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Disunity over BDS plagues SA Progressive Jewry

SAUPJ Gauteng regional Chairman Reeva Forman says she is “deeply concerned about this divisive issue that threatens not only Gauteng Progressive Jewry, but the wider Jewish community of SA”. Progressive Rabbis Shaked of Johannesburg, and Alexander of Cape Town have supported the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voices for Just Peace (JVJP) – who “actively promote BDS” – according to Dan Brotman (pic) – and are “dishonouring the Progressive movement’s respect for diversity (by) using their pulpit to openly affiliate with one political viewpoint on such a divisive issue”. Read full story

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ANT KATZ

Rabbi Sa’ar Shaked of the Beit Emanuel Progressive Shul in Johannesburg addressed a letter last week to the co-ordinating team at Jewish Voices for Just Peace (JVJP) – an anti-Zionist group who “actively promote BDS” – who, according to one of his congregants, Dan Brotman – are “dishonouring the Progressive movement’s respect for diversity (by) using their pulpit to openly affiliate with one political viewpoint on such a divisive issue”.

In his letter to JVJP (CLICK FOR PDF), Rabbi Shaked gave his “wholehearted blessing” to the JVJP’s Breaking Down The Wall event at Constitutional Hill” in Johannesburg and also to Cape Progressive Rabbi Greg Alexander, who is chairman of the SAAPR (in effect the Progressive Chief Rabbi) who had, together with JVJP, attended an event with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

“A pattern of public activity is starting to be revealed”‘ wrote Shaked. “This is very encouraging indeed.”

But Shaked and Alexander have caused a storm of fury by associating themselves publicly with BDS.

Differing ideologies

Alvin Kushner, the recently-elected national chairman of the SAUPJ, told Jewish Report this afternoon that “the SAUPJ is unequivocally opposed to the BDS movement whose commitment and aim is the destruction of the Jewish State”. The SAUPJ, said  Kushner, “therefore distances itself from any activity by any members of our community that gives any support and credibility to the BDS movement”.

In direct contrast, Rabbi Alexander, chairman of the SA Association of Progressive Rabbis (SAAPR), also issued a statement to Jewish Report this afternoon, in which he said unequivocally that the SAUPJ and the SAAPR “do not have a political position on Israel.

“We are a religious movement and do have a religious stance on Israel,” he said, “which is to push with all our resources for a time that Israel can truly fulfil the prophetic vision: ‘I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people; And there will no longer be heard in her the voice of weeping and the sound of crying’.”  (Isaiah 65)

Alexander said they encouraged SA Jewry to listen to all voices that existed and to bring them into the mainstream “to foster debate and discussion on positive pathways forward”. 

In an apparent reference to himself and Rabbi Shaked, Alexander told Jewish Report that “two of our rabbis recently engaged” with Jewish Voices for Peace to encourage dialogue and debate. “We do not endorse all the goals of any single organisation.”

Jewish Report is reliably informed that Rabbi Alexander had to explain his decision to participate in the public meeting of mainly anti-Israel and BDS campaigners the Cape Progressive leadership and that the matter was raised at a Cape regional meeting  last week.  

Gauteng chairman Forman concerned

Brotman  Dan longReeva Forman (PICTURED RIGHT) made the following statement to SAJR Online today: “As chairman of the SAUPJ Gauteng region, I am deeply, deeply concerned about this divisive issue that threatens not only Gauteng Progressive Jewry, but the wider Jewish community of South Africa.”

 Forman, who is also a deputy chairman of the SA Zionist Federation, added: “In my opinion, the majority of Progressive Jews are Zionist in that they believe in a Jewish State for our nation.

“At the same time, this does not deny anyone the right to criticise the government of Israel or any Jewish organisation.”

TOP TEN ANTI-ISRAEL ORGS – SEE PG 12 OF
ADL LIST FOR JVFP’S ANTI-ISRAEL ACTIVITIES

 

 

 

 

 

JVFP PROMOTES ANTI-ISRAEL HAGADDAH

Dan Brotman of Melville, Johannesburg, who is a long-standing SA Jewish communal worker and member of Shaked’s shul, addressed the following letter to the Jewish Report in his personal capacity:

As a gay Jewish man, one of the reasons why I joined a Progressive synagogue was due to its full inclusion of LGBTI individuals and the movement’s respect for all forms of diversity. Members of the Progressive movement are diverse not only in terms of age, race and sexual orientation, but we are also diverse in terms of our views on Zionism and the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Brotman  Dan homeAlthough our Progressive rabbis bend over backwards to reiterate their support for LGBTI members, I have become increasingly uncomfortable with a recent trend among Progressive rabbis of politicising their pulpit on the Israel/Palestine issue.


