Challah for Madiba

Last Thursday a group of Jewish women assembled in Johannesburg to bake Challot, pray for the health and well-being of Mandela.

Baking challah for Mandela 370 (photo credit: Courtesy SA Jewish Board of Deputies)
Baking challah for Mandela 370
(photo credit: Courtesy SA Jewish Board of Deputies)
There is a collective breath holding in South Africa today.  There is only one topic on everyone’s lips – the well-being of our precious Madiba. Every community reacts in its own unique way.  The outpouring of love and concern for this icon is astounding. A man who has devoted his life to creating a society that we are proud of deserves only peace and comfort now.
And as we look for ways to honour this inspiring icon, we strive to make the gestures meaningful and congruent with Mandela’s values and emphasis on giving and improving society.
Next week we commemorate International Mandela Day, an important event on our calendar, when we roll up our shirtsleeves and find ways to contribute to those around us.  And in South Africa there are no shortages of worthy causes in dire need of help.  There are a plethora of opportunities for us to contribute to in the spirit of our Tata Madiba.
Last Thursday a group of Jewish women assembled in Johannesburg to bake Challot, using this spiritual activity to pray for the health and well-being of our dear Former President.  There is a Jewish tradition that the Challah making process and the symbolism of the ingredients provide an opportunity for us to pray for healing.  While we kneaded the dough we intoned the special prayer written by our Chief Rabbi calling for the Almighty “to protect Madiba from any pain and suffering, both physical and emotional and to give him strength, comfort and well-being he so desperately needs at this time.”
In a letter from the office of Mandela’s wife Graca Machel, they thanked us for the “kind gesture, and especially the deep meaning behind it”.
In the spirit of the upcoming Mandela Day (July 18), we packed up our Challot and headed for the impoverished area of Alexandra next to Johannesburg to share these special loaves of love with the residents of the Ithlokomeleng Old Aged Home and Phutaditshaba Facility for the Aged.  Each Challah had a message “The Jewish Women of South Africa united in baking bread and prayer for our Tata Madiba.  As all South Africans join together as one in our love for Madiba, we offer you these `loaves of love’ and send blessings to the Mandela Family at this difficult time.  May we all continue Mandela’s legacy in building a peaceful and beautiful South Africa”The Mandela legacy is all about giving and improving the situation of those around us.
South African Jewry has always had as its priority the concept of Tikkun Olam; improving the world around us.  In a country with such great need, with a history as iniquitous as ours, we see it as our responsibility to contribute.
Our community has a vast range of organisations that have been established in fields such as healthcare, education and poverty alleviation.  The majority of our Jewish communal organisations themselves have projects to redress the problems that exist due to the evils of our past.
At the SA Jewish Board of Deputies Conference in 2011, Deputy President Motlanthe asked us to share with our government some of the worthwhile models of development that our community has initiated over many years.  At our conference this year we will launch our book `Jubuntu’; a compilation of the myriad of projects run by SA Jewry contributing to upliftment in our country.  The concept of Ubuntu centres on being concerned with everyone around us – knowing that we do not live alone but are responsible for every person in our society.  `Jubuntu’ is our community’s drive to contribute to the lot of all South Africans.
The best way that we can pay tribute and pray for our Madiba is to exemplify the values that he has projected through his meaningful life and create the society that he worked so hard for.
The author is the National Director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.