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Achieving miracles as a community

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The Jewish Report Editorial

This was evident in the vast number of people who tuned in to watch the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards (JAA) on Sunday night. A little bit of basking in the success of people within our community has been a wonderful tonic for us all.

I loved being swept away by the incredible achievements of people who have put the lives of others before their own this year.

What an astonishing way to manoeuvre ourselves along the last few exhausting steps down the year’s path towards the holiday season! What an incredible feat to have successfully created an event like we did when it seemed an impossible task just months ago!

I can safely say this, because my contribution to the awards was mostly about the special Achiever magazine that you will find with this week’s edition. The real work on the event was done by Howard Sackstein, Dina Diamond, Dr Dorianne Weil, Felicity Kantor, Jodi Kramer, Engela Schutte, Britt Landsman, Sandy Furman, and Dani Kedar, the inimitable JAA team.

However, I was there at the weekly meeting when the JAA committee pulled rabbits out of a hat and made things happen. Sometimes, I would sit there in awe, wondering if the spectacular ideas they had could actually come to fruition. And they did.

I watched as the Absa representative, JAA folk, and the SA Jewish Report team bonded. We all worked side by side, and never once did I hear anyone say, “That’s impossible!” or “We can’t do that!”

It’s amazing how positive thinking and hard work creates miracles.

And, it’s the perfect time of the year for such miracles as we are just one week away from the festival of miracles, Channukah, and our last edition of the SA Jewish Reportfor 2020.

Page through our special Absa Jewish Achiever Awards section and magazine to see for yourselves. There is nothing better than reflecting on others’ achievements to inspire us to do better.

In that vein, I would like to pay tribute to Rabbi Yossy Goldman, who will be handing over his baton to Rabbi Yehuda Stern.

I have never been a member of his shul, but have had many an opportunity on this newspaper to deal with him, and he has been a consummately professional rabbi and spiritual leader. He is never afraid to voice his opinion and help out wherever possible. This week is a case in point. The person who was meant to write our Torah Thought(page 2) let us down at the last minute. So, we asked Rabbi Goldman if he could help. Within an hour or two, he delivered a perfect Torah Thought, which is in the newspaper. You have no idea how many times this has happened.

While his future is wide open, I am sure we – and others around the world – are going to continue to be inspired by his Torah and other musings for many years to come. See page 5.

As we move towards the end of the year, I wish I could say that there was a general sense of calm and peace around us in anticipation of a relaxing holiday season. Unfortunately, you just have to page through this newspaper to see that there is still a great deal happening – not all of it good either.

The deputy minister of international affairs and cooperation, Alvin Botes, has dug his boots into Israel in commemoration of the UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, with comments that I think are quite outrageous. See page 1. It always amazes me how people in office make pronouncement that aren’t necessarily based in fact without any consequences. I guess he won’t be the first.

Then, the situation in East London is just sad. What upsets me most is that a community is suffering and has all but fallen apart because of an ugly legal wrangle with a rabbi. See page 3.

Legal issues aside, everything in our power needs to be done to ensure that this community is rescued, and that it is given a new lease on life. Send a new rabbi, even if only temporarily, but do something to revive this small coastal community. We have so few thriving communities outside of Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban, and we need to make sure that no Jew is forgotten.

Then, looking at the kosher meat situation, I must say I’m surprised that the butcheries and people concerned weren’t more open about the situation. I know our journalist was very clear that this wasn’t a story to trip people up or expose anyone.

All we wanted to do was explain where the costs came from. We fully understand that every company is about making a profit and surviving. We are certainly not against that, and expect that of everyone in business.

Our aim wasn’t to make them feel or look bad, it was simply to try and understand the bottom line of how kosher meat becomes so expensive. See page 9.

We still don’t have all the answers to our questions, and we would be open to people coming forward to help us get them. You see, we are all actually on the same side – the community’s side – and each one of us is a part of this community.

As was so blatantly obvious at the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards this Sunday evening, we are a community that punches far above our weight and we are a people who make things happen. We have every reason to stick together and work as a team. We do it so well, especially when we play to our strengths.

From the team of the SA Jewish Report, I would like to congratulate every winner, every person on the esteemed honours roll, and everyone who made the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards happen. Kol Hakavod to you!

