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Bringing SA expertise to the Paralympics

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Lifestyle

Sports and exercise-medicine expert Professor Wayne Derman has worked with elite athletes for his whole career, so when he was appointed chief medical officer to the Paralympics Games in Beijing in 2008, he felt like it was a step backwards. That is, until he met the athletes themselves.

“I realised [that] it was the ultimate challenge in sports medicine,” he says. “You’re working with athletes at the highest level, and then they have this added layer of disability and each one is different. It was the most magnificent transformation in my own learning, compassion, and awakening.”

So, when it came to the Paralympics in London and Rio de Janeiro, he was first in line to take on the same role. Now, he is about to step onto a plane to the Tokyo Paralympics – and it may just be his biggest challenge yet.

“I’m excited. I haven’t travelled in a year and a half, and I used to take an overseas trip a month [before the pandemic],” he says. He is part of the medical team of the International Paralympics Committee, which consults doctors whose athletes have complicated or difficult issues.

He’s also going as a doctor to a number of South African Paralympic athletes, but he’s not the official team doctor. On top of all that, he will be conducting an injury and illness surveillance study for the entire Paralympics, together with Stellenbosch University.

“The study was initiated by the desire to make sports safer,” he says. “You can’t measure illness and injury if you don’t know which sports are higher risk.”

They found that the most dangerous sport for a disabled athlete is blind soccer, also known as 5-a-side soccer or football 5-a-side. It’s an adaptation of soccer for athletes with a visual impairment, and is played with modified FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) rules.

To ensure fair competition, all players wear eyeshades. Each team has a goalkeeper who is sighted. The ball makes a noise due to a sound system located inside that helps players orientate themselves. Teams have off-field guides to assist them. “The game can lead to head injuries or concussion, so we’ve taken steps to heighten awareness and made changes to make it safer,” says Derman.

The study is specifically for the Paralympics, but there is a similar initiative at the Olympics. “This year, there is the added ‘layer’ of COVID-19,” he says. “For some time, we’ve been trying to implement an illness-prevention programme. The most common illnesses contracted by athletes are respiratory tract illnesses, which can take them out of the games. So, we were trying to implement a programme of sanitising, early isolation, and so on, but were battling to get it instituted. With the pandemic, it’s been done for us!”

When he’s not at the Paralympics, Derman has a full schedule as director and chair of The Institute of Sport and Exercise Medicine (ISEM) at Stellenbosch University’s Tygerberg Campus. He’s also the director of the FIFA Medical Centre of Excellence, and co-director of the South African International Olympic Committee Research Centre for Injury Prevention and Protection of Health of the Athlete.

In these roles, he does a large amount of research and academic writing. He also works in under-resourced communities, such as in the ISEM’s rehabilitation centre in Bishop Lavis on the Cape Flats. And, Derman works to ensure safety in sport, with a particular focus on rugby at university level. He trains doctors in sports and exercise medicine, and is currently supervising 14 doctors from around the country doing their MSc (Masters) in sports medicine, which he sees as “a great honour and privilege”. He also spends two days a week seeing patients in private practice.

Finally, he manages to fit in his own exercise routine, especially running. And as the father of four, his children keep him on his toes – especially his youngest, who is following in his dad’s footsteps with a true passion for sport.

Amidst it all, he found time recently to help develop a free online tool to assist event organisers to assess and mitigate COVID-19 risk during endurance-sports events. “You enter the country and area you are in, the number of people you expect, and mitigating factors like limiting numbers, having sanitiser available, and staggering the start. The tool will then calculate how safe your event is in terms of COVID-19. It will make suggestions about how to lower your risk score and raise your mitigation score.”

Derman says the tool, available on the World Athletics website, is already being used, and will allow event organisers to bring back sport in circumstances in which it’s safe to do so.

Reflecting on the Olympics, he says “COVID-19 represents a huge challenge”, and the event highlights “a lot of hard and considered work by a lot of people, who came together to make it the safest games possible in the current circumstances”.

“Statistics show it’s working well,” Derman says. “We’re only halfway through, but the positivity rate for COVID-19 at the Olympic Games amongst athletes and staff is only 0.02%. Meanwhile, the numbers in Tokyo itself are just rising. But it’s not the Olympics that’s causing that rising rate. The games are totally sealed off. The workforce is tested every day, and this ongoing monitoring is really working.”