LEFT: Dan Brotman


I was distressed to learn that two rabbis, one in Cape Town and one in Johannesburg, recently publicly associated themselves with groups that advocate Boycott, Divest and Sanctions against Israel. At a recent Shabbat service, a Progressive rabbi read a letter to the congregation from Jewish Voices for a Just Peace, which advocates BDS.

When I see a rabbi openly associating him or herself with groups that actively promote BDS, it makes me wonder whether those who oppose BDS are welcome within the congregation. I believe that the rabbis concerned are dishonouring the Progressive movement’s respect for diversity, as they are using their pulpit to openly affiliate with one political viewpoint on such a divisive issue.

A rabbi espousing his or her own personal views on an issue which is so emotive within the Jewish community will ultimately lead to the alienation of one sector of the congregation or another. I believe that it is a rabbi’s responsibility to bring together congregants with diverse views, thus I would welcome Progressive rabbis creating safe spaces for their congregants to discuss Israel/Palestine, intermarriage and other contentious issues.

I challenge the SA Union of Progressive Judaism to articulate a clear stance on where the movement stands on its support for BDS and whether rabbis are permitted to publicly express their political views, especially on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At loggerheads

 Alvin Kushner said this afternoon that the World Union for Progressive Judaism, to whom the SAUPJ is affiliated, “identifies with and is fully committed to the State of Israel as the democratic state of the Jewish people”.

 But, in Rabbi Alexander’s separate statement also issued this afternoon, he says: “We recognise that within our movement and within the Jewish community at large there is a wide variety of opinions on the political solutions for the Middle East and support calls for peace, negotiations and constructive engagement with all parties involved.  We encourage our local Jewish community to listen to all the voices that exist within our community and to bring those voices into the mainstream of the Jewish community to foster debate and discussion on positive pathways forward”. 

The Progressive “Chief Rabbi”, Alexander adds: “We also encourage engagement with other local faith leaders to discuss the complexity of the religious and political issues that the conflict in Israel and Palestine raise up. We engage with a wide variety of Jewish and non-Jewish organisations on Israel and two of our rabbis recently engaged with the SA Jewish Voices for Peace to encourage dialogue and debate. We do not endorse all the goals of any single organisation, just as we engage in interfaith dialogue without endorsing everything that a faith leader or religion stands for.

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13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Maskil

    Nov 12, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    ‘Whether one agrees with Rabbi Shaked or not, it should be noted that (a) he enjoys freedom of the pulpit and (b), from what I can see, he does not claim to speak on behalf of anyone except himself.  While I would prefer that divisive political issues not be addressed from the pulpit, the conflict in Israel/Palestine is increasingly taking on a religious aspect, reminding us that the line between politics and religion is, at best, blurred.

  2. David Hersch

    Nov 12, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    ‘South African Jewish Voices for a Just Peace – Feh!

    The person driving this group in South Africa is Johannesburg based Jessica Sherman, the youngest daughter of the Late Rabbi David Sherman (z”l), former Senior Rabbi and founder of the Cape Town

    Progressive Jewish Congregation (Reform), and his wife Bertha, both ardent and devoted Zionists. Ms Sherman’s two older sisters live in Jerusalem.

    This might explain the presence of Rabbi Greg Alexander at this event. I have nothing against Rabbi Alexander and have always liked and got on with him and, of course, he is entitled to his opinions, but in the broader and correct sense, I wonder at the wisdom of lending his presence to this quickly forgotten tree planting in an obscure part of Cape Town and accepting the less than truthful accompanying plaque which reads:

    Between 1 July 2014 and 26 August 2014 

    2 139 Palestinians were killed in Gaza by the Israeli military – 70 percent were civilians.