Shabbat Shalom!

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The Jewish Report Editorial

Getting my head around six million individuals

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If ever you question the importance of commemorating Yom Hashoah, which we do this week, keep in mind that we’re not talking about statistics, but the systematic annihilation of a huge percentage of our people.

In fact, before the Holocaust, 60% of all Jews lived in Europe. Two out of three of them were murdered during the war. In 1933, there were 9.5 million Jews in Europe and this number was down to 3.5 million in 1950.

This is hard to absorb, I know, but so often, people dismiss comparisons of the Holocaust with the behaviour of Israel or even with apartheid. The more I acknowledge what it means to murder six million Jews systematically, the more I realise that there is simply no comparison.

This year marks 80 years since the beginning of the mass annihilation of Jews and each year, fewer and fewer survivors remain. Many died this year of COVID-19. Their survival enabled us to understand what they lived through and how six million of their brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, cousins, aunts, uncles, and other family and friends were brutally murdered. The only reason for their death was because they were Jewish.

Until recently, the number six million was simply a very large number to me. Although I had seen the movies and read the books, I couldn’t quite identify with it as being six million people like me and all those I love in this world. It really isn’t easy to absorb and comprehend this number in terms of individuals who had a future, perhaps a degree or three, a wife or a beloved, and children. They had potential and lives yet to be lived, but their lives were stolen from them way before their time.

The Nazis took away their humanity, their individuality, and attempted to make them just a number, which they tattooed on their arms.

Every year, on Yom Hashoah, we observe a ceremony under the auspices of the president of Israel known as “Unto Every Person there is a Name”, in which names of those who perished in the Holocaust are called out.

The point of this particular exercise is meaningful because an individual is given a name by their parents. And they and their families have a surname that they share. This makes every single person a unique individual. Each person has a name, a personality, a particular look, a way of walking, talking, and a way of being that is special to them. So, starting with a name we are given at birth, a person is individualised. And so every year on Yom Hashoah, we do our best around the world to individualise and humanise as many of the six million Jews who died as possible.

To date, Yad Vashem has recorded 4 800 000 names of Holocaust victims on its Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names, with more than 2 750 000 names registered on Pages of Testimony.

Here’s the thing: if we had all the names of the six million who were murdered, and could say each name, age, and place of death in one second, we could cover only 86 400 individual names in one 24-hour Yom Hashoah.

To read six million, we would need almost 70 days of 24-hour non-stop reading. If we recited names for only 12 hours a day, giving the reader time to sleep, eat, and have a few short breaks, we would need 138 days to cover the names of the six million Jews who were annihilated in the Holocaust. And that’s if you can read all their vital details in one second.

This brings me a little closer to understanding what the number six million actually means in terms of individuals.

On the Yad Vashem site (YadVashem.org), you can find lists of these names. I went to look this week and found 23 people with the surname Krost who were victims of the Holocaust. I know of a handful. I wonder who the others were. Were they also family?

Then, I looked at the lists of children’s names and there were literally hundreds of pages of names of children, some not even a year old. I couldn’t help the tears as I read names, ages, and where and how they died. I felt quite sick. I couldn’t help thinking that these littlies, who should have been playing and having fun without a care in the world, were brutally murdered because by chance they were born Jewish.

It was then that I decided that I was going to light the six commemorative candles with my sons this year. We will recite the El Maleh Rachamim prayer, and then start reading children’s names and keep going until we can’t anymore. I believe this will give us a better inkling of the massive horror of the millions who perished all because they were like us.

In this edition, there is a story about the Holocaust on page 12 that stands out for me. It’s about the Wannsee Conference, where the decision was made by the Nazi leadership to murder Jews en masse. What really hit me was Holocaust educator Dr Matthias Haß’s warning that it was because of the small incidents of antisemitism that the Wannsee House decision was made. It was the accumulation of decades of slowly building antisemitism that seeped into German society over years that eventually led to the dehumanisation of Jews, he said.

How often do we dismiss or not make a big deal about what seems to be minor incidents of antisemitism or racism? Sometimes it isn’t always so clear and sometimes it is. But it’s not easy to stick your neck out, especially when you are alone in a situation. And sometimes it might be cleverly disguised as anti-Israel sentiment.