He says it’s a highlight to work with Paralympic athletes because “there are no prima donnas”. On the para-athletes to watch in these upcoming games, he recommends keeping an eye on sprinter Charl du Toit, who has cerebral palsy, and Anrune Liebenberg, who has an arm amputation. Both will be running the 400m and 200m, and are “gold medal contenders.” Then, he recommends watching Ntando Mahlangu, a double amputee track star who he predicts will “set the stage alight”.

He believes the pandemic “will change the face of sport – and life as we know it. For athletes, travel is already a high-risk period of when they could get ill, and the pandemic has highlighted that. So precautions like wearing a mask when travelling are here to stay – especially for athletes.”

He is on the planning committee for the winter Paralympics and the winter Olympics to be held in Beijing in March 2022. “We are taking the same counter measures like testing and tracking – it’s just as radical. So this isn’t going away soon. I think flexibility and resilience in the face of sudden change are the main teachings of the pandemic.”

For young people thinking of going into sports medicine, Derman says, “It’s a great career choice. When I did sports medicine I had to forge my own path, now it’s a recognised specialty. It’s not only about elite athletes, it’s about mitigating chronic diseases. Exercise is the strongest preventative strategy in preventing heart and lung disease, cancer, and diabetes. So, sports medicine will continue to play an important role in society.”

With his qualification and experience, Derman could go anywhere in the world – but for now, he’s staying put. “In spite of the fact that South Africa has been through a rough time, I remain very optimistic. I’m here for the long run.”

Finally, he says, “The Olympics are special, but the Paralympics are extra special. They give the gift of perspective and gratitude. I hope you’ll be watching!”

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Lifestyle

Yiddish machzor finds its way back to family

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When Shelley Harari read that a Yiddish machzor originally printed in Vilna had been uncovered in Cape Town, she couldn’t hold back the tears, realising that the owner, Jacob Dick, was her late grandfather.

“After reading the article, I was overwhelmed with emotion. A flash of more than 140 years of my family’s history passed over me,” says Harari. She attributes the connection to “the power of journalism, which led to a series of events that unravelled within two weeks in September 2021”.

The original article, published in the SA Jewish Report on 13 August 2021, explained that the machzor, printed in Yiddish in Vilna in 1876, had resurfaced in Cape Town just before the high holidays. The address of the owner was written inside, and was the same address that now houses a section of Cape Town Torah High (CTTH).

“The book was given to me by Peter Greenberg, who found it in a box of old Jewish books belonging to his late grandfather,” says Rabbi Levi Silman, who collects old books and connected the dots between the machzor’s owner and CTTH’s address. He noticed that the owner had written his name, J. Dick, and his address, 29 Maynard Street, on the machzor. The address jumped out at Silman because his daughter spends much of her school day at CTTH Girls Campus at that address.

Silman was thrilled with the discovery, and gave the book to CTTH Principal Avi Shlomo to house in the school. That is, until Harari contacted him from Israel. Says Harari, “My sister, who lives in Johannesburg, received a call from our cousin who had read the article. She mentioned that Jacob Dick was written inside the machzor. On hearing this, it filled me with an eagerness to know more about an amazing, important, and historical find belonging to my late grandfather.”

She immediately sent a message to the SA Jewish Report’s Facebook page, asking for further information. The SA Jewish Report responded with all the information and contact details of the people involved.

Says Harari, “My late mother, Julia Dick Ostilly, passed away 50 years ago. This machzor was a wonderful link to her and to my grandfather, who passed away in 1941. Jacob Dick was born in Lithuania in 1876. He settled in the Western Cape on his arrival in South Africa in 1903. My mother and her siblings were born in Calvinia. Sadly, they have all passed away.

“In the 1920s, they moved to Cape Town. One address I remember my mother speaking about was in Gardens. As a young girl, I remember my mother would tell me how her father would go down to the docks during World War II and invite British sailors for Friday night dinner. My mother described her father as a generous, simple, kind, and pious man. My uncle, Eli Dick, who lived in Oranjezicht, was a very well-known and respected member of the Jewish community.”