    3 Israelis and one foreign national were killed in Israel by the Palestinian militia. 

    This tree was planted by

    South African Voices for a Just Peace

    Unveiled by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

    In memory of the civilians killed during 50 days of conflict in Israel – Palestine

    Not exactly factual and highly selective, in fact deliberately untruthful. The real facts are:  Between 2,127 and 2,189 Gazans were killed (including 513 children). 67 Israeli soldiers, 5 Israeli civilians (including one child) and one Thai civilian were killed and 469 IDF soldiers and 261 Israeli civilians were injured. The Hamas controlled Gaza Health Ministry, UN and some human rights groups reported that 69–75% of the Palestinian casualties were civilians; Israeli officials estimated that around 50% of those killed were

    civilians. Let us not forget that many civilian casualties were the result of Hamas using the Gaza population as human shields at rocket launch sites as confirmed and proven after the conflict by many journalists stationed in Gaza at the time. I will accept the Israeli statistics long before that of Hamas and the UN, which showed its colours and bias during this conflict.

    The ratio of militants to civilians in this conflict was 1:1, whilst other conflicts in Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan etc were anything from 1:5, 1:8 or even more. This proves how careful Israel was in trying not to harm civilians. In many cases the IDF warned civilians prior to targeting militants in highly populated areas in order to comply with international law. Human rights organisations including Amnesty International, confirmed that in many cases, Palestinians received

    warnings prior to evacuation, including flyers, phone calls and roof knocking, much to Israel’s military disadvantage.

    By this time, the IDF reported that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups had fired 4,564 rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel, while the IDF attacked 5,263 targets in Gaza; at least 34 known

    tunnels were destroyed and two-thirds of Hamas’s 10,000-rocket arsenal was used up or destroyed. Let us bear in mind that it was Hamas’ intention to use these tunnels to attack Israeli kibbutzim along the Gaza border and kill and kidnap hundreds of Israelis on Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the holiest time in the Jewish calendar.

    I am therefore more than surprised that Rabbi Alexander should associate himself with this group and the placing of a deliberate propagandistic and untruthful plaque, which may or may not survive where it is placed and aiding and abetting the enemies of his people and community.

    DAVID HERSCH

    SAIPAC

    The South African Israel Public Affairs Committee

    Cape Town’

  3. Adam Levy

    Nov 12, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    ‘the tired old tactic of silencing dissenting voices; vilifying those acting out their conscience and herding people to behave like sheep without brains, conscience or rationality. ‘

  4. Maskil

    Nov 13, 2014 at 7:50 am

    ‘I also wanted to point out that this is not a Progressive rabbinic/lay leadership split along anti-/pro-Israel lines.  Positions and opinions are extremely diverse amongst both rabbinic and lay leadership, nationally and within regions and individual congregations.  The letter that Dan Brotman refers to was, I believe, a JVJP flyer, and was read out by a member of the Beit Emanuel management committee, not by Rabbi Shaked.

    It’s very unfortunate that South Africa doesn’t currently have an organisation or movement capable of giving those who are “pro-Israel but concerned/critical” a voice (such as J Street in the US).  This space appears to have been “occupied” by JVJP, but their stance is far more extreme than most of us are comfortable with.  There is a clear need for a middle of the road group that supports the existence of Israel, but reflects the grave concerns that many have regarding the direction that Israeli politics, society and military action are increasingly taking.

  5. Choni

    Nov 13, 2014 at 9:02 am

    ‘In my opinion the only criticism and concerns regarding the direction that Israeli politics, society, and (particularly) military action, are taking is that it does not conform with the Torah.

    If Israeli leadership and it’s people would cease to look for praise and understanding from the nations, and Diaspora Jewry, instead of turning to the God of Israel, it would find true peace and security far sooner.

    No, Maskill, there is no middle ground. Torah is the only route, and , Thank God, Israel is slowly but surely heading that way.’

  6. Robin

    Nov 13, 2014 at 9:06 am

    ‘It seems both the Progressive Chief Rabbi and the Orthodox Chief Rabbi need some guidance.’

  7. Michael

    Nov 13, 2014 at 9:47 am

    ‘Jewish Voices for a Just Peace: Not what it says on the tin

    https://www.politicsweb.co.za/politicsweb/view/politicsweb/en/page71619?oid=800274&sn=Detail&pid=71616

  8. adam levy

    Nov 13, 2014 at 9:53 am

    ‘Robin – don’t forget Choni as well.
    \n
    \nNicely said Maskil!’

  9. abu mamzer

    Nov 13, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    ‘There is a new organization in SA called JWB….Jews without borders,no physical borders,no gender borders,no Israel borders ,etc etc etc ad nauseum!

    Engaging with BDS,is something like engaging with rhino horn smugglers which by the way is very good for the politically confused.

