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Op-eds

Paying tribute to some illustrious Jews and non-Jews

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev
From the very outset and to this day, the leadership of the SAJBD has included some of South Africa’s most eminent lawyers, among them many judges. Their skills and knowledge have time and again proved invaluable in confronting the many legal challenges facing the community over the decades, whether relating to immigration and citizenship, resolving intra-communal disputes, combating anti-Semitism, safeguarding Jewish religious rights, or sundry other areas.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Nov 16, 2017

In addition, we can be proud that in addition to donating their time to Jewish causes, a number of senior Board leaders were also prominently involved in defending political activists fighting against apartheid.

They included former SAJBD Chairmen Isie Maisels and Maurice Franks, Nat Levy and Harry Schwarz (who also gained considerable renown as a stalwart member of the liberal political Opposition in parliament in the 1970s and 1980s).

Last week, the National Assembly adopted with acclaim, a motion recognising and paying tribute to SAJBD Cape Vice-Chairman Advocate Michael Donen for his role in defending freedom fighters during the apartheid years.

Michael, in addition to being a valued member of the SAJBD’s legal team, represents our community at the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. This position was previously held by the late Mervyn Smith, another leading lawyer who perhaps more than any other Jewish leader at the time was instrumental in the SAJBD’s adopting a clear stance against apartheid in the mid-1980s.

The actual motion to honour Michael was introduced by Democratic Alliance MP Michael Bagraim, one of South Africa’s foremost labour lawyers and himself a former national chairman of the SAJBD. We commend him on taking the initiative in this regard, and congratulate Advocate Donen on this long overdue recognition of the contribution he made to the South African freedom struggle.

Last week, I also made reference to two other human rights activists, namely Helen Suzman and Advocate George Bizos who, despite belonging to the privileged white ruling caste, devoted their careers to fighting racial injustice in South Africa.

Recognising and paying tribute to those who stood up for victims of persecution even when they did not belong to their own particular community (whether defined along religious, racial, national, or ethnic lines) has had particular resonance for Jews.

This has obviously been especially in evidence in the post-Holocaust era, but long before the Holocaust, much honour has been accorded in our tradition to those gentiles who went against the prevailing tide to defend the rights and dignity of Jews in their society.

Earlier this month, I was privileged to say a few words in memory of the Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who defied his own government to rescue hundreds of Lithuanian Jews from the Nazis.

The occasion was the screening of a new documentary on the life of Sugihara, organised by the Embassy of Japan in partnership with the Johannesburg Holocaust Centre and Centre for Japanese Studies.

In remembering and paying tribute to such heroic figures, it is appropriate that we ourselves make a commitment to trying at all times to do what is right, not what is necessarily convenient, and in general doing whatever we can to make our world a kinder, more just and more peaceful place.

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

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