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Defiant minyan dangerous and shameful

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Letters/Discussion Forums

The advent of COVID-19 has resulted in every one of us having to make sacrifices to keep ourselves, our family, and our community safe. So, it’s with disdain that we read comments in the SA Jewish Report by a group within our community who have flouted the laws of the country, disregarded globally accepted medical advice, as well as the directive of the chief rabbi’s office by hosting shul services throughout COVID-19. They have put their agenda above the real safety of those around them, saying, “Our members are resolutely determined to daven in a minyan.”

We all feel the pain of not being able to attend shul at this time. The chief rabbi and Rabbi Yossi Chaikin have articulated how difficult this has been, but they have recognised what countless religious authorities have voiced throughout the pandemic, namely that sacrifice is called for in terms of the ultimate objective of saving life – pikuach nefesh. The outright arrogance and selfishness of this group has no place in a Jewish community that cares about one another. At a time when infection and death in our community and our country are escalating, it’s horrifying that people would flagrantly ignore measures designed to protect life.

The same edition of the SA Jewish Report contained articles from young people, all of whom have contracted the virus, and who described the agonising horror of what they experienced. Meanwhile, this group chooses to think only of itself. It has always been a religious principle to obey the laws of the country, which this group is disregarding. A true chilul Hashem (desecration of the name of G-d). What an affront to the courageous frontline medical personnel, including many in our community, who put their lives at risk trying to save COVID-19 patients!

The anonymous representative says, “There is no medical reason … to suspend minyanim. That decision was motivated by fear and ignorance rather than prudence.” It remains a mystery which reputable medical experts or epidemiologists this group is consulting. Perhaps it could share its findings. It has been widely documented by medical experts globally that religious houses of worship certainly pose specific dangers, and on numerous occasions have been super-spreader events. At a time when unity is so desperately required, they are electing to separate themselves from the community.

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Letters/Discussion Forums

Seeking any information about missing father

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I’m looking for information about my father, who may have emigrated to South Africa in the early 1960s. His name was Victor Vinegrad, and he had British citizenship. He would have been in his forties when he emigrated from Britain. He would be 101 today, if alive. Any help you can give me about his life or death would be greatly appreciated.

My father disappeared in Australia in 1952, leaving my mother with two small children. She was forced to fend for herself and to return to the United Kingdom. Searches for Victor yielded nothing. Sometime in the late 1980s, she met a man who said he had seen Victor in London in 1960 or thereabouts. He confided to him that he was going to emigrate to South Africa. My mother, at 98 years old, is still an Agunah. It would be a blessing if she could be freed before she dies. It would also help me if I could find out what happened to my father. Email: jlfestival@gmail.com

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Price of kosher meat comes down to production costs

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Rather than being a stiff-necked people who complain a lot, it’s better to be a “light unto the nations” and glow with goodwill. Unfortunately, holding on to faribles (resentments) is more common in the South African Jewish community than it is elsewhere. This includes petty grudges.

Not only does it make us unhappy and result in people avoiding us, it’s contrary to our religion. The Torah says, “Do not bear a grudge.”

Unfortunately, there are extra costs involved in producing kosher food, especially meat. Some might be tempted to be suspicious about them.

Many kosher butcheries have closed down over the years, with Nussbaums being the latest casualty. If they were so lucrative, that wouldn’t be the case.

It’s true that many have left the country, reducing the demand, but many have also become kosher, increasing the demand.

South African Jewry has the highest proportion of ba’alei teshuva (newly religious people) in the world. By far. What was once a secular community has become a strong centre of Torah. Our community is respected internationally for this, whether Chabad, haredi, or modern Orthodox.

In the early 1970s there were only five shomrei Shabbos families in Glenhazel, and that included rabbis. My father reports that 60 years ago, there was no such thing as someone wearing a yarmulka.

Along with this revival, there has been a huge increase in the availability of kosher foods such as cereals, biscuits, canned food, and so on, making it much easier to eat in accordance with the traditional ways. Since they are mass produced, the prices are low. Nevertheless, it’s admirable that so many are prepared to pay the extra costs of buying kosher meat, especially those who are struggling financially.

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Loss can teach us how to live

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My name is Lisa. I work as a child and adult psychologist in our community.

It’s been almost eight years since my husband and child passed away. I survived the car accident, but they didn’t. My broken bones healed, but my broken heart has been the biggest challenge to live with. Last year, my beloved father passed away. Like you, I’m no stranger to loss.

I see our community reeling from loss upon loss. I see how frightened many are as the distance between death and life has closed or narrowed for so many.

I have learned as a psychologist and survivor that death is as much a part of life as breath. I have learned that pain is a natural response to death, and that in life, pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. I understand that “suffering is what our mind does to us”. (David Kessler).

David Kessler is an American grief expert. He has repeatedly been called upon to help the nation understand the psychological impact of COVID-19 and the loss on all levels it leaves in its wake. Kessler’s latest book is titled, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. It’s our destiny to make meaning, to learn from life. As I sit with parents and children in loss and hold my own, this is some of what I have come to understand:

  • Enjoy your children;
  • Enjoy your life; and
  • Teach yourselves how to take control of your mind.

As a parent, I remember how busy life can be. We take care of our children’s physical needs. We provide, feed, clothe, educate, and stimulate them, but do we make enough time to enjoy them? To join a child in play is remarkable. Here we are able to delight in the joy they bring to our world. How precious they are, and how precious it is to be alive!

The more we are present in our lives, the less we fear death.

Now, I take the time to turn inward, to be still on a regular basis and ask: what gives my life meaning? Then I prioritise it.

When you are deeply engaged in life, there isn’t too much space for fear and suffering. The pain will be there, but the living will be larger. In this way, we, too, reduce our suffering. My prayer is simple: may we have the capacity to allow loss to teach us all how to live a more meaningful life.

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