All posts by Elkan Levy

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.


Elkan’s View From Netanya


One of the things that really moves me is the way that Jewish communities in the Diaspora, at Pesach and Sukkot, pray for the needs of agriculture in the Holy Land.

Water in Israel is a constant preoccupation. For at least half the year there is no rain of any significance, there is rarely sufficient snow in the winter to swell the streams in the spring, and the rivers are few and far between. Water remains a concern, although Israel now produces almost half its water by desalination and is a world leader in the use of “grey water” recycled but not suitable for drinking or cooking purposes.

Praying for rain remains part of the liturgy but sometimes our prayers are answered too literally. Last Sunday week began quite bright in Netanya but about 9:30 AM the sky suddenly went as dark as night. I went to the front of my flat, which overlooks the Mediterranean, and closed all the windows. A few minutes later the whole building was enveloped in a rain and hail storm of tropical intensity, the windows were simply no defence at all, and my flat was severely flooded. This is not bad for the sixth floor.

We got off lightly. There were no significant electrical cuts in Netanya but Ra’anana, north-east of Tel Aviv, was completely without electricity from Sunday morning until late on Monday, and even beyond. Even mobile phones stopped working, a calamity of world shattering importance in Israeli society!

One of my friends saw his garden furniture take to the air and fly away, he knows not where. That was from a balcony on the ninth floor of Sea Opera, and there are undoubtedly worse stories that could be told. The press has been full of complaints that Israel is not prepared for such tropical storms which are beginning to happen more frequently. Certainly the electrical supply needs to be secure, and some surplus water should be stored.

But the greatest miracle of all is that nobody appears to have been hurt anywhere in the country!

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.

Elkan’s view from Natanya


Doubtless you have been reading in the British papers, and seeing footage on the news, which suggests that life in Israel at the moment is rather like living on the front line. There is no denying that the mood of the country has changed, and parents are now much more aware of possible dangers. My grandchildren are no longer allowed to travel by bus, nor to hang around with friends in falafel bars. In the last few days I have done some collection and delivery for them.

So far, with the exception of the attacks in Raanana, there have been no incidents in the coastal area and for the moment one feels safe but it would not take a lot for the situation to change…

What is different about this particular series of attacks is that many of them  are carried out by Israeli Arabs. The accepted wisdom (which I still believe on the whole is true) of Israeli Arab relations is that much of Arab resentment is driven by poverty and that Palestinian Arab prosperity is the best road to Israeli Arab peace. What now seems to be happening however is that Arabs who have benefited from Israeli civilisation, Israeli prosperity and Israeli education, are still prepared to stab Israeli Jews, and this on a lone wolf one to one basis.

The Israeli reaction is different to what has happened previously. One of my friends drives an ambulance in Ra’anana  and it is quite clear from what he said that the local terrorist was severely roughed up. Eventually he was taken to hospital, but even then for his own good was not delivered to the Meir hospital in Kfar Saba since his victims had been taken there and the ambulance service was afraid that the relatives would have no hesitation in taking  matters into their own hands.

The mood of the country is very angry. Bibi was  elected because of perceived expertise in security matters. These attacks appear to have come without warning and are impossible to anticipate, and there seems to be no governmental policy. One Israeli told me that  she felt safer during Gaza war when rockets were raining down on Tel Aviv.

Elkan’s View from Netanya


As usual the Festival of Sukkot in Israel was delightful. The weather has been unseasonably warm, with short sleeves and shorts being perfectly acceptable in October, and the country full of Sukkot!

If you live in a house then you put your Sukkah in your garden; if you have a patio then you can put it on that, but living in a block of flats presents its own problems. One complex in Netanya puts up a very large communal Sukkah for its very large blocks, which is a major social success as families who hardly see each other during the year get together.

There are some blocks in Netanya that are designed for observant Jews; the balconies in such blocks are deliberately staggered so that each family’s Sukkah is directly open to the heavens!

In my block one of my neighbours builds his large family Sukkah in the car park. This has the effect of worsening our parking problems, but no one complains for one week.

The festival finishes with Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah jointly which is the only strong argument that I can see for two days Yom Tov since the two festivals sit uneasily side-by-side. My synagogue began its services at 7:30 AM and didn’t finish until 1 PM, longer than Rosh Hashanah. Everything of course is very lively and very loud, and degenerates from time to time into chaos although most members of the shul understand the significance of the “Rejoicing of the Law”as Routledge decorously describes it. I have to confess that I wandered into shul disgracefully late, was immediately called up, and was then offered and drank in quick succession three single malts – Aberlour, Ardbeg and Glenlivet if you must know. It is a classy establishment!

After the Haftarah the whole mood changes. Yizkor is observed followed by Tefillat Geshem, the prayer for rain which is of such central importance in this country. It forms a very quiet and dignified ending to a raucous morning.

And later this week the Yoreh, the early rains, as the second paragraph of the Shema describes them, will begin in earnest.