Today, world Jewish leaders and organizations joined a chorus of voices mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela, who died yesterday at the age of 95.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remembered the human rights revolutionary as one of “the greatest figures of our time.”
He was the father of his country, a man of vision and a freedom fighter who disavowed violence. He set a personal example for his country during the long years in which he was imprisoned. He was never haughty. He worked to heal rifts within South African society and succeeded in preventing outbreaks of racial hatred. He will be remembered as the father of the new South Africa and a moral leader of the highest order.
Israeli President Shimon Peres echoed that sentiment, saying, “The world lost a great leader who changed the course of history.”
On behalf of the citizens of Israel we mourn alongside the nations of the world and the people of South Africa, who lost an exceptional leader. Nelson Mandela was a fighter for human rights who left an indelible mark on the struggle against racism and discrimination. He was a passionate advocate for democracy, a respected mediator, a Nobel peace prize laureate and above all a builder of bridges of peace and dialogue who paid a heavy personal price for his struggle in the years he spent in prison and fighting for his people. Nelson Mandela’s legacy for his people and for the world will forever remain engraved in the pages of history and the hearts of all those who were touched by him. He will be remembered forever.
Heads of Jewish groups from the World Jewish Congress to South Africa’s Jewish communities also reached out, paying homage to the man who became the leading voice against South Africa’s apartheid regime.
Natan Sharansky, Jewish Agency for Israel head:
Nelson Mandela was able to transform an armed campaign into a peaceful struggle for human rights. In so doing, he succeeded in building bridges and fostering cooperation where such ties had previously been unimaginable. When we met in 1990, several months after his release from prison and several years after mine, I was struck by his ability to see beyond the immediate goals of his efforts, pursuing the brighter future he wished to see for all South Africans. Nelson Mandela’s death leaves a void that will not be quickly filled, and I join all defenders of human rights in mourning his passing.
British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, a South African native:
Having been born and raised in South Africa, I am today mourning the death of Nelson Mandela, who has been an inspiration to me and countless others. A transformational figure who truly changed the world, Mandela proved that hope is a powerful tool for change. When coupled with a shared vision for a better future it is an unstoppable force for good. Nelson Mandela’s courage, dignity, moral clarity and message of peace and reconciliation should inspire us all. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and his fellow countrymen at this time.
Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League:
Nelson Mandela will be long remembered as one of the greatest figures of his generation and one of the most inspirational and effective freedom fighting figures in modern history. In a world where the word “hero” is too readily bandied about, Nelson Mandela was a true hero of freedom who brought historic change, and did so peacefully.
From the American Jewish Committee:
Our world stands united today in recognizing the extraordinary legacy of Nelson Mandela,” said AJC President Stanley M. Bergman, himself born and raised in South Africa. “He guided South Africa with his disarming courage away from the horrors of legalized racism, entrancing the world in the process. We are all poorer for his passing, but richer for his example.
As Jews, we honor every year the miracle of freedom, teaching our children that ‘we were once slaves in the land of Egypt’,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “Mandela’s life embodied a personal and national journey from subjugation to freedom. We are indelibly inspired by his example and can say of him, as we can say of few others, that he truly helped repair the world.
Ronald Lauder, World Jewish Congress head:
As a builder of bridges, he was second to none, and with his huge charisma, wisdom, democratic convictions and tremendous determination he ensured that the transition of his country from an apartheid state into a free and democratic nation was successful.
A statement from B’nai B’rith International, a group that fought for Mandela’s release from prison:
As president, Mandela worked to create a multicultural society after years of minority rule. His new government in post-apartheid South Africa wrote a new constitution, investigated human rights abuses by the previous regime, tackled the issue of racism in his country and focused on helping the poor and disenfranchised.
From the South African Jewish Board of Deputies:
Nelson Mandela epitomized the miracle of South Africa’s democratic transformation. Many heroic men and women played their part in bringing about the triumph of justice and democracy in South Africa, but the name of Nelson Mandela towers above them all. May his noble example inspire the people of South Africa to strive to follow in his footsteps and may his memory be a blessing for all humanity.
From the South Africa’s Union for Progressive Judaism and the South African Association of Progressive Rabbis:
It is as though all the people of South Africa have been sitting together in a nationwide waiting room, watching a loved one fade away. What we as a nation feel for Madiba is a complex mixture of affection, respect and love. His presence is part of our national well-being and we worry that we may not be able to continue so effectively without him.
Rabbi David Saperstein, of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism:
The connections between the Jewish community and Mr. Mandela and his ANC were deep and long-lasting,” Saperstein wrote in a statement late Thursday. From the very beginning of the ANC a significant number of its white leaders were Jews, as were those who set up the lawyers committee for freedom that for decades provided such extensive legal services to the anti-apartheid movement. Those friendships lasted a lifetime and the overwhelming number of Jews in South Africa were strong and passionate proponents of the anti-apartheid movement in no small measure because of Mr. Mandela’s character and leadership.