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Op-eds

Shabbat lunch in the north-eastern suburbs

  • howard feldman
We were sitting at a Shabbat lunch when the hostess raised a very serious issue. She wasn’t feeling absolutely comfortable with herself and needed the affirmation of her guests.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Nov 16, 2017

“I’m right, hey?” She ventured, adjusting the bandana on her Shih Tzu that had now found its way onto her lap, “Wouldn’t you rather lend out your husband than your ‘char’?”

The table fell silent. I glanced nervously at the husband in question. I anticipated his reaction. And calculated how quickly we could gather our children and get to the front door. But his face registered no surprise. He was very clearly used to being offered as an alternative to friends and family. And apparently to his sister-in-law.

“I’m not being a bitch,” she continued, “it’s just that if Sincerity is not working for me, then she needs to rest.” Clearly the same rule didn’t apply to the man in her life who, come to think of it, did look a little worn out.

The conversation was of course absurd. It was as shallow as it was offensive. It was as white privileged as it was possible to be.

It made me so uncomfortable.

But I loved it. I loved how for just a moment we were not talking about the Guptas and the corruption in the country. And I loved that we weren’t debating how much money had left the country and I loved how we weren’t debating if South Africa can ever come right following a Zuma presidency and the economic crises of its own making.

I loved that we weren’t voicing our outrage that the Cape Town water crisis could have been averted if the city had utilised Israeli water technology and I loved that we weren’t complaining about Pikitup or Telkom or City Power.

I loved how no one mentioned schooling and the outrage about something that might or might never have happened and how no one discussed the price of kosher food.

Instead we debated the pressing issue on the hostess’s mind before moving on to her dilemma as to who to invite to the Shih Tzu’s birthday party.

I kid you not.

I sat in wonder as the conversation swirled around the party-planning details, along with if guests should leave with “doggy bags” and how often one could get away with having a birthday party for the hound. Considering she has seven birthdays for every one human year.

But who is counting?

When lunch ended and we reluctantly left for home, I realised how different the experience was to many meals that we share with friends. It became clear to me that for South Africans the time that we spend with friends, often become group therapy sessions - where we lament and complain and take comfort from those in the same boat as us.

As a Jewish community and as a broader South African one, we have been worn down by the assault that we face daily. It is exhausting and it is depressing. And for that reason, even if it sometimes border on the cusp of white privilege, it’s actually okay to laugh.

That said, I never did receive an invitation to Peppa’s birthday party.

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