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A bad bout of empathy fatigue




I can’t anymore! I actually can’t, with everyone watching President Cyril Ramaphosa and worrying that he looks tired. Or that he has bags under his eyes.

It’s 20:00 on a Monday night when he speaks to us. Who isn’t tired? Have you seen the bags under my eyes? Speak to me mid-morning or even afternoon, and I look a lot more spritely and unquestionably less worn down.

I know the president had a busy day on Monday what with meeting the vaccines and taking selfies with the deputy president and stuff, but we are also busy. And exhausted. And it’s 20:00 for Pete’s sake! Netflix is hardly going to watch itself.

The term I heard is “empathy fatigue”, and I think I might have caught a terribly bad dose of it in recent days. It has been a sudden onset, and I appear to be suffering from a severe form.

Because quite suddenly, I find myself genuinely not caring that he looks pasty, or that our kids are having a bad year when they are privileged and cared for, or that until this week, Muizenberg beach was closed.

I might have cared in December how the president looked, mourned the loss of the year along with our offspring, or lamented beach closures when I wanted to go and couldn’t. But honestly, now, I find it difficult to be moved by any of it. And if they had to keep Muizenberg firmly shut until December, it wouldn’t phase me.

Not. One. Bit.

What do I care about right now? The vaccine. I care that we acquire, distribute, and immunise the nation. I care about people behaving responsibly. And I care about getting back to social and commercial freedom. Because I crave it.

I care about my parents-in-law and others like them who are slowly losing their minds in isolation, away from family, and who need to get the vaccine sooner than later.

I care about my one son who is waiting to get to Israel for his gap-year programme, and another who is desperate to see his friends without worry and anxiety.

I don’t care that the president looks tired. Or that he has bags under his eyes.

I care that the most vulnerable in our society are water-cannoned while waiting in line for a measly financial grant. I care that so much of the available funding has been looted, and I care that the African National Congress remains so arrogant, it thinks that it can continue to ask for financial assistance and we will trust it. We won’t.

I care that it has dropped the ball regarding vaccines, but expects us to celebrate the arrival of a delivery that in terms of size is insignificant. And whereas I do understand the symbolism of the first tranche, I also understand that this isn’t a time for symbols.

It’s a time for action.

Which is pretty much all that I care about. And Netflix.

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  1. Wendy Kaplan Lewis

    Feb 4, 2021 at 10:28 am

    Brilliant beautiful humor putting things into perspective


    Feb 4, 2021 at 12:03 pm

    Could not agree more.

  3. Justine

    Feb 4, 2021 at 2:16 pm

    So with you on that. I’m so awful & horrid I don’t even want to know when my sister’s best friend’s aunt has died of Corona. Need some good news, just now and then

  4. Brenda

    Feb 4, 2021 at 7:03 pm

    And so … yes the vaccines arrived.. we watched that before 20.00
    It was exciting & relieving .
    UNCLE CYRIL – I respect you but …. I fell asleep 😴 soon after you repeated the story ! NEVER happened before when you talk to us.

    Watched the replay . So I learned about beaches & alcohol

    Truth is an announcement would have been good enough –

    Pres / you also need to relax. Watch some Tv or listen to music

    Keep our family meetings to tell us about :

    -Measures to prevent corrupt practices in vaccination rollout

    – Dates when the rest of vaccines are arriving SOON PLEASE

    – START dates for phases 1 2 & 3

    Then you Sir will look less tired and there will be less Covid related fatigue.

    Fatigue ! You also need a break Pres !

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Duty to remember from generation to generation



Tribute to Veronica Phillips, o”h

When Holocaust survivor Veronica Phillips, who sadly passed away earlier this week, was the guest speaker at the Johannesburg Yom Hashoah ceremony many years ago, it was the first time that she had spoken in public about her harrowing experiences. From that time on, however, she was a regular speaker on Holocaust remembrance platforms, including at the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre, as well as in schools and media interviews. Veronica was a proud and committed member of our community, and an inspiration to those who knew her. One theme she continually stressed in her addresses was that of l’dor v’dor (the duty of passing down the torch of remembrance from generation to generation). This, indeed, is the keynote theme of this year’s Yom Hashoah ceremony, where survivors will stress the solemn responsibility of youth today to ensure that the stories of survivors and above all, those who perished, aren’t forgotten. Although this time, Veronica won’t be with us to drive home that message, her dedicated, unselfish work in doing so in the latter part of her life will always resonate with those who were privileged to hear her tell her story.

Jewish Affairs – 80 years young

This week, the first issue for 2021 of our journal Jewish Affairs (Vol. 76, No. 1, Summer 2021) was published. The articles cover a wide range of subjects, from the Biblical writings, history, and archaeology of ancient Israel, to Zionist pioneers in the modern era, to such noteworthy Jewish South Africans who made a difference like the late Clive Chipkin, a celebrated architect, architectural historian, and Johannesburg heritage activist who passed away earlier this year. To read it, along with all previous issues that have appeared since the journal switched to its online format, go to South African Jewish Board of Deputies ( PDF versions of all previous issues going back to 2009 can be found at Jewish Affairs – archived issues.

