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Cubans to the rescue

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Voices

Being blessed with five children and not enough time in the day to give them all what they need, we have begun considering importing a few Cuban youngsters to help our children to be children. Because Cuban kids, much like their doctors and engineers, apparently offer something unique that we simply can’t find here in South Africa.

South Africa’s obsession with Cuba and her people had me wondering if there wasn’t something that I was missing. First, the African National Congress (ANC) imported doctors to assist in our fight against COVID-19. The move took place at a time when our own doctors were unable to find posts, and yet the outcry from local doctors failed to stop the initiative.

And now, in their latest Cuban import programme, it was announced that 24 engineers from Cuba had arrived and been welcomed in order to assist with water, sanitation, and infrastructure. According to the department, “The highly-qualified Cuban specialists will assist as advisors at provincial and local levels across the country, sharing their vast skills in the areas of mechanical, electrical, and civil engineering, as well as project management.”

Not everyone was happy. Political parties and labour organisations criticised the government’s decision to obtain help from Cuba at the expense of local talent.

Labour union Solidarity went so far as to send the department a list of 120 South African engineers who it said were qualified, competent, and willing to help fix the country’s water infrastructure. The union said it was unjustified to import foreign workers in the midst of an unemployment crisis, with South Africa’s official unemployment rate at almost 33%.

But the ANC remains undeterred. It’s clear that the government knows something we don’t. And it cannot be without good reason that it places such immense faith in the quality and expertise of this remarkable nation.

To be fair, I have never met a Cuban I didn’t like. Not that I have ever met one. But I trust the research the government has done, which made me wonder if there isn’t a pool of talent that could be the answer to some of our other challenges.

What if we could consider Cubans to fill roles at home and in our community? With the shortage, for example, of qualified Hebrew teachers, it could well be time for the South African Jewish Board of Education to start importing them from Cuba? Work visas won’t be a problem, and they must be known to be the best in the world (the ANC will provide references).

Further, I know of many a shul and community in search of a rabbi. Why not bring in a newly minted Cuban one? Mashgichim for the Beth Din? Car guards outside KosherWorld? Community Security Organisation volunteers? Talk show hosts for ChaiFM? The list is endless.

I have taken this strategy home. It has to be said that my wife isn’t fully on board with this, but I have started to threaten our children with bringing in Cuban substitutes if they don’t clear the table when I ask them to. Because, G-d knows, I will find a willing Cuban child who will. And they are the best at it. Apparently.

All said, we do need to be grateful to the Cubans. So often as South Africans we underplay the talent that we have, the training, ability, and quality of what our own country has to offer. We need to be grateful to the Cubans and the ANC for reminding us that in spite of what the government is telling us, our qualifications and skills are pretty decent and our kids aren’t not nearly as lazy as we thought they were. Even if they don’t clear the table when we ask them to.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Deanna Isaacs

    Apr 29, 2021 at 11:02 am

    Loved your column today thank you

  2. David

    May 3, 2021 at 6:53 am

    This ‘expertise’ has to be paid for.

    They come in.

    The money goes out.

    As they say in America: “ I’m just saying 😜”.

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Voices

Making us count on Election Day

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The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) this week focused on final preparations for the multifaith election observer team that will be taking part in the local government elections this coming Monday, 1 November 2021. The Board initiated this project as part of its education and awareness campaign for the 2009 national and provincial elections, and has run it every election since then. Its purpose is to bring together volunteers from a range of different backgrounds to assist the Independent Electoral Commission by monitoring proceedings at polling stations to ensure that everything is fair and above board as well as offering hands-on logistical assistance where required. Aside from its purely practical benefits, the project is a rousing example of participatory democracy, and the fact that Jewish leadership is heading it up is certainly to the credit of the community as a whole.

From the Board’s point of view, the observer-team initiative further helps us to realise a core aspect of our mission, namely to “work for the betterment of human relations between Jews and all other peoples of South Africa, based on mutual respect, understanding, and goodwill”. It enables people to join their fellow citizens in being an active, contributing part of the democratic process, and over the years, participants have found it to be an inspiring bridge-building experience. The participation of the observer team on polling day also marks the culmination of the Board’s #MakeUsCount pre-election awareness and education campaign, one of the flagship initiatives through which we seek to lead our community in identifying with, contributing to, and participating in our robust democratic culture.

I warmly commend our professional staff, in particular Charisse Zeifert and Alana Baranov, for putting together another very successful #MakeUsCount campaign in spite of the short notice and added pressure of simultaneously having to organise the Board’s national conference. Regarding the elections themselves, I urge you all to turn out on the day and make your cross, regardless of which party you might support.

New era for Jewish Affairs journal

Over the decades, the SAJBD’s core mission of representing the community and protecting its civil rights has been expanded to include preserving and promoting South African Jewish heritage. One of the most important vehicles for this is our archives, which comprise of a comprehensive record of the Jewish presence in southern Africa and are regularly used by academics, genealogists, and journalists. Another is Jewish Affairs, the community’s leading Jewish historical, cultural, and current affairs journal, which has been produced under the auspices of the SAJBD since 1941.