    My dear Rabbis of the progressive persuasion…don’t  quote me Isaiah…go to Jerusalem,to the Temple Mount our Holiest of Places,and exert your rights to pray there( for the peace of Al quds of course),or go purchase a box of Kleenex for all the crocodile tears you shed.

    Since you like Isaiah so much let’s try Chapter 4 verse

    4:When the Lord shall have washed away the\” filth\”\” of the daughters of Zion…(The English translation is very polite,the Hebrew direct)…That’s really what the political treatise is worth of the SAJVJP.

    As for King TUTu,I don’t care for the colour of his yarmulke.’

  10. Gary Selikow

    Nov 13, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    ‘Levy, you people are the sheep jumping on the anti-Israel bandwagon because it is the fashionable thing to do if you on the left’

  11. Mordechai

    Nov 14, 2014 at 3:40 am

    ‘I have always said that these leftist Israel hating and Palestinian loving Jews are more dangerous than Israel’s Palestinian (and Arab) enemies.’

  12. Abu Geshem

    Nov 14, 2014 at 5:33 am

    ‘It is interesting to note that the lip service about diverse views and enencouraging debate falls extremely short when comments, questions and debatable issues are raised on the JVJP social media pages. In many cases, the latter are removed and links are disabled. 

    While some comments are pure invective, personal and amount to senseless rants, others fall in line by being civil and acceptable. ‘

  13. Maskil

    Nov 16, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    Response by Beit Emanuel chair Diane Fine to the article this week in Jewish Report, attacking Beit Emanuel. These comments were made to the congregation after the Shabbat service, Friday November 14th.

    Shabbat Shalom.

    I’d like to respond briefly to the furore over comments by Rabbi Sa’ar on his personal website. 

    A cornerstone of Progressive Judaism is the centrality of diversity and pluralism. Over the past couple of years you have all heard me speak repeatedly about the importance of acknowledging diversity, encouraging congregants to engage about their different views and a strong belief that this diversity can and does enrich our community. 

    Diversity is an idea that is easily agreed to in principle, and very hard to live up to in practice. It requires us to maintain cordial relations with people who share our religion, but not necessarily our ideas. 

    In this very hall, we have celebrated Yom Ha’aztmaut, invited Israeli Ambassador Arthur Lenk, and had speakers on a range of topics from outright support for Zionism to those critical of the political systems in Israel/Palestine. We have had speakers who support the two state solution, the one state solution and we have encouraged those with different views on how to achieve peace in Israel to speak about their different ideas. Some of us attended a very moving JVJP ceremony to say Kaddish for all the children on both sides who died in the recent war in Israel and Palestine. And some of our congregants were instrumental in arranging a day of arts and culture entitled “Breaking Down the Wall”. 

    Rabbi Sa’ar’s letter which started this acrimony refers to Psalms 34:14 “Seek peace and pursue it”.  He said: “The only way one can create peace is by being peace, with deep commitment to non-violence and to the dignity of all humans. We, Jews, are also committed to the sacred covenant which binds all of the people of Israel, in the holy land and in the many Diasporas, to past and to future generations. May the Almighty grant us wisdom, perseverance and open heart to fulfil this task.

    I do not know how a new congregant who only joined our community six weeks ago can take umbrage at these words. Without knowing anything of our role in encouraging diverse voices, without asking to meet with Rabbi Sa’ar to discuss his views, or even with me as the chairman, without bothering to engage in our Progressive way which is one of discussion and debate, Dan Brotman ran to the public media, to the utter delight of a certain newspaper that has seldom been friendly to Progressive Judaism. Some of you may have noticed that Jewish Report approached many people to comment on Beit Emanuel. But not a single person from Beit Emanuel was asked to comment.

    I shall give Mr Brotman the benefit of the doubt: I shall assume that he had no idea he was playing the dangerous role of agent provocateur. Either way, he has widened the unhealthy  rift between our Progressive movement and the broader Jewish community and between us and the more conservative elements within our own Progressive community. 

    Perhaps Mr Brotman was afraid of being contaminated by our openness. But his comments show he has missed the point. There is a difference between congratulating a group for a well-organised event and showing support for BDS. Reaching out to others, which is the cornerstone of Sa’ar’s philosophy, something he did for many years in Israel, and which he has done often enough in South Africa with Muslims, Christians, charitable groups – even with the Orthodox Chief Rabbi – is by no means the same thing as sharing the views of those groups.