Harari reached out to everyone involved, including Greenberg. “Peter enabled me to join the dots. He had an old suitcase filled with Jewish books which belonged to his grandfather, Jacob Potashnik. He recalled that his grandparents were very friendly with the Dick family. The Potashnik family also lived in Oranjezicht. Before making aliyah in the 1970s, Eli Dick, I assume, gave his friend, Mr Potashnik, the suitcase of Jewish books which he inherited from his father, Jacob Dick. Thus, the story unfolded, and came full circle.

“After corresponding with Rabbi Shlomo and proving that this machzor indeed belonged to Jacob Dick, it was returned to my cousin, Percy Choritz. Percy knew the Dick family for many years. I’m pleased that a relation of the Dick family received the machzor instead of it being sent in a package. Things are meant to be. On his return to Israel in February, Percy will give me the machzor.”

Greenberg was delighted to hear that the machzor would be given to Harari. “It seems right that it’s being returned to the Dick family and also to Israel,” he says.

“It was a beautiful ending to the story,” Shlomo says. “Percy Choritz [who is the nephew of Eli Dick] and his wife Irene  came and collected it. We put on tefillin together, and it was beautiful. The machzor has facilitated many good deeds and we used it in school to study from its unique commentary. So it’s only appropriate that the story ends with another mitzvah – that of returning a lost item to its rightful owners.

“While there was definitely a sense of loss in sending it away as we felt so connected to it, we were thrilled it was going to the grandchildren of Jacob Dick who now had this priceless memento of their grandfather and his bygone world,” he says. “We photographed the front pages and will frame them in a display at 29 Maynard Street, Jacob’s home, and now part of Cape Town Torah High School – connected by Torah and tefillah for more than 100 years.”

Silman was also deeply moved. “I always think that books, especially historical ones, should be where they have the greatest impact or where they can make the greatest difference,” he says. “So if it goes back to family where they will cherish it and it will inspire them to use it more, then that’s definitely where it should be. And it’s always good that things find their original place and go back to their roots.”

Writing to Shlomo and the staff of CTTH, Harari said, “ In honour and blessed memory of my late mother, Julia Dick Ostilly, and her late father, Jacob Dick, I thank you for returning this meaningful, religious, and historic machzor, which belonged to my late grandfather, Jacob Dick. There is one place in the world to which you don’t escape nor immigrate – you come home to the land of Israel. As I live in Israel, I feel a relic of Jacob Dick has come home. My family will preserve this piece of heritage for generations to come.”

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Clegg’s autobiography brings readers into his crazy, beautiful world

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If you ever wanted to sit at the feet of the late, great Johnny Clegg, hearing tales of his early years in his own unique voice, you now have that opportunity. Although Clegg passed away in 2019, he began writing about his life in the years prior to his death. The result is the newly released Scatterling of Africa, which is his “origin story” in his own words.

“It’s a hugely surreal moment for us and a joy to share our dad’s incredible story with the world. It has been a long journey to get to this point, and we are honoured and proud to be able to finally release it,” says his son, Jesse Clegg, in an interview with the SA Jewish Report.

The past few years have been “an emotionally challenging period to be without our dad, especially considering the circumstances we find ourselves in the world”, says his younger son, Jaron Clegg. “We are, however, hugely comforted and feel his presence when we see his music and storytelling connect with people. This book was a way for us to share his presence again and working on it was cathartic because it felt like he was with us as we were making our way through his journey.”

Clegg was known as Le Zoulou Blanc and didn’t emphasise his Jewish identity, and yet the book shows how his life was “book ended” by two very Jewish life-cycle events. We are introduced to his overbearing grandfather, Harry Braudo, who insisted that Clegg have a Brit Milah even though his biological father wasn’t Jewish. This moment and Braudo’s decisions at the time reverberate across the generations.

Then, on the second page of the book, the Clegg family thanks the Chevrah Kadisha for its support over the very difficult period of Clegg’s passing. And so, in birth and death, Clegg was bound to Judaism. In between, as he writes, there were moments when he wrestled with his Jewish identity as well as the question of whether one can change identities, finding a home in another community that welcomes you as one of its own sons.

“An anthropologist by training, our dad always had a curiosity and appreciation for all cultures and religions,” says Jesse. “With Judaism, there were many principles and values that he respected deeply and connected us to as his children. Sometimes we would light the Shabbos candles and he would explain the symbolism around the traditions, and we also had Barmitzvahs. Our family has always had a connection to the Jewish community, and we are grateful for the support and compassion we’ve received.”

