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African countries vote to keep African Jewish Congress alive

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The future of the African Jewish Congress (AJC) and its Chief Executive, Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, no longer hangs in the balance.
by SUZANNE BELLING | Feb 07, 2019

At the biennial general meeting of the congress in Cape Town on Monday, the leadership of the Jewish communities from seven African countries voted unanimously to continue to keep it alive and functioning. They represent South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Namibia, Mozambique, and Zambia. Kenya and Mauritius were not present.

AJC President Ann Harris was given the mandate to plot the path forward for the organisation.

The AJC was launched in 1992 to “provide a helping hand to the small scattered African Jewish communities in their endeavours to remain Jewishly active”, according to David Saks, the Associate Director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD).

It was set up by the then National Chairperson of the SAJBD, Mervyn Smith, who then became congress president. Saks says the congress has provided an important forum for African communities to build bridges and assist each other in the maintenance of Jewish life in their countries.

Though presidency of the congress has since been handed to Harris, Silberhaft continues to be its spiritual leader. He took this on as well as being spiritual leader for the South African country communities. The latter role comes to an end at the end of this year.

Silberhaft has regularly travelled to the affiliated countries to, among other things, officiate at religious services and life-cycle events, visit individual Jews living in isolated areas, and oversee the maintenance of Jewish cemeteries, according to Saks.

Until now, the congress has operated under the auspices of the SAJBD. However, it will now operate as a separate organisation.

Said Harris, “The way forward will still have to be discussed, as will matters such as funding, and the independence of the AJC.

“The future methods are currently under investigation, and we will release further details in the near future. But we can safely say that the African Jewish Congress will continue.”

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