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Soweto Inspiration for Shabbat

Friday, 13 December, 2019 - 10:22 am

Malkie and I are in South Africa, visiting our 16 year old son, Levik, who is studying in Johannesburg this year. 

This morning, we went for a tour of Soweto. I first heard about the Soweto uprisings as a child in the 70's, and I never imagined myself walking its streets. Yet there we were. 

We were deeply touched by what we experienced there, and i'd like to share one snippet:

Our first stop was in a section called Kliptown, where the locals live in dire poverty. However, a dearth of material possessions is no indication of soul-wealth, which we palpably felt in the warm embrace of the people despite how different we looked. 

The area is rich in street art, and we stopped to soak in some pro-Israel graffiti (which amazed us given the public posture of South Africa's government). Just then, we were introduced to a middle-aged man named Bob Nemang. This dreadlock-adorned man told us how his parents had died when he was young, leaving him to live in poverty on the streets.  Yet he'd resolved to never lose his faith in G-d and to always turn his pain into growth. 

Putting his arm around our Levik's shoulder, Bob told him "live your fullest and leave your mark on the world. Go through pain and don't be scared of it. Let the pain lead your growth".

Bob then told us that he was able to visit Israel in 2003, and was taken by the spirit of the Holy Land. On his first Saturday, he went out with a friend to do some shopping, and was surprised to find all the stores closed. 

When he asked a local what holiday he'd stumbled upon, he was told that this was the Shabbat, a day when Jews put life on pause to consider our Creator, our souls and our purpose on this Earth. He was stunned by the idea. 

He has since tried to capture the Shabbat idea in his own life and remarked "I tell all the Jews I meet that I can see how the Shabbat sustained them through all their tribulations, and how I hope they access their national treasure." 

I've been observing Shabbos my entire life, and I always welcome more Shabbos inspiration, especially from unlikely places - such as a Bob Marley look-alike in Soweto. 


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