Subscribe to our Newsletter

click to dowload our latest edition



Anti-abuse group Koleinu SA makes voice heard in Cape Town



Koleinu SA is making its voice against abuse and domestic violence even louder by expanding to Cape Town.

Koleinu SA, which translates as “hear our voices”, is a non-profit organisation which assists victims of abuse in the community. It was started in Johannesburg eight years ago by Rebbetzin Wendy Hendler and Rozanne Sack after their own experiences of abuse at the hands of a trusted doctor. Since then, it has had a major impact in educating and supporting the Jewish community and beyond, from starting “taboo” conversations to supporting victims.

Melanie Uranovsky, who will lead Koleinu SA in the Cape, says “domestic violence, gender-based violence, or any harassment is intolerable. Perhaps the need to be involved began when I witnessed an abusive scene, or the day a little 11-year-old girl walked into my office to tell me what her grandfather had been doing to her over the years. The memory of both those events will stay with me forever.

“Phoning that little girl’s mother to break the news to her that her father-in-law had been sexually abusing her daughter was the most difficult call I have had to make,” she says. “I fought hard for that case. Along the way, the police lost her statement, so we had to start over, and the grandfather and father kept on denying it and told me I would be ‘annihilated’ in court because it was a big lie. But I pressed on, and eventually, after our court appearance and being grilled by their defence, we won the case. The perpetrator was jailed for only two years, and then had to do community service for a further year or so.

“I’m not a bystander. To lots of warnings and scoldings from family and friends, I cannot help but go forward and assist someone I see as abused,” says Uranovsky. “We were on board to launch Koleinu SA in Cape Town, but then the COVID-19 pandemic stepped in. It never stopped me from dealing with cases in the Mother City. In collaboration with Wendy and Rozanne, lawyers, and sexual-offence units, I was soon up and running with cases being reported.”

Along with three cases in the court system in Cape Town, she’s monitoring other cases. “I urge anyone to come forward, whether they are a victim or they know of someone being abused. My number is available 24 hours a day except on Shabbat. All calls are confidential.”

Hendler says that after one of their talks in Cape Town, an elderly woman came to them to share her history at the hands of a perpetrator, which she had never told anyone before. She says their presentations almost always lead to disclosures such as these.

“We’ve had a bit of a breakthrough in reporting in Cape Town,” says Sack. “We have three cases going through the court system. It’s really gratifying, and we’re waiting for similar momentum in Johannesburg. The more the community creates a safe space for victims to come forward, the more people will feel safe reporting, and the safer our community will be. Perpetrators will know they will face consequences and cannot act with impunity, and victims will make progress towards healing. We’re working hard to break that stigma in Joburg.”

Sack says they were, on the whole, warmly received in Cape Town.

“The reception in Cape Town been absolutely amazing,” says Hendler. “For many, especially in the older generation, this is the first time they have heard that abuse and domestic violence is as prevalent in the Jewish community as in other communities.”

Expansion to Cape Town started after Uranovsky approached them, Hendler says. She has been working on cases over the past two years.

“We would like to open in Durban as well. We’ve become more established and get a lot of calls from all over the country.”

They launched the organisation at the Green and Sea Point Hebrew Congregation (Marais Road Shul), where they say the audience was “absolutely transfixed”.

The next day was a watershed moment, as they made a presentation to teenagers for the first time. “We visited Cape Town Torah High [CTTH], where we first presented to teachers, then did four back-to-back talks with four groups of CTTH high school kids aged 13 to 18.

“We spoke to the boys and girls separately about sexual abuse, and also to older teens about consent. We’ve never done talks with teenagers, but they were amazing. It made a particular impact on the older boys.”

When speaking to the rabbis at the school, Hendler says they emphasised that these topics should be discussed when pupils are younger, and that “halacha covers all of these things”.

They then attended the Union of Jewish Women’s ”Women of Courage” event, where Sack told her personal story. “You could have heard a pin drop. There were tears,” says Hendler.

The women then travelled to Hermanus to meet activists and lawyers working on “the surf school case”. Ryan Halkett, 41, is alleged to have assaulted at least four female foreign tourists and one local woman at his Hermanus Surf School and Lodge. He appeared in the Hermanus Magistrate’s Court on Thursday, 9 June, on charges of rape and sexual assault, and was released on bail of R1 000. The arrest followed months of tireless effort by Hendler and Sack. They hope the docket will be finalised by December.

The Cape Town trip ended with a visit to United Herzlia Schools to do a training workshop with its mental health professionals, and to meet the Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies.

“We have exciting things coming up, including introducing a WhatsApp hotline to allow people to interact directly with us,” says Hendler.

“We’re now working in almost all of Jewish schools in Johannesburg,” says Sack. They are also seeking to engage with children beyond the Jewish community. After that, their next big goal is to open a walk-in centre.

  • Melanie Uranovsky can be contacted on 074 180 5687.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *