Rabbi Lionel Mirvis of Cape Town felt “overwhelmed” when he heard that his “baby”, Ephraim, had been appointed chief rabbi of the United Kingdom.
There was “no question”, he said, but that he would be attending his inauguration. “He was such a wonderful kid, a gem of a child, and we all knew from the day he was born — the second day of Rosh Hashanah — that he was destined for greatness,” he enthusiastically told the JC, describing his son as a “born teacher.
“I was with Ephraim every inch of the way from the very first interview until the very end [of the selection process],” Rabbi Lionel added.
The chief rabbi-designate is one of four siblings, with whom he “never, ever squabbled”, according to his father. “Everybody loved him.” And he knew from his early teens that he wanted to be a rabbi.
The family arrived in Cape Town from Benoni, in the-then Transvaal province, when Ephraim was 11 years old.
He attended the Herzlia Jewish Day School and then went to yeshivah in Israel, as did his brothers Howard (Tzvi) and Rabbi Jonathan, until recently international director of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-school Institute.
At one stage, all three were at the same yeshivah, a unique occurrence in its history, according to his father. His sister, Lynette, is married to Rabbi Vivian Silverman, formerly of the Schoonder Street Congregation in Cape Town, now of the Brighton and Hove Hebrew Congregation.
The incoming chief rabbi’s late mother, Freida, was principal of the Athlone Teachers’ Training College during apartheid — at the time the only college for coloured teachers of pre-school children in South Africa.
Rabbi Lionel Mirvis, a youthful 86, served as spiritual leader of the Wynberg Hebrew Congregation in Cape Town, as well as of the Claremont Hebrew Congregation in the same city.
Today he concentrates on graphic kabbalah — a new approach — on which he lectures and has recorded CDs.