The top leadership of Congo and the World Chabad-Lubavitch movement gathered Tuesday night in Kinshasa to celebrate two decades of friendship. President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila, called to congratulate Rabbi Schlomo Bentolila, Chabad's emissary to the region and director of Chabad of Central Africa.
Kabila was unable to personally attend a gala celebration held at the Grand Hotel to mark the occasion. His roving Ambassador, Antoine Ghonda, addressed the audience in his stead. (All Israel news photos: Israel Bardugo)
Numerous dignitaries attended the event, noted Bentolila, including the U.S. ambassador and 12 others from the American embassy. Despite an attack earlier in the week at a military base in Kinshasa and another at the presidential residence, hundreds were present for the event. Among the guests were government officials, foreign ambassadors, business owners and rabbinic colleagues of the rabbi who arrived from numerous countries.
Although the event was held to mark Chabad's 20-year anniversary in Congo, it was the announcement by Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the worldwide educational outreach arm of the movement, that drew the most applause. Chabad of Central Africa, he said, will appoint full-time permanent representatives to Nairobi, Kenya and Lagos, Nigeria. The rabbis will work under Bentolila's direction in conjunction with the local Jewish communities.
Up to this point, Bentolila has provided Jewish outreach, educational and social service programs to Jewish communities in 14 countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Many of the Jews are living in the region for business reasons, although in some cases, Israeli tourists comprise a part of the population as well. “After being 20 years in Africa, I assure you that the majority of sub-Saharan Africa is anti-Semitic-free,” Bentolila said in a telephone interview with Israel National News.
“There is only reverence and respect for the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.” Congolese officials, the rabbi said, are very happy to have Chabad in their country. “They were dancing.”