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COVID-19 rides roughshod over calculated risks



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

Holding out for that vaccine



If you had asked me in September last year whether I would willingly have the vaccine against COVID-19, I would have told you I wasn’t sure. I was dubious about it, concerned about the long-term effect it might have. Not being a scientist, I wondered how it was possible to know the impact on our bodies the vaccine would have in 10 to 15 years.

However, if you ask me now, my answer would be an unreserved, “Hell yeah, bring it on!”

That vaccine is our chance to reclaim our lives. It’s our chance to no longer live in fear of getting or spreading a deadly virus. It will enable us to work towards getting our economy back on track, among other positive things.

It’s now clear that top scientists the world over have made sure that these vaccines are going to help and not harm us. So, I feel confident the vaccine is the best way forward. I only wish we could get it sooner.

I have heard all the fearmongering stories (see page 3) and I believe them to be just that. However, it’s concerning that there are so many who aren’t willing to have the vaccination.

To successfully stem this coronavirus, two-thirds of the population must be vaccinated. If we don’t manage that, we won’t be able to achieve herd immunity. While having the vaccine will prevent you from getting very sick, you can still spread the virus.

At this point, there are some in our community working around the clock to get vaccines for South Africa. Most important is our Absa Jewish Achiever Kia Community Award winner, Professor Barry Schoub, who is the chair of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 vaccines. This same man was retiring to the coast when he was called back to help guide our communal leaders through what later became a pandemic. So much for retirement, considering that he now holds one of the most pivotal positions in the country in combatting this virus.

I trust he will do the right thing. He appears to be handling the situation with aplomb.

Discovery Chief Executive Adrian Gore is also in the hotseat, working with the government to get vaccines here as fast as possible.

This week, we asked a selection of South Africans who now live in Israel to write about their experience of being vaccinated. These pieces (pages 10 and 11) reiterated for me just how much we need these vaccines fast.

This is especially so because there are those in our community and in the greater population who simply won’t abide by the COVID-19 laws set down by the government.

Now, I totally understand that we are frustrated with this situation. I was so sure that by now this pandemic would be behind us and we could move into 2021, getting back some semblance of our normal lives. I certainly don’t want to be home bound or not able to have a social life.

More than anything, I wanted my son who is starting a new school to be able to meet his teachers, experience the school, and make new friends. Well, for now, that looks like it isn’t going to happen.

Yes, it’s frustrating, but we have to safeguard ourselves, our families, our community, and our country from more deaths and more people getting very ill. It’s as simple as that.

We can’t play G-d, do what we want, and expect to survive unscathed. It won’t happen. This deadly virus is just waiting for us to slip up.

Pulmonologist Dr Carron Zinman, who is working around the clock to save lives, says 90% of her patients in hospital could have prevented getting the virus. Knowing this, we can’t make up our own rules.

At the SA Jewish Report, we keep hearing stories (see page 1) about people flouting COVID-19 laws and making themselves and others sick. To be honest, I don’t get any pleasure in publishing such stories. I can assure you that not one of our reporters do either. Who wants to make people feel uncomfortable or bad about being caught out? We don’t. We also don’t want people swearing at us and threatening us because they don’t want us to write about what they have knowingly done.

The people behind weddings, parties, and social events like these are responsible for making people sick, and may well be killing people. When they flout the law, do they think about this? Do they wonder how they will live with themselves if someone should die?

So, we continue to write about it because if we can, in our small way, make people realise that by doing this they are risking their own and other people’s lives, then we are doing our job.

We all want to celebrate simchas in the larger than life way that us Jews do. I would love to dance the horah with friends and family in celebration.

Who would have thought just how much we could long for a hug from a sibling or parent? Who would have thought that a l’chaim with your whole extended family could be something a person would yearn for when they live in the same country?

I so miss all these experiences, but they aren’t going to be available to me for a while. So, like all of us, I just have to suck it up and wait until we are vaccinated and given the green light to go ahead.

I don’t know when this will be, but if we hang tight, the time will come. Please, let’s do what we have to in order to stay healthy so we can be here and be healthy when that day comes.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Opinion News

Avoiding the blame game



COVID-19 has done so much damage to our world, and not just to the numbers of people who have contracted or died from it.

