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Aliyah – the good, the bad and the meshuga.

“The biggest challenge for you is going to be the culture shock,” a wise Israeli diplomat warned me, when he heard we were making aliyah. Our paths had crossed in the working world in South Africa, and I knew him to be professional, charismatic and trustworthy.





I remember thinking that learning a new culture at this stage in our lives would be part of the adventure, when starting out in a new country. Surely it can’t be too different? After all, if you love shawarma, are happy to have salad with your eggs at breakfast time and are open to having friends over for coffee after 10 at night, aren’t you half way there?

The first taste of what he may have meant hit me with a thud when I waited in a queue in a nearby supermarket – and by waited, I mean South African style, standing patiently behind the lady in front of me. The woman in front launched into a loud argument with the cashier, and then directed her frustration at two managers standing on a raised platform at the back of the shop.

Soon, all four were shouting as the disgruntled shopper pointed to an advert in a newspaper clipping. One didn’t need a thorough knowledge of the language, to work out what the dispute was over. All this time, I wondered if any of the four women involved in this increasingly heated argument were aware of the growing queue in the supermarket. It seemed they weren’t, or if they were, it wasn’t a priority at the time.

The real surprise wasn’t the fact that the “dispute” continued in public for several minutes. It wasn’t the fact that those involved didn’t seem to hear the heckling from some agitated customers. It was the way the shopper responded when the situation was finally resolved.

She packed her groceries into her bag, smiled at the cashier and cheerfully said “Yom Tov”! Without turning to look at the queue, she waved at the two managers, smiled and left.

The three women who’d been arguing with her all said goodbye and carried on working, as if nothing had happened. As a life coach, I had to marvel at the way they immediately resumed their duties. No anger, no rolling of the eyes, no chirping… just back to business as usual.  

Is this seat taken? 

Recently, I was sitting in an empty coffee shop, working on a laptop. I’d chosen what looked like a quiet table in the corner, with a sea view. An elderly woman came up and asked in Hebrew if she could join me. The ever-polite South African response was “of course” – but I was confused because there were several empty tables in the room.

Soon, her friends joined and there I was sitting with three chatty, effervescent women deciding on what they should order for lunch. Another scenario I’d never experienced in South Africa. It felt rude for me to continue typing, so I closed the laptop, smiled and drank my coffee. 

Who will catch me when I fall? 

Many locals here have advised that the generally reserved and well-mannered Anglos quickly learn to speak up, hoot back in traffic and stand their ground in a busy queue. But we’ve also been repeatedly reminded that that the so-called Israeli “sabra” is tough on the outside and soft on the inside.

Walking down Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem one night, we heard a thud behind us. An elderly man had tripped while walking with his wife. Seemingly out of nowhere, a well-built man in his forties raced to help the gentleman to his feet. He asked the frail man several questions to make sure he man wasn’t hurt, before watching the couple walk away.

It’s that kind of “culture shock” that will help balance out the many different, new “scenarios” that lie ahead. 

New word for the week – makolet – mini supermarket. 

Favourite phrase of the week – Yom Tov – not reserved just for festivals, but just an everyday greeting. “Have a good day”, said at the end of a chat, or apparently after resolving an argument. 

Smile of the week – sitting inside a government office in Kvar Saba, waiting for my number to be called so I can collect a travel document. Out of the blue, the couple next to me ask if I’m South African? (They recognised the accent.) They had just landed from Cape Town this week to start their aliyah. You can take a South African out of Africa, but they will always find each other…

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Don’t panic, but behave responsibly



The announcement of the new Omicron variant and its dire impact on overseas travel continues to dominate the news. With the sharp increase in infection numbers in Gauteng, the Board on 28 November convened a meeting of the national leadership of the major communal bodies together with Professor Barry Schoub and Dr Richard Friedland, two experts in the field of communicable diseases who have guided and advised us throughout the COVID-19 crisis. At our request, Professor Schoub and Dr Friedland have prepared guidelines on how to reduce the impact of the impending fourth wave on our community. These can be found on our Facebook page. To watch last week’s “Midweek COVID-19 Update with Professor Schoub”, visit Those who have any questions for Professor Schoub can leave them in the comment section or email

Fighting the good fight

One welcome piece of good news over the weekend was that Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane, had arrived in Israel in preparation for taking part in the Miss Universe contest. This was in spite of a sustained campaign by Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) factions to prevent her participation, characterised by intimidation, defamation, blackmail, and misinformation. The Board saw it as essential to have a voice in this debate as the intent clearly is to target the only Jewish state in a way intended to deny and demonise South African Jews’ historical, cultural, religious, and familial ties to Israel. We engaged in the debates and obtained significant press coverage to offer an alternative narrative to the hate-filled position of those calling for boycotts.

The Board was also called on last week to respond to various statements by organisations like Africa4Palestine, the Media Review Network, and the Muslim Lawyers Association on the death in a terror attack of former community member Eli Kay. Using the language of demonisation and incitement that led to Eli’s murder in the first place, these factions brazenly celebrated and sought to justify the atrocity. In an opinion piece for News24, South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) Vice-President Mary Kluk pointed out how such dehumanisation is an inevitable stage in a process that if left unchecked, can easily have deadly consequences. While not inciting violence directly, the hate-filled rhetoric of the BDS lobby is fostering an environment in which such attacks become that much more likely.