    The crux of Mr Brotman’s argument is that JVJP supports BDS, and therefore by extension, Beit Emanuel supports BDS. For this he provides no evidence. I have looked more carefully than Mr Brotman has, and I can find no statement from JVJP that suggests any such support for BDS. Beit Emanuel cannot and does not speak on JVJP’s behalf. But to speak for ourselves, the subject of support for BDS has never been tabled at any Beit Emanuel meeting, and my guess is that it probably never will be.

    Some of you may recall that just a few weeks ago, Mr Brotman was offered a JTalk platform to discuss his personal experiences of injustice and ostracism as a gay Jewish man married to a non-Jewish partner. The talk, which was critical of the Jewish community and of right-wing Zionists, could probably not have been delivered at any other shul in this country. In all likelihood, quite a few people in the audience did not agree with Mr Brotman or approve of his lifestyle choices, but he was provided with a respectful hearing. The flipside of our generosity to Mr Brotman, is that he is expected to show the same generosity of spirit to other people with whom he might not necessarily agree.

    Mr Brotman says in his letter: “I believe that it is a rabbi’s responsibility to bring together congregants with diverse views, thus I would welcome Progressive rabbis creating safe spaces for their congregants to discuss Israel/Palestine, intermarriage and other contentious issues”.  Well Mr Brotman, if you’d been paying attention, that’s exactly what we do. The person who has undermined this safe space is not our rabbi, but you, because you knowingly manipulated the media to set off a hate campaign against us.

    Our Constitution says: Progressive Jews believe that Judaism should be an active force for good in the lives of Jewish individuals, families and communities and that it should contribute to the betterment of human society. Progressive Jews value truth above tradition, sincerity above conformity, and human needs above legal technicalities.

    Those are good principles. Let’s stick with them.

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“Let my people in” – chief rabbi takes on travel ban

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South Africa’s chief rabbi, Dr Warren Goldstein, has taken on the Israeli government over its sudden blanket travel ban in light of the new variant discovered by South African scientists.

He has been interviewed in Hebrew across multiple national radio stations, TV stations, print media, and online media in Israel.

In a plea to Israeli leaders, he said that shutting the door on world Jewry was a mistake for a number of reasons.

Many South African Jews were turned back in transit between 25 and 26 November, and others are desperately trying to get there because of important family commitments. But the chief rabbi emphasises that “Israel is home to all Jews, especially in times of crisis, and a total closure signals a separation between Israeli and diaspora Jews. The new variant doesn’t distinguish between Jews who have Israeli citizenship and other Jews.”

To him, there are two issues at stake. “The first is the relationship between Israel and the South African Jewish community. Our relationship with Israel is very much part of our value system, and we are a very Zionist community. This is expressed in many different ways, for example, our aliyah numbers, which proportionately are really strong. It’s also expressed in the high percentage of our community who have visited Israel, the fact that so many of our youth study in Israel, and especially in how so many of us have family in Israel. The connection goes very deep.”

To be blocked from entering Israel is therefore “a real blow to the South African Jewish community – spiritually and emotionally”. This latest blanket ban comes after almost two years of very intermittent access to Israel, and the new extreme levels of restriction were a tipping point for him.

“I felt I needed to make my voice heard in Israeli society. This is why I went to the Hebrew media, so that this plea would be heard by society and decision makers. I wanted to send a message on behalf of our whole community.”

He says he has seen the pain of these restrictions reflected in many ways. For example, specific incidents, like a father not being able to attend his son’s Barmitzvah, and a general sense of loss and distance.

The other reason he has spoken out is “for the sake of Israel itself, and for all Jews. Is Israel an ordinary state, or a Jewish state?” he asks rhetorically. “This is a direct plea to the Israeli government and goes to the heart of Israel’s identity. Israel is the only Jewish state, and we are deeply connected to it. In light of that unbreakable bond, if the state says some Jews can’t enter, it’s drawing a divide between the state of Israel and communities across the diaspora. That partnership between diaspora Jewry and the state of Israel is crucial, and if you break that bond, it will hurt Israel and world Jewry.”

He isn’t asking Israel to jeopardise the health of its citizens. Rather, he’s asking that the same criteria be applied to Israeli citizens returning to Israel and Jews needing to visit. Israeli citizens who want to return are allowed to do so if they are fully vaccinated, do a PCR test, and go into quarantine.