Although it can be unsettling to read the writings of someone whose early death remains so raw, Clegg’s voice shines through from the very first word in the most comforting way. He takes us into his childhood memories and teenage explorations with a gentle hand, as if to say “come, let me show you something wonderful”. He talks about how both he and his mother had an almost naïve fearlessness and boundless curiosity, which allowed him to follow a path that none had treaded before.

Asked how the book came together, Jaron explains that his father “chose to focus on his formative years, as it was these years that were so important in shaping his journey as an artist and as a human. It came together sporadically in moments and short vignettes and stories that he would write down as they came to him, and it continued like that until the end. When he passed, we were left with a beautiful collection of anecdotes and memories and so our job, with the editor, was to order and structure the text into a cohesive narrative. With that said, our main priority was that everything was in his own words and nothing was altered from the original text.”

“We had never heard some of these stories before!” says Jesse. “He goes into incredible detail about his family life, his connection to music, and his connection to Zulu culture and South Africa in general.”

In many accounts, Clegg’s stepfather, journalist Dan Pienaar’s decision to take the young Clegg with him to the townships, is credited with kindling his interest in Zulu culture. But in the book, we see that many more forces were at play, including Clegg’s initiative, drive, and joy in discovering a new world – often at great risk. He describes the impact Pienaar’s approach to life had on him in many ways, especially during the year they spent in Zambia. Linked to this are other fascinating stories, such as how Pienaar kidnapped Clegg’s stepsister and went to Australia.

Asked how Zulu culture featured in their lives, Jesse says, “We spent many weekends in Zululand growing up, so we were very exposed to this world and experienced the magical community. We certainly hold dear the Zulu culture and way of life. We visit Sipho Mchunu’s homestead in Makhabaleni often, and reminisce about the life he shared with our father. And every time we drive down, as the Tugela River Valley opens up, it’s like a doorway into another world. This is part of the magic of the place our dad came to love and live by.”

Having access to their father’s story after his passing “is a gift for us as a family because of how strong his voice is and how clearly he comes across”, says Jaron. “We feel especially lucky to have this piece of him as we move forward, something that we can tangibly hold on to and read through whenever we want to hear his voice.”

In the cast of characters we are introduced to in the book, Clegg’s mother, Muriel, plays an important part. “Muriel, or ‘Gogo’ as we used to call her, was a strong and eccentric woman who had a massive role in our dad’s life,” says Jesse. “She championed him in many ways especially in his music career. Of course, she wasn’t without her own troubles and traumas and some of that baggage was carried by our dad throughout his life. To us, she was a good grandmother who read to us all the time and introduced us to the magic of poetry, storytelling, and karate.”

The Clegg sons carry the surname of their father’s biological dad, Dennis Clegg, who their father wasn’t allowed to meet until he was 21. “Without a father, there certainly was a void in his life growing up, and in a way, it reinforced his connection to the Zulu culture as their masculine values as well as their music and dance gave him the tools to father himself,” says Jaron.

“My brother and I did get to meet Dennis, and in fact, we spent a few holidays with him. He would come down to South Africa to visit us, and we always enjoyed seeing him. He was a very kind and gentle man, and incredibly funny. He could also talk to dogs!”

They hope the book “will give people an intimate look at the man behind the music, a glimpse into the world that shaped him and people who championed his journey. For us, our dad’s life serves as testament to human connection against all odds, and the incredible power of music and dance to transcend our differences. We feel honoured and proud to be able to share it with the world.”

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From university of life to LifeBook – a storied tale

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Have you ever heard of a primary school teacher travelling more than 1 000km to say goodbye to one of her scholars? South African-born Roy Moëd recalls his King David Linksfield Grade 2 teacher travelling from Johannesburg to Cape Town in 1960 with a farewell gift for him just before he emigrated.

“I must have been so cute that teacher Bessie gave me a silver identity bracelet with the name Roy on the front and on the back, ‘Teacher Bessie 1960’,” Moëd told the SA Jewish Report. “I will always remember her. I never saw her again, but I still have the bracelet. She was a very special woman.”