As a former chairperson and long-serving SAJBD executive member, a much respected World Jewish Congress executive member, and in her capacity as director of the Durban Holocaust Centre, Kluk has for many years been at the forefront of defending Jewish rights while also promoting the kind of culture of respect and tolerance for diversity that’s so critical to South Africa’s future as a united, democratic, and non-racial society. To find out more about her career, see Wendy Kahn’s tribute in the latest issue of Jewish Life. A link to the article, as well as to Kluk’s News24 column, can be found on our Facebook page.

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

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Of doggie dreams and the kindness of strangers



This isn’t a column about Daisy. It’s a column about kindness and appreciation. And even though Daisy, our beloved German Shepherd, is central to the story, she’s not the least of what it’s about.

Daisy died yesterday. It involved a Checkers Sixty60 guy, a motorbike, and the unfulfilled dream of a dog whose ambition was some day, before her dog years were up, to catch one. Yesterday she finally did it. Although sadly it didn’t end well. Not for Daisy or the bike. The Sixty60 guy was thankfully fine.

I was in a meeting when I started to receive calls. When they became insistent, I answered to hear the frantic voice of a woman I’d never met. She explained that Daisy, who had been taken for her daily walk by Prince, had been involved in an accident. She assured me that she, and a few others, would stay with Prince, who was distraught, and with Daisy (who wasn’t in a state to be aware) until help arrived. They had called CAP Security as well as the vet, who was apparently on the way.

Before anyone had had a chance to leave the house, she called again with an update. The vet had arrived and along with CAP were escorting Daisy to the vet for urgent care. She explained where they were going, and suggested that we go straight there. She also reiterated that what had happened was no one’s fault. Daisy had managed to get out of her harness and Prince was in need of a little TLC.

By the time we arrived at the vet a few minutes later, Daisy had passed away. It was that quick. And there was clearly little that could have been done.

We gathered at home in shocked silence trying to process what had happened when my wife received this message, “Hi Heidi, Zameer here from CAP Security. My deepest condolences for the loss of your Shepherd. We did our best to take her as soon as possible to the Orange Grove vet. We arrived on the scene three minutes after it happened. If there’s anything we can do for you at CAP, please let us know. We also offer K9 therapy to overcome trauma, with a friendly female dog called Storm. Kind regards Zameer.”

As if the kindness of strangers who sat with Prince as he cried over Daisy, who called us and made sure that we understood the situation, and who arranged for the vet and CAP to assist wasn’t enough, we now had this message to contend with.

It’s remarkable the difference these gestures made to us on what was a terrible day.

We knew of Daisy’s aspiration to one day catch a Sixty60 delivery guy, but as she hadn’t been well lately, we all assumed that her dreams would never be actualised. Until yesterday when, in a last burst of youth, she broke through her harness and finally did what she had dreamed of doing for all her dog years.

I have no idea if there’s a dog heaven. But if there is, it’s filled with kind people like those who sit with a dying dog, with people like Prince, with vets, and with people like Zameer who reach out to strangers to show they care. I guess there’s also an ongoing supply of Checkers Sixty60 guys who ride up and down to fulfil unrealised dreams.

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Killing of innocents can never be justified



Our community was shocked and grief-stricken to learn over the weekend that one of its own young members, Eliyahu David Kay, had been fatally wounded in a Hamas-inspired terrorist attack while on his way to pray at the Kotel in Jerusalem. It’s always saddening when fellow Jews around the world fall victim to such hate crimes, but it strikes that much closer to home when the victim is one of our own. At the time of writing, we are working with other communal bodies to organise a memorial gathering for a much loved young man whose life was so cruelly and unjustly cut short. May his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

The widely differing responses to Eliyahu’s murder tell us much about how and why such tragedies occur in the first place. Though most people who commented online and in other forums expressed shock and heartfelt sympathy, we were appalled also to see comments from certain organisations and individuals justifying the atrocity. On the local front, an organisation formerly known as Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions South Africa and now calling itself Africa4Palestine has been especially shameless in pushing this line. This is hardly unexpected given how over many years, this organisation has persistently sought to poison public attitudes not only towards Israel but towards the Jewish community for supporting and identifying with it. Of late, even non-Jewish supporters of Israel have become the targets of such hate-mongering.

The danger of extremist ideologies like those espoused by Africa4Palestine is that almost invariably, those who oppose them are portrayed as not merely wrong, but fundamentally evil. This in turn leads to them being regarded as so morally beyond the pale as to be undeserving of the basic rights that other people automatically enjoy, sometimes including even the right to life itself. Such dehumanisation is one of the essential first steps in a process that left unchecked, can easily lead to lethal acts of violence and in extreme cases, to genocide.

No amount of hyperbolic rhetoric about Israel’s purported misdeeds can justify the cold-blooded killing of unarmed civilians simply on the basis of their being Jews. This is the underlying justification that antisemitic fanatics claim for their actions, and we must be untiring in our efforts to confront and expose this evil. All genocides in history were justified at the time by what appeared to be righteous indignation on the part of the perpetrators. When examined more closely, however, their causes came down to simple, unadorned hatred. Nor can we ever feel pleasure over the death of innocents, even when suffered by our avowed enemies. When we lose our sense of empathy at the loss of any life – and how much more so when such tragedies are perversely celebrated – we lose our very humanity. In taking a stand against the constant vilification that Israel and our community are subjected to in certain quarters, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies is always careful not to itself descend to such depths. I urge those wishing to respond to such attacks, whether online or in other contexts, to similarly be careful as to how they express themselves.

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

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