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COVID 19 – the battle continues

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Voices

With the third wave of COVID-19 infections well and truly upon us, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) last week convened a national COVID-19 call with medical experts and representatives of major communal bodies from around the country. Discussion centred on the handling of schools, shuls, and communal functions. While we will continue to do all that we can at the collective level to guide our community at this worrying time, we reiterate the crucial need for every individual to take personal responsibility by strictly observing all COVID-19-related protocols and thereby minimising risk to themselves and those around them.

Last week, COVID-19 deprived our community of another of its most distinguished and devoted leaders, Victor Gordon. One of the guiding lights of Pretoria Jewry and a man of many talents, Gordon served South African Jewry in a range of capacities. Among other positions, he was president of the SAJBD Pretoria council for eight years, in which capacity he also sat on the SAJBD national executive council. He was also an invaluable member of the Zionist Federation media team, where his considerable writing skills were put to excellent use in the many articles and letters in defence of Israel that appeared over more than a decade. We extend our sincerest condolences to our Pretoria colleagues and in particular to the Gordon family during this very sad time.

Calling antisemites to account

Unreflecting bias against Israel is problematic in and of itself, but it brings with it the added risk of such rhetoric crossing the line into Jews as a whole being denigrated and defamed. Such was the case with an interview programme on Power FM broadcast during the recent Gaza conflict, in which several callers were allowed to make a range of malevolent comments on the theme of global Jewish domination (including explicitly invoking the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion) without at any point being challenged by the host. Our initial approach to the station was to request that someone who could respond to these stereotypically antisemitic canards appear on the same show, and in that regard, we offered to facilitate an interview with a suitable overseas expert.

In spite of being offered a reasonable, non-confrontational way of addressing the problem it had caused, Power FM chose to drag its heels as well as to try to impose objectionable conditions on the manner in which the interview would be conducted. The conciliatory approach having failed, the SAJBD then decided to escalate the matter by taking it to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA). In our letter of complaint, we explained the fundamentally racist and defamatory nature of what had been said on the show, as well as stressing the signal failure of the host to contradict it. (Indeed, the latter’s response when being challenged by another caller on a later show was to deny that anything wrong had been said.) The BCCSA has acknowledged receipt of our complaint, and advised that it will revert as soon as it has received Power FM’s response.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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Voices

Vaccination drive in our backyard

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There was a welcome return to shul and school this week, as well as the reopening of restaurants and other facilities. While infection rates remain high, the worst of the dreaded “third wave” appears to be behind us. Thankfully, Hatzolah’s latest figures show a significant decline in COVID-19 cases in our own community. That being said, the pandemic is still very much a part of our daily reality and won’t go away by itself. What the past 16 months have shown is that the only way that people can protect themselves over the long term is to ensure that they are vaccinated as soon as possible.

Fortunately, there has been a steady uptick in vaccination rates countrywide. For the Jewish community, the process has been greatly facilitated by the availability of vaccination services within the community itself. This past Sunday, a pop-up vaccine centre at The Base in Glenhazel (the brainchild of Dr Menachem Hockman, who also headed up a vaccination drive at the Jabulani Mall) reported that 3 000 people had been vaccinated. Both the Chevrah Kadisha and more recently Hatzolah have set up vaccine centres, respectively operating at Sandringham Gardens and above KosherWorld (1 Long Avenue, Glenhazel). It’s a reminder of how fortunate our community is to have so effective a communal infrastructure to assist and guide it during difficult times like these, along with so many dedicated volunteers, professionals, and benefactors who ensure that the wheels keep turning.

Jewish helping hands

In the wake of the devastating violence and looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) has prioritised the alleviation of hunger caused by the unrest. The SAJBD Food Relief Fund, together with our partner, The Angel Network, is working with nongovernmental organisations on the ground to ensure that vital food aid is directly, efficiently, and timeously distributed. In KwaZulu-Natal, we are working on several projects, including partnering with the Union of Jewish Women in delivering food and other necessities to aged and children’s homes in need, and with Rev Shlomo Wainer, who is working with Christian groups in Inanda and Phoenix.

In Gauteng over the past week, we have inter alia worked with the Clive Mashishi Foundation through its church network in distributing hundreds of food parcels in Eldorado Park, Orange Farm, Vanderbijlpark, and Kliptown. During the unrest, Ditau Primary School in Orlando East was looted, and all the food for children’s meals stolen. Following an approach from the school, this week, we replenished its pantry so that the school feeding programme can continue. During our recent clean-up initiative at the Mayfield Mall in Daveyton, we realised that the hard-hit East Rand area is often neglected in terms of food-relief drives and thus this week, are arranging for food relief to be delivered to Daveyton.

