Israel commemorates South African Jews who fought apartheid

The garden has been named Gan Siyabonga (Gan means “park” in Hebrew; Siyabonga is “We thank you” in Zulu) and will honor South African Jews who fought apartheid.

 Breaking ground at Gan Siyabonga: (from left) SAZF national chairman Rowan Polovin; JNF-SA chairman Michael Kransdorff; Tel Mond Mayor Lynn Kaplan; JNF-SA executive director Bev Schneider; and JNF-SA president Isla Feldman. (photo credit: JNF-SA)
Breaking ground at Gan Siyabonga: (from left) SAZF national chairman Rowan Polovin; JNF-SA chairman Michael Kransdorff; Tel Mond Mayor Lynn Kaplan; JNF-SA executive director Bev Schneider; and JNF-SA president Isla Feldman.
(photo credit: JNF-SA)
Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)

A groundbreaking ceremony took place on November 7 in Tel Mond to launch a memorial garden that commemorates a remarkable group of South African Jews who contributed to the struggle against apartheid, as well as gave support to the State of Israel. The garden has been named Gan Siyabonga (Gan means “park” in Hebrew; Siyabonga is “We thank you” in Zulu).

The 5,000-square meter garden, surrounded by trees, in located in the lush Tel Mond Park. Tel Mond, which is home to a sizable English-speaking community including many former South Africans, is a 15-minute drive from Ra’anana and 10 minutes from Netanya. 

The Jewish National Fund South Africa and South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) said in a media release that a South African artist will be commissioned to create a sculpture to recognize the Jewish contribution to South Africa’s struggle for freedom. It is due to be unveiled in early 2023. Some 36 trees will be planted in the garden (according to Jewish tradition, each generation is saved by 36 righteous people). Stones will be placed for each activist with QR bar codes, which can be scanned to reveal their history.

A living testament to the struggle for freedom and the bond between Israel and South Africa

“At a time when some are trying to divide South Africa and Israel for their own sectarian interests, this garden will be a living testament to the bond between the two peoples in the struggle for freedom.”

Michael Kransdorff

“At a time when some are trying to divide South Africa and Israel for their own sectarian interests, this garden will be a living testament to the bond between the two peoples in the struggle for freedom,” said Michael Kransdorff, chairman of JNF South Africa, who championed the idea of a memorial garden. “There were many South African Jews who contributed to South Africa’s liberation and who were supportive of Israel’s establishment and development. These heroes have never been recognized and many are not well known, yet they were instrumental in helping to build better societies in South Africa and Israel.”

 South African flag. (credit: flowcomm/Flickr) South African flag. (credit: flowcomm/Flickr)

Rowan Polovin, SAZF’s national chairman, said, “This memorial garden, a first of its kind, is a powerful testament to a group of South African Jews who fought against injustice in South Africa while also embracing the need for the Jewish State of Israel to exist and thrive. Those we are honoring wanted to right the injustices that they witnessed in South Africa. They were equally inspired by the Jewish people’s struggle to reclaim their ancestral land and their right to attain political freedom.”

Rabbi David Benjamin spoke at the event about his late father, one of the activists to be honored in the garden, who made aliyah in 1988: “Rabbi Myer (Sonny) Benjamin was an outspoken critic of the government during the apartheid era and played a major role in the struggle for human rights. He held multiracial prayer meetings at a time when it was illegal. He housed hundreds of displaced people in his synagogue who were expelled from their homes by the Nationalist government. It’s heartening when people who never sought recognition are acknowledged for their actions.” 

MK Ruth Wasserman Lande said, “As someone who grew up in South Africa and immigrated to Israel, I am immensely proud to witness the bridging of those two worlds with the opening of this park – donated by the South African Jewish community, which is known for its staunch support of and loyalty to South Africa on the one hand and its love of Israel on the other. 

“It also bridges a divide between two countries that unfortunately are experiencing a difficult stage in their relationship. South Africa has been through tremendous hardship and so have the Jewish people. There are deep connections between us that have been kidnapped. This project is another stone in a bridge to bring South Africa and Israel closer.”

As the list of those to be commemorated is still a work in progress, people are invited to submit names for consideration to [email protected]