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Op-eds

Our cup is half full, not half empty

  • Howard Feldman 2018
To my much beloved South African community, This letter is for you, as much as it is about me.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Sep 06, 2018

Last year, we entered Rosh Hashanah with someone missing from our table. My mother had passed on a few months before, and that was the first Rosh Hashanah we would observe without her powerful and positive energy. The void was glaring and painful. But we got through it.

It is a year later, and my mother is still missed. But we have also been blessed with a granddaughter who will be present at the table (at least next to it in her pram or in someone’s arms). She won’t contribute to the conversation, but her smile will be the light at the meal.

Each year, it seems, brings pain and joy. It brings comfort and loss. And although we know this in theory, it is sometimes more tempting to focus on one or the other. And not on both.

As a community, we have had an extremely difficult year in many ways.

We have suffered, as have all South Africans, under a corrupt and ruthless president. We have watched the looting of resources with horror, as the ANC pillaged and conspired against the people it was meant to serve. And we have paid the price financially in a significant way.

But in December 2017, when all could have been lost, a miracle occurred. And this Rosh Hashanah, a new president is sitting at our table. He might not have achieved everything we hoped he would have, but at least he is not stealing the cutlery.

As South African Jews, we have had to come to terms with outspoken and unabashed Israel hatred. We have been taunted with an embassy downgrade, and we have seen open and flagrant anti-Semitism from senior politicians to junior social-media commentators. All vile. All hurtful. And all unnerving.

But the embassy has not been downgraded in spite of the rhetoric. Trade between Israel and South Africa continues to grow, and El Al will be adding an additional flight because of the demand. The Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement, although still a significant problem, is viewed with scepticism for the hatred and the racism that it sells, apparent for all to see.

Within our own community, we have had to come to terms with the vulnerability of our kashrut system. We have had to deal with the possibility that we will never really know the details of what really occurred in the Stan & Pete scandal. But we have survived. Kosher restaurants and facilities continue to thrive and grow, and we continue to complain about poor service and high prices. And, we wouldn’t change a thing.

In many ways, the past year has forced us to grow up. As South Africans and as a Jewish community, we can never return to the naivety we once enjoyed. We are more cynical, more sceptical, and more outspoken. We are also more confident, and less apologetic.

We are confident in our position that as South African Jews, we have contributed disproportionately to the country. Also, no matter what we are told, we have the same rights as any other South African.

Rosh Hashanah is not always easy. We think of what was, we miss those who are no longer with us, and we glance nervously at those around us while asking for their protection as well as our own. We consider the challenges we have faced and that we continue to face, and pray for resolution.

It is equally as important to note not only who those who are no longer at the table, but also those who are. It is as important to celebrate as it is to mourn. To praise as well as to criticise. To thank as well as to ask. To be positive as much as it is to be negative.

Each morning on my show, just after the 7am news, I play a song by Jason Mraz, Have it all. It’s a fun, upbeat song. And, he says everything that I wish for you and for us all.

May you have auspiciousness and causes of success;

May you have the confidence to always do your best;

May you take no effort in your being generous;

Sharing what you can, nothing more nothing less;

May you know the meaning of the word happiness;

May you always lead from the beating in your chest;

May you be treated like an esteemed guest;

May you get to rest, may you catch your breath.

Shanah Tovah!

With love,

Howard Feldman

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