Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris
AUTHOR Geoff Sifrin (Editor)
FORMAT Portrait; 235mm x 155mm; Paperback
What kind of man would leave a comfortable, secure job as rabbi at one of the UK’s most prestigious synagogues and plunge into the unpredictable maelstrom of change that was South Africa in the late 1980s, to lead a wary local Jewish community uncertain whether to pack its bags and run for safer shores, or put its hopes and energies into building a new country? As apartheid collapsed and a new democratic order was being put together piece by complicated piece, great leaders of the calibre of Nelson Mandela, Chris Hani and Archbishop Desmond Tutu were on the stage bringing inspiration and vision. But threatening forces of violence swirled around. The world watched with fascination: Would South Africa succeed in making a fresh start? Or plunge into a racial bloodbath?
This portrait of Cyril Harris’ years in South Africa, and his background, gives a glimpse into one of the most fascinating moments in South African history, the spirit of the times, and the Jewish thread which he weaved through those years of change. Scottish-born Rabbi Cyril Kitchener Harris had never lived in South Africa. But in 1987, he left his position at St John’s Wood Synagogue, London, and headed to Johannesburg with his wife Ann to take up the position of Chief Rabbi. Not only was he the right man to lead South African Jewry, but he also drew on Jewish tradition as a rich source of ethical and practical imperatives to help build a non-racial society.
He merged naturally into the milieu of great leaders active at the time. For seventeen years, from 1987-2004, he brought gravitas, passion and humour to bear on political, social and religious issues. He delivered a prayer at the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela – with whom he developed a special bond – and was a founder of the social development organisation Afrika Tikkun.