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Morasha shul rises from the ashes

  • FireFollowup2
Flames and smoke billowing from the roof, seven Sifrei Torah scrolls burned in the inferno, and a crumbling, burnt-out synagogue. These are some of the images that have haunted the Cape Town Jewish community and beyond since a fire destroyed much of Beit Midrash Morasha last Tuesday night.
by TALI FEINBERG | Dec 13, 2018

Although it happened on the third night of Chanukah, candles were not left out overnight, and the cause of the fire is still to be determined. But, like Jews did in the Chanukah story, the congregation and the larger community have picked themselves up from the destruction and have begun to rebuild.

In less than a week, the shul has already raised more than R2.5 million towards its recovery, with a goal of R5.5 million under the campaign #MorashaChai. “This month marks 18 years of our community – our year of chai (life). With your help and the will of Hashem, we will bring renewed life to our community,” says Rabbi Sam Thurgood, who has led the congregation with his wife Aviva since 2012.

As last week came to a close, the Cape Town community rushed to ensure that Morasha would still be able to have a full Shabbat together. Herzlia Weizmann offered the use of its school hall, the Sephardi Hebrew Congregation sponsored the kiddush brocha, and all services and children’s programmes ran on time.

The theme of Shabbat was victory over adversity. The celebration included welcoming firefighters and members of the Community Security Organisation (CSO) to the Friday night service, a community walk beginning at the Morasha Shul, and a musical Havdallah ceremony.

“We have just come out of an incredibly inspiring Shabbat with our beautiful Morasha friends and family,” wrote congregant Ma’ayan Sevilya Jowell on Facebook. “One of the highlights was having the opportunity to thank our brave firefighters and CSO crew, who risked their lives to try save our shul, our books, and precious Sifrei Torah. They joined us for our Friday night service, and were really appreciative of the gratitude that we showed them.”

Morasha also partnered with the Sephardi Hebrew Congregation in hosting a Chanukah carnival, with record attendance. There, Holocaust survivor Ella Blumenthal lit a channukiah that survived the Holocaust.

The shul has managed to continue its daily minyanim, first at other shuls, and now at the Bnei Akiva Bayit across the road from Morasha.

Financial and moral support has poured in from around the world. Bnei Akiva created a video with messages of hope from chaverim (friends) around the world, many of whom have experienced the warmth of the Morasha congregation.

Replacing the precious Sifrei Torah that were lost in the fire has been top of the agenda of the Jewish community throughout South Africa. The Green and Sea Point Hebrew Congregation (Marais Road Shul) loaned the Ichikowitz Family Tefillin Bank Torah, known as “Kevin’s Torah”, indefinitely for Morasha’s use.

A Sefer Torah from the Lichtenburg community in North West Province was also delivered to Cape Town for Morasha’s use. This Torah, entrusted to the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) for safekeeping when the community closed down many years ago, has been on loan to the Ohr Somayach community in Sandton.

Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft went to collect the Torah from the Ohr Somayach Shul, and carefully wrapped and prepared it for its journey to Sea Point. A representative of the SAJBD flew with it to Cape Town, and delivered it to the community in time for Shabbat.

United Herzlia Schools (UHS) started the process of writing a new Sefer Torah for Beit Midrash Morasha, as a gift from the Jewish children of Cape Town. On 10 December it hosted a “unity assembly” for all pupils from Herzlia, Phyllis Jowell Pre-Primary, Cape Town Torah High, and the Sinai Academy.

A thousand children came together to watch sofer (scribe) Rabbi Avi Shlomo inscribe the first pasuk (passage), and each child was able to contribute R18 towards a letter of the new Torah. It will be completed in Israel over the coming year.

“It is a tribute to our Cape Town community that in times of adversity, we rally together to assist and offer whatever help can be given,” said UHS Director of Education Geoff Cohen at the event. “I know that Rabbi Thurgood has been deeply touched by the incredible letters of support and solidarity that he has received from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities.”

The Beth Din declared 13 December a fast day to mourn the destruction of the Sifrei Torah.

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