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South Africa’s Jews Unroll World Cup Welcome Mat


South Africa’s Jews Unroll World Cup Welcome Mat

Johannesburg, South Africa’s Soccer City will host the opening and final matches of the 2010 World Cup this summer. (Photo: Shane Diaz/Flickr)
Johannesburg, South Africa’s Soccer City will host the opening and final matches of the 2010 World Cup this summer. (Photo: Shane Diaz/Flickr)

As the eyes of soccer fans around the globe turn their eyes to South Africa, host of this summer’s 2010 World Cup, its expansive Jewish community is gearing up for an onslaught of tourists and Jewish sports
aficionados. With a ready list of kosher restaurants, food stores, hotels,
businesses, synagogues and assorted other services, a central Web site,
and a staff of volunteers at its disposal, the communal effort aims to
not only cater to the competitions’ players and spectators, but to
broadcast South Africa as a top destination for religious-themed

“We’re expecting visitors all over the country,” reported Rabbi Dovid Masinter, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary who is coordinating communal activities in conjunction with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. “Already, the phones have been ringing off the
hook with requests for information, and Chabad Houses from Johannesburg to Cape
Town, as well as other vital pieces of the community’s infrastructure,
are gearing up to go the extra mile to welcome our Jewish guests from
around the world.”

Masinter, who also serves as director of the Chabad House of Johannesburg, specifically mentioned prayer services at stadium matches for those who request them, Shabbat meals, and Torah classes.

In the lead-up to the World Cup, which kicks off June 11 and will last until the final match on July 11, Masinter and officials at the board of deputies designed the community’s own makaraba, a
festive hat worn by soccer fans across South Africa. Available for
purchase on the community’s World Cup Web site,, the
bright yellow hat features images of the South African flag, a Jewish
prayer shawl, a soccer ball, and a soccer player sporting a yarmulke.

With official government estimates indicating that anywhere from 350,000 to 450,000 people will descend on South African for the event, Wendy Kahn, national director of the board of deputies, said that most
Jewish interest in the competition has been coming from Argentina,
Australia, England, and, understandably, Israel.

“There’s an incredible excitement and enthusiasm out there,” stated Kahn. “We believe this is the country’s greatest moment since its first democratic election in 1994. South Africa has a very rich Jewish
history, and a very advanced infrastructure for Jewish travelers, and
we’re trying to set the stage so that people see the country and its
Jewish community at its best.”

Possessing a history that dates back to the 17th century, when the first Jewish settlers of Cape Town arrived under the protection of the Dutch East India Company, South Africa’s Jewish community exploded in
numbers when religious freedom was granted in 1803. Today, it numbers
about 70,000 people, while tens of thousands more live outside of the
country, in places like Israel, Australia and North America. It
maintains several ornate synagogues, as well as a network of schools.

The community’s effort to partner with the Chabad House and, in the words of spokeswoman Charisse Zeifert, “offer a Jewish home away from home for our visitors,” dovetails with a government campaign of public
investment and high-profile launched in 2004, when the International
Federation of Association Football picked the country as this year’s

Rabbi Dovid Masinter, director of the Chabad House of Johannesburg, is coordinating the South African Jewish community’s hospitality activities during the World Cup. The campaign
includes offering a Jewish-themed makaraba, a traditional hat worn by
South African soccer fans.

Counting Down

“We are waiting,” Johannesburg resident Gordon Mokonyane said in a report on the World Cup’s official Web site. “It is time for the people to stop putting us down and to come see for themselves that Africa can
do it.”

According to Ronel Bester, a spokeswoman for the South African Ministry of Tourism, nine cities will be hosting a total of 22 matches. Many visitors are expected to arrive in the country early, and stay past
the world cup, and country’s semi-official tourism board has been
educating potential travelers through a network of international

At the board of deputies, Kahn acknowledged that foreigners’ perceptions of South Africa have likely been tainted by its history of apartheid and an uptick in crime. She said, however, that the country is
safer than ever, especially for the Jewish traveler.

“Anti-Semitism in South Africa is probably one of the lowest in the world,” she asserted. “Crime is a problem in certain pockets of the cities, but there are many initiatives to address it. With the eyes of
the world on the country, the authorities have gone to great pains to
reduce crime in the country.”

For his part, Masinter said that he wants “people to know that we’re there for them.”

“We’re trying to make things as easy as possible for those attending the World Cup,” he added. “Whatever they need, we’ll do our best to provide.”

Toda rabah for visiting

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