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Employing Mandela

Pictured, left to right: Dorron Kline, Roy Scher, Rabbi Dov Sidelsky and Les Glassman

It was a bold decision for a white South African to employ a black legal clerk in Johannesburg in the 1940s. In defiance of social norms, Lazar Sidelsky, a partner at Witkin, Sidelsky & Eidelman, made the decision to hire Nelson Mandela who was, at the time, a law school graduate. Telfed's Jerusalem Committee, in conjunction with World Mizrachi and WITS Israel Alumni, had the opportunity to learn about the relationship that developed over the years between Sidelsky and Mandela in a fascinating talk by Sidelsky's son, Rabbi Dov Sidelsky.

Dr. Les Glassman, Chairman of the WITS Israel Alumni, welcomed the audience to the lecture. Telfed CEO Dorron Kline enlightened the audience with a Dvar Torah relevant to the month of Elul and the acronym ani l'dodi ve dodi li, exploring how we are all descendants of Adam and Eve, and how we have a moral responsibility towards each other as fellow humans. Lazar Sidelsky's daring decision – in contrast to prevailing norms – was exemplary of this. 

Rabbi Dov then took to the podium and shared a number of heartwarming recollections, relating the special bond between his father and Mandela. Lazar employed the young, intelligent law student who was seeking to find a law firm that would accept a black student to do his articles. The relationship that developed continued over the years even after the passing of Lazar. Dov recounted an emotional meeting when his father was in a very weak state in hospital: Mandela paid him a visit and suddenly Lazar regained his energy, sat up in bed, and said to Mandela, "you're the best medicine I could have wished for". Lazar recovered soon after that and was discharged from hospital. When the family sat shiva for Lazar, Nelson Mandela came to pay his respects. Dov shared with the audience his childhood memories of Mandela and his admiration for the first democratically elected president of South Africa as a champion of reconciliation.

The evening ended with Roy Scher, head of Telfed’s Jerusalem Regional Committee, extending thanks to Rabbi Sidelsky for sharing his personal recollection of his father’s remarkable relationship with Nelson Mandela. In Mandela’s autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom, he wrote about the Jewish law firm that hired him, adding that:   "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."

Pictured, left to right: Nat Bregman, Nelson Mandela and Lazar Sidelsky 

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