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Bapela’s rant is in conflict with democracy

As I write, the Durban and Umhlanga area is abuzz with holidaymakers. For the local Jewish community, it is always uplifting to be joined at these times by the many Jewish visitors from Gauteng and elsewhere and who add an extra vibe to its communal activities.





Regrettably, this festive spirit was somewhat marred this week by Deputy Minister Obed Bapela’s uncalled for public attack on students who, under the auspices of the South Africa Israel Forum, had just visited Israel.

Among other ill-considered comments, he accused the students of bringing the ANC into “disrepute”, and charged Israel with “offering free trips and holidays to embarrass the ANC”. The students concerned would be “summoned’ to an investigation.

Mr Bapela’s diatribe against those who did no more than visit Israel to see the situation there at first hand, is disturbing on a number of levels. In a strongly worded press statement, jointly issued by the Board and SA Zionist Federation, we deplored how a member of government had condemned and even threatened to punish individuals simply for exercising their democratic right to freedom of thought and association.

Why, exactly, was Mr Bapela so against visits to Israel by members of his party, the statement continued? Could it be that he was afraid that by being exposed to information and opinions that differ from his own, they might end up coming to the “wrong” conclusions?

What is perhaps most reprehensible about Mr Bapela’s reaction is how much it goes against South Africa’s commitment to dialogue and engagement as a way of resolving conflicts.

In its dealings with other countries, South Africa is quite happy to involve itself in such interactions. At our meeting with President Jacob Zuma and senior members of his Cabinet last September, we were told that government wishes to engage with all sides in helping to bring about a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. However, it would appear that according to Obed Bapela, at least, Israel should be treated differently from every other nation.  

Seeking to prevent people from visiting Israel, whether through threats of disciplinary action, expulsion or other sanctions, is also starkly in conflict with the fundamental principles of democracy on which our society is based. Just two weeks ago, we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Freedom Charter which, among other things, asserts the right of all citizens to “travel without restriction from countryside to town, from province to province, and from South Africa abroad”.

Essentially, Mr Bapela is demanding that members of his party follow the agenda of BDS-SA, an organisation that aggressively lobbies against South Africans having any contact whatsoever with Israel.

BDS has no compunction in resorting to threats and intimidation and even, as we have since learned, offering financial incentives to dissuade people from going on the trip. Such tactics aim at shutting down any possible debate, and imposing a single, distorted interpretation of events on the public.

It is an overtly fascist tactic, and it is dismaying indeed that it has evidently gained a degree of support within the ruling party.      


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Shabbat Around The World beams out from Jozi



More than 75 devices around the globe logged in to Beit Luria’s World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Shabbat Around the World programme on Friday, 15 January.

Whether it was breakfast time in California, tea time in Europe, or time to break challah in Johannesburg, participants logged in to take part in Beit Luria’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.

Among those participating were Rabbi Sergio Bergman, the president of the WUPJ; chairperson Carole Sterling; and Rabbi Nathan Alfred, the head of international relations. Singers Tulla Eckhart and Brian Joffe performed songs from a global array of artists, along with Toto’s Africa to add a little local flair to the service. After kiddish was said and bread was broken, Rabbi Bergman thanked Beit Luria for hosting the WUPJ. The shul looks forward to more collaborations with its global friends in the future.

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UJW Sewing School graduates model creations



The outfits modelled by graduates of the Union of Jewish Women’s (UJW’s) Sewing School were all the more spectacular for the fact that some of their creators had never seen a sewing machine prior to the four-month course.

They were modelled at the school’s graduation ceremony at Oxford Shul on 15 December to much excitement and applause.

UJW executive member and Sewing School Manager Ariane Heneck expressed her gratitude to Chido Tsodzo, the school’s superb teacher, and the event ended with a much appreciated lunch for graduates and their invited guests.

The self-empowerment Sewing School for unemployed men and women was started by the UJW 10 years ago. It now has a small production team of ex-students, and some of its graduates have been employed in factories, while others are selling their own creations.

