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Central Africa Salutes Chabad

Sunday, 6 March, 2011 - 4:09 pm

Central Africa Salutes Chabad
Mar 6, 2011


 

A slew of African political and business leaders and Lubavich officials showed up in The Congo last week to salute 20 years of work by Shluchim Rabbi Shlomo and Miriam Bentolila.

By Hana Levi Julian, Chabad.org
Photos by Israel Bardugo


Jewish residents and central African leaders celebrated 20 years of friendship this week as hundreds of people marked two decades of Chabad-Lubavitch activities in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa.

Antoine Ghonda, a roving ambassador of President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo, addressed the crowd at this week's gathering, underscoring the government's support of Jewish programs in the country.

"The ambassador was especially warm in his remarks on behalf of the government and the president, and in the way he acknowledged that Chabad has contributed so much, and brought so much joy in the country," noted Rabbi Shlomo Bentolila, the Kinshasa-based director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Central Africa.

Jews living in 14 countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa rely on the outreach, educational and social service programs provided by Bentolila and his staff. Among the population in those countries are businesspeople and tourists, including many Israeli citizens.

But though he is definitely among the minority, and in a region whose history includes several periods of unrest, the rabbi said he does not feel unsafe.

"I have traveled a lot in central Africa, and in the 14 countries in which we provide services, I have never encountered any anti-Semitism," said Bentolila. "On the contrary, there is only reverence and respect for the people of Israel and the Holy Land, and especially from the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo."

Kabila was unable to personally attend the gala celebration at the Grand Hotel, although numerous dignitaries attended the event, including the American ambassador and 12 other representatives from the U.S. Embassy.

Despite an attack earlier in the week at a military base in Kinshasa, and another at the presidential residence, government officials, foreign ambassadors, business owners and rabbinic colleagues of the rabbi streamed in from abroad.

At the event, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, announced the expansion of Chabad services to the region.

Chabad of Central Africa, he said, will appoint full-time permanent representatives to Nairobi, Kenya and Lagos, Nigeria. The emissaries, to be supervised by Bentolila, will work in conjunction with the local Jewish communities.

Stated Kotlarsky: "We believe Africa has a [bright] future."

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