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May 03, 1985 - Image 10

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-05-03

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

10

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Friday, May 3, 1985

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Small Zimbabwe Jewish
Community At Crossroad

Boston (JTA) — Several Con-
servative rabbis have expressed
interest in going to Zimbabwe to
fill that Jewish community's need
for a rabbi and spiritual leader,
according to Rabbi Richard Yel-
lin, of Temple Mishkan Tefila in
Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Describing it as ”a mission of
mitzvah," Rabbi Yellin said that
he had approached rabbis about
the post in Zimbabwe at the con-
vention of the Rabbinical Assem-
bly in Miami last month. He
suggested that a good candidate
for the post would be either a stu-
dent just out of rabbinical school
or a retired rabbi. .
Rabbi Yellin has a special
interest in the Jewish community
of Zimbabwe. Many members of
his synagogue are former resi-
dents of Zimbabwe. Also, he re-
turned last month from an eight-
day visit to the country formerly
known as Rhodesia.
The 42-year-old rabbi was in-
vited to Zimbabwe by the repre-
sentative body of Zimbabwean
Jewry, the Central African Board
of Jewish Deputies. He had been
asked as an outsider to assess the
community's operations and
needs, and provide suggestions for
strengthening relations with
other groups in Zimbabwe and, in
general, its stature among world
Jewry.
Rabbi Yellin described Zim-
babwean Jewry as being at a.
•"crossroad, . . . filled with prob-
abilities of taking off positively or
= going down negatively." He cited
several reasons for this view,
among them the economic situa-
tion and travel restrictions, both
of which have a direct effect on the
Jewish community.
According to Rabbi Yellin, gov-
ernment imposed currency re-
strictions "present limitations" on
free enterprise. "All those in--
volved in capitalist endeavors are
in a bind," he said. There have
been rumors of nationalizing pri-
vate industries, although this has
not happened, he said.
Furthermore, the government's
Marxist-Socialist rhetoric, along
with support for the Palestine
Liberation Organization, which
has an Embassy in Harare, and
Zimbabwe's general rhetorical
support for so-called liberation
movements in the Third World
makes the "Jewish community
very, very nervous," Rabbi Yellin
said.
But despite these aspects of life
in Zimbabwe, the Jewish commu-
nity lives relatively modestly and
there are Israelis in the country
and according to Yellin, Zimbab-
weans privately trade with Israel.
Zimbabwean Jewry dates back
to the late 1800s. In 1880, four
Jews participated in a pioneering
trek across the Limpopo River
into the African Kingdom of
Monomotapa which is now part of
Zimbabwe. In 1893, 30 Jews par-
ticipated in the nearly 600-strong
white army during the bloody
Matabele War.
There are other reports that
chronicle the growth and de-
velopment of the Zimbabwean
Jewish community, such as the
first Jewish meeting at the Ma-
soni Hotel in Salisbury, now Ha-
rare, to the souring of the Jewish

relationship with the former re-
gime of Ian Smith, premier of
white minority-ruled Rhodesia.
The Jewish community reached
its peak some time ago at 7,500
persons, and his slowly declined
in population since 1980 with the
establishment of majority rule.
The new government aligned it-
self with other liberation move-
ments, and broadcasts the aggres-
sive anti-Zionist rhetoric familiar
in some Third World nations.
There are three Jewish schools
in Zimbabwe, two in Harare and
one in Bulawayo. In past years,
when the Jewish community
there was larger, the Jewish
schools had a registration of some
500 Jews. But today, as the com-
munity has dwindled, so has the
schools' enrollment. Perhaps ten
to 20 percent of the students cur-
rently enrolled in Jewish schools
are Jewish. The others are black
and white non-Jews. The gov-
ernment funds,Jewish schools in
Zimbabwe.
There remains a "Hebrew cur-
riculum of Jewish-Zionist orien-
tation, created by the Jewish
community" in the schools, Rabbi
Yellin said. The children wear
yarmulkas and receive Hebrew
instructions. All three schools are
"truly multi-racial, multi-
religious" and they are "a vision of
what the government would like
to do" with the whole country's
school system, "at least rhetori-
cally." the rabbi said.
Rabbi Yellin also met with the
Minister of Information, Dr.
Nathan Shamuyarira, who talked
of the government's hope for a
multi-racial, multi-religious
state. Rabbi Yellin engaged in a
discussion of the essence of
Zionism, he recounted, informing
the Zimbabwean official that
Zionism is a national liberation
movement. Yellin left Shamuyar-
ira, at his request, information -
distributed by the American Is-
rael Public Affairs Committee.
Rabbi Yellin met with officials
of the Roman Catholic church,
and leaders of the Anglican,
Presbyterian and Methodist
churches, urging that they extend _
contacts with the Jewish commu-
nity, including speaking to
Jewish congregants, conducting
exchanges programs and building
coalitions.
One poignant comment, Rabbi
Yellin said, came from a leading
member of the Jewish community
there. He said that if Zimbabwean
Jewry can make it in that coun-
try, "it will be the first time in
history that a sizable Jewish
community will be able to succeed
and do well in this kind of
environment."
"So Black Africa has a lot at
stake riding on the success and
well-being of the Jewish commu-
nity in trying to create an open
society," said Rabbi Yellin.
He and Rabbi Murray Saltzman
of the Baltimore Hebrew Congre-
gation, were recently named as
co-chairmen of the Synagogue
Council of America's National
Task Force on Minority Rights.
The SCA was not actively in-
volved in Rabbi • Yellin's visit to
Zimbabwe.

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