Johannesburg — South African Jews joined the rest of the nation and the world in mourning the death of Nelson Mandela Friday with prayers and memories of the iconic figure who led the country from apartheid to freedom.
“You are talking about a person larger than life with so much compassion for every person in this country and even the entire world,” said Rabbi Dovid Hazdan of Great Park Synagogue in Johannesburg. “Our world is poorer for the loss of a great leader and icon of peace.”
David Sacks, the author of “Jewish Memories of Mandela” called Mandela a ‘mensch’ for South Africa whose spirit of openness would guide the nation going forward.
“A true giant is gone,” Sacks said. “He was a light whose presence informed the spirit of a democratic South Africa.”
On Chai FM, a Jewish talk radio station, tributes blared to Mandela, echoing wall-to-wall coverage on South African media. “Your legacy will live on forever,” one ad intoned.
The South African jewish Board of Deputies said synagogues across the country would hold memorial events for the leader who had a remarkable and durable bond with the Jewish community.
Jews played a prominent role in Mandela’s African National Congress during the struggle against apartheid and Jewish lawyers famously defended him during his trial in the early 1960s. When he emerged from prison in 1990, Mandela forged strong personal bonds with the Jewish community and individual Jewish friends and colleagues.
“Nelson Mandela epitomised the miracle of South Africa’s democratic transformation,” Wendy Kahn, national director of the SAJBD said in a statement. “May his noble example inspire [us] and may his memory be a blessing for all humanity.”
Hazdan planned to start Shabbat services Friday with a statement about the death of the anti-apartheid leader at his shul, which is not far from Mandela’s home in the suburb of Houghton.
South African Jews also expect to be included in the official funeral for Mandela, which is expected to draw leaders from around the globe.