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Seven Stories High – celebrating 70 years of King David Schools

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King David School opened in 1948 with 40 Jewish students. The Holocaust had ended shortly before the school began, and King David embodied the hope of a bright future for Jews in Johannesburg, a future underpinned by a Jewish education.
by GILLIAN KLAWANSKY | Aug 30, 2018

That was 70 years ago, and King David is now celebrating this milestone with pride, as it reflects on what it took to get to this point. On 23 August, the King David Schools’ Foundation (KDSF) treated its donors to a “Seven Stories High” celebration of this historic year.

It was a celebration of building a community founded on Jewish values and Zionism, creating vital networks and relationships, and ultimately providing an unparalleled education.

The King David High School Linksfield hall was transformed into a glamourous venue for the event, highlighting the seven values that have sustained King David for the past seven decades: Jewish values, Zionism, community, networks, relationships, education, and potential for greatness.

A showcase of current and former Davidians’ singing and dancing talent was on display, as well as nostalgic reflection about what has made King David such a strong force in the South African Jewish landscape.

The sponsors learnt that many South African Jews were initially against the concept of King David, concerned about the dangers of segregation. However, there was an undeniable need for a school that would espouse the values that so many Jewish families had died for. The school’s message on the day it opened is one that continues to encapsulate Jewish education – “think of others”.

It was fitting that the State of Israel was declared by David Ben-Gurion in the same year that King David was founded, further strengthening the unbreakable bond between King David Schools and Israel.

Speakers reflected on the Zionism that largely defines King David, where generations of students remember massive Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations, Hebrew classes, and unforgettable tours to Israel including the ulpan. Rabbi Ricky Seeff, the Principal of King David Primary School Victory Park, and Shelly Freinkel, the Principal of King David Primary School Linksfield, both alumni, shared personal experiences of King David’s unwavering commitment to Israel.

“The Jewish community of Johannesburg gave birth to King David, but as our schools have grown, King David has itself become a community,” said Elliot Wolf, the former Principal of King David High School Linksfield, and now Director of the KDSF. “We have more than 3 000 pupils, more than 11 000 alumni, and we are the largest Jewish school in the southern hemisphere. For my twin brother – Jeffrey Wolf, the former Principal of King David High School Victory Park – and me, how gratifying it is to be told by so many of our alumni that they attribute their success to their school days at King David.

“In our strife-ridden world today spinning in a kind of values vertigo, I feel more passionate than ever about what King David offers – a Jewish education that will provide our children with our long-established Jewish heritage and a community that aspires to live by Jewish values.”

Raelene Tradonsky, the Executive Director of the KDSF, explained how the foundation works.

“We choose to allocate 9.8% of our school fees to Jewish children in need, and then raise the funds to rebuild the annual deficit, which this year amounts to R32 million. The KDSF is tasked with raising this huge amount so that our schools can grow, thrive, and continue to deliver an unparalleled education.

“We face that challenge willingly because we know that if King David schools did not put others first, if thinking of others was just lip service, we would be sacrificing the very soul of this school. To belong to a community is to stretch our sense of self further than our own lives, further even than our children or grandchildren’s lives.”

Exemplifying the values of tikkun olam – the responsibility we bear for the wider community – King David is especially proud of its relationship with Summerwood Primary, and its science and literacy partnerships, among many other outreach programmes. The King David Senior Primary Linksfield and Summerwood Primary choirs sang together in a touching representation of this value.

Speaking of the power of the King David network, people with a shared history and values leveraged across the world, Alon Apteker, Leor Atie, and David Frankel shared their successful business journey which began at King David High School Linksfield.

Having just celebrated their 30-year reunion, the three began their business schemes in Grade 9. “King David provided us with the platform to express ourselves very early on, and the culture of entrepreneurship developed our mutual passion,” they said. “Some of the best years of our lives were working together. We were young and naive, but trusted each other implicitly. The King David culture had an impact on the core culture of our business.”

The three found success with Internet Solutions, which they later sold to Dimension Data. “King David developed invaluable competencies such as chutzpah, schmoozing, and talking one’s way out of some deep shtoch situations,” they joked. “We are indebted to King David for the incredible networks that we created while we were here, and the superhuman confidence that this instilled in us to go out, unafraid, believing in ourselves and those around us, knowing that we could achieve anything we wanted.”

In a touching video, romantic relationships built at King David Schools over the past 70 years were celebrated, with five married couples discussing the school days where they found their life partner. These couples extended from a pair who met in the 1960s at King David Linksfield, to one that met and married in recent years. It was a beautiful illustration of how romantic connections have led to new generations of Davidians, with some of the couples’ children now attending King David.

Rabbi Craig Kacev, the Director of the South African Jewish Board of Education, spoke about King David’s tradition of Jewish education that has continued from generation to generation. “We bring our children up to create possibilities and make a difference,” he says. “You cannot sustain a school for 70 years without tradition.”

The evening ended with the current head boys and girls of King David High School Linksfield and Victory Park reflecting on what they have learnt from King David – Jewish values, Zionism, confidence, and helping others. One lesson stood out: “Thriving academically is just as important as being a good person.” These values are sure to sustain King David in the years to come.

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