(by Darryl Egnal)
Bet David, the Progressive Jewish community in Morningside, celebrated the unveiling of the foundation stone of its new synagogue on the new Bet David Campus on Wednesday 29 March.
A crowd of 50-strong members and guests gathered to witness this historic event. The Bet David choir opened the proceedings with the singing of Ma Tovu… (How good… are your tents, O Jacob, and your homes, O Israel), after which Rabbi Adrian M Schell dedicated the foundation stone with a special prayer, part of which is quoted here.
“Our God and God of our ancestors, Rock of Israel, we ask for blessing at this sacred time. We have gathered to unveil the foundation stone of this new Beit Knesset to be dedicated to You and Your worship. Guide us to build a house, befitting Your holiness, a sanctuary worthy of Your presence, a community founded in Your image, where young and old may rejoice to come before You, to learn Your truth, and to seek Your guidance…”
The rabbi and Desmond Sweke, Bet David chair and a trustee of the Bet David Trust, unveiled the stone to great applause. Sweke read the wording on the stone, which starts off with the line from Exodus 25:8, “Make me a Holy place and I shall dwell in your midst”.
“As chairman of Bet David, it was my honour and privilege to lay the foundation stone for our new synagogue,” Sweke said after the unveiling ceremony. “This important milestone in Bet David’s history has been 10 years in the planning, and is part of the strategy to make Bet David a leading, world-class Progressive Jewish Campus on which to live, learn, pray and play.”
According to Monica Solomon, chair of the SA Union for Progressive Judaism (SAUPJ), this is the start of a new era for Bet David. “I am pleased I was able to attend the ceremony to witness the unveiling, and I look forward to being at the opening of the new shul when the building is completed.
“On behalf of the SAUPJ, I’d like to wish the Bet David management, staff and congregation all the best for the future. May you all go from strength to strength and may this be the beginning of a successful future for the Bet David community,” she said.
Rabbi Schell is very proud to be part of the Bet David congregation and to have been able to observe the changes that have taken place since he joined Bet David in 2014.
“It’s not easy to leave such a special place behind, to watch it being razed to the ground,” he said. “Our old shul held many wonderful memories for so many of our congregants, and while it’s sad to say goodbye, we’ve embarked on a journey that will allow us to continue to keep our doors open to everyone who is looking for a spiritual Jewish home, committed to our Progressive traditions and values.”
Yesterday, today & tomorrow
Bet David has come a long way since the property was acquired in 1971 in the then new and developing area of Morningside, far from the city centre.
The first services were held on Friday May 26, 1972 in what was known as the “Summer House” on the property, a small rondavel-shaped building originally designed for refreshments alongside the property’s tennis court. The shul, which became known as The Rondavel, accommodated between 50 and 80 congregants.
Within two years, the congregation had grown so much that a larger synagogue was required. When planning the new building, the management and congregants felt very strongly that the design should be based on the original synagogue. The Rondavel’s shape and design, so much a part of Africa, had become the heart of Bet David’s congregational and religious activities.
The new synagogue’s foundation stone was unveiled at its opening on March 20, 1977, 40 years ago, almost to the day. The magnificent stained-glass windows encompassing the Ten Commandments, designed to fit in the window recesses on either side of the Aron Kodesh in The Rondavel, were moved to the Bimah of the second synagogue, and will again be moved to the new Bet David synagogue once it’s complete.
The Bet David Campus will house the synagogue, a religion school, two function venues (including The Middleton on top of which the shul is being built), the Mitzvah School (for Matric students from Alexandra), a nursery school, and office facilities for the Bet David Kehillah, Netzer and the SAUPJ.
“We are entering a new era for our congregation and it is with great anticipation that we look forward to the completion of our new Bet David Campus,” said Sweke.
“We know that the community spirit we’ve cultivated over the years will continue in our new home. We take with us all the memories and traditions that have made Bet David so special to us, and we look forward to being in a place where new memories will be made and fresh traditions will be built,” he concluded.