Nothing can be worse than someone you love dying from this dreaded illness. Having it hovering over you with long-term effects that have an impact on your life is also horrible.

Unfortunately, this pandemic has got to a stage in South Africa and in our community where we all now know people who have died from it and others who have been badly scarred.

We also know people who have been totally asymptomatic.

The point is this super contagious life-threatening sickness is like playing Russian Roulette – you don’t know how it will affect you. And in this second mutation in South Africa, the young and fit aren’t protected from the worst of it. Some are getting very ill or even dying. We don’t know how our bodies will react to it or whether we will be susceptible to getting it twice. See Dr Carron Zinman’s opinion piece on this page.)

In fact, there seems to be a number of different experiences of this virus. (See pages 10 and 11.)

When you go into certain public places, they take your temperature because that was originally believed to be a sure sign of someone with the virus. However, I have spoken to a number of people who have had COVID-19 but didn’t have a temperature.

Even the tests don’t seem to be 100% fool proof. There are many who get false negatives, which can have obvious dire consequences in spreading the virus.

This virus has caused so much animosity and anger between people. It’s par for the course to play the blame game, either with people who underplay the virus or are sticklers about maintaining the protocols.

I have witnessed people looking down their noses at those of us who stick to the letter of the COVID-19 laws, believing we are overreacting. While others thumb their noses at those who underplay the virus and don’t follow the protocols.

I believe we all have the right to what we believe as long as we aren’t harming anyone else. However, if you get on a plane with COVID-19, you are likely to harm others. If you know you have symptoms or have a good chance of having contracted the virus, you are potentially going to harm people if you go shopping, visiting, or mixing with people (even those in your inner circle).

I imagine that nobody would purposely do that, right? Unfortunately, it appears as if there have been many such cases within and without our community.

There are people who, in spite of knowing there was a possibility that they might have had the virus, got on a plane home or even went to a party. In fact, they may well tell you that they have been super cautious…

That almost feels worse than those who underplay COVID-19 as a flu because you believe they are following protocols when they aren’t. In such cases, you might just let your guard down a little with horrible repercussions.

I’m guilty of getting upset with people who put other people’s lives at risk. That’s the problem with this virus: when you take risks, they not only hurt you, they hurt others. In fact, they may kill.

If people didn’t take such risks, surely we would be able to get a handle on this virus and stop it spreading so fast?

I resonated with Dr Anton Meyberg’s comment (on a podcast with Howard Feldman during the holidays) about people who underplay this virus as a flu. He suggested they go and work in the COVID-19 wards without personal protective equipment (PPE). Obviously, they wouldn’t need PPE if they don’t believe it was a dire illness, why would they?

You see, I’m casting blame. And such sentiments have caused conflict between people, even within the same family. Even between best friends and life partners.

These conflicts are just more collateral damage from this horrific pandemic. So unnecessary!

It reminds me a little of how many of us were back in the apartheid days, when some of us supported apartheid and others didn’t. There were families in which one person was a card-carrying African National Congress member and another would treat black people as lesser humans. I know this is an extreme example, but there is a similarity in the anger and fear expressed.

With this as the backdrop to this first edition of our newspaper in 2021, I was inspired by an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa written by Benjy Porter, a businessman, a community stalwart, and a board member of the SA Jewish Report. (See page 15.)

Instead of blaming or looking for fault in the government or anyone, he offered to help wherever he could.

Recognising the tough task the president and the government have in fighting this pandemic and keeping the country afloat, he suggested where he could be of service.

Meanwhile, there are so many of us who condemn or bad mouth the government for not doing enough, making terrible mistakes, or not doing things fast enough. Perhaps they are right, but running them down doesn’t help anything or anyone.

What Porter is doing is an example to us all of what we can do, and if every one of us offered to help in some way, perhaps we really could make a difference.

We are a community of go-getters. We are a community who make things happen. We can also be a community in which individuals play the blame game and take unnecessary risks.

But if you turn that nastiness around and into positive action, we won’t have time for the blame game, nor will we be interested in it.

I’m not saying it’s okay to risk people’s lives, I’m saying let’s focus on helping and doing the right thing so we can get rid of this pandemic and killer virus as soon as possible.

You with me?

Let’s make 2021 the year we made a difference in defeating the COVID-19 enemy!

Shabbat Shalom!

