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Op-eds

Freeing needy South Africans from societal and economic constraints

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Pesach celebrates the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and their eventual freedom from slavery.
by MYRA GOLDENBAUM | Mar 29, 2018

The Union of Jewish Women SA (UJW) is committed to bettering the lives of all South Africans, offering them freedom from the constraints of poverty, loneliness, lack of education, unemployment and hunger.

Former president Nelson Mandela wrote: “Our march to freedom is irreversible.”

These words also epitomise the work of the UJW. Since 1931, Jewish women across South Africa have brought freedom to some of society’s most disadvantaged sections.

Our successes are legendary. Kosher Mobile Meals provides nourishing cooked meals to more than 160 senior members of our community who are unable to cook for themselves. Many live alone in unsafe areas and our volunteers, who deliver the meals, are often their only contact with the outside world. It offers a measure of freedom from loneliness.

Pre-Pesach and pre-Rosh Hashanah braais are hosted at a retirement home. The Brain Boost Stimulation Club is a therapeutic group for community members suffering from mild to moderate memory loss, enabling them to enjoy physical and mental exercises. It offers a measure of freedom in breaking the chains of their impediments.

We at UJW celebrate Mandela Day on July 18 by improving the lives of many people. Our ‘bags for new beginnings’ are given to new mothers, who often take their babies home from hospital wrapped only in newspaper. New school shoes and socks, toothbrushes and toothpaste, birthday cakes and gifts, blankets, soccer kits, winter woollies, regular meals, schoolbooks, stationery and much more have been given to needy children. Those at rural schools receive sandwiches; crèches are upgraded and given educational support, and babies in oncology wards receive knitted beanies and toys. All of this offers those in desperate need a measure of freedom by supplying their basic needs.

The UJW also works hard to ensure that shuls in smaller cities receive new Siddurim and upgrades. Awards are given to special needs pupils at special schools, and wheelchairs and hydraulic beds have been donated to a retirement home. Senior citizens enjoy delicious teas and attend friendship lunches; adult education sessions are delivered by superb speakers; there are soup kitchens for the most indigent; and the homeless are given clothing. This offers a measure of freedom by giving people dignity and self-respect.

The UJW has been instrumental in setting up sewing schools to train the unemployed. In addition, vegetable gardening is taught at schools and in informal settlements, while blind adults and children are taught skills. This offers a measure of freedom from the scourge of unemployment and the freedom of empowerment.

Our Bobba/Zaida competitions have afforded elderly community members the opportunity to visit family overseas whom they haven’t seen for many years. This offers them a measure of freedom to link up with their beloved families again.

We were delighted to be recognised at the Gauteng premier’s recent Service Excellence Awards, and this year Mitzvah Day UK nominated us as one of the three finalists with the best Mitzvah Day projects outside of the UK. This offers a measure of freedom to beam with pride.

UJW SA is the only South African affiliate of the International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW) to have observer status at the United Nations, consultative status on the UN’s Economic and Social Council, and representation on humanitarian organisations UNESCO and UNICEF. The ICJW fights to end discrimination against women in all spheres of life. This offers a measure of freedom to speak on behalf of, and support all women around the world.

UJW SA wishes everyone Chag Pesach Sameach – enjoy your freedom!

·         Myra Goldenbaum is national president of the Union of Jewish Women SA

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