For their third annual Gala Event, Chabad of the West Coast in Cape Town took things to a whole new level on the 16th of August as they hosted Cape Town's largest ever crowd for a visiting Jewish performer.
Thursday evening as the sun begin to set over the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Town’s International Convention Centre played host to Chabad of the West Coast’s annual Gala Reception “Night at the City” in the elegant Jasminum Restaurant overlooking the City Centre.
As Merle Rubin’s exquisite cuisine and refreshing cocktails welcomed the Platinum and Diamond guests, light music and images of Jewish life on the West Coast flashed across the plasma screens set up around the ballroom lending itself to a night in support of our community.
Chabad Chairman Brian Singer opened the proceedings with a brief report and welcoming Rabbi Mendel Popack who surprised us with a message that the Rebbe sent to the first concert that Chabad in Cape Town organized in 1979 – a message with a spirit that uplifted us all today.
Rabbi Asher Deren, director of Chabad of the West Coast, took to the podium to thank all of the guests, organizers and sponsors who came together in making the dream a reality followed by Sinai Academy Director Zeesy Deren who concluded in wishing a L’chaim for an even more exciting future and then introduced the Guest Speaker Premier of the Western Cape Helen Zille whose insightful words, sensitive appreciation, and warm greetings reflected the incredible leadership that our province and country is blessed to have in her.
Premier Zille concluded her words with the hope that tonight’s event lives up to the Rebbe’s blessings from many years ago that we should grow with the light and joy of our tradition – Amen.
PTA Chairlady Lee-Anne Singer then wrapped up the evening with the grand raffle for which she invited our beloved Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson who shared his gratitude for the role that Chabad is playing in making Cape Town the remarkable city that it can and will be.
As the guests hurried over for a last piece of Sushi or Steak and a L’chaim, the lights began to dim hinting to everyone that it was time to head over to Auditorium 1 and join the other 1,000+ other guests for a night that Cape Town will never forget.
Shwekey in Cape Town with Choni G
As I walked across the elevated passage my heart skipped a beat seeing the endless line of men, women and children snaking down the escalator and across the lobby of the CTICC as hundreds upon hundreds waited patiently for the doors to open welcoming us into the Grand Auditorium 1 of the CTICC.
Entering the room my jaw dropped seeing almost all of the 1,500 seats actually filled with smiling and excited faces full of anticipation for the night of the year.
(“Rabbi, how did you do it?” That’s the question I hear over and over again wondering about the success of the largest participation for a visiting Jewish performer that Cape Town has ever seen. In truth, the answer is – I didn’t.
It was a combination of so many people, both from the organizational side headed up by event coordinator Hirshi Groner and from the publicity where Shuls, Schools and Communal Org’s across Cape Town joined in to truly make this a Communal Event and of course the sponsors who provided everything necessary to make it happen. Click here for a full list of thank you's to everyone who came together and made it such a success)
Finally, the lights dimmed and the show opened up with producer/conductor/drummer Yochi Briskman and the incredible talent of the seven piece orchestra from Israel, Joburg and the USA. The “Shwekey Overture” which was played for the first time here in South Africa, was an incredible composition of music that instantly had all of us clapping, swaying and singing along to music that many had never heard before.
“A Journey Through Music” was the Video Presentation straight out of the studios of Shawn Levin Productions.
The opening act was our homegrown talent with none other than - Choni G! Friends, I know he’s Zeesy’s brother and many of us have seen him before but wow, this guy is on to something… In three seconds he ‘owned the stage and that room’ and his two original compositions of Sholom Aleichem and Ohavti were a refreshing fusion of tradition and trendy, with beautiful messages accompanying each – Choni, we must get you back here soon…
And finally, it was time for “Shwekey!”
The star himself didn’t let down and with a flash of music, light and sound the man of the night appeared to the roaring applauds of 10 percent of Cape Town Jewry…
With a captivating stage presence and unbelievable vocal talent Yaakov Shwekey took Cape Town by storm. After two slow warm ups, the pumping beat of “Moshe UVnei Yirsael” had us all up out of our chairs with some of more excited participants even crowding the aisles for a quick hora!
