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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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Conflict and media bias pose greater risk for Shavuot



As we count down the final days to Shavuot, we are also keeping an anxious eye on events in the Middle East, where after a long period of relative quiet on the Israeli-Palestinian front, there is again an upsurge in deadly violence. As in years gone by, Jerusalem and in particular the Temple Mount area provided the spark leading to a renewed wave of hostilities against the Jewish state, including a resumption of missile fire on Israeli cities from Gaza.

The media coverage of events has yet again been characterised by an uncritical acceptance of Palestinians’ claims while those of Israel have, as usual, been downplayed or ignored altogether. As ever, it’s Israeli retaliation rather than Palestinian provocation that the mainstream media appear to regard as a cause for righteous indignation. Working with the South African Zionist Federation, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) is doing as much as possible to bring greater balance to the coverage, including arranging for local and international spokespeople to appear on various radio stations around the country.

Times of intensified conflict in Israel are always deeply disquieting for Jewish communities everywhere, not only because of natural distress over the danger in which the Israeli people find themselves, but because of the heightened risk of retaliatory attacks against Jews in general. In South Africa, we have always witnessed a sharp spike in antisemitic activity during periods of serious violence in the region. The SAJBD is carefully monitoring events, especially discourse in social media, to identify and, where required, respond to any antisemitic threats. We ask that members of our community assist us by keeping their ears to the ground, and alert us via to any incidents that come to their attention.

In addition to concerns about the possible fall-out from the conflict, we need to be aware that yom tov is a time when we need to be especially vigilant against possible attacks. All those who will be going to shul should therefore be sure to comply strictly with the guidelines provided by the Community Security Organisation and their congregations, including not gathering outside one’s shul before and after services.

A second area where we need to be extra cautious is meticulous adherence to COVID-19 restrictions, which involves social distancing before, during, and after services. With winter upon us and infection rates starting to climb once more including within our own community, we have a responsibility to ourselves and those around us to do everything we can to minimise any risk of contracting or spreading the disease.

In closing, I wish you a chag Shavuot sameach. May it be a safe, peaceful, and fulfilling yom tov for all of us.

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

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Friends can do no wrong



I keep trying to muster up notable outrage at the South African government for its one sided and biased approach to Israel. I keep trying to shake my head in disgust and pen witty and wonderful one-liners that will hurt it more than it will hurt me. I keep trying to be disappointed that it’s quick to point out Israel’s faults, but falls silent when Hamas rockets fall. But I haven’t managed so far. And the reason might be that I no longer care.

For all the right reason, I want to be bothered by the uneven response. I’m a South African, I adore all the people of the country, and I continue to invest in its growth and success. I’m, however, also acutely aware of how little standing we have and how irrelevant we have become on the international stage. In some ways it’s like we’ve undertaken a 12-step programme to discredit ourselves globally and we’ve finally reached our goal. Sadly.

South Africa’s obsession with Cuba hasn’t helped. Embracing a country whose citizens are denied basic democratic rights is perplexing, especially given that that is the very thing it accuses Israel of doing. The harbouring of Omar al Bashir when a warrant for his arrest for war crimes was known to the African National Congress (ANC), something that South Africa accuses Israel of, is another. Then, the refusal of the government to voice horror at China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslims when it maintains that Israel is somehow guilty of “ethnic cleansing” all illustrates the inconsistency and hypocrisy of the government. Add to that the murderous silence when it comes to treatment of Zimbabweans, and the pattern isn’t difficult to see.

Very simply, friends of the ANC can do no wrong. And Israel can do no right.

What has exacerbated the situation is the ANC’s lack of understanding of the facts. Just as the ANC was captured by the Guptas and anyone else willing to open their wallets, so too has it been captured by the “anti-Israel” lobby.

Just as it was quick to share the country’s wealth with those who didn’t deserve it, so too has it shared our apartheid history and allowed those not entitled to it to use it. And because “apartheid” doesn’t apply to the Israeli context, facts needed to be changed so that it does. Misinformation, untruths, and emotional manipulation are all employed to make sure that an ill-fitting glove is made to fit.

I would love the ANC to stand for truth and integrity. I would love it to be able to play a meaningful role in some way internationally. I would love it to be the voice of reason that calms Hamas, limits death, and reduces terror. I would love nothing more than for it to be the organisation that it has the potential to be, and not what it is today. Until that time, as much as I would like to care about its utterings, I really don’t.

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Welcome to new Cape Council executive director



This week, we officially welcomed on board our new South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) Cape Executive Director Daniel Bloch. Bloch comes from a background in the events and media industry, and has worked with many international companies as a team leader and decision maker on various projects. In terms of his Jewish communal background, he is a graduate of Herzlia High School and recently served on its governing body. He is also a long-serving member of the Marais Road Shul (aka the Green and Sea Point Hebrew Congregation). We congratulate him on his appointment, and look forward to working with him going forward. At the same time, we thank and bid farewell to outgoing Cape Director Stuart Diamond, who is taking up a new communal leadership position in the United Kingdom. It has been a pleasure working with him these past few years, and we wish him all success in his challenging new position.

Confronting global antisemitism

This week, SAJBD National President Mary Kluk was one of the speakers at the 16th World Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly, titled “5th WJC International Meeting of Special Envoys & Coordinators Combating Antisemitism”. The assembly is the WJC’s highest decision-making body, attended by the leaders of Jewish communities from all around the world. Kluk, who represents our community on the executive committee of the WJC, spoke about recent trends and developments regarding antisemitism in South Africa, and how the SAJBD has gone about addressing it.

The Board has always maintained close links with international Jewish communities and organisations. By involving ourselves in forums such as these, we are able to forge mutually beneficial working relationships with our overseas colleagues in addressing such common issues as combating antisemitism, promoting inter-religious contacts, and encouraging cultural and intellectual exchange.

Judicial appointments in SA (continued)

The Board continues to bring to wider attention in the media and in other relevant forums the manner in which two Jewish candidates were treated by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) during their recently-held interviews for judicial positions. This has been done by commenting in the mainstream media, conducting radio and television interviews, and writing opinion pieces for online publications. Notwithstanding the JSC’s denial this week that it did anything wrong, we believe that the questions put to the candidates were inappropriate and discriminatory, and therefore in contravention of the constitutional right of all South Africans to equality and freedom of belief and association. We continue to pursue the matter with relevant State bodies.

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

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