“If you combine these three strict requirements, the Israeli authorities have deemed that the risk becomes negligible. If they are good enough for Israeli citizens, any Jew in the world should be allowed to enter on the same basis.”

Goldstein is speaking up now in particular because “vaccines have completely transformed the risk profile. We can see this in the current wave in South Africa.” He has written about it before, but not as extensively as now. “I’ve learnt that one needs to use multiple platforms and address Israeli society directly.”

He says the message has found “tremendous resonance with journalists. I haven’t spoken to one Israeli interviewer who wasn’t sympathetic. They have challenged me, and I have clarified that I’m not asking for more than what’s granted to Israeli citizens. There has been a lot of support and interest.”

He says the incident in which South African Jews were forced away from Israel on Friday 26 November and made to fly on Shabbat was “an absolute disgrace and totally unacceptable for any state, but for a Jewish state, was unthinkable and beyond the pale. This is especially considering the circumstances of two of these Jews going to comfort the Kay family, whose son gave his life for the state of Israel. At the very least, the Israeli government must apologise for this conduct and promise its citizens and Jews around the world that such a thing will never happen again.”

Finally, he says “vaccination is everything. It’s a blessing. Thank G-d for it. Take it with both hands: it is a big mitzvah to protect yourself and others.”

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World mourns Eli Kay, son of SA Jewry

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At the beginning of November, the Kay family celebrated the happiest of simchas in Israel – the wedding of Avi and Devorah Kay’s eldest son. Three weeks later, they again gathered in the Jewish homeland, but this time for the darkest of tragedies: the funeral of the Kays’ second eldest son, Eliyahu (Eli), who was murdered by a Hamas terrorist in Jerusalem on Sunday, 21 November 2021.

A South African oleh who was building a beautiful life in Israel, 25-year-old Kay was shot dead by a Palestinian gunman in Old City, near the Kotel. Four others were hurt. Horrific images of blood being washed from the Jerusalem stones were seen online after the attack.

The Jewish world is now mourning the senseless loss of a soul who embodied the best of the South African Jewish community and its commitment to Judaism and Israel. Indeed, that deep love of his faith, history, and identity was what brought Kay to the Kotel on Sunday. He was living his purpose but was killed for being a Jew.

An ardent Zionist, he made aliyah from South Africa without his family in 2016. His parents and siblings later joined him, with his parents leaving South Africa last December amidst tough COVID-19 restrictions. They settled in Modi’in. Avi’s parents, Cliffy and Jessie, remain in Johannesburg, while Devorah’s parents Rabbi Shlomo and Rebbetzin Lynndy Levin of South Hampstead Synagogue, live in London. The tragedy of grandparents burying a grandchild is unfathomable.

The family are pillars of the Johannesburg Jewish community, and played a vital role in building Torah Academy over generations. Both parents, as well as their four children, were alumni of the school. In its statement, the school pointed out that Kay was killed while holding his tefillin and a Likutei Sichos [The ‘Collected Talks’ containing the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe] – devoted until the very end to his Judaism.

He accomplished much in his short life. After arriving in Israel, he studied at a Chabad yeshiva in Kiryat Gat in the south of Israel, and then enlisted in the army. “He was a squad commander in the paratroopers, which is a big deal for a lone soldier in my view,” says Ron Feingold, who served with him. “He volunteered for the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and then excelled enough to lead people in it. I will never forget our conversations about the duty that we felt to our people.”

After completing his military service, he volunteered at the Nirim kibbutz for a year in the Eshkol region of Israel. Writing on Facebook, Shira Silkoff recalled meeting him when she arrived on kibbutz.

“The first time I met you [Eli], you were walking in one direction and I was walking the other. I was shy, unsure of how to go about meeting people who already all seemed to be friends. But we spoke for a few minutes, on that kibbutz path, with you holding a tub of slowly melting ice cream. Because that was you. You had time for everyone. No news report can capture your spirit. Your smile. Your passion for life, your ability to hold deep conversations at absurd hours, and absurd conversations at any hour. None of the news reports can capture your enthusiasm, your determination to achieve everything you set out to do.”

Kay then began working at the Kotel as a guide at the Western Wall Plaza. Some reported that he was murdered on his way to pray, others that it was on his way to work. But for Kay, these tasks were intricately connected. At the end of the day, he was there because he loved Israel and the Jewish people. According to The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, Kay “warmly greet[ed] everyone he met, doing his sacred work”.

