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Doing it because it is the right thing to do

When I was incensed that an Iranian teenager, Maedeh Hojabri, was arrested for putting videos of herself dancing on social media, people looked at me quizzically. I was then so thrilled to see that people around the world supported her and I, too, wanted to do my bit.





Those people who looked at me quizzically asked why I bother. “She is Iranian and has nothing to do with you – she is not even Jewish,” was their explanation. Why care about a young teenager in Iran who has never been allowed to express her individuality publicly?

She is not allowed to actually be seen in public – or at least, not without her face covered. She is certainly not allowed to show her joy in dancing, something I love to do.

As a South African who has the right to express my feelings and views wherever I want to and to dance until the cows come home, I feel her pain. What’s more, I wish I could do something to help her and all those women who have no rights in a country with the most draconian laws pertaining to women. I also feel so lucky to live in a country where, as a woman, I have rights.

I was in awe of the Iranians who showed their support for her by posting videos of themselves dancing on social media. They were risking a great deal more than we would be.

I was so moved that even in Israel, people supported a woman in a country that would like to see the Jewish State wiped off the planet. They too didn’t see her as an Iranian or or as part of the Iranian dictatorship. They didn’t see her as a pawn in a political game, but rather, as a person who needs as much help as she can get…

It is about doing the right thing. It is not about playing political games. It is about being someone who cares. People are not politics – people are living beings.

I am not sure that those of us on the southern tip of Africa who care will make much of a difference to the lives of women in Iran or to the life of Hojabri, but I do hope that somehow she knows there is this upswell of support for her. Either way, it is about doing the right thing.

When 12 Thai boys aged 11 to 16 and their football coach got trapped deep in a cave on June 23 and were unable to get out, the world was horrified. They had gone on an outing and a sudden downpour blocked all exits to the cave they were exploring. They got stranded in the dark tunnels for nine days and were only rescued this week.

They had limited time before the air inside the cave became toxic and the monsoon rains forecast would seal off the cave until next year.

Thai authorities were racing against the clock to save these boys and they simply could not do it on their own.

The first thing that became obvious to me was Thailand, a country that is incredibly polarised by political differences, united behind the struggle to free these children.

Then the world gave their support. An Australian doctor and cave-diving specialist, Richard Harris, gave up his holiday to assist with the rescue operation. He went into the cave and stayed with the boys to monitor their health while they waited to be rescued. There were individual British, Belgian, Danish, Finnish and Canadian nationals involved in the rescue.

And countries like the United States, China, Australia and the United Kingdom got involved with the rescue.

Israel also got on board with its technology, which enabled communication with the boys and their coach, who had all taken refuge in a chamber deep underground.

The point is: politics was thrust asunder as life became way more important and people from all religions, walks of life and political persuasions got involved. It was beautiful. All the boys and their coach were rescued, although one retired Thai Navy Seal died in the operation.

Nobody in the rescue operation questioned who was trapped what religious or political views they had. They simply went in to save lives. Why? Because it was the right thing to do.

As it so often happens, when we are faced with a life-and-death situation, all differences fall by the wayside as we do what we need to do.

Why on earth do we have to wait for life-and-death situations? Why do we need to wait for people to be locked up because all they want to do is dance and show others the joy they get from it? I don’t know.

The South African Jewish community is such a caring and thoughtful group of people and genuinely go out of their way to help others in need.

Whenever we put a story in the SA Jewish Report, in which someone could do with help, they get it. We generally don’t ask for help, but those who need it always get it in bucketloads. This never ceases to amaze me.

I look around at the Jewish organisations that quietly move mountains for people in need – they don’t ask to be recognised, they just do it. Why? Simply because it is the right thing to do.

I will keep doing my best to keep on fighting the good fight – doing things because they are right. Join me…

Shabbat Shalom!

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Don’t panic, but behave responsibly



The announcement of the new Omicron variant and its dire impact on overseas travel continues to dominate the news. With the sharp increase in infection numbers in Gauteng, the Board on 28 November convened a meeting of the national leadership of the major communal bodies together with Professor Barry Schoub and Dr Richard Friedland, two experts in the field of communicable diseases who have guided and advised us throughout the COVID-19 crisis. At our request, Professor Schoub and Dr Friedland have prepared guidelines on how to reduce the impact of the impending fourth wave on our community. These can be found on our Facebook page. To watch last week’s “Midweek COVID-19 Update with Professor Schoub”, visit Those who have any questions for Professor Schoub can leave them in the comment section or email

Fighting the good fight

One welcome piece of good news over the weekend was that Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane, had arrived in Israel in preparation for taking part in the Miss Universe contest. This was in spite of a sustained campaign by Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) factions to prevent her participation, characterised by intimidation, defamation, blackmail, and misinformation. The Board saw it as essential to have a voice in this debate as the intent clearly is to target the only Jewish state in a way intended to deny and demonise South African Jews’ historical, cultural, religious, and familial ties to Israel. We engaged in the debates and obtained significant press coverage to offer an alternative narrative to the hate-filled position of those calling for boycotts.

The Board was also called on last week to respond to various statements by organisations like Africa4Palestine, the Media Review Network, and the Muslim Lawyers Association on the death in a terror attack of former community member Eli Kay. Using the language of demonisation and incitement that led to Eli’s murder in the first place, these factions brazenly celebrated and sought to justify the atrocity. In an opinion piece for News24, South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) Vice-President Mary Kluk pointed out how such dehumanisation is an inevitable stage in a process that if left unchecked, can easily have deadly consequences. While not inciting violence directly, the hate-filled rhetoric of the BDS lobby is fostering an environment in which such attacks become that much more likely.

