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Businessman Alan Mendelsohn said he was “very, very moved” by the event, which he said would cement the historic bond between South African Jews and leaders of the freedom struggle.
Echoing Goldstein, Mendelsohn called the story of Joseph a potent lesson for the people of South Africa — and said it could not be a mistake that Mandela’s death occurred during the Torah portion that recounts the ancient leaders heroic journey. “Nothing is coincidence,” he said.
Although the crowd was overwhelmingly Jewish, a few black South Africans were sprinkled amid the sea of kippahs in the lower level and women filling the balcony.
Thapelo Lilokoe said he started the day in church but decided to attend the synagogue service as the ultimate tribute to Mandela’s message of unity across lines of race and faith.
Wearing a yarmulke and setting foot in a shul for the first time, Lilokoe said he left with a much stronger appreciation for Judaism and its history.
“I found it so deep and filled with tradition,” he said. “It was a profound way to honor Madiba.”
Ada LeBoff said she was amazed at the turnout at the shul, which she said was bigger than the Jewish high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur combined.
“I just think he was a wonderful person,” she said. “He cared about all of us.”
Contact Dave Goldiner at firstname.lastname@example.org