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COVID-19 rides roughshod over calculated risks

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The Jewish Report Editorial

In the past few weeks, so many of us let our guard down in terms of COVID-19, myself included. I was a bit more relaxed about wearing my mask in company, although I did try to keep a social distance.

I guess we all got to a point when the numbers were down and we felt we could relax a little in spite of what the doctors were telling us. Unfortunately, that laxity has come back to bite us.

The first inkling I had that our – or my – eye was off the ball (or virus) was when I received a message from a respected pulmonologist who had just seen last week’s SA Jewish Report.

She was upset that we ran a photograph on our front page of two of the leading doctors in the fight against COVID-19, unmasked and not keeping a social distance. She questioned the message we were sending, not least because the number of people getting very sick in our community and in broader society was increasing. The photograph didn’t fit the reality.

I know that these doctors on our front page – both Absa Jewish Achiever Award winners – posed for our photographer, who may well have asked them to take off their masks momentarily for the photograph. When I was choosing the best photograph for the front page, COVID-19 was unfortunately not front of mind. It was all about the best photograph.

Hence, I say, my guard was down. Six weeks ago, I wouldn’t have even considered that particular photograph. Mea culpa!

The point is, many of us have fallen into this malaise, and have been pushing the boundaries. And, while so many parents were super strict with their teens while writing matric, ensuring that they were protected from any viruses before and while writing exams, they allowed their children to go to Rage. (See page 1)

I know people have been horribly judgemental and frankly quite nasty toward the parents who allowed their children to go to Rage, calling it irresponsible.

Here’s the thing, I know a number of parents whose children came back from Rage with COVID-19, and they aren’t irresponsible people and would never risk harming their children or others … ever.

They took what they believed was a calculated risk, believing it very unlikely that their children would contract the virus because of safety measures in place. They certainly didn’t believe that if they did, it would hurt them or harm anyone else. These aren’t bad people. In fact, they are good, upstanding, caring, and wonderful people.

All they wanted was to give their children a tiny bit of freedom after being locked away for most of matric. Many of the matriculants booked their tickets for Rage in October last year, long before we had even heard the word COVID-19.

And throughout the year, it was the idea and pull of Rage that kept many of them in their swotting seats. It was the idea of letting their hair down and finally partying after an extraordinarily tough year that attracted them.

And parents wanted that for their children. Who wouldn’t?

And, in spite of what doctors may have said, most people believed the danger cloud of COVID-19 had lifted, at least until next year. Yes, they heard about the rising numbers of people in the Eastern Cape getting COVID-19 and hospitals there filling up fast, but that was there.

As for the doctors, the parents may have believed they were being super cautious.

But they were actually being realistic. The virus didn’t care about Rage and all the matriculants who wanted to party and have some freedom.

No, COVID-19 struck Rage in KwaZulu-Natal with a vengeance and an extraordinarily high percentage of teens left Rage with COVID-19. Apparently, there are as many as 4 500 people who could potentially have contracted the virus because of Rage.

The youngsters got on planes to come home with the virus, potentially infecting others en route to their families.

Now, there are many who are asymptomatic and some who are very sick. There is even one teenage girl in high care in a Netcare hospital.

This illness is like Russian Roulette – you simply don’t know the impact it will have on you. The way people have described how they feel also varies. For some, it feels like a poison in their system, and others battle to breathe. Those are just two of the many possible symptoms of this dreaded virus.

I don’t blame the parents, but I also understand why doctors are furious. They knew what we were up against, and they made it clear. We were wrong because we let our guard down out of sheer exhaustion from everything this year threw at us.

The wake-up call is that this damn virus isn’t going to stay at bay if we don’t protect ourselves all the time. (See page 2)

There are no party breaks. There are no holiday breaks from this virus. We aren’t safe without social distancing, sanitising, and wearing masks. There can be no calculated risks because this particular virus knows no boundaries.

We should still go on holiday because, well frankly, we need it. This has been a tough year for all of us. But if we do go on holiday, we take our COViD-19 protocols and safety measures with us. We have to.

We need to take every precaution – no matter how irritating it is and how bored and tired we are with doing it. I know I’m so sick of wearing a mask and social distancing, but that’s my problem. I need to suck it up – we all do – to protect ourselves from this dreaded virus.