Last week, Jewish Affairs embarked on an exciting new era in its 80-year history with the launch of its new stand-alone website: www.jewishaffairs.co.za. I encourage readers to browse through this site, which provides free access to all material published since 2009, and consider signing on (likewise without charge) to the mailing list to receive regular updates on the latest posts.

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

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Voices

Malema not such a tweet about Jewish survival

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I fully intended to be outraged at an Economic Freedom Fighters tweet that quoted Julius Malema. He was speaking at an election event that was live tweeted by his party. “No one will force anyone to vaccinate. I’m vaccinated because I believe in science, and [the] trials for COVID-19 were run on white people, and that was unusual. Even Jews are vaccinated, and those people don’t play with their lives.”

Perhaps it’s rude to refer to anyone as “those people”, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. And as one of those very people, I do find it hard to find fault with his statement. Because Jews don’t, as a rule, play with our lives.

It’s not to say that Jews can’t be warriors, soldiers, and members of the Community Security Organisation who bravely leopard crawl across the soccer fields of Jewish school campuses. It’s not to say that we can’t compete in well-co-ordinated trail runs through the mountains outside Plettenberg Bay when the moment demands it of us. Or, throw caution to the wind and run without a full reflector vest moments before sunrise.

It doesn’t mean that some of us have been known to walk to shul without our orthotics and even to miss repeated sessions with our biokineticist as if we hadn’t a tight hamstring in the world. Or (G-d forbid) neglect to take our Crestor (to lower bad cholesterol), knowing full well that given our genetics, it could result in it bordering on or dangerously slightly above the recommended level. (G-d forbid).

It’s not unreasonable to suggest that we value life, and that we don’t play around with it. Whereas Malema might not have considered the extent of his comments, and probably didn’t stop to wonder why it’s the case, Jews might well be more sensitive to survival than others who haven’t been persecuted for centuries. The reality is that Jews have spent generations trying to prevent people from annihilating us simply because they could.

The consequence of our history shouldn’t be understated. In a conversation that I had some years ago with music legend Johnny Clegg, he recounted a story from his childhood in Zimbabwe. He told me there were six children in his class, which didn’t go unnoticed by a teacher at Hebrew school. She told them in no uncertain terms that each of them represented and bore the responsibility of a million Jews that had perished in the Holocaust. Each would have to metaphorically carry them on their shoulders. This was too much for Clegg, who decided then and there not to have a Barmitzvah.

The other consequence is the anxiety that Jews live with. Partly interbreeding and partly survivor genetics, we are tuned to nuance, to a shift in tone, and to medical issues. We see our survival not just in terms of our own ability to live another day, but in terms of the understanding that we hold the key to Jews surviving as Jews in a world that might not always want us. But always needs us.

The tweet might have been clumsy. It might not have been politically correct. It might not have what we expect or want from a politician. But it was pretty darn accurate.

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Voices

Don’t vote, don’t complain

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The conversation would go something along these lines. “Mrs Feldman,” they would say, on seeing my late grandmother, “You are looking too wonderful!” A pregnant pause would follow as she contemplated the horror of what had been said. “Really?” she would finally answer, lips pursed, eyes narrowed, “You should only know how terrible I feel.”

And then, just to prove her point. Or to make them suffer, she would tell them. Complaint by complaint. Ailment by ailment, punctuated with a detailed description of her matching medication. At a family function, my grandmother would find desserts “too sweet” and the band too loud. She was never happy with where she had been seated, and there was always someone who didn’t greet her appropriately.

She wouldn’t have it any other way. Because complaining made her happy.

Whereas our generation might not complain about the same things, we’re hardly different. Social media is a complainer’s dream, where at a whim and at any time, we have the ability to slate, moan, and denigrate anything or anyone we choose. The “Hello Peters”, Google Reviews, and Facebook groups all provide fertile environments for anyone having a bad experience or simply a bad day. Because like it or not, complaining makes us happy.

It does, however, have its limits. And there are conditions attached to our ability and right to complain. We might, for instance, not be happy with the state of our roads, or the water pipes or electricity, but we forfeit the right to complain about them if we choose not to vote in the forthcoming municipal elections. No one will stop us, and maybe no one will even know, but electing not to participate in the choosing of representatives for our neighbourhoods and cities renders our complaining voices silent on a moral level.

The refrain of, “There’s no one to vote for” isn’t only inaccurate, it’s also lazy. The options might not be perfect, but each presents an opportunity for change and improvement.

The decision not to vote is a vote for the status quo. Which means that it’s affirmation that things are just as they should be. It means that the roads are pristine, that our water sparkles and is reliable, and that our lights switch on with the predictability and consistency of high school Charidy callers. It means that everything is just as it should be. Because, why else would anyone choose not to choose?

In conversations with the leaders of the Democratic Alliance, Action SA, and the African Christian Democratic Party, each told me the same thing: this election is all about service delivery. It’s about selecting the party and person who has the highest chance of getting the job done.

It might be true that there’s no perfect party and no perfect candidate, but then it might be worth choosing the one that’s the least imperfect of them all. Failure to do that will result the loss of the right to complain about all the things we love to complain about.

Which would make our grandmothers very unhappy.

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