The next time someone says to me, “Don’t make a big deal about it” referring to antisemitism, I will remember how I tried to get my head around the systematic murder of six million Jews.

Shabbat Shalom!

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The Jewish Report Editorial

Longing for freedom we can’t have

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As I prepared for our tiny seders last Pesach and we were just settling into this strange experience called lockdown, I told my sons it wouldn’t last long. I said we would look back at the end of the year, it would all be long over, and we would be back to normal.

How wrong I was!

Now, we go into our second Pesach during the pandemic, and while the numbers are down, we still face a potential third wave that some experts say could surface after Pesach and the Easter weekend. I sure hope not!

We have so much more freedom than we did this time last year when we were still in the honeymoon stage of the pandemic. At the time, it was still fairly exciting to be at home all the time and there was a certain charm to the streets being so quiet and being able to clearly hear the birdlife.

There was something very special about spending all our time with our immediate family, eating and cooking every meal together. Zoom had its pros too. I mean, you really only had to dress the top half of your body for a serious meeting.

Now, I long for a board meeting in a real boardroom where I can actually look into the eyes of the person I’m speaking to. I long to hug people I care about. And more than anything, I would love to go to a dinner party where I don’t know everyone and have a good chat with someone I’ve never spoken to before.

Who would have thought that anyone could miss these day-to-day experiences from our former lives?

I laughed the other day when a friend said she was going to go to the supermarket to get groceries, and her husband told her she didn’t have to bother, she could order online. She was incensed that he would take away her freedom to get out of the house and be among strangers, albeit masked and socially distanced. I could relate to that.

I even look forward to getting dressed up to go to shul over Pesach. I don’t get dressed up enough these days. How often I would want to find excuses not to go to functions in the past. Now, I would love the opportunity.

It’s all about having the freedom to choose, freedom to do what we want, freedom to be who we are. Just plain and simple … freedom.

And that’s what Pesach is all about. Jews moving from slavery to freedom.

What’s always so interesting is that when you have freedom, you often don’t appreciate what you have until you don’t have it. Think about it. When you are on holiday in Cape Town and you drive along the Atlantic Seaboard or over Lion’s Nek, you appreciate the breathtaking beauty of the shoreline, the mountain, and the sea. When you live in Cape Town, do you enjoy the pleasure of what you have all the time?

Is this human nature? Are we always longing for that which we don’t have, or can we be happy with our lot? And if you are happy with your lot, do you still create goals you can work towards? Or is being happy with your lot a case of giving up your freedom to grow?

This last year has brought monumental change for most of us. I’m amazed that almost everyone I know has gone through some kind of trauma. Just when I’m about to feel sorry for myself, I hear someone else’s story, and realise how lucky I am.

It has been a year in which we have all had to draw on our strength, our internal flame, and keep moving forward.

On the radio recently, there was a discussion about how the numbers of people reaching out to helplines doubled within months of the pandemic hitting South Africa. Few of those people were directly affected by actual illness, but it was various traumatic offshoots that hit them.

We shouldn’t underestimate how tough this year has been for us – and it’s not over yet. In fact, there is no way of knowing what life will be like this time next year.

What I do know is that Pesach will still be a special time for our community. It will still be a time of family gatherings, a time to reflect on our freedom and those who don’t have that luxury. It will be a time when we will once again read the Haggadah and remember who we are and where we came from. It will be a time when we remember how we witnessed miracles that saved our lives. There is such comfort in knowing that some things stay the same.

In our annual special Pesach edition, we bring you a host of phenomenal thought leadership pieces written by wise spiritual leaders. We also have a selection of other fabulous Pesach stories. A personal favourite of mine is the kneidel story, which you’ll find on page 34.

We also bring you the latest news and features to ensure you have lots of exceptional stories to read over Pesach.

I’m proud to include in those stories our lead (page 1), which is so inspiring and uplifting. It tells of how a local branch of the South African government has welcomed help from Israel in improving drinking water in outlying areas. This humanitarian venture will save lives and help those in dire straits. Is this new relationship a miracle or a blessing to herald Pesach?

Whatever the case may be, it warms my heart that there are people in government that understand that you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, and if people want to help you and you need help, let them.

