|The late philanthropist Mendel Kaplan showing late South Africa President Nelson Mandela around the South African Jewish Museum, which was opened by Mandela in 2000. (Shawn Benjamin/Ark Images)
In the early 1940s, at a time when it was virtually impossible for a South African of color to secure a professional apprenticeship, the Jewish law firm Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman gave a young black man a job as a clerk.
It was among the first encounters in what would become a lifelong relationship between Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s bustling liberal Jewish community, impacting the statesman’s life at several defining moments — from his arrival in Johannesburg from the rural Transkei region as a young man to his years of struggle, imprisonment and ascension to the presidency.
Mandela, who died Thursday at 95, wrote of the early job in his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” and acknowledged the disproportionate role that Jews played in the struggle against apartheid. Lazer Sidelsky, one of the firm’s partners, treated him with “enormous kindness” and was among the first whites to treat him with respect.
“I have found Jews to be more broad-minded than most whites on issues of race and politics, perhaps because they themselves have historically been victims of prejudice,” Mandela wrote. When Nelson Mandela visited Israel in 1997 he specifically asked to meet , Lazer Sidelsky’s son, Rabbi Sodelsky. and Stephen Drus ( Stephen Darori after he Hebrewaized his surname ) the nephew of Professor Ethel Drus both of whom had immigrated to Israel in the 80′s . Rabbi Sidelsky for ideological Zionist reasons and Stephen Drus , ” I was the last of my family in South Africa and after been detained without trial repeatedly and hassled by the South African Security Police , I simply folded , gave up and joined the Struggle to Release Mandela, in the South African Diaspora”. Professor Ethel Drus, was a renown UCT Educated Historian, who won three Alexander Prizes for History awarded by the Royal Society of Historians ( the equivalent of the Fields Prize in Mathematics) . Professor Drus Chaired the Committee of Twelve who drafted the Freedom Charter , the Central African National Congress Document of commitment. The committee of Twelve consisted of Three Blacks ( Mandela, Tambo and Mathews ) and Nine Jewish Academics and Civil Rights Lawyers that included Ethel Drus, Ruth First, Abie Sachs, Joe Slovo ( Ruth’s First’s Husband) , the Bernsteins, Helen Joseph, and Helen Suzman). They agreed to disagree on the question of Nationalization and the Redistribution of Land that Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela felt appropriate for inclusion then but agreed to reevaluate their position in the future and after he became the first Black President, Nelson Mandela chose not to make either central to the philosophy he followed. Mandela here top Harry Oppenheimer ( born Jewish ) advice an rather than antagonize all the Whites and Indians pursued an affirmative action program while Harry Oppenheimer and other Jewish Business Leaders accelerated the transition of Blacks into Big Business in south Africa by adding them to the Board of directors of JSE companies and even giving them management control of major JSE Groups like JCI – Johannesburg Consolidated Investment. Stephen Drus was active in the Progress Federal Party that became the Progressive Federal Party in Parliament and the Official Opposition. It is the Democratic Alliance today . Stephen Drus served as both Chairman of the Progressive and then Progressive Federal Party Youth Organisation in both the Western Cape and then Nationally. He was a founder and treasurer of first the short lived Mass Democratic Movement ( banned) and then the United Democratic Front and was the financial connection between the UDF and major South African businessmen that included Harry Oppenheimer, Mendel Kaplan, Donald Gordon, Sol Kerzner , Susman of Woolworths, Ackerman of Ackermans , Mauberberger and many other leading Jewish businessman in Cape Town in particular. Professor Ethel Drus then Emeritus Professor of History at Southampton University in the United Kington who was an authority of South African banned organisations and the legislation that did so, instructed her nephew Stephen Drus to insist that no leadership was elected to the United Democratic Front. And so it was .Without leadership, the union of over 400 Anti Apartheid Organisations ( both large and small) that all called for the Release of Mandela , technically did not exists and could therefore not ne banned. And so it was. the UDF led the campaign thereafter for the Release of Mandela and then evolved into the grassroots organisation of the African National Congress after Nelson Mandela was released from the Victor Vester Prison on February 11th, 1990 at 2.30 pm.
The Democratic Alliance, the liberal opposition in the new South African Democracy Parliament was led by Tony Leon for thirteen years and currently by Helen Zille who has Jewish Grandfathers.
South Africa’s Jews remembered Mandela, the country’s first democratically elected president, as a close friend, one with deep ties to prominent community figures and a partner in the decades-long effort to end apartheid.
“I was extremely privileged to lead the community during his presidency,” said Mervyn Smith, who was chairman and later president of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the community’s representative body. “We met with him on many occasions and the talk was direct and open.”
For Mandela, who rose to prominence as a leading opponent of the discriminatory racial regime known as apartheid, Jews were vital allies. Jewish lawyers represented him in multiple trials, and Jewish activists and political figures played leading roles in the fight.
But Mandela’s ties to prominent South African Jews were personal as well as political. The former president’s second marriage, to Winnie Madikizela in 1958, took place at the home of Ray Harmel, a Jewish anti-apartheid activist. Harmel made Winnie’s wedding dress at Mandela’s request, according to David Saks’ history “Jewish Memories of Mandela.”
