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Cape Town school urges community to connect with a phone call



When last did you make a phone call to a friend or family member just to chat? Not a voice note or a text, or a WhatsApp message, or a Facebook message, or a Zoom session, but an actual telephone call? Ease of technology means that most of us send messages to each other every day, but we don’t really connect. That’s why the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School (PJJDS) in Cape Town has launched a #makethecall campaign to challenge the community to make phone calls as a way to connect in a time of disconnection.

“We wanted to show our pupils that education isn’t just about books, but about actions,” says Rabbi Gavi Ziegler, campus rabbi at PJJDS. He explains that the idea came about as part of an educational project. “We also wanted to do something for the community, whose morale was particularly low after the second wave [of COVID-19]. We felt that making phone calls is something anyone can do. The initiative crosses all borders and boundaries, all sectors of the community, and all demographics.”

He and PJJDS educator Rebbetzin Leah Silman also wanted to focus on the teachings in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers). “Chapter 1:15 Shamai says to ‘greet all people with a pleasant countenance’ – to reach out to others with kind words and greetings,” says Ziegler. “Rambam says in Chapter 4:2 – Ben Azai, ‘Run after an easy mitzvah like a difficult one, as one mitzvah leads to another.’ In Chapter 4:15, Rebbi Matya says, ‘Be the first to greet all people.’”

“We feel that one good deed leads to another, and you never know what can come out of one phone call,” says the rabbi. “The culture of voice notes isn’t as real – it’s not as connecting,” says Silman.

“The other day I left a voice note for a friend on his birthday, and then decided to actually call him. We had a half-an-hour chat, and I felt much better afterwards. I had strengthened our connection,” says Ziegler. “We want people to see the benefit in making a call, even if just to a friend. Ultimately, one phone call can change someone’s life, especially when so many people have been so isolated during the pandemic.”

Ziegler says that there has been much interest in the project from Jewish schools and organisations across the country, and they hope it will grow.

The campaign will run from 3 to 7 May 2021. “This will be achieved through a Facebook ‘challenge’, in which we motivate schools in and around Cape Town and Johannesburg to encourage their students, parents, and communities to #makethecall this week. By taking just a few minutes to reach out and be there for someone, you can brighten their day and lift their spirits. This is how a simple phone call becomes a meaningful connection,” says Ziegler.

PJJDS has contacted seniors in Cape Town asking if they would like to be contacted, and many said yes. “Our students will reach out to those in our community who have been isolated for many months,” says the rabbi. “We also want to encourage the parent body and broader community to reach out to individuals whom they would normally WhatsApp, or those they haven’t been in touch with, and give them a call. We hope people will challenge each other and spread the word. We also envision different classes from different schools connecting with each other, and that phone calls become a regular thing, especially between young people and the elderly.”

To motivate children to get involved, every child who makes five phone calls will be entered into a draw for a prize.

PJJDS has invited parents to learn with children to kick off the project on 3 May. “Every child from 18 months to Grade 6 will receive a beautiful Pirkei Avot book to launch the project,” says Silman.

While Ziegler would love the project to go global, “Even if it affects one person’s life positively, we’ve done our job. Our goals are learning and connections. We hope it catches on, but we’ve achieved our aim if one person feels more connected and less alone.”

  • To find out more, visit Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School on Facebook and Instagram, or share your phone call stories on social media with the hashtag #makethecall.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Penny Swisa

    Apr 29, 2021 at 7:25 pm

    #makethecall is a brilliant, much needed initiative. Funnily enough, I made several phone calls this week before reading this article, which I am happy to see endorses what I did. Accolades to all at PJ school and to my son in law Rabbi Gavi Ziegler (RavGav):)

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