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The Jewish Report Editorial

Breaking out of bondage

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For most of us, Pesach is a time for family, time to slow down, clean up and be attuned to our Judaism and to what makes us different. It is also a time to consider where we are at in terms of our freedom and to be grateful for what we have.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Mar 29, 2018

Well, that’s my personal, albeit simplistic, interpretation.

When we re-enact the story of Pesach, we consider the bondage that our people experienced and, I guess, we all feel gratitude that our lives are so far from slavery.

But just this week, a friend of mine and her husband were robbed at gunpoint and double-locked in her car. On the same day, the police told her, two other men with clearly Jewish names had similar incidents. I was really rattled by this. But when I spoke of this to other people, their reaction was that I should get a grip – this is not a big deal as it happens every day. If you drive a luxury car or wear an expensive watch or a big diamond ring, it is to be expected.

Their reactions floored me and made me realise that we are not free – far from it. We live in a self-imposed bondage behind high walls, with security fences, burglar bars and slam-lock gates. Many of us live in fear – and the others, those who live in fear will tell you – are apparently not realistic.

Our children live inside our prisons, far from the freedom of being able to ride their bikes around the suburbs and go and visit friends nearby. We pick them up from school and drive them to lessons and extramurals before going home. They have very little physical freedom.

I remember a while back when I was travelling, I chatted to a woman who lived with her family in a small town in England. She told me how her six-year-old daughter walked to school every day and came home, ate lunch and went out to play in the neighbourhood. She only saw her daughter when she came home for dinner.

I felt a longing for my children to have such a life, but I choose to live in this country I love. And while we live a wonderful life here, far better than most of our fellow South Africans, we still live in a form of bondage.

We are slaves to security companies and insurance companies and we live in fear of crime. It is not a natural or healthy way to live, not by any stretch of the imagination.

I bet, if we had a chance, we would all love for our children to have freedom. We would love for our children to be truly independent and not feel that we were being irresponsible by allowing our 10-year-olds to walk four blocks to the shops on their own.

Some might get angry at us for being wistful about this and say, “So leave South Africa if this bothers you.” My response, and that of so many of us, is a very clear “no”. This is my country and I am going nowhere. We need to work together to find solutions to our bondage.

What concerns me is that people see crime as a given and as something almost normal. This is akin to what happened in Egypt all those years ago. When Moses came to the Children of Israel and offered them a way out of their servitude, many said: “No.” They had accepted their place and become used to being slaves and what that meant for them. This is a bit like the Stockholm syndrome, which happens to hostages who spend too much time in captivity. As an unwitting survival strategy, they learn to trust and develop a psychological alliance and dependence on their captor. They get used to their situation and are afraid of freedom.

I am not saying we are afraid of freedom, but we have become used to living in this situation. And it isn’t healthy.

As South Africans, we need to be demanding that our police and government really tackle the crime situation for all of us. There is no good reason for us to be living in fear.

Under our previous president, who was neck deep in corruption, it was impossible to tackle crime because he was the one setting the example.

Now that we have a new leader, we need to ensure that crime is at the top of his agenda. It is up to us.

The truth is, our bondage to crime is just different to what other people around the world are in bondage to. In some cases, it is poverty, racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism or the threat of terrorism.

As you can see by our lead story, Israelis have to be cautious about where they travel because of terror threats. In fact, Jewish people also have to take care when in identifiably Jewish environments.

It is not just us. Muslims are also under threat simply because they happen to be of the same religion and culture as the fundamentalists behind terror attacks.

We all have our prisons, which in some cases are not physical.

What Pesach teaches us is that we don’t have to accept our slavery or the ties that bind us. We can, and need to, break free and find our proverbial ‘Jerusalem’. It is up to us to make it happen.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!

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