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SAJBD’s 100-year ‘communal CV’ puts it on the map

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev
The political and social environment in South Africa is constantly shifting, hence the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) must adapt to meet challenges as they arise. However things were done in the past, we must consider whether our methods remain effective in dealing with the issues facing us in our own time. But, because we focus on the present, we often forget how long the SAJBD has been part of Jewish communal life in South Africa.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Aug 30, 2018

This year marks 115 years since 22 delegates representing various Jewish religious, welfare, and Zionist organisations met to establish the Transvaal and Natal Board of Deputies, the purpose of which was “to watch and take action with reference to all matters affecting the welfare of Transvaal and Natal Jews”.

Since then, many new organisations have come into being, and have been affiliated to the Board (which in 1912 became a national body incorporating the Cape and Orange Free State). Several of the founder bodies of the Board are still with us, including the South African Zionist Federation, Chevrah Kadisha, and the Durban and Pretoria Hebrew congregations. Others, such as the Potchefstroom, Heidelburg, and Jeppestown congregations, have since closed.

In preparation for the SAJBD Gauteng Council conference on 7 October, much work is being done to update our affiliates’ list. After the conference, we intend to approach those organisations, most of them relatively new, which are not yet affiliated to the Board. The more affiliates we have, the better we can position ourselves as the elected, representative body of the South African Jewish community.

Why should a Jewish organisation affiliate with, or for that matter, remain affiliated, to the SAJBD? Put another way, what is it that the Board does for the community that justifies the buy-in and support of our communal bodies?

We can point to a wide range of services that have been incorporated into the Board’s work over the decades. Protecting Jewish civil rights and combating anti-Semitism remain core to our mandate, but we are active in various other areas. As the spokesperson of the community, we build bridges of friendship and understanding with broader society through interfaith and political networking, media relationships, and social outreach.

Our community is linked to the greater Jewish world through our participation at the highest levels on bodies such as the World Jewish Congress, the Global Coalition Against Anti-Semitism, and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.

We work with government and educational institutions to ensure that Jewish religious rights are upheld, particularly when it comes to resolving cases of university exams being set on Shabbat or Yom Tov. Our aims of promoting and protecting the South African Jewish heritage is accomplished through resources such as our country communities department, archives, and Jewish Affairs journal. We act as a central information resource on the community and its make-up through, amongst other initiatives, our biennial publication, The Guide to Jewish Southern Africa.

As an organisation, we can be proud of our “communal CV”, of which the above is only a brief summary. In the near future, we hope to improve awareness in the wider community of what we do, and increase its involvement in our work.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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