Hearing the news was one of the most difficult moments for members of the South African Jewish community. “I was broken, gutted,” says Rabbi Levi Avtzon, who taught Kay when he was a teen. “Eli was quite a character: he was feisty and demanded a lot of himself and others. He didn’t have time for nonsense. He was a great guitar player and a natural leader. He was a searcher, looking for the truth. And when he saw the truth, he would go all the way in following it.”

Avtzon says these values came from the incredible upbringing he received from his parents. He describes Avi as “a gentle soul” and “an incredible financial advisor”, who continues to do this work in South Africa even though he now lives in Israel. “Until they left for Israel, Devorah was the life and soul of Torah Academy Girls High – loved by everyone and really dynamic.” The family’s door was always open. For example, they graciously hosted Avtzon’s parents when they visited him after he first moved to South Africa as his flat was too small.

Contemplating what Kay’s future would have looked like had his life not been stolen so senselessly, Avtzon says, “No matter what he would have done, he would have done it well. We need to take pride that this is the kind of mensch that our community raises.”

Kay’s cousin, Eli Landes, wrote on Facebook how he remembered “dancing with you [Eli], laughing with you, learning to play ‘mouth trumpet’ with you, studying with you, making up fake British sentences with you, talking about life with you. In life, you defended us. Guarded us. And now, I have no doubt you stand at G-d’s right hand, continuing to fight for us and protect us.”

Kay’s fiancé, Jen Schiff, said, “I felt it was important to share how much Eli loved this country, and how he came here by himself, and fought for this country. He always treated everyone with love and respect. And I know that when this happened, he didn’t feel alone.”

The outpouring of grief and support came from the very top of Israeli society as well as from around the globe. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Affairs Minister Yair Lapid and other Israeli leaders expressed condolences. Minister of diaspora affairs, Nachman Shai, personally wrote to the South African Jewish community, saying, “My heart breaks with yours. [Eli] was a son of both of our communities … Eli represented the best of the Zionist spirit nurtured in Johannesburg.”

Shai represented the Israeli government at the funeral, which took place at Har Menuchot cemetery in Jerusalem. Thousands of people from all walks of life attended in person, and almost 2 600 people (mostly from South Africa) watched on YouTube. There, Shai described him as “the paratrooper, the yeshiva student, warrior … the best of the best”.

Kay “would have been a great husband and father”, said an emotional Rabbi Motti Hadar, the principal of Torah Academy Boys High School, contemplating the brightest of futures cut short. “That is the hugest tragedy. And while his time came too soon, I think there is almost no other way he would have chosen to go than literally sacrificing his life for what he believed in, which was Israel, his Judaism, and living life to the fullest.”

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Miss SA future uncertain as Israel hatred boils

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It’s touch and go whether Miss South Africa will get on a plane to Israel to compete in the Miss Universe pageant next month, after a week of high drama in which the South African government bizarrely withdrew its support for the young university graduate.

The government had the anti-Israel lobby licking its lips at the prospect of her dreams being crushed. This lobby was determined that Lalela Mswane would never compete on an international stage in the coastal town of Eilat.

There are many who want her to go to Israel and represent her country, learn, engage, and prosper and there are those – a bunch of Israel haters – who are pulling out every stop to prevent it.

So far, the 24-year-old KwaZulu-Natal beauty has stood her ground. She is due to meet about 70 of her counterparts from all over the world – including the Arab world – in the Holy Land in a few weeks’ time.

Just how long she, the private Miss South Africa Organisation, and its chief executive, Stephanie Weil, can withstand the heat created by the small but predatory anti-Israel lobby is anyone’s guess.

At the time of going to press the odds were stacked against them in a fast moving developing story that has everyone guessing.

“It’s a rollercoaster ride,” said one insider.

Behind the scenes, a myriad of supporters have rallied around the young beauty queen, desperate to help her as critics stop at nothing to prevent her from representing her country at the Olympic Games of beauty pageants.

“It’s precarious, complicated,” offered another.

There has been more time and space allocated to this issue in the media than FW de Klerk’s death and his funeral arrangements, hung local councils, and coalition talks. Never mind the country’s dire electricity crisis, abysmal unemployment rate, water cuts, and critical crime levels. Social media has been lit with those fiercely in favour and those vehemently against Mswane attending the pageant.