In my interview with former Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon (page 15), he mentions how irritated he was when the African National Congress boycotted Israel’s offer to help Cape Town in its water crisis, choosing instead to go to Iran to get help. I hope this new endeavour is a sign of things to come.

Shabbat shalom and chag Pesach sameach!

PS: We won’t be publishing the newspaper on Chol HaMoed, but will resume the following week.

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The Jewish Report Editorial

Real protests and smokescreens

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This week is Israel Apartheid Week (IAW), which usually means a week of trouble on university campuses around the country and in many other countries. The strife is usually between those who support Israel and those who would like it to disappear. The week-long series of events is a construct of those against Israel in an attempt to garner as much support as they can in their Boycott Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel battle.

They appear to do what they do to make Israel look like a racist country that treats Palestinians no better than the Nationalist government did to black people during apartheid – hence the term “apartheid Israel”.

Frankly, those behind IAW use the guise of human rights to sew division and encourage prejudice and hatred against the Jewish state and those who support it. And as much as they claim that it’s all in the name of human rights, they totally neglect to factor in human-rights abuses in the rest of the Middle East and the world.

The good thing about IAW this year is that, because of the coronavirus pandemic, most students are working from home and aren’t on campus. So, IAW isn’t on campus either.

But there is a genuine protest on campus over young South Africans’ inability to continue their university education because they can’t afford it.

A number of students from our community are involved in the protest and have, in some cases, put their own education and future on the line to help others. One such person is Gabi Farber, who is a member of the Student Representative Council on an African National Congress ticket.

Gabi, like most of us, comes from a sheltered environment where she really doesn’t have to go out on a limb to get an education. But for her, it is a matter of values – Jewish values at that – that spur her on to fight for the rights of others. (See her opinion piece on this page.)

I’m aware that many in our community believe people like Gabi are rabble rousers and troublemakers looking for a cause. I beg to differ. Such people generally don’t do things that could have a negative impact on their own lives. In this case, those who have stuck their necks out have a lot to lose in order for others to gain what they are already getting – an education. They stand the chance of being arrested, suspended, or even kicked out of the university. All this because they are protesting the fact that others aren’t allowed to continue their education.

It would be far easier to sit at home and carry on studying while others are out there protesting.

I do understand the fear factor of students and parents, and some people are ambivalent or not very up to date on what this about. I’m not sure I would be encouraging my children to go out and protest because of fear for their security. However, I do believe that Gabi and the others out there are courageous young people with integrity and backbone. They are doing what so many of us won’t do. They are standing up for those who aren’t being heard.

I do understand that many of us question where the money to put these young people through university is meant to come from. I would also like to know that. We are all aware of the financial quagmire our country is in, not least of all because of the pandemic and lockdown.

However, as Jews, we understand the importance of an education, and most of us would give the clothes off our backs to get our children the best education. So, too, would other parents, however, for so many, their clothes won’t garner a day of a university education. So their children can’t go. And if they could afford something, they may not be able to pay for more than a year or two…

So, where should the money come from? I don’t know. However, like Gabi, I do believe that if young people have the ability to get a tertiary education, they should be encouraged to do so, not prevented.

I believe we should support this cause, not least because it’s part of the Bill of Rights within our Constitution to provide a basic and secondary education. The wording in the Constitution is that everyone has the right to “further education, which the State, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible”. Clearly this was written a couple of decades ago, and it should by now have become more accessible to all whether they could or couldn’t afford it. Do I sound like a radical? Hardly! I sound like a Jewish mother who believes education is paramount.

So, while this protest goes on, supported by people who believe in a Jewish state and those who don’t, IAW is still happening in a different format.

This year’s theme is #UnitedAgainstRacism, which as it happens, is something I totally agree with. I believe we should be uniting against racism in all forms. I believe we should be uniting against prejudice as well. It’s a great cause, only I believe it’s a smokescreen. It’s not actually about uniting against all forms of racism around the world, but uniting against Israel, a country that BDS claims is racist. This isn’t a fight against racism, it’s about getting the world to unite against Israel. Let’s call a spade a spade.

I would love us to all unite against racism and for the education of all our children. For me, those issues I fully support.

Shabbat Shalom!

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