Comments of Arthur Lenk, Ambassador of Israel to South Africa, Gala Dinner celebrating 110th anniversary of the South African Board of Jewish Deputies, Johannesburg, 25 August 2013
ערב טוב ומזל טוב לוועידת הצירים.
I am deeply honored to represent your brothers and sisters in the State of Israel tonight and to congratulate the Board of Jewish Deputies upon your 110th anniversary. It is truly an auspicious occasion, one to reflect upon your great achievements and to consider the challenges and opportunities to continue your success in the coming years. Although I am quite new here, the reputation of the Jewish community of South Africa was well known to me, long before I arrived here earlier this month. The fame of your community in Israel and throughout the Jewish world, is based upon your activism, commitment to Jewish and community causes and the close identification with the State of Israel.
Nearly every Jew here has a family member and close ties to Israel. You have brought rugby, cricket and even biltong to Ra’anana and the rest of Israel. South African Olim play a prominent role in all aspects of life in Israel, and according to Telfed, the central organization for South Africans in Israeli society, 85 former South Africans have died protecting our borders. Most importantly, South African Jews – whether living in Israel or here in South Africa serve as a human bridge between our two countries. The tens of thousands who remain here are key players in building a modern, successful society, patriotic South Africans, justifiably proud of the achievements of this country. They remain the strongest and most vocal advocates for the possibilities and opportunities that lie in cooperation and friendly relations between our two countries. They are also key supporters of Israel’s desire and actions to live in peace with our neighbors.
Just as South African Jews look towards Israel for inspiration and identification, Israel has always looked towards Africa. Since biblical times, through the early days of the State of Israel until today, Israel has always seen a deep connection to Africa. Although we are geographically in Asia, and politically and culturally in Europe, we are actually and naturally of Africa - we are the only country with a direct land link to this continent.
Israel has a significant part of our population with roots in Northern Africa, Southern Africa and from Ethiopia. Our largest companies such as Teva Pharmaceuticals are looking to open factories and build partnership in Africa and others are playing a leading role in building a $400 million hydro-electric plant on the border between Togo and Benin. Throughout the continent and here in South Africa, Israel shares its experience as a young but self-sufficient state, without natural resources, has offered cooperation and collaboration in healthcare, agriculture, innovation and education. We share your concerns about terrorism and extremism and work with many African countries on standing up to Al Qaida and its nefarious partners. We have lots to share and discuss with our African neighbors, and believe we can play a constructive and positive role, partners as observers in the AU.
The South Africa Board of Jewish Deputies has for 110 years carried out, with great distinction, the vital and sometimes thankless role of community leadership. It plays an essential and fundamental role in the lives of Jews in this country, from cradle to grave. It sends a message of civic responsibility, tikkun olam and patriotism that is so admirable that it is a model to other community groups here in South Africa and around the world.
I am thrilled that I can be with you here tonight and that our family will have the great fortune to spend the coming years in such a wonderful community. Mazel tov.