‘Be strong & brave’ could be clarion call
“Anti-Semitism keeps changing like a chameleon. It swings from denying that the Holocaust ever occurred to reversing the role of the Jews in history. Like a cancer it metastasises new libels, thus posing ever-present dangers.”
PHOTOGRAPH: GRANT ROGERSON
Thus writes Dr Harold Serebro in his new book “The Canopy: Warriors for Justice; Facing the Ticking Time Bomb”, which was launched at the Killarney Golf Club last Sunday night with guests of honour Tokyo Sexwale (former Cabinet minister) and Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa Arthur Lenk.
Like Serebro himself, a man of many skills and facets – gastroenterologist, former senior executive director of the Altron Group, entrepreneur, philanthropist and author – the book spans time and place with a common theme: those who persecuted and still intend to persecute (or attempt to annihilate) Jews and other races they deem inferior.
This includes anecdotes from Europe and the Middle East and crossing the seas to South Africa; stories of the anti-apartheid freedom fighters, who with partners for peace and reconciliation, brought about a new democratic dispensation in South Africa.
The writer played a role – as a Nazi hunter, as a measured voice in the turmoil that was South Africa and in the conciliatory talks which followed, highlighting his close relationship with the late President Nelson Mandela and other key figures who brought about change.
The book opens with four heroines of Auschwitz: Rosa Robota Gate, Ella Gertner, Regina Sapirstein and Estera Weisblum, who together smuggled explosives used to blow up crematoria in the death camp. The book is dedicated to these four. Aged 23, 11 days before the liberation by the Soviet Army, Rosa and the three other women were hanged. Her final words were, “Chazak ve’ematz” (“Be strong and brave”).
Her words resonated with members of an elite Israeli hit squad, given fictitious names and poetic licence by the author, who switched to a novel in parts of the book. This group, akin to the superheroes of today, but the real thing, crossed borders and continents, relentlessly pursuing their targets, the torturers and murders of Jews.
Their success was unparalleled and extended to the allies of Iran, still hell-bent on their quest to destroy the Jewish people – this time through nuclear warfare.
Though the people may be fictional, their actions and characters are true, wholly based on fact.
Serebro’s imagery is woven across the years, cleverly bringing in his personal involvement and that of Brad, a friend from school days and fellow doctor, who shares his passion. The two were separated for 40 years by distance and events and verbally shared their experiences.
Brad had been part of Israel’s clandestine hit team “that faced its implacable enemies in the Arab-Israeli conflict, which included Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran”; while Serebro had watched “two arch enemies – the apartheid government and the ANC, achieve a lasting transition to democracy and peace”.
The question is posed: “Why did one peace process fail, while the other was successful?”
Another terrifying possibility is put forward: “Would the Holocaust of Nazi Germany be followed by a different genocide – a nuclear attack against Israel?”
Serebro emphasises in his book that the crack Israeli team is determined to prevent this catastrophe and avert the prophecy of Azzam Pasha of the Arab League, before the 1948 War of Independence: “It will be a war of annihilation that will be talked about like the massacres of the Mongols or the Crusades.”
Sexwale, talking at the book launch, expressed the hope that “somehow an iconic figure will appear” to bring about peace in the beleaguered Middle East. He said that the book was “a glimmer of hope”.
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.
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.
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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