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The Jewish Report Editorial

Achieving miracles as a community



This was evident in the vast number of people who tuned in to watch the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards (JAA) on Sunday night. A little bit of basking in the success of people within our community has been a wonderful tonic for us all.

I loved being swept away by the incredible achievements of people who have put the lives of others before their own this year.

What an astonishing way to manoeuvre ourselves along the last few exhausting steps down the year’s path towards the holiday season! What an incredible feat to have successfully created an event like we did when it seemed an impossible task just months ago!

I can safely say this, because my contribution to the awards was mostly about the special Achiever magazine that you will find with this week’s edition. The real work on the event was done by Howard Sackstein, Dina Diamond, Dr Dorianne Weil, Felicity Kantor, Jodi Kramer, Engela Schutte, Britt Landsman, Sandy Furman, and Dani Kedar, the inimitable JAA team.

However, I was there at the weekly meeting when the JAA committee pulled rabbits out of a hat and made things happen. Sometimes, I would sit there in awe, wondering if the spectacular ideas they had could actually come to fruition. And they did.

I watched as the Absa representative, JAA folk, and the SA Jewish Report team bonded. We all worked side by side, and never once did I hear anyone say, “That’s impossible!” or “We can’t do that!”

It’s amazing how positive thinking and hard work creates miracles.

And, it’s the perfect time of the year for such miracles as we are just one week away from the festival of miracles, Channukah, and our last edition of the SA Jewish Reportfor 2020.

Page through our special Absa Jewish Achiever Awards section and magazine to see for yourselves. There is nothing better than reflecting on others’ achievements to inspire us to do better.

In that vein, I would like to pay tribute to Rabbi Yossy Goldman, who will be handing over his baton to Rabbi Yehuda Stern.

I have never been a member of his shul, but have had many an opportunity on this newspaper to deal with him, and he has been a consummately professional rabbi and spiritual leader. He is never afraid to voice his opinion and help out wherever possible. This week is a case in point. The person who was meant to write our Torah Thought(page 2) let us down at the last minute. So, we asked Rabbi Goldman if he could help. Within an hour or two, he delivered a perfect Torah Thought, which is in the newspaper. You have no idea how many times this has happened.

While his future is wide open, I am sure we – and others around the world – are going to continue to be inspired by his Torah and other musings for many years to come. See page 5.

As we move towards the end of the year, I wish I could say that there was a general sense of calm and peace around us in anticipation of a relaxing holiday season. Unfortunately, you just have to page through this newspaper to see that there is still a great deal happening – not all of it good either.

The deputy minister of international affairs and cooperation, Alvin Botes, has dug his boots into Israel in commemoration of the UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, with comments that I think are quite outrageous. See page 1. It always amazes me how people in office make pronouncement that aren’t necessarily based in fact without any consequences. I guess he won’t be the first.

Then, the situation in East London is just sad. What upsets me most is that a community is suffering and has all but fallen apart because of an ugly legal wrangle with a rabbi. See page 3.

Legal issues aside, everything in our power needs to be done to ensure that this community is rescued, and that it is given a new lease on life. Send a new rabbi, even if only temporarily, but do something to revive this small coastal community. We have so few thriving communities outside of Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban, and we need to make sure that no Jew is forgotten.

Then, looking at the kosher meat situation, I must say I’m surprised that the butcheries and people concerned weren’t more open about the situation. I know our journalist was very clear that this wasn’t a story to trip people up or expose anyone.

All we wanted to do was explain where the costs came from. We fully understand that every company is about making a profit and surviving. We are certainly not against that, and expect that of everyone in business.

Our aim wasn’t to make them feel or look bad, it was simply to try and understand the bottom line of how kosher meat becomes so expensive. See page 9.

We still don’t have all the answers to our questions, and we would be open to people coming forward to help us get them. You see, we are all actually on the same side – the community’s side – and each one of us is a part of this community.

As was so blatantly obvious at the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards this Sunday evening, we are a community that punches far above our weight and we are a people who make things happen. We have every reason to stick together and work as a team. We do it so well, especially when we play to our strengths.

From the team of the SA Jewish Report, I would like to congratulate every winner, every person on the esteemed honours roll, and everyone who made the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards happen. Kol Hakavod to you!

Shabbat Shalom!

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