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Israel Rugby 7s to camp with the Blitzbokke



The thrill-a-minute Rugby 7s have captured the hearts of fans around the world. The Blitzbokke, South Africa’s national Rugby 7s team, ranks second in the world, and is among the most exciting, formidable, and feared of 7s teams.

Exactly 9 191 km away are the Israelis, an emerging rugby nation that has talent, determination, and a world-class coach in South African Kevin Musikanth. Now, these two squads will meet. The Israeli 7s side will be travelling to the SAS Rugby Academy in Stellenbosch to train with the Blitzbokke.

The Blitzbokke will have the opportunity to prepare for the coming 7s rugby season by measuring their skills of play against the Israelis. And the Israelis, well, they will be rubbing shoulders with, and learning from the best in the world and honing their skills for their coming European Rugby season.

“It’s an opportunity for our boys to learn from the world’s best,” says Musikanth. The SAS Rugby Academy is run by the legendary Frankie Horn, a technical expert whose coaching guidelines and methods are second to none in World Rugby 7s.

Musikanth took over as Rugby 15s head coach in Israel in 2018, and in October 2019, he became director of rugby for the Israeli Rugby Union and head coach for the national programmes of both the 15s and the 7s.

Horn visited Israel last December at the behest of Rugby Israel and its supporting Olympic body and since then, the partnership has continued to grow. The upcoming training camp will begin in Israel, where Horn, together with Phil Snyman, the former Blitzbok captain and multiple world champion winner, will spend a week with the players and coaching staff at Wingate, Netanya, the home base of Rugby Israel. They will then all travel to Stellenbosch for a week’s camp with the Blitzbokke.

“We’ve already seen the difference through our partnership with Frankie. Two of our players were spotted by him on his previous trip to Israel, and have been training at SAS on the off-season,” says Musikanth. The two players are Omer Levinson (scrum half) and Yotam Shulman (lock).

Horn, technical advisor to Rugby Israel’s 7s, says “It is a great opportunity for both teams to derive positive benefit from the camp.”

Israel Rugby has been making considerable professional strides since Musikanth took over the reins. Israel 15s played their 100th test match against Cyprus and celebrated with a 34-22 victory.

“We’re in the top 25 in Europe in 15s and in the top 16 in 7s, the toughest, most competitive continent in world rugby,” says Musikanth, “and I can realistically see us setting our sights on the Top 15 and Top 12 respectively in the future.”

Currently, there are three eligible South Africans who are on the Israeli national squad: Jayson Ferera as flanker (Pirates Rugby Club), Daniel Stein as fly half (studying in Israel), and Jared Sichel as prop (Hamilton’s Rugby Club, Cape Town). Eligibility to play for a national team in rugby is stricter than in other sports. One does not qualify just because one has a passport. One has to have had a parent or grandparent that was born in that country or one has to have lived in the country for at least three years.

“With so much Jewish rugby talent around the world, we would be able to put a world-class Israeli national team together if not for the measures that restrict eligibility to national call ups,” says Musikanth.

The Israel Rugby development project was accelerated thanks to Musikanth initiating Bridges through Rugby. This project is the collective effort of a few South African Jewish businessmen who appreciate the long-term vision of Israel becoming a stronger rugby nation. They have come on board to assist with this most opportune tour. National financial support is fixed and, as such, is limited. While the strong players and national coaches will be attending the training camp in Stellenbosch, there will be some that will, unfortunately, have to stay behind.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our players and coaches. To get to see the best upfront and feed off their knowledge is going to be incredible,” says Musikanth. “Everyone is eager to go, of course, but there is a cap to the support we have in place. We would like to take a development u20 squad as well as coaching staff who would carry the benefits of this into the future. A rugby visit to Stellenbosch can change rugby lives in many respects. Stellenbosch is rugby utopia!”

Rugby aside, with the Israelis and South Africans camping together, the question of what will be for dinner after a gruelling day’s training may be a matter of contention. A tussle for whether to serve boerewors or shwarma may result in a scrum in the SAS dining hall to determine the outcome.

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