It’s precious stories like this that Moëd, who founded a successful airline catering business and bespoke autobiography service, wants to highlight.

It’s sad, says Moëd, that these kinds of stories about your average person generally go untold. He founded LifeBook, a bespoke autobiography service, in 2011, because he’s passionate about telling these stories.

All because his teacher, Bessie Taurog, drove all the way to Cape Town shortly after the Sharpeville Massacre to say goodbye to a seven-year-old boy who was moving to Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands with his parents and three siblings.

Moëd – who is dyslexic, making reading and writing difficult – has made the process of getting people’s stories printed as simple as possible.

“All you have to do is tell your story across twelve 90-minute interviews, and at the last interview, we record you talking about your favourite stories so your family can always hear them being retold in your voice,” he says.

Ten autobiographical books are then printed for the client to distribute among their family and friends, preserving their history and legacy.

“This my greatest business achievement and true legacy,” says Moëd. “We are changing people’s lives because we’re making and preserving this huge social history – there are now 10 000 people around the world who hold a LifeBook in their hands with their parents’ story or stories that they would never have heard.”

Not too shabby for a guy who was born in Waverley, Johannesburg, in 1953, and battled at school. “I failed everything, got kept down,” he recalls.

Moëd regularly went to Waverley Shul before his family decided to emigrate due to apartheid and the last of his grandparents having passed away. He did, however, return to the shul for his Barmitzvah.

By then, Moëd’s mother had realised that Jersey wasn’t, as she was told, a “beautiful tropical island with palm trees”. In fact, Moëd recalls, “the palm trees were all dead”.

“When I was 19, I was already living in London, but returned to Jersey to run a restaurant for my dad,” he says. “It was a Doll’s House [roadhouse]. He brought the idea to the island. However, the weather was rubbish, so we would be open for only three or four months of the year.”

Moëd went on to try his hand at 29 different jobs over the next six years, which he describes as “the university of life”. He did everything from door-to-door insurance to being a barman, waiter, smoked salmon slicer, and fruit and veg van driver. He also had spells working on a kibbutz in Israel, serving as a chef and manager of a restaurant, and managing a hotel.

“At the age of 25, I was basically unemployable. I was really good at interviews, but I wasn’t good at doing the jobs so I kept getting fired.”

In 1978, he started a catering business for the airline industry. “Today, I do a presentation called ‘the value of legacy, not money’, in which I talk about how I grew this business from two employees to 600 and reengineered it four times before selling it in 2007.”

One of Moëd’s proudest moments was the unexpected response he received from the 140 people his catering business had made redundant after deciding to outsource its warehousing and distribution. “I had a party for these people even though everybody said that I was mad and my old classic car was going to get keyed.”

Although they were being let go, they ended up hugging Moëd because he had given them opportunity by employing them in his business. “These people then became our customers as we landed up delivering to the doors of where they went on to be employed,” Moëd says.

His LifeBook company is working on 200 autobiographies for people around the world – from Mauritius and Uganda to the United States. “We always get a local interviewer who lives within 30 minutes of the client. The interviewer is trained by us how to conduct the interview, record the story, and take photographs. We then use a suitable writer – like an Asian if the subject is Asian – as they understand the nuances of things like local terminology.” Moëd’s expert team includes project managers, editors, typesetters, proofreaders, printers, and bookbinders.

“The key to LifeBook is also that the people who do it enjoy it. I started it because of my dad. I wanted to give him a project that he would enjoy and give him self-worth. As we get older, we start to lose our faculties in different ways, but to have a sense of self-worth at what you did, and to have your grandchildren know your values is really important. A great African proverb says, ‘When an elder passes on, a whole library burns down’. My greatest business achievement is that many of these kinds of libraries haven’t burnt down.”

Moëd’s business philosophy is inspired by a book titled The customer comes second. “The essence of that book is that if you get your people right, the customer will be happy. The philosophy is to treat people as people, build a team of people who are doing it for more than just the money, and create an environment where people enjoy coming to work and what they do.”

Business aside, Moëd flew in a race from London to Sydney in 2001. He has a pilot license and an instrument rating, which, he says, “is really academic, and I surprised myself in doing it”.

He has returned to South Africa many times as a tourist, and played polo at Plettenberg Bay, where his parents spent their honeymoon once upon a time.

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