It appears from thousands of social-media posts that many more are in favour of her fulfilling her dreams and wish her well than not.

The drama started with a statement issued on Sunday, 15 November, by the department of sports, art, and culture announcing that it would no longer support the pageant because of Miss SA organiser’s “intransigence and disregard” of advice against sending Miss SA to Israel, which it said would have a negative impact on her reputation and future.

The ministry, headed by Nathi Mthethwa, has come under fire for its lack of compassion for struggling artists during COVID-19 and the minister’s general ineffectiveness together with his department’s mismanagement of funds.

The African National Congress (ANC) made its views clear by backing and welcoming the government’s decision to withdraw support for Mswane.

The Democratic Alliance’s deputy shadow minister of sports, art, and culture, Veronica van Dyk, told the SA Jewish Report, “Miss SA is a private company, and as such must deal with the government as it sees fit. We don’t intend to be drawn into a fight between the two. A beauty pageant should never be politicised, and this is exactly what the ANC is trying to achieve. We should be weary not to fall into their trap.”

Department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) spokesperson, Clayson Monyela, said this week that in spite of all of the anti-Israel rhetoric, South Africa had “no intention of suspending any diplomatic relationships with Israel”.

He told The Citizen, and later repeated to the SA Jewish Report that Mthethwa’s announcement reflected the government’s stance on the matter falling under his portfolio, “but didn’t indicate any intentions of cutting ties with Israel”.

“We have diplomatic relations with both Israel and Palestine. What has happened with Miss South Africa cannot be anywhere close to cutting diplomatic ties. We can’t do that because if we do that, it means we can’t engage with Israel so are excluding ourselves from being part of the solution to the conflict, because if you cut ties with a country, it doesn’t have to engage with you,” said Monyela.

However Miss SA’s future hangs in the balance, as negotiations behind the scenes continue ad nauseam.

Zev Krengel, the national vice-president of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, lambasted the anti-Israel lobby for its bullying and intimidatory tactics, and said Miss SA was being used as a political scapegoat.

“Miss SA is a young woman, she is an easy target,” he said.

South Africa, he said, participated in various team sports, namely baseball, tennis, and soccer, against Israel, and where was the outrage?

Speculation has it that the signing of the Abraham Accords could eventually lead to Israel co-hosting the 2030 FIFA World Cup with its Arab neighbours.

“Do you see South Africa pulling Bafana Bafana out? No, this is pure bullying of a young woman, it’s outrageous,” he said.

He said he was bitterly disappointed in the government for withdrawing its support of Miss SA saying it was “on the wrong side of history, and while the rest of the world opens up and benefits from relations with Israel, including several Arab nations, South Africa is determined to remain on the sidelines of progress”.

People from all over have weighed in on the controversy.

The former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk, tweeted, “Wait, wait! Governments offer no support for this non-governmental contest. And the SA government made no decision whatsoever. A single ministry stated a viewpoint. Where is the story here other than the hateful noise the anti-Israel lobby is peddling?”

Author Khaya Dlanga took to Instagram saying that the government had “crossed the line” by withdrawing its support for Mswane, and had thrown her under the bus.

“They have put a young woman in an impossible position,” he said. “This government hasn’t imposed sanctions against Israel or travel restrictions. Instead, it’s grandstanding on the shoulders of a young girl. Why throw her under the bus when it hasn’t made meaningful commitments? Let her go.”

The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) said it was “appalled” that the government was “self-sabotaging” the country’s hopes and chances of participating and shining in Miss Universe just because it happened to take place in Israel.

“Our country is simply signalling its isolationism and irrelevance on the world stage,” it said.

The government had been silent on serious human-rights abuses occurring in many other countries where South Africa participates in sports and contests but “self-righteously reserves its opprobrium for the world’s only Jewish state”, the SAZF said.

“If our country were interested in bringing peace to the Middle East or carrying any moral weight in playing a mediatory role between Israel and the Palestinians, we have now ensured that our one-sidedness and unilateralism will prevent us from doing so,” the organisation said.

Meanwhile, the Miss South Africa Organisation broke its social-media silence this week with an Instagram post about Miss SA 2020, Shudufhadzo Musida’s, participation at Miss World in Puerto Rico on 16 December.

While Miss SA seemingly had the world at her feet just weeks ago, it remains to be seen if she will participate in Miss Universe.

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