- Posted December 15, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Nelson Mandela: Your memories
"Nelson Mandela Called My Father 'The Boss'"
To watch 70 year-old Barry Dov Sidelsky carefully remove photos of his father and Nelson Mandela from an old album’s plastic sleeves is to understand a man determined to preserve a family legacy.
“That’s my father, Lazar Sidelsky,” he said, pointing, as he placed a glossy, black and white picture on his round Jerusalem dining room table.
It is the same photo that adorns the cover of “Mandela’s Boss,” a book the younger Sidelsky co-authored in 2011 chronicling his father’s connection to Mandela that first began in 1942. That was the year Sidelsky did the unthinkable.
“My father was the only white lawyer who was prepared to engage a black man to serve articles by him,” said Sidelsky.
Mandela, in his 1994 autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” recalled his hiring at the law firm of Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman -- one of Johannesburg’s largest, and one that had a client base of blacks as well as whites, according to Rabbi Sidelsky. The firm, Mandela wrote, “was more liberal than most. It was a Jewish firm, and in my experience I have found Jews to be more broad-minded than most whites on issues of race and politics, perhaps because they themselves have historically been victims of prejudice.”
“The fact that Lazar Sidelsky, one of the firm’s partners, would take on a young African as an articled clerk – something almost unheard of in those days – was evidence of that liberalism.”
The bond between them would span 60 years until Lazar Sidelsky’s death in 2002. For Dov, a rabbi and educator who has lived in Jerusalem since 1981, the memories are still vivid.
“I recall Nelson Mandela coming to our house in Parkwood for visits,” said Sidelsky, who also remembers the image of cars from Mandela’s wedding procession passing by his home in 1943. “It was in honor of my father.”
The younger Sidelsky, who was reunited with Mandela during his lone visit to Israel in 1999, has also kept correspondences. One handwritten note from Mandela to the elder Sidelsky and his wife in 1995 reads:
“To former Boss Laz:
Compliments and best wishes to a man who trained me to serve our country. I will ever remain indebted to you and Goldie.”
The note is signed, “Mandela, 14.1.95.
Sidelsky is full of anecdotes. He tells of his father’s emotional visit with Mandela at the Victor Verster Prison, after the two had not seen one another in more than three decades. “How is your son, Barry?” Mandela is said to have inquired of Sidelsky, only to learn that the young man had since received his rabbinic ordination and included him in regular prayers for the release of captives.
“Tears came down his eyes. He was so emotional and moved by the fact that the Sidelsky family had thought of him and prayed for his release throughout those years that he was a prisoner,” said Sidelsky.
As a former congregational rabbi in South Africa’s cities of East London and Port Elizabeth, Sidelsky says Mandela’s death has already brought the Jewish community together.
“I know so well that he had the most wonderful relationships with Jews -- prominent Jews, ordinary Jews, throughout South Africa,” he said. “It has never happened before, that I can ever remember, that in all the different synagogues there were memorial services for this great leader of the country.”
Asked how he reconciled Mandela’s sympathy for the Palestine Liberation Organization and its founder, Yasser Arafat, Sidelsky paused before responding.
“It’s very difficult to actually come to terms with all his, let’s call it, political views, his views of supporting and uniting with the Palestinians,” said Sidelsky. “However, one can understand it from the point of view that when he was as, as it were, fighting for the equal rights of the blacks in South Africa, the Palestinians then supported him. So one can understand it.”
With his father, and now Mandela, gone, Sideksly’s sits with his photographs. His book about Mandela is soon to be republished in South Africa, with additional anecdotes.
“My daughter said, ‘Mandela and our father, Lazar, can meet up in heaven,’” he said. “And I think, thinking of both of them, their achievements for all mankind were very great. For South Africa, for the Jewish people, and for the entire world.”
And of that fateful hire in 1942, Sidelsky credits his father’s world view.
“This was the way in which my father related to people,” said Sidelsky. “And I think this is probably what stimulated and was an inspiration for Nelson Mandela as a young man studying to be a lawyer.”