Until the vaccine is available to us all and we can safeguard ourselves another way, we have to maintain the protocols. (See page 3)

Dr Daniel Israel spells out how we can have a holiday and protect ourselves. (See page 7)

As we move into Chanukah this week, this is our official end of year and Chanukah edition. Please take the time to read the insightful and thought-provoking pieces on Chanukah that were written for you. (See pages 11 to 18)

May you have a blessed, healthy and miraculous Chanukah! We also wish everyone a safe and COVID-19-free holiday.

We won’t be publishing the SA Jewish Report over the holiday season. This is our last newspaper for 2020. Our next edition will be out on 15 January.

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The Jewish Report Editorial

Getting my head around six million individuals

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If ever you question the importance of commemorating Yom Hashoah, which we do this week, keep in mind that we’re not talking about statistics, but the systematic annihilation of a huge percentage of our people.

In fact, before the Holocaust, 60% of all Jews lived in Europe. Two out of three of them were murdered during the war. In 1933, there were 9.5 million Jews in Europe and this number was down to 3.5 million in 1950.

This is hard to absorb, I know, but so often, people dismiss comparisons of the Holocaust with the behaviour of Israel or even with apartheid. The more I acknowledge what it means to murder six million Jews systematically, the more I realise that there is simply no comparison.

This year marks 80 years since the beginning of the mass annihilation of Jews and each year, fewer and fewer survivors remain. Many died this year of COVID-19. Their survival enabled us to understand what they lived through and how six million of their brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, cousins, aunts, uncles, and other family and friends were brutally murdered. The only reason for their death was because they were Jewish.

Until recently, the number six million was simply a very large number to me. Although I had seen the movies and read the books, I couldn’t quite identify with it as being six million people like me and all those I love in this world. It really isn’t easy to absorb and comprehend this number in terms of individuals who had a future, perhaps a degree or three, a wife or a beloved, and children. They had potential and lives yet to be lived, but their lives were stolen from them way before their time.

The Nazis took away their humanity, their individuality, and attempted to make them just a number, which they tattooed on their arms.

Every year, on Yom Hashoah, we observe a ceremony under the auspices of the president of Israel known as “Unto Every Person there is a Name”, in which names of those who perished in the Holocaust are called out.

The point of this particular exercise is meaningful because an individual is given a name by their parents. And they and their families have a surname that they share. This makes every single person a unique individual. Each person has a name, a personality, a particular look, a way of walking, talking, and a way of being that is special to them. So, starting with a name we are given at birth, a person is individualised. And so every year on Yom Hashoah, we do our best around the world to individualise and humanise as many of the six million Jews who died as possible.

To date, Yad Vashem has recorded 4 800 000 names of Holocaust victims on its Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names, with more than 2 750 000 names registered on Pages of Testimony.

Here’s the thing: if we had all the names of the six million who were murdered, and could say each name, age, and place of death in one second, we could cover only 86 400 individual names in one 24-hour Yom Hashoah.

To read six million, we would need almost 70 days of 24-hour non-stop reading. If we recited names for only 12 hours a day, giving the reader time to sleep, eat, and have a few short breaks, we would need 138 days to cover the names of the six million Jews who were annihilated in the Holocaust. And that’s if you can read all their vital details in one second.

This brings me a little closer to understanding what the number six million actually means in terms of individuals.

On the Yad Vashem site (YadVashem.org), you can find lists of these names. I went to look this week and found 23 people with the surname Krost who were victims of the Holocaust. I know of a handful. I wonder who the others were. Were they also family?

Then, I looked at the lists of children’s names and there were literally hundreds of pages of names of children, some not even a year old. I couldn’t help the tears as I read names, ages, and where and how they died. I felt quite sick. I couldn’t help thinking that these littlies, who should have been playing and having fun without a care in the world, were brutally murdered because by chance they were born Jewish.

It was then that I decided that I was going to light the six commemorative candles with my sons this year. We will recite the El Maleh Rachamim prayer, and then start reading children’s names and keep going until we can’t anymore. I believe this will give us a better inkling of the massive horror of the millions who perished all because they were like us.

In this edition, there is a story about the Holocaust on page 12 that stands out for me. It’s about the Wannsee Conference, where the decision was made by the Nazi leadership to murder Jews en masse. What really hit me was Holocaust educator Dr Matthias Haß’s warning that it was because of the small incidents of antisemitism that the Wannsee House decision was made. It was the accumulation of decades of slowly building antisemitism that seeped into German society over years that eventually led to the dehumanisation of Jews, he said.