We thank all our valued colleagues, partners, volunteers, and supporters who are making it possible for us as the representative face of the Jewish community to contribute on the ground and make a meaningful difference to those in need in our society.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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Voices

Freed of Fred

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This is an apology to my daughter, Abby, to animal lovers everywhere, and to the late Yorkshire Terrier called Fred. May his memory always be for a blessing. I can’t apologise for not getting along with him, but I can apparently apologise for writing an article less than two hours after his sudden passing. According to my wife, it was even too soon to be “too soon”. In my defence, however, I was emotional and writing is cathartic. And I had a deadline.

Some context. Fred died peacefully after 13 years of my suffering. Something that was bravely borne (by me). We never got along, but I treated with him kindness and respect, aside from the odd occasions when I might have suggested in front of him that if he didn’t stop abluting under my desk or barking incessantly while we were eating dinner that I would have him put down. For the record, we never did that, and Fred died peacefully last Tuesday after eating thinly sliced chicken breasts that he had me cut up for him, as he didn’t like to chew on his own.

As a family we are, of course, saddened by the loss, and may we know no more sorrow. But just because he’s now dead, doesn’t mean that I have to pretend that he was ever a nice person. He wasn’t. And I have no doubt that had I “gone” before him, he wouldn’t have had a kind word to say about me.

Such was our relationship.

A well intentioned and kindly listener to my show messaged me to say that she had a magnificent pet cemetery to recommend for Fred. “It’s a bit far out of Johannesburg, but it’s worth it,” she suggested. As thoughtful as that was, considering that I have both parents at Westpark and I can hardly find the time to visit them, I can’t imagine dedicating an entire Sunday to spend time with Fred at his final resting place. Besides, I had seen the R450 invoice on the kitchen table from the vet for “cremation of small dog”, so that ship had clearly sailed.

He wasn’t well loved by anyone other than my daughter, whom I suspect did so just to annoy me. So unpopular was Fred (may his memory be blessed), that around a year ago, a security guard, in the absence of alternatives, actually drew his gun and pointed it at him. It wasn’t a pleasant event, and whereas I don’t want to speak ill of the dead – G-d forbid – any more than I need to, it does illustrate the type of reaction Fred caused. After months of having his heels nipped at, the poor bloke finally almost lost it. And no one could blame him. Not even my daughter.

The reaction to my article was interesting. Whereas some enjoyed the take, others were deeply offended. Social etiquette demands that we mourn the loss of our pets. It demands that we call them our “fur babies”, and that we post sad photos in happier times. And I would have probably done that if Daisy or Gatsby had suffered the same fate. Because they are, indeed, all of the above.

The offers we have had in the past week, not for meals to assist in our time of loss, but from people offering to give us their “Fred” to comfort us, suggest that I’m not alone in my experience. Where I might be alone, however, is in my foolishness in acknowledging it. Especially when I did so too soon even to be “too soon”.

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Voices

Compelled to clean up and contribute

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In the early days of his presidency, when the United States was all but crippled by the effects of the Great Depression and a pall of despair and despondency hung heavy over the nation, Franklin D Roosevelt famously said, “It’s common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly, and try another. But above all, try something.” As history shows, these weren’t mere words, but a statement of intent that underpinned what came to be known as the New Deal, a comprehensive array of laws and state-headed social upliftment initiatives that, while not solving the country’s problems overnight, kick-started the essential process of rebuilding.

What’s true for governments is equally true for ordinary citizens. In times of difficulty, each individual should look for ways to be part of the solution and contribute, even in a small way. As our own tradition puts it, “You aren’t obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot, 2:21).

Last week, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, as the representative body of the Jewish community, had the opportunity to make a difference on the ground when we joined with our fellow South Africans from across the spectrum to clean up the Mayfield Mall in Daveyton in the wake of the devastating looting and destruction that had taken place there.

Following an approach from the office of the MEC for sport, arts, culture, and recreation, Mbali Hlophe, we put out a call to the community and early on Thursday, 15 July, a seven-car convoy set out from the KosherWorld parking lot. When it arrived at its destination, the volunteers were greeted by scenes of utter devastation, but together with local community members, they painstakingly set about sweeping, cleaning, and removing debris such as rocks, broken glass, and discarded packaging until the task was done.

Commenting on the experience, National Director Wendy Kahn wrote afterwards, “We left knowing that we had played some role in restoring some order to this area. And we had also showed a community in the East Rand that the Jewish community was concerned about them.”

At both national and local level, the Board is involved in many outreach projects with The Angel Network and other partners to assist communities affected by the unrest. Since Durban and other places in KwaZulu-Natal were especially hard hit by the violence, much of this critical work is being undertaken by our KwaZulu-Natal branch, the Council for KwaZulu-Natal Jewry.

Of immediate concern is alleviating the desperate poverty which so many were suffering from even before the unrest, and which the violence and looting has greatly exacerbated. You can assist us in this work by supporting our Food Relief Appeal at SA Jewish Board of Deputies, Standard Bank Killarney, Account 200305190, Swift code SBZAZAJJ, Reference Food Relief.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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