Riviera, South Africa — Jewish South Africa paid an emotional tribute Sunday to Nelson Mandela — a man they dubbed the rainbow nation’s Joseph for overcoming apartheid to build a future based on reconciliation.
Speaking to an overflow crowd of several thousand people in a Johannesburg suburb, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein recounted the Biblical story of Joseph, who overcame years of imprisonment to lead his nation.
Goldstein said the tale — which is remarkably this week’s Torah portion — mirrors the story of Mandela, who famously set aside 27 years of imprisonment on the to reach out to all South Africans.
“In Nelson Mandela, we found our own Joseph,” Goldstein said. “He was able to put aside all the bitterness from those long years of imprisonment and rebuild this country.”
He noted that most of South Africa’s 70,000 Jews immigrated from Eastern Europe in the face of pogroms and anti-Semitism, making the freedom and democracy of the new “rainbow nation” that much more precious to them.
“These are blessings that our history as Jews tells us to never take for granted,” he said.
Synagogue services were also planned in Cape Town, Durban and other main cites. The tributes came as millions of South Africans gathered in churches, mosques, shuls and temples to honor the beloved world leader.