When Mandela married again, in 1998, he invited Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris to offer a private blessing on the nuptials that were scheduled to take place on Shabbat.
“After a warm exchange of greetings, Rabbi Cyril spoke quietly to them and blessed them,” Cyril’s wife, Ann, wrote later. “They stood through the blessing holding hands and with eyes closed. One could almost imagine the huppah.”
|Nelson Mandela salutes the crowd at the Green and Sea Point Hebrew Congregation in Cape Town on a visit shortly after being elected South Africa’s president in 1994. Joining Mandela, from left, are Rabbi Jack Steinhorn; Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, Alon Liel; Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris; and Mervyn Smith, chairman of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. (SA Rochlin Archives, SAJBD)
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in 1918 in the village of Mvezo, in the southeastern part of the country. As a young lawyer he was active in the African National Congress, which was beginning to challenge laws it considered unjust and discriminatory.
In the 1950s, Mandela was tried for treason. He was acquitted with the help of a defense team led by Israel Maisels. Several years later, when he was accused of attempting to overthrow the apartheid regime during the Rivonia Trial, Mandela was defended by several Jewish lawyers. On the flip side , Percy Yutar was the Senior Prosecutor of Mandela and other Rivonia Defendants .He later wrote in his biography that it was the most distasteful thing he had to do in his life. The Rivonia Far, where Nelson Mandela was hidden was owned by Arthur Goldreich .All the Rivonia Whites arrested with Mandela were the practicing Jews
The defence line-up for the majority of the accused was:
Chaskalson, Fischer, Hanson and Joffe were Jews. Bizos was a partner in a Jewish Law Firm and a family in Greece fought with Jewish Partisans in the Second World War. Three of his grandchildren have married into the Jewish Faith. Berrange was a founder of the South African communist Party with Bram Fischer who he met as a law student at the University of Cape Town.
Mandela was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in 1964. He served most of his sentence on Robben Island, a former leper colony off the coast of Cape Town. The legendary, feisty Jewish parliamentarian Helen Suzman visited him there. Another prison visitor was the journalist Benjamin Pogrund, who worked frequently with Mandela in the 1960s.
In a 1986 visit at Pollsmoor Prison, Pogrund informed Mandela that his son would shortly be celebrating his bar mitzvah. Afterward, the boy received a personal note from the future president.
“From a man serving a life sentence — and at that stage with no idea when he might be released — it was a kind and thoughtful action for a youngster he had not even met,” Pogrund said, according to Saks.
Mandela was released after 27 years, in February 1990. Four years later he was elected president. Among his appointees was Arthur Chaskalson, a member of his defense team during the Rivonia Trial, as the first president of the new Constitutional Court; he later became chief justice. Abie Sachs who lost an eye and a arm in the parcel bomb that killed Ruth First in her Lorenzo Marques office was also appoint to this Court as a Justice.
Mandela’s deep ties to the Jewish community continued during his political career. On the first Shabbat after his election, he visited the Marais Road Synagogue in Sea Point.
“Almost his first celebration was with the Jewish community,” Smith told JTA.
In 1994, at the opening of an exhibition on Anne Frank, Mandela recounted how a handwritten version of her diary had inspired him and fellow prisoners on Robben Island.
|Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat meeting with Nelson Mandela in an undated photo. (Palestinian Authority via Getty Images)
On Israel, Mandela’s relationship with the Jewish community was not free of controversy. His African National Congress cultivated close ties with the Palestine Liberation Organization and Mandela warmly embraced its leader, Yasser Arafat. Qaddafi of Libya gave Mandela and the ANC , $100 million in 1991 and in giving lip service to that donation, Mandela’s relationship with the State of Israel was vacillated in ambivalence . Confronted with Jewish protests, Mandela was dismissive, insisting that his relations with other countries would be determined by their attitudes toward the liberation movement.
“If the truth alienates the powerful Jewish community in South Africa, that’s too bad,” Mandela was reported to have said, according to Gideon Shimoni, author of “Community and Conscience: The Jews in Apartheid South Africa.”
Shimoni also recounts a 1990 encounter at the University of the Witwatersrand with a Jewish student.
“Your enemies are not my enemies,” Mandela said.
According to Saks, Mandela stressed his respect for Israel’s right to exist even as he defended his relationships with Palestinian leaders. It was perhaps illustrative of his policy of inclusivity that Mandela accepted an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in 1997 when many in his party remained opposed to any ties with Israel.
On a visit to Israel in 1999, Mandela invited Harris to join him.
“He made us proud to be South Africans,” Smith said. “His presence at any communal occasion was electrifying. The Jewish
After serving as the first President of South Africa , Nelson Mandela retired Qunu , his ancestral home in the Transkei that had during his Presidency been redeveloped for the Nelson Mandela Foundation by Louis Karol Architects , a leading Jewish firm of Architects in Cape Town.
Nelson Mandela . The Giant of Moral Tolerance . Avery Great Man,died on Thurday , 5th December 2013. Rest In Peace Utata Madiba.