African rabbi in Britain tells of crisis faced by Zimbabwe Jews

By Shelly Paz, June 20, 2008

A South African rabbi came to London this week to “create awareness in the local Jewish community” of the difficulties faced by Zimbabwe’s tiny Jewish community, and to seek help for the regular support his organisation is having to offer its members.

Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft is rabbi to the African Jewish Congress, which represents 13 African countries including Zimbabwe. He is also the president of the AJC’s Zimbabwe Fund, responsible for all aid and assistance to the 320 Jews in Zimbabwe.

“This is from basic necessities such as toilet paper and food through to medications, medical evacuation and so on,” Rabbi Silberhaft told the JC.

On Monday he met Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks and briefed him on the purpose of his visit. The Chief Rabbi described the situation in Zimbabwe as “a genuine humanitarian crisis”.

Some of the staple goods on which the Zimbabwer Jewish community relies

With only a week before a second round of elections, the Jewish community in Zimbabwe says it is facing an unbearable financial situation. A local woman told the JC: “We can’t continue on this downward spiral, never knowing what the price of something as mundane as a kilo of salt will be tomorrow.” She added that the elderly and pensioners have the hardest time obtaining food products.

There are also fears of an increase in extreme violence.

A man from Bulawayo said: “Bulawayo is almost protected by the opposition politicians. Harare, however, is a different story… it’s genocide there. It’s history repeating itself over and over again. We have seen this happen with [former Serbian leader Slobodan] Miloševic and the tactics he used of intimidation, fear, torture, abduction — gangs of youth militias, most of whom are stoned and are being paid daily. It’s very bad.”

There are two views in Zimbabwe. One is that Robert Mugabe will be voted in again, due to intimidation, killings and starvation. Others believe that no matter what has been done to the Zimbabwean people, it has only made them more resolute to vote for change.

Rabbi Silberhaft said that, contrary to last week’s report, he is not involved in fundraising for the Jewish Agency’s emergency plan to evacuate the remnant of the Jewish community in Zimbabwe. He stressed: “The African Jewish Congress has no knowledge of, and is not aware of, any evacuation plans quoted by the Jewish Agency.”

But following last week’s exclusive JC report on an emergency evacuation plan made by the Jewish Agency, the Zimbabwe Jews we contacted said that, despite the deteriorating situation, they feel secure and have no plan to leave. Nevertheless, each person interviewed insisted on anonymity.

One woman said: “During the Holocaust, we lost six million of our people. As a young girl I told my mother I am ashamed to be a Jew because we allowed ourselves to be like lambs to the slaughter. My mother was very upset because she came here [Zimbabwe] from Lithuania after she had lost most of her family. For me, being or lagoyim [a light unto the nations] is a serious thing. I believe that if you have the ability to stand up against evil, you do it. I am not afraid, if I see an immediate danger I will leave, but at the moment I don’t think it is too scary.”

Last updated: 4:51pm, June 23 2008