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Cubans to the rescue




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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  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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Vaccination drive in our backyard



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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Freed of Fred



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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Compelled to clean up and contribute



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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