(Friends, as you know, you can only do your best and despite our securing the CTICC’s preferred (“the best”) Audio Visual supplier (with a six digit fee!) unfortunately the sound took a bit of time to come right. Yaakov’s plea to the Sound Engineer “Abdul my friend, work with me” was perhaps a recipe for peace in the Middle East. Thank G-d, by song three we had it coming right – please G-d peace in Israel will follow shortly.)
As the night concluded with “Vehi She’omda” it was arm in arm as we swayed to the music with the knowledge that “vihakodosh boruch hu matzilaynu…G-d will save!”
Encore, Encore!! And back on stage Yaakov was for a rousing rendition of “Rachem” that finally brought the curtains down on a night that Cape Town will never forget.
Our Platinum and Diamond sponsors then had an opportunity to meet the star himself at the Dessert Reception with Merle’s delicious desserts and the Coffee Bar where Yaakov patiently took the time for everyone to shake hands, take pictures and give thanks for his truly world-class performance.
Shabbat with Shwekey
Friday morning – Erev Shabbat started bright and early for Yaakov touring the great sites and attraction of our city. No, not Table Mountain or the Waterfront. I mean Astra and Coffee Time, institutions close to his heart for all the work he and his wife do in New Jersey, and then on to the true Jewels of Cape Town – our Community Day Schools.
It was actually a bit emotional as we walked up the driveway to Phyllis Jowell and a group of about 30 boys and girls greeted us with Vehi She’omda and then escorted us to the Library for a School Assembly where he shared words of inspiration on the great value of studying Torah and observing Mitzvot wherever in the world we are – especially with acts of kindness like those he had just seen at Astra.
From there it was on to Herzlia Middle School where an impromptu assembly (thank you Rebbetzin Rochel Goldman) on the floor of the Atrium saw 150 learners swaying along with his music and for all of those who felt so bad on missing the concert, Yaakov promised to be back soon…
Unfortunately there was no time to make it for a visit to Sinai Academy but please G-d on the next visit we’ll make sure to include that too – especially as his hosts. And then it was on to Friday Night.
The Shabbat started at Ohr Samayach where we joined up with the team there and after services led by Choni G with Shwekey tunes and a delightful sermon by Rabbi Akiva Tatz and Rabbi Jarred Bloch, and Rabbi Asher Deren then introduced Yaakov who led us all in a soulful rendition of Rachem.
From there it was on to the President Hotel where Chabad and Ohr Samayach joined forces for a beautiful “Unity Night” and fascinating talks by Chief Rabbi Goldstein and Rabbi Tatz and a warm Farbrengen around the tables with Rabbi Yossy Goldman and Rabbi Yechezkel Auerbach that went well past midnight…
Our regional Chabad HQ at Chabad Sea Point was where Shabbat morning for Yaakov, Choni and the whole team began joining Rabbi Yossy Goldman who gave the sermon and Rabbi Asher Deren who shared some West Coast stories at the Brocho. Rabbi and Rebbetzin Avi Popack hosted the entire Shwekey Group (we were about 25 people…) for a delicious lunch (and some delightful Zemiros fromour honoured guests…).
Perhaps reflecting on Yaakov’s Sefardi roots and tradition, the Shabbat of Unity finally closed up with a warm and intimate Seu’da Shlishit at the Sefardi Shul where Rabbi Reuben Suiza gave a warm Sefardi welcome to Yaakov and the whole team.
The Saturday night Kumzitz Braai for our main sponsors at the home of Gary and Sharin Nathan was beyond words but a fitting expression of appreciation to the people who gave generously far beyond the call of duty to make this incredible experience for Cape Town possible, and the great success that it was.
“Yiddishkeit in this city will never be the same” was probably the best reflection heard in summing up the weekend and please G-d it should be the beginning of many great things that we will share with all of Cape Town – a city that we are so blessed to be a part of.
The Shwekey Art Gallery