Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Rabbi Cyril Harris z"l

Cyril Harris was an old and dear friend. We worked together at Hillel in London, and he was best man at our wedding in 1973. I wrote the following obit for the Canadian Jewish News:

The Emeritus Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Rabbi Cyril Harris z'l, passed away in South Africa on Tuesday 13 September, a few days before his 69th birthday , after a year-long battle with cancer.
Cyril Harris was a colourful and impressive personality, who followed a hugely popular rabbinic career in England with an internationally significant Chief Rabbinate in South Africa. He was born in Scotland, and was one of the group of young rabbis who graduated from the British rabbinical seminary, Jews' College, in the 1960's. A superb orator, he could be fiery when the occasion demanded, but could equally quote poetry from the pulpit in his Scottish accent, to a spellbound congregation.
In the UK, he made his reputation in the London suburb of Kenton, where he built a large, young community. He was a wonderful teacher, and for years taught teenagers at the Summer Schools and Winter Schools of the Jewish Youth Study Groups. His involvement with young people led him to take the radical step of leaving the pulpit and becoming Director of London Hillel in the early 1970's. He did a great deal for Hillel in England at a time when it was in transition. Within two or three years, however, the pulpit called again, and he moved first to another large suburban synagogue, Edgware, and then to the prestigious St. John's Wood Synagogue nearer the centre of London.
Towards the end of the 1980's, his name began to be mentioned as a contender for the British Chief Rabbinate, which was due to become vacant on the retirement of Chief Rabbi Lord Jakobovits z'l. In what many saw as a tactical move, in 1987 he accepted the post of Chief Rabbi of South Africa - which positioned him better as a candidate for the larger UK post. In the event, Jonathan Sacks became the British Chief Rabbi, and - fortuitously - Cyril Harris remained in South Africa. In the momentous times of the early 1990's, he became a crucial moral, religious and political influence in the transition of power, leading the Jewish community with great skill through what could have been vulnerable circumstances.
As Chief Rabbi, he forged relationships with Black leadership - most importantly, a warm personal relationship with Nelson Mandela himself, who became South African President in 1994. When Mandela married his second wife, he brought part of the celebrations forward from Saturday to Friday in order to allow Rabbi Harris to bless the couple. Rabbi Harris was totally committed to social justice, and was co-chair of 'MaAfrica Tikkun', the Jewish community's foundation which channelled their nation-building activity in the new South Africa.
Throughout his career, Cyril was supported by his wife, Anne, a distinguished lawyer in her own right, and his sons Michael (a rabbi in London) and Jonathan. He represented an open-minded modern Orthodox Rabbinic profile - increasingly rare - of wide horizons, pastoral care, and visionary political and social conscience. He leaves many, many friends and admirers - former congregants and former students - in the UK, South Africa, and around the world.

UPDATE: NYT obit; JPost report

2 comments:

Basket said...

Bon jour. Le temps amer que je vois.

Chercher le temps et quelques comment terrien ici.

Blog agréable.

Je devrai revenir plus tard.

Hunt and Fish said...

Great post, I enjoyed reading it.

Adding you to favorites, Ill have to come back and read it again later.