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Warren Goldstein, South Africa’s chief rabbi, recounted Mandela’s long struggle for freedom, which was punctuated with friendships and professional relationships with Jews. He called the leader’s death a clarion call for all people to fulfill the Jewish imperative of tikkun olam.
“Judaism teaches that the best way to pay tribute to those who have passed on is to do good deeds in their honour,” Goldstein said. “The greatest tribute we can pay is to live like Mandela, in accordance with the values he practiced and taught — values of human dignity, forgiveness, kindness, courage, tenacity, strength, honesty and integrity.”
Leaders of liberal Jewish denominations called the death of Mandela — universally known by his clan name Madiba — a tragedy for all South Africans. They said people across lines of color and religion had bonded together as a single family watching the revered leader fade in recent months.
“It is a day South Africans have dreaded, which of course has shaken us all to the core. What we as a nation feel for Madiba is a complex mixture of affection, respect and love,” said Steve Lurie of the South African Union for Progressive Judaism and Robert Jacobs of the South African Association of Progressive Rabbis in a joint statement.
Echoing the uneasiness of millions of South Africans, they said Jews were hoping the country could continue on the path blazed by Mandela — and feared that the future would be less certain without his unifying presence.
“His presence is part of our national well-being and we worry that we may not be able to continue so effectively without him,” they said.
Even though Mandela had been gravely ill for months, the news of his death still stunned the nation. Sacks said he had get to come to grips with the reality that Mandela was no more.
“He was a president for all, so every community will feel bereaved for the loss,” he said. “We can take pride in the fact that so many members of our community played such prominent role in his struggle. But it’s really not a time to focus on what any one community did or didn’t do. It’s a time for us as South Africans to come together and remember what he stood for.”
Hazdan said Mandela’s enduring message would be for all South Africans — black and white, Jewish and non-Jewish — to keep working for justice in the country still wracked by poverty and inequality.