Edelstein’s grandson's barmitzvah in Soweto

On Youth Day this year, one of South African Jewry’s most unusual, as well as symbolic and emotionally charged barmitzvah ceremonies took place in Soweto’s Western Jabavu suburb.
by STAFF REPORTER | Jun 22, 2016


Shaun Rosenthal (father of the barmitzvah boy); Mark Goldblatt (cousin); Levi Rosenthal (barmitzvah boy - named Menachem Mendel after the late Melvin Edelstein); and Rabbi Dovid Hazdan.


The Shacharit service was held at the site where Dr Melville Edelstein became one of the first victims of the 1976 Soweto Uprising when he was attacked and fatally injured by enraged protesters. Forty years to the day since the grandfather he never knew lost his life, 13-year-old Levy Rosenthal read the day’s Torah portion.

With him were family, friends and community members, including rabbis, SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) representatives and Jewish day school prefects. Prior to the service, a memorial plaque to Edelstein was unveiled by his widow, Rhona, daughters Shana Rosenthal and Janet Goldblatt, Minister Jeff Radebe and Gauteng Premier David Makhura.


That Melville Edelstein was killed because he was a white man in the wrong place at the wrong time, is one of the great ironies of the Soweto Uprising. As chief welfare officer of the (then) West Rand Administration Board, his dedication to bettering the lot of Sowetans, was well known and appreciated in the wider community.

Through his research work as sociologist, he had also long warned about rising levels of black anger over the regime’s apartheid policies, most notably in his 1971 MA thesis on opinions and attitudes among matric pupils in Soweto.

Executive Mayor Parks Tau at the Youth Day ceremony, described Edelstein as “a peace loving man who dedicated his life to the service of the poor in the then dusty township streets of South Africa”.

He went on to quote the famed press photographer Peter Magubane, who on finding the fatally injured Edelstein after the attack said: “If they had known who he was this never would have happened. Not at all. He was part of the community.”

Through the SAJBD, 20 King David Linksfield and Yeshiva College prefects were among the Jewish community representatives taking part in the Youth Day commemorative events in Soweto.

Following the Edelstein unveiling ceremony and barmitzvah, participants attended the official renaming of a street after youth leader Hastings Ndlovu, who was also killed in 1976. From there, they moved on to the Hector Pieterson monument, where the prefects and SAJBD National Director Wendy Kahn laid wreaths. The SAJBD was officially welcomed by the day’s master of ceremonies.

The next morning Kahn and Chaya Singer, at the invitation of Gauteng MEC for Sport, Arts, Recreation and Culture Faith Mazibuko, represented the SAJBD at another commemorative ceremony, this time in memory of the victims of the Boipatong Massacre.

On June 17, 1992, 45 residents of Boipatong, a black township near Vanderbijlpark, were hacked to death by hostel dwellers affiliated to the Inkatha Freedom Party. The atrocity, arguably the most horrific of the many violent incidents that took place in the lead-up to the democratic transition in 1994, saw the ANC for a time pull out of the negotiations process in the belief - subsequently shown to be unfounded - that the police had colluded with the IFP in the attack.

Kahn was called up to jointly lay a wreath with Mazibuko. In her address, the MEC said that it was important to have the Board represented, as Jews understood from their own experiences the kind of tragedy that had occurred in Boipatong.



1 Comment

  1. 1 Peter Freund 23 Jun
    Fantastic to see this in the JR. A pity it was not printed in any of the other media.


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