How often do we dismiss or not make a big deal about what seems to be minor incidents of antisemitism or racism? Sometimes it isn’t always so clear and sometimes it is. But it’s not easy to stick your neck out, especially when you are alone in a situation. And sometimes it might be cleverly disguised as anti-Israel sentiment.

The next time someone says to me, “Don’t make a big deal about it” referring to antisemitism, I will remember how I tried to get my head around the systematic murder of six million Jews.

Shabbat Shalom!

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The Jewish Report Editorial

Longing for freedom we can’t have

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As I prepared for our tiny seders last Pesach and we were just settling into this strange experience called lockdown, I told my sons it wouldn’t last long. I said we would look back at the end of the year, it would all be long over, and we would be back to normal.

How wrong I was!

Now, we go into our second Pesach during the pandemic, and while the numbers are down, we still face a potential third wave that some experts say could surface after Pesach and the Easter weekend. I sure hope not!

We have so much more freedom than we did this time last year when we were still in the honeymoon stage of the pandemic. At the time, it was still fairly exciting to be at home all the time and there was a certain charm to the streets being so quiet and being able to clearly hear the birdlife.

There was something very special about spending all our time with our immediate family, eating and cooking every meal together. Zoom had its pros too. I mean, you really only had to dress the top half of your body for a serious meeting.

Now, I long for a board meeting in a real boardroom where I can actually look into the eyes of the person I’m speaking to. I long to hug people I care about. And more than anything, I would love to go to a dinner party where I don’t know everyone and have a good chat with someone I’ve never spoken to before.

Who would have thought that anyone could miss these day-to-day experiences from our former lives?

I laughed the other day when a friend said she was going to go to the supermarket to get groceries, and her husband told her she didn’t have to bother, she could order online. She was incensed that he would take away her freedom to get out of the house and be among strangers, albeit masked and socially distanced. I could relate to that.

I even look forward to getting dressed up to go to shul over Pesach. I don’t get dressed up enough these days. How often I would want to find excuses not to go to functions in the past. Now, I would love the opportunity.

It’s all about having the freedom to choose, freedom to do what we want, freedom to be who we are. Just plain and simple … freedom.

And that’s what Pesach is all about. Jews moving from slavery to freedom.

What’s always so interesting is that when you have freedom, you often don’t appreciate what you have until you don’t have it. Think about it. When you are on holiday in Cape Town and you drive along the Atlantic Seaboard or over Lion’s Nek, you appreciate the breathtaking beauty of the shoreline, the mountain, and the sea. When you live in Cape Town, do you enjoy the pleasure of what you have all the time?

Is this human nature? Are we always longing for that which we don’t have, or can we be happy with our lot? And if you are happy with your lot, do you still create goals you can work towards? Or is being happy with your lot a case of giving up your freedom to grow?

This last year has brought monumental change for most of us. I’m amazed that almost everyone I know has gone through some kind of trauma. Just when I’m about to feel sorry for myself, I hear someone else’s story, and realise how lucky I am.

It has been a year in which we have all had to draw on our strength, our internal flame, and keep moving forward.

On the radio recently, there was a discussion about how the numbers of people reaching out to helplines doubled within months of the pandemic hitting South Africa. Few of those people were directly affected by actual illness, but it was various traumatic offshoots that hit them.

We shouldn’t underestimate how tough this year has been for us – and it’s not over yet. In fact, there is no way of knowing what life will be like this time next year.

What I do know is that Pesach will still be a special time for our community. It will still be a time of family gatherings, a time to reflect on our freedom and those who don’t have that luxury. It will be a time when we will once again read the Haggadah and remember who we are and where we came from. It will be a time when we remember how we witnessed miracles that saved our lives. There is such comfort in knowing that some things stay the same.

In our annual special Pesach edition, we bring you a host of phenomenal thought leadership pieces written by wise spiritual leaders. We also have a selection of other fabulous Pesach stories. A personal favourite of mine is the kneidel story, which you’ll find on page 34.

We also bring you the latest news and features to ensure you have lots of exceptional stories to read over Pesach.

I’m proud to include in those stories our lead (page 1), which is so inspiring and uplifting. It tells of how a local branch of the South African government has welcomed help from Israel in improving drinking water in outlying areas. This humanitarian venture will save lives and help those in dire straits. Is this new relationship a miracle or a blessing to herald Pesach?