Exactly 80 years have passed since the appearance of the inaugural issue of Jewish Affairs in 1941. I warmly thank all the loyal subscribers, advertisers, and contributors who have enabled us to reach this milestone. The original purpose of the publication was to serve as a vehicle for reporting back to the community on the work of the SAJBD and provide information on issues of concern to the community. In succeeding years, it developed into the country’s leading Jewish current affairs, historical, and cultural journal, and is now a vital resource for academics, journalists, genealogical researchers, and others with an interest in the history of our community.

Jewish Affairs is housed on the main SAJBD website, but a new, standalone Jewish Affairs website is in an advanced stage of production. Those interested in taking full advantage of this rich communal resource can do so simply by signing up, at no cost, as a subscriber. Send your name and email to

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

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Finding G-d in fresh herbs



Sunday wasn’t a day for bald people to be outside without a hat. But I was, and although it was good to walk around a nursery choosing pots and creepers for our courtyard area, I was pretty much well done after an hour.

My wife on the other hand seemed just to be getting warmed up, and it didn’t take a genius to foresee that there was a significant possibility, left to chance, that we would be spending the rest of the day roasting in the fresh herbs section. Because, Howard, our kitchen needs instant access to thyme. And rosemary, obviously.

By this stage, the two assistants we had co-opted along the way – and no strangers to spousal negotiations – started to become a little skittish and moved the laden trolleys towards the airconditioned indoor pay area. I was impressed by their use of non-verbal cues, and resolved to increase their tip once the car was loaded.

Only, G-d had other plans. Further context is that my wife had also left her purse at home and had asked me for my credit card earlier in the day. For something or other. And it was now very much missing. Her claims that she had given it back to me were patently a poor attempt to grasp at any straw possible, but it was clear that we now had a tiny problem. The helpers, now not only afraid for the loss of their tip, also looked to be afraid for their lives as the establishment refused Samsung Pay, and EFT, and an offer of our youngest born as compensation for the jasmine.

It needs to be known that my wife is significantly more attuned to the whims of G-d than I will ever be. And so, she confidently turned to the cowering assistants and in her most evangelical voice said, “We need to trust that He will help us, and we will find that credit card.” Inspired by her Sunday sermon, they seated me in the cool breeze of the aircon, and went on their mission in search of the card. I’m not exaggerating when I say that they were quite literally chanting, “Trust in G-d! Trust in G-d!” as they went on their walk with G-d. And my wife.

They obviously found it. The nursey is acres large and we had traversed it all in search of the perfect pot and creeper. Which meant that the credit card could have been pretty much anywhere. And yet, they found it, unsurprisingly in fresh herbs. Because our kitchen needed fresh thyme. And G-d would never have abandoned us. Apparently.

Between the religious experience and perhaps the tip they received in gratitude for putting up with us, the nursery assistants were clearly inspired. With “G-d is great!” and “Trust in G-d” as their final words, we left the centre with me grateful I didn’t need to call Investec and my wife glowing from the whole religious experience. So inspiring was it, I wouldn’t be surprised if Goodwill and Kingston didn’t join us for megillah reading on Thursday night.

Which is the point. As annoying as the experience was, my wife was right. Purim is a time of hidden miracles. It’s an illustration of G-d’s presence in every aspect of our lives. And just because this miracle isn’t a grand one, doesn’t mean that He isn’t present.

Sometimes you just have to look for Him in fresh herbs.

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Online Yom Hashoah focuses on youngsters



Last year’s COVID-19 lockdown rendered impossible the traditional Yom Hashoah commemorative gatherings. Instead, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), working with the South African Holocaust Foundations, survivors, and other stakeholders, organised a single national virtual Yom Hashoah ceremony for the entire country. This was a signal success, with more than 17 000 people participating. While we are no longer subject to the hard lockdown conditions that prevailed in 2020, the COVID-19 threat is still far from over, hence this year, we will once again be hosting a combined online ceremony. The event is being organised by a national Yom Hashoah planning committee, once again headed by SAJBD National President and Durban Holocaust Centre Director Mary Kluk, and will take place on 9 April at 12:00.

As can never be stressed enough, each victim of the Shoah wasn’t a statistic but a distinct, unique individual, one whom others loved, esteemed, and cared about. For this reason, the practice of preceding Yom Hashoah gatherings with reading out of some of the names of those who perished is now commonplace throughout the world. For this year’s ceremony, we have launched a campaign to encourage community members to send through the names, place, year of birth and, where known, the year of death of family members lost to the Shoah. This will feature in the online programme. In line with the emphasis on passing on the torch of remembrance to the next generation, we encourage younger community members in particular to participate by providing us with these details, even (or perhaps especially) though they won’t personally have known the people whose memory they are helping to perpetuate. To send through these details as well as for further information on the event, write to

COVID-19 and interfaith activism

Confronting the COVID-19 threat is inextricably bound with adapting everyday behaviour to minimise contracting and spreading infection. The leaders of various faith communities have a vital role to play because of their ability to guide and influence their respective constituencies, and hence they have been identified as an important resource by governments around the world. Mary Kluk continues to represent our community on the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Social & Behavioural Change, and our leadership has been participating in several other interfaith forums, including the president’s meetings with religious communities. For the United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week, our Cape Council held a webinar titled “Coping with COVID-19 – thoughts of the interfaith community”. Speakers included representatives of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Baha’i communities, as well as the Western Cape government interfaith team. The event was fully subscribed, attracting many from other faith communities and nongovernmental organisations with others participating via Facebook. We commend our Cape colleagues on this most worthwhile initiative.

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

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