Challenging, robust debate at Cape Conference
Conference theme was “Safe Spaces” – on SAJBD acting as truly representative forum allowing for broad a range of views to be expressed. This aim was certainly achieved.
We have come to expect robust, challenging and diverse debate at the biennial Cape Board conferences, and the latest such gathering, held over the weekend, more than lived up to those expectations.
As indicated by its theme of “Safe Spaces”, it was about the Board acting as a truly representative forum allowing for as broad a range of views as possible to be expressed, and this aim was certainly achieved.
One of the panels featured four members of Cape Town Jewry who felt disconnected from the mainstream community, whether because of the views they held, issues relating to their personal identity or a combination of the two.
Their views were from across the right to the left of the spectrum regarding Israel and Zionism, while identity issues included different sexual orientation and coming from a mixed marriage home.
Representatives of four leading Cape Town organisations, namely Chabad, Limmud, the Nahum Goldmann Fellows and Herzlia Schools, next responded to the views expressed by the panellists, after which members of the floor participated in a lively question and answer session.
What was particularly encouraging to witness was that while there was plenty of disagreement among the various participants, this never descended into personal abuse. People spoke their minds without feeling threatened and could differ with one another without being prescriptive or judgemental.
I warmly congratulate Li Boiskin, who stepped down after serving two terms as chairman of the Cape Council, on her many achievements over the past four years. The new Cape Council was also elected, with three new members being elected by the community at large through a postal ballot and the remaining 12 by the delegates. In all, the Cape Council has invested much time and effort in fostering a robust democratic culture within its constituency and is reaping the fruits of this.
The conference was given the best possible start by keynote speaker Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University in New York. His address, which focused on how to ensure Jewish continuity in a world where personal, subjective choice at the individual level has come to supplant traditional group identities, was inspiring on every level.
Among the compelling insights he offered was that in order for young Jews today to exercise the option to remain affiliated to Judaism and Jewish peoplehood, they had to both know their own story and take ownership of it. For this, a good Jewish education was obviously important, but even more crucial was what they were taught and experienced in the home environment.
Drawing on the heritage of the past certainly helped to build a sense of pride, identity and understanding about what it meant to be Jewish, but this alone was no guarantee of Jewish survival in the future. Each new generation also needs to forge its own dynamic, engaged connection to Judaism, however broadly one defines it, in the here and now.
The Shabbos Project
This weekend will see the coming to fruition of the Shabbos Project, which encourages as many members of our community as possible to come together in keeping this Shabbat in all its rich symbolism and meticulous attention to detail that has marked its observance by our people for so many centuries.
It is this kind of living, inspired, connected Judaism that I believe Richard Joel was referring to, and I can only join our religious leadership, headed by Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, in likewise encouraging our community to make themselves a part of it.
- This “Above Board” column originally appeared as a paid-for item in the SA Jewish Report on 11 October
WIZO celebrates achievements and new beginnings
Rosh Hashanah has brought new beginnings for all of us and the hope that the special connections and support of family, friends, and community, will continue when the threat of COVID-19 is a distant memory.
Over the past few months, WIZO (the Women’s International Zionist Organisation) has been constantly in the news in Israel. Fighting for women’s rights, maintaining excellence in WIZO schools, and being recognised by the Israeli government for the network of philanthropic projects that stretch the length and breadth of Israel are only some of the milestones that make us such proud members of this international organisation.
WIZO Israel proudly promoted the Bill for Equal Rights and Pay for Women and Men in the Workplace passed in the Knesset on 24 August 2020. As women’s rights activists, WIZO works tirelessly to promote gender equality on all fronts. Women’s empowerment is one of the founding principles of the organisation since its inception in 1920. Lobbying against domestic violence is ongoing, and WIZO provides safe-houses, training, and work opportunities for women forced to flee their homes, often with small children in tow. As leaders against gender-based violence, WIZO also offers a helpline and counselling for the perpetrators of abuse, and the lines are busy day and night.
Esther Mor, World WIZO president, was one of four women in Israel to receive the Eshet Lapidot Award for philanthropy on behalf of WIZO. Mor was also invited to the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House in Washington DC last week. What an honour for her and for WIZO, demonstrating the esteem with which the organisation is held not only in Israel but around the world!
The day before Rosh Hashanah, the chairperson of World WIZO’s early age department visited Neve WIZO (WIZO South Africa’s jewel-in-the-crown project), accompanied by Avi Mottola, Israel’s deputy director general of the ministry of welfare. Each of its five cottages had exquisitely laid yom tov tables, and the children at each home shared warm and tender stories of their lives before and after coming to live at Neve WIZO. In one of the houses, Mottola met Hila, a soldier in the Patriot Regiment who came to celebrate at the home. Mottola was moved to tears, and at the end of the visit he said, “I couldn’t have started the year in a more significant place than Neve WIZO”.
On the home front, WIZO has hosted a number of informative webinars, WIZO societies have committed themselves to outreach projects in the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, and WIZO’s Wheelchairs of Hope have been donated to needy children around the country.