Whatever the case may be, it warms my heart that there are people in government that understand that you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, and if people want to help you and you need help, let them.

In my interview with former Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon (page 15), he mentions how irritated he was when the African National Congress boycotted Israel’s offer to help Cape Town in its water crisis, choosing instead to go to Iran to get help. I hope this new endeavour is a sign of things to come.

Shabbat shalom and chag Pesach sameach!

PS: We won’t be publishing the newspaper on Chol HaMoed, but will resume the following week.

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The Jewish Report Editorial

Real protests and smokescreens

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This week is Israel Apartheid Week (IAW), which usually means a week of trouble on university campuses around the country and in many other countries. The strife is usually between those who support Israel and those who would like it to disappear. The week-long series of events is a construct of those against Israel in an attempt to garner as much support as they can in their Boycott Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel battle.

They appear to do what they do to make Israel look like a racist country that treats Palestinians no better than the Nationalist government did to black people during apartheid – hence the term “apartheid Israel”.

Frankly, those behind IAW use the guise of human rights to sew division and encourage prejudice and hatred against the Jewish state and those who support it. And as much as they claim that it’s all in the name of human rights, they totally neglect to factor in human-rights abuses in the rest of the Middle East and the world.

The good thing about IAW this year is that, because of the coronavirus pandemic, most students are working from home and aren’t on campus. So, IAW isn’t on campus either.

But there is a genuine protest on campus over young South Africans’ inability to continue their university education because they can’t afford it.

A number of students from our community are involved in the protest and have, in some cases, put their own education and future on the line to help others. One such person is Gabi Farber, who is a member of the Student Representative Council on an African National Congress ticket.

Gabi, like most of us, comes from a sheltered environment where she really doesn’t have to go out on a limb to get an education. But for her, it is a matter of values – Jewish values at that – that spur her on to fight for the rights of others. (See her opinion piece on this page.)

I’m aware that many in our community believe people like Gabi are rabble rousers and troublemakers looking for a cause. I beg to differ. Such people generally don’t do things that could have a negative impact on their own lives. In this case, those who have stuck their necks out have a lot to lose in order for others to gain what they are already getting – an education. They stand the chance of being arrested, suspended, or even kicked out of the university. All this because they are protesting the fact that others aren’t allowed to continue their education.

It would be far easier to sit at home and carry on studying while others are out there protesting.

I do understand the fear factor of students and parents, and some people are ambivalent or not very up to date on what this about. I’m not sure I would be encouraging my children to go out and protest because of fear for their security. However, I do believe that Gabi and the others out there are courageous young people with integrity and backbone. They are doing what so many of us won’t do. They are standing up for those who aren’t being heard.

I do understand that many of us question where the money to put these young people through university is meant to come from. I would also like to know that. We are all aware of the financial quagmire our country is in, not least of all because of the pandemic and lockdown.

However, as Jews, we understand the importance of an education, and most of us would give the clothes off our backs to get our children the best education. So, too, would other parents, however, for so many, their clothes won’t garner a day of a university education. So their children can’t go. And if they could afford something, they may not be able to pay for more than a year or two…

So, where should the money come from? I don’t know. However, like Gabi, I do believe that if young people have the ability to get a tertiary education, they should be encouraged to do so, not prevented.

I believe we should support this cause, not least because it’s part of the Bill of Rights within our Constitution to provide a basic and secondary education. The wording in the Constitution is that everyone has the right to “further education, which the State, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible”. Clearly this was written a couple of decades ago, and it should by now have become more accessible to all whether they could or couldn’t afford it. Do I sound like a radical? Hardly! I sound like a Jewish mother who believes education is paramount.

So, while this protest goes on, supported by people who believe in a Jewish state and those who don’t, IAW is still happening in a different format.

This year’s theme is #UnitedAgainstRacism, which as it happens, is something I totally agree with. I believe we should be uniting against racism in all forms. I believe we should be uniting against prejudice as well. It’s a great cause, only I believe it’s a smokescreen. It’s not actually about uniting against all forms of racism around the world, but uniting against Israel, a country that BDS claims is racist. This isn’t a fight against racism, it’s about getting the world to unite against Israel. Let’s call a spade a spade.

I would love us to all unite against racism and for the education of all our children. For me, those issues I fully support.

Shabbat Shalom!

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