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Op-eds

We need to share our different viewpoints

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev
From May 3 to 6, two dozen young Jewish leaders and educators, along with a number of long-serving communal professionals and lay leaders from here and abroad, came together in Saldanha Bay, in the Western Cape, for the latest regional Nahum Goldmann Fellowship Programme (NGFP).
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | May 10, 2018

The programme is one of the flagship projects of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, which was established just over half a century ago for the purpose of “promoting the global regeneration of Jewish culture” around the world, particularly in areas where it had been destroyed in the Shoah and, later, in the former Soviet Union countries as well.

We are very proud that since April 2016, Marlene Bethlehem has served as president of this prestigious organisation. Amongst many other senior leadership positions that Marlene has held, she is a past national chairperson and president of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD).

The NGFP is held annually in different countries, with participants drawn from every corner of the Jewish world. The concept of holding regional Fellowship programmes for local alumni and other young leaders was pioneered by the SAJBD Cape Council through NGFP veterans David Jacobson – who was the board’s executive director at the time – and Rael Kaimowitz, today chairman of the Cape Council.

Along with Mrs Bethlehem, National Executive Committee member Ann Harris, David Saks and Charisse Zeifert from the national professional staff, they were prominently involved in all aspects of the Saldanha Bay colloquium.

By all accounts, the programme – whose keynote theme was “The Universal vs the Particular in Judaism” – was a resounding success. It showcased the depth of intellectual talent and creativity, combined with a deep sense of Jewish identity and high levels of Jewish literacy, that exist in our community.

For the board’s representatives, it provided a great deal of food for thought as to how our young people see themselves in relation both to their Jewishness and their role as South African citizens.

It was striking to see how deeply committed the youth are to South Africa, and how much they wish to be a part of the country and contribute to it. At the same time, the discussions provided insight into the fears and frustrations they are commonly experiencing.

The group was by no means homogenous. In terms of religiosity, participants ranged from the secular to the strictly Orthodox, with political viewpoints being similarly mixed.

The programme was thus a triumphant demonstration of how, despite such diversity of viewpoints, it is possible for people to come together in a shared spirit of chaverschaft, commitment to furthering the greater Jewish mission, mutual respect for differences and celebration of Judaism and Jewishness.

As such, it was a consummate fulfilment of everything that the NGFP aspires to be.

We could learn from the example it has set by creating similar spaces for dialogue and engagement that allow for voices from across the religious and political spectrum to be heard.

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

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