Despite ongoing emigration, South African Jewry said to have 'positive Jewish growth'

The South African Jewish community deals with a tough domestic situation, mainly the spread of violent crime and electricity shortages.

warren goldstein 88 (photo credit: )
warren goldstein 88
(photo credit: )
As the South African Jewish community deals with a tough domestic situation, mainly the spread of violent crime and electricity shortages, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein is confident it will overcome the current troubles and its shrinking population. "[Our community] is going through tough times," he said, "but it is tenacious, resilient and precious." It is also a community undergoing "positive Jewish growth," he promised. Goldstein, who spoke to The Jerusalem Post Monday while leading a trip of South African rabbis to Israel for the community's annual rabbinic conference, said the rabbis have retained a strong position in the community, one that he says is vastly Orthodox-aligned. "We're seeing an enormous return to religious observance," he said. "There's hardly a family that hasn't been touched by it." The country's crime figures, however, are considered to be at "exceptionally high levels," according to a South African Police report from June, and has encouraged a steady exodus of some 500 South African Jews to leave the country annually since the end of apartheid in 1994. Yet, despite these problems, Goldstein said South Africa has one of lowest rates of anti-Semitic incidents in the world. "It's part of the ethos of non-racism and inclusivity," he said. Concentrated in the urban centers of Johannesburg and Cape Town, those leaving from South Africa's 65,000-strong Jewish community say they are leaving behind the domestic troubles that South Africa has experienced in recent years. A group of 96 South African immigrants arrived in Israel on Monday. Some 300 South African olim are expected by the end of 2008, according to estimates by the Jewish Agency. The figure is significantly higher than the 178 South Africans who immigrated last year, and the 157 who came in 2006. While this spike is likely temporary, since "every aliya comes in waves," said Anat Carmel Kagan, director of the Anglo-European desk in the Jewish Agency's Aliya Department, it reflects the political uncertainty with the rise of new ANC President Jacob Zuma. Australia is the primary destination for South African Jewish emigration, followed (in order) by Israel, the United States, Britain and Canada, Kagan said. Australia is estimated to draw some 40 percent of this group. Goldstein acknowledged that emigration "is on the increase at the moment," but welcomed the notion of aliya over emigration elsewhere. "We're very proud of South Africa's good aliya figures," he said. "It is something we welcome and encourage, part of the ethos of our community, which has always been very Zionistic." Goldstein said he was optimistic about the community's future. "The future of the Jewish community [in South Africa] is very much bound up in the future of South Africa as a country," he said, but added: "The future is not what we predict, but what we create. As a community, we have a track record of resilience."