Next service: Vayetze

Please note that service reminders aim to build a bridge between the last Saturday service two weeks before and the one being announced. They will therefore often focus on the previous parshah rather than on the one in the title.

There are several parshiot about Abraham and about his grandson Jacob, but Isaac’s life is dealt with mainly in one, i.e. Tol’dot. Of course, he appears in the previous parsha of Chayay Sarah and in subesequent ones,  but it seems almost as a secondary character, someone to whom things happen, rather than as someone shaping his own fate. Even in Tol’dot, there are things done to him, while he remains rather helpless. Under Rebecca’s guidance, Jacob deceives him into thinking that he is Esau and so gains the blessing which was meant by his father for his older brother. Many years earlier, in Va-yeira, Issac took part in one of the most pivotal stories of the Torah, namely the Akidah, but again his is a passive, though potentially tragic, role. He is the victim, in no way the perpetrator.

Yet there is one episode, or narrative thread, in which Isaac does play an active part. Like his father before him, he experiences famine and goes to the Philistine king, another Abimelech, for possible help.  He also  pretends that his wife is his sister and, as happened to Abraham years before, is reproached but then offered royal protection for him and his family. And like his father before him, Isaac prospers, has problems with his neighbours over land and water, but manages to resolve them and to live in peace. All through these trials, he is true to God, and God blesses him. Finally, despite having been fooled by his younger son and his own wife, Isaac blesses Jacob again, this time freely, and sends him to Padan Aram to seek a wife from his uncle Laban’s family.

It is with Jacob’s journey to his uncle’s house that Vayetze begins. Early on in the journey, he has the first of his great dreams, that of the angels descending from and ascending to heaven, and God blesses him and, through him, us and, through us, all the families of the earth. What a blessing and what a responsibility are carried in a few lines. Jacob reaches his uncle’s house, meets his uncle’s two daughters and falls in love with Rachel and not with Leah, from which much will flow, but this is enough for now. The best way to read and hear more is to come this Shabbat to the service which will take place at Three Bridges School, starting at 10.30. Adam Feldman will lead and enlighten us.

Elkan’s view from Cape Town


South African Jewry is unique in world Jewish history. Some of the early Jewish settlers became Boers, spoke Afrikaans, and fought against the British during the Boer War despite the very strong anti-Semitic views of Pres Kruger.

The majority of Jews however immigrated at the end of the 19th century mainly from the Kovno district of Lithuania. Almost all stayed for several nights in the Jews Temporary Shelter at the expense of the Union Castle shipping line. In order to reclaim their lodging fees, the Shelter kept very detailed records which have proved an invaluable source for historians.

In 1880 there were about 4,000 Jews in South Africa, and 40,000 by 1914. Jews were integrated in South African society, although the pro-Nazi views of some Afrikaners made life difficult in the 1930’s. Financially the community did very well in a variety of businesses, especially ostrich feathers in the early days!

South African Jews were always very strongly Zionist. The community maintained warm relations with the National party government after the Second World War, and contacts between South Africa and Israel were extremely cordial until fairly recently. Many South Africans made Aliyah and particularly settled in Ra’anana, occasionally known as “Ra’ananafontein”!

The oldest synagogue is the Garden Synagogue in Cape Town where I look forward to davening this Shabbat. Founded in 1841 it is regarded as the mother congregation of South African Jewry.

The community in Johannesburg is also a very strong and has had a series of important rabbis. JH Hertz ministered there during the Boer War and was expelled by President Kruger for his pro-British sympathies. Many of us remember Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris with great affection, and the whole “Shabbat UK” program and its worldwide variations is the brainchild of the current Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein.

Among notable South African Jews are Abba Eban and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, while Jan Christian Smuts the South African political leader was a major supporter of the Balfour Declaration and the State of Israel – I remember my father taking me as a small boy to hear Smuts speak at a Zionist meeting in London.


Sam Waters’ Bar Mitzvah

Schmuel ben Kevin v’hben Devorah celebrated his Bar Mitzvah on Saturday 24 October at the Sithans Centre. Over 80 members of his shul, family and friends were on hand to witness the joyous occasion. Sam’s read the maftir from the Torah passage of Lech Lecha on the 11th of Tevet using the historic Falmouth Scroll. It was the first time in over 135 years that a Bar Mitzvah boy has used this scroll.   His grandfather, father, mother and uncles all participated in the services led by Kehillat Kernow Chairman, Harvey Kurzfield.

A fine Kiddush followed – with extra-ordinary challot – and then a sumptuous lunch and celebration with dancing, singing and much merry-making. Mazel Tov to Sam and Todah Rabah to Kevin and Karen and Gerry.

Have a look at the photos in the new photo album.

Penzance Jewish Cemetery Restoration

The Penzance Jewish Cemetery restoration has been completed overseen by the Friends of Penzance Jewish Cemetery on behalf of BOD Heritage Limited, the owners.

The contract was given to local craftsman Mike Penaluna who tragically died shortly after starting the work. We are grateful to Leo Penaluna, his son for completing the work to a very high standard. The cemetery walls and entrance now look in a pristine condition.

The funds for the project were donated by over 60 individuals and organisations principally by the Heritage Lottery Fund and including the Cornwall Heritage Trust, The Town Council, many local residents, Jewish charities and descendants of those buried in the cemetery. We have posted the new photos in our photo gallery.

Jewish Community in Cornwall