The WIZO Elise Gift Shop is officially online, with a stunning range of hand-picked homeware, baby gifts and more at significantly reduced prices. Shop.wizo.co.za
Finally, please save the date for WIZO South Africa’s conference on 22 November 2020, with guest speaker Trudy Gold, renowned British historian and Holocaust educator, and the former chief executive of the London Jewish Cultural Centre.
May we all be inscribed in the book of life, and a gmar chatima tova.
WIZO celebrates women every day
World WIZO (the Women’s International Zionist Organisation) celebrated its official centenary on 11 July 2020. There were greetings and celebratory messages from the 50 WIZO federations around the world, including ours. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin sent personal video messages of congratulation to the organisation and all its federations, acknowledging them for the critical role they play in uplifting Israel, and paying homage to WIZO’s incredible longevity.
WIZO founders Rebecca Sieff, Edith Elder, and Vera Weitzman recognised an urgent need to uplift women and children in the early days of Palestine who were living in dire circumstances. In 1920, they formed the Women’s International Zionist Organisation to establish education and social-welfare infrastructure in Palestine.
Through the years, WIZO has stepped in to do what the government can’t do itself. In the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, WIZO helped to integrate new immigrants to Israel. In the 1970s and 1980s, WIZO created the first shelters for women and children suffering from domestic violence. WIZO was a pioneer in this area, setting up many programmes, and uses a holistic approach which takes care of victims and abusers.
In the present time of COVID-19, WIZO was a first responder in opening up emergency shelters for women at risk due to the confined spaces in which they have been forced to live with perpetrators of violence and abuse. WIZO also made sure that its day care centres were fully operational at hospitals for the medical teams on the frontline fighting the pandemic in Israel. WIZO continues to lobby the Knesset for the advancement and empowerment of women and children in all spheres of society in Israel.
We are proud to be active participants in this worldwide movement of women dedicated to strengthening the fabric of Israeli society, especially now when health, work, schooling, finances, and food are everyday concerns.
We are proud to support issues affecting women and children in South Africa. From our Wheelchairs of Hope initiative (light-weight, brightly coloured, wheelchairs, from Israel, designed specifically for children, giving them the dignity of mobility), to joining local non-governmental organisations in collecting blankets, toys, hygiene packs for rape victims, and more whenever we have been called on to offer support.
As Women’s Day approaches, we are aware of the desperation facing women and children who suffer abuse in this country, and we stand with all women – those who struggled under the harsh laws of apartheid, those who became struggle heroes, those who set out to help others even though they had so little themselves, and those who still face hardships.
We salute the generosity of women in South Africa, the spirit to move forward, the ubuntu.
May we continue to be proud volunteers, raising awareness, giving support, and empowering society’s most vulnerable citizens here and in Israel.
“It does indeed take a village to raise the child, but it takes a global sisterhood to build the Israeli nation.”
SAJBD puts in sterling work on Hate Crimes Bill
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) has sent its submission on the “Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill” to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development for consideration.
The much-awaited Bill aims to give effect to South Africa’s obligations, in terms of both the country’s Constitutional and international human rights instruments, concerning racism and discrimination; to provide for the offence of hate crimes and hate speech; as well as the prosecution and prevention of these crimes.
The SAJBD, as the umbrella representative body and human rights voice of the South African Jewish community, has been involved in hate crimes awareness, education and legislation advocacy for nearly a decade. Through its role as a founding and current steering committee member of the Hate Crimes Working Group, as well as participating in other important civil society initiatives, the SAJBD continues to be deeply committed to ensuring that issues relating to hate crimes and hate speech are adequately addressed in the country.
The SAJBD’s submission on the Bill focused on a significant concern of the local Jewish community, namely that of anti-Semitism, and outlined the need for hate crimes legislation in the country as well as effective monitoring and data collection of cases of hate.
On the issue of hate speech, it was felt that the relevant sections of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (No 4, 2000, hereafter “Equality Act”) were sufficiently far-reaching for purposes of addressing cases of hate speech.
Rather than having two very similar laws on the statute books, it was therefore strongly recommended that the anti-hate speech sections of the Hate Crimes Bill be removed and that instead the relevant sections of the Equality Act be revisited with a view to their possible amendment.
This might entail making the propagation of hate speech on the basis of race, ethnicity and other prohibited grounds an offence not only when it is directed against an individual, but against the particular group which is being thus maligned.
The SAJBD’s submission stresses that the Act must be so framed as to make its practical implementation possible, and to this end recommends bolstering and expanding the reach and effectiveness of current legislation and mechanisms dealing with incidents of hate, such as the SA Human Rights Commission and Equality Courts.
The issue of restorative justice, to both educate against and prevent hate speech and hate crimes, as well as a method of dealing with perpetrators after an incident has taken place, was also emphasised.
“History has shown us where hate leads,” says the SAJBD’s representative on the Hate Crimes Working Group, Alana Baranov. “Genocide and crimes against humanity do not begin with action but with words and incidences of discrimination. South Africans need to work together to ensure that our country is one in which human rights, freedom and equality are afforded to all who live in it.”
The SAJBD looks forward to working with the Department of Justice on the draft Bill going forward, as well as any on other initiatives aimed at preventing and combating hate in South African society.
* For more information, contact Alana Baranov on 083-275-2184.
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