he said.

Local residents Gus Liebowitz (Kitwe) and Leslie Szeftel (Lusaka) recited prayers for Israel and Zambia respectively. There was also a ceremonial lighting of a memorial lamp in memory of all deceased members of the congregation.

Prior to the ceremony, the AJC delegation visited the Mother of Mercy Hospice-Chilanga, one of a number of hospices that the Lusaka Hebrew Congregation supports. Dr. Michael Bush, a member of the congregation and the recipient in 2004 of the OBE for his services to HIV/AIDS victims and their families in Zambia, is honorary medical supervisor of the institution.

The day after the ceremony, the delegation visited the two Jewish cemeteries, located in the general cemetery. This was followed by a tour of the house of Kenneth Kaunda, who lived there before becoming the first President of the Republic of Zambia.


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