As a former chairperson and long-serving SAJBD executive member, a much respected World Jewish Congress executive member, and in her capacity as director of the Durban Holocaust Centre, Kluk has for many years been at the forefront of defending Jewish rights while also promoting the kind of culture of respect and tolerance for diversity that’s so critical to South Africa’s future as a united, democratic, and non-racial society. To find out more about her career, see Wendy Kahn’s tribute in the latest issue of Jewish Life. A link to the article, as well as to Kluk’s News24 column, can be found on our Facebook page.

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

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Of doggie dreams and the kindness of strangers



This isn’t a column about Daisy. It’s a column about kindness and appreciation. And even though Daisy, our beloved German Shepherd, is central to the story, she’s not the least of what it’s about.

Daisy died yesterday. It involved a Checkers Sixty60 guy, a motorbike, and the unfulfilled dream of a dog whose ambition was some day, before her dog years were up, to catch one. Yesterday she finally did it. Although sadly it didn’t end well. Not for Daisy or the bike. The Sixty60 guy was thankfully fine.

I was in a meeting when I started to receive calls. When they became insistent, I answered to hear the frantic voice of a woman I’d never met. She explained that Daisy, who had been taken for her daily walk by Prince, had been involved in an accident. She assured me that she, and a few others, would stay with Prince, who was distraught, and with Daisy (who wasn’t in a state to be aware) until help arrived. They had called CAP Security as well as the vet, who was apparently on the way.

Before anyone had had a chance to leave the house, she called again with an update. The vet had arrived and along with CAP were escorting Daisy to the vet for urgent care. She explained where they were going, and suggested that we go straight there. She also reiterated that what had happened was no one’s fault. Daisy had managed to get out of her harness and Prince was in need of a little TLC.

By the time we arrived at the vet a few minutes later, Daisy had passed away. It was that quick. And there was clearly little that could have been done.

We gathered at home in shocked silence trying to process what had happened when my wife received this message, “Hi Heidi, Zameer here from CAP Security. My deepest condolences for the loss of your Shepherd. We did our best to take her as soon as possible to the Orange Grove vet. We arrived on the scene three minutes after it happened. If there’s anything we can do for you at CAP, please let us know. We also offer K9 therapy to overcome trauma, with a friendly female dog called Storm. Kind regards Zameer.”

As if the kindness of strangers who sat with Prince as he cried over Daisy, who called us and made sure that we understood the situation, and who arranged for the vet and CAP to assist wasn’t enough, we now had this message to contend with.

It’s remarkable the difference these gestures made to us on what was a terrible day.

We knew of Daisy’s aspiration to one day catch a Sixty60 delivery guy, but as she hadn’t been well lately, we all assumed that her dreams would never be actualised. Until yesterday when, in a last burst of youth, she broke through her harness and finally did what she had dreamed of doing for all her dog years.

I have no idea if there’s a dog heaven. But if there is, it’s filled with kind people like those who sit with a dying dog, with people like Prince, with vets, and with people like Zameer who reach out to strangers to show they care. I guess there’s also an ongoing supply of Checkers Sixty60 guys who ride up and down to fulfil unrealised dreams.

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Killing of innocents can never be justified



Our community was shocked and grief-stricken to learn over the weekend that one of its own young members, Eliyahu David Kay, had been fatally wounded in a Hamas-inspired terrorist attack while on his way to pray at the Kotel in Jerusalem. It’s always saddening when fellow Jews around the world fall victim to such hate crimes, but it strikes that much closer to home when the victim is one of our own. At the time of writing, we are working with other communal bodies to organise a memorial gathering for a much loved young man whose life was so cruelly and unjustly cut short. May his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

The widely differing responses to Eliyahu’s murder tell us much about how and why such tragedies occur in the first place. Though most people who commented online and in other forums expressed shock and heartfelt sympathy, we were appalled also to see comments from certain organisations and individuals justifying the atrocity. On the local front, an organisation formerly known as Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions South Africa and now calling itself Africa4Palestine has been especially shameless in pushing this line. This is hardly unexpected given how over many years, this organisation has persistently sought to poison public attitudes not only towards Israel but towards the Jewish community for supporting and identifying with it. Of late, even non-Jewish supporters of Israel have become the targets of such hate-mongering.

The danger of extremist ideologies like those espoused by Africa4Palestine is that almost invariably, those who oppose them are portrayed as not merely wrong, but fundamentally evil. This in turn leads to them being regarded as so morally beyond the pale as to be undeserving of the basic rights that other people automatically enjoy, sometimes including even the right to life itself. Such dehumanisation is one of the essential first steps in a process that left unchecked, can easily lead to lethal acts of violence and in extreme cases, to genocide.

No amount of hyperbolic rhetoric about Israel’s purported misdeeds can justify the cold-blooded killing of unarmed civilians simply on the basis of their being Jews. This is the underlying justification that antisemitic fanatics claim for their actions, and we must be untiring in our efforts to confront and expose this evil. All genocides in history were justified at the time by what appeared to be righteous indignation on the part of the perpetrators. When examined more closely, however, their causes came down to simple, unadorned hatred. Nor can we ever feel pleasure over the death of innocents, even when suffered by our avowed enemies. When we lose our sense of empathy at the loss of any life – and how much more so when such tragedies are perversely celebrated – we lose our very humanity. In taking a stand against the constant vilification that Israel and our community are subjected to in certain quarters, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies is always careful not to itself descend to such depths. I urge those wishing to respond to such attacks, whether online or in other contexts, to similarly be careful as to how they express themselves.

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

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