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A cantor began the service by intoning the mournful yizkor prayer for the dead at the Oxford Shul in a leafy northern suburb.
Bearded Orthodox Jews nodded their heads in prayer next to secular Jews wearing yarmulkes emblazoned with South Africa’s bright-colored flag.
Many in the crowd stood and sang the Zulu words of Nkosi Sikelela iAfrika, the country’s national anthem.
Streaming into the event, many marveled at Mandela’s ability to overcome the bitter racial divide that left many Jews uncertain about their longterm future in the country.
“We are so profoundly grateful for what he did for us,” said Arlene Ketz.
“Every South African feels the privilege of having him as our leader,” added her husband, Monty Ketz.
Many said they were proud of the special role Jews played in the struggle against apartheid.
“The Jews have a sense of justice and fairness,” said Howard Radford, 53, an anesthesiologist. “Many stood up for what was right during the struggle.”
Jason Katz said he had already visited Mandela’s house in nearby Houghton to pay his own personal tribute to the iconic freedom leader — and marveled at the polyglot crowd paying respects.
“He’s doing in death what he did in life, bringing together the nation,” said Katz, 51.