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Don’t betray Mandela’s legacy, warns Mbeki

Thabo Mbeki told the gathering at Oxford Shul in Killarney yesterday evening that there is a need for strong leadership in SA – and for honouring the Constitution – as he paid tribute to Madiba. “Do we have the quality of leadership such as was exemplified by Mandela and others sufficient to respond to the challenges we face?” asked Mbeki who repeatedly warned against betraying Mandela’s legacy and values.

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ANT KATZ With M&G

There was little doubt that Mbeki was voicing his concerns about the current and future leadership in his emotional and hard-hitting speech at Oxford Shul. For a cast-aside leader who has been at pains not to question the ANC since being unceremoniously discarded several years ago – maybe Mbeki feels that he is now the party elder – or maybe he just felt comfortable among the Jewish community he has always been so at ease with.

MAIL & GUARDIAN associate editor Verashni Pillay was at the Oxford Shul and published an insightful report on their website this morning.

Thabo Mbeki told the gathering at Oxford Shul in Killarney yesterday evening that there is a need for strong leadership in SA – and for honouring the Constitution – as he paid tribute to Madiba. “Do we have the quality of leadership such as was exemplified by Mandela and others sufficient to respond to the challenges we face?” asked Mbeki who repeatedly warned against betraying Mandela’s legacy and values.

 Former president Thabo Mbeki spoke firmly on Sunday evening about the importance of strong leadership and honouring South Africa’s constitution, in his first public address since Nelson Mandela passed away, wrote Pillay.

“Do we have the quality of leadership such as was exemplified by Nelson Mandela and others sufficient to respond to the challenges we face?” asked Mbeki who repeatedly warned against betraying Mandela’s legacy and values.

“What about the future?”

Mbeki said South Africa had rightly been asked to celebrate Mandela’s life instead of just mourning. “But I don’t think we should end there, we must also ask ourselves a question: What about the future? I think as we celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, this becomes a central task: to ensure we do not betray what he and others sacrificed for.”

Mbeki’s words come at a difficult time in South African politics and governance.

Mbeki was successor to Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected president. He was ousted as president of the ANC by South Africa’s current president, Jacob Zuma in a bruising succession battle. Zuma’s term in office and prior years have been plagued by scandal, both personal and political, and policy indecision. Allegations of government misspending on his personal residence in Nkandla to the tune of a reported R200-million have further damaged his image.

Mbeki too had a mixed time in office, marked by Aids denialism but there has been nostalgia in some quarters for his strong policy direction and leadership.

Many remarks aimed at the current leadership

“The task of managing the transition of South Africa is a very difficult task, I think in many respects more difficult than the struggle to end the system of apartheid,” he said, in one of many remarks that seemed directed straight at the country’s current leadership.

Mbeki was speaking at the historical Oxford Synagogue in Killarney, Johannesburg, as part of a series of appearances by ANC leaders at places of worship for the nationally declared day of prayer and reflection.

Wearing a dark suit and a kipa, Mbeki first paid homage to black and white South Africans who had helped end apartheid.

“We were inspired as young people what he and his generation were able to do, to engage in struggle, to end the injustice of apartheid,” he said. “We were inspired by many leaders, we never asked questions about their colour and race.”

Importance of leadership and the Constitution

But Mbeki did not dwell on the contribution of key South African Jewish figures in the struggle against Apartheid, instead he homed in on the importance of leadership and the Constitution.

One of the key outcomes of the struggle was the country’s Constitution, said Mbeki. “The national Constitution bears the very heavy imprint of the vision and the values which Nelson Mandela and his generation stood for.”

The country’s Constitution, though celebrated as one of the world’s most progressive documents of its kind, has come under attack from more radical sectors, both within and outside the ANC, that see it as a product of compromise by the outgoing white apartheid government, which stifles economic freedom for the black majority in South Africa.

Hints at changes to the Constitution

The newly established Economic Freedom Fighters, formed by ousted ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, is campaigning for next year’s elections on a platform of radical legislative change, including mine nationalisations and land grabs.

Leaders within the ANC have also hinted at the need to change the Constitution. But last night, Mbeki was more concerned with giving life to the document and achieving its stated aims.

“Twenty years into democracy, how far are we with regards to the goal of creating a non-racial society, of achieving national reconciliation, of creating a non-sexist South Africa, a prosperous South Africa … of a shared wealth among our people and eradication of poverty?” he asked.

Mandela said he was willing to die for his ideals

“What did we do in the past with regards to all these matters and what should we do next to accelerate progress to the goals of all these things contained in our Constitution.”

Mbeki related a personal story of meeting the chief counsel of the Rivonia trialists, the late Bram Fischer, after the arrested ANC leaders were sentenced and Mandela began his 27-year imprisonment.

“Bram said he had a difficult battle with the Rivonia trialists, because they told him if they were sentenced to death he should not appeal. Their argument was if they were, the people of South Africa would act to ensure that the death sentence was not executed. Such was their confidence in all of us,” said Mbeki.

“They said it would not be right to depend on the mercy of an apartheid judiciary, but rather rely on the conscience of the people of South Africa.”

The Shul’s prayers and service continued after a number of other leaders spoke, including an impassioned speech from Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, relating key stories from Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and likening him to the biblical figure of Joseph, who was sent to prison though innocent and later became great.

Israel’s ambassador to South Africa Arthur Lenk also spoke briefly, skirting delicately the issue of Mandela’s difficult relationship with Israel and identification with the people of Palestine.

Oxford Shul was packed to capacity with people standing in the aisles and outside the auditorium, craning to hear Mbeki speak.

In closing, the former president quoted Mandela’s famous words from the dock, that he was willing to die for his ideals, and urged for greater commitment to principles in South Africa.

“What do we do to ensure this noble legacy Nelson Mandela and others left behind not be betrayed?” he asked.

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Otto Frank letter a rare find for Cape Holocaust centre

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We all feel connected to Anne Frank in some way, but now an even closer connection has been made to her in Cape Town. A letter from Otto Frank dated 2 November 1967 was donated to the Cape Town Holocaust & Genocide Centre (CTHGC), along with photographs of Anne and Margot Frank taken before the war.

The collection was donated by Robin Sharon Papayanni earlier this year. In the letter, Frank talks about the aims of the Anne Frank Foundation, and goes on to say that apartheid in South Africa is a ‘great problem’ which can be solved using the principles in Anne’s writing.

CTHGC Head of Archives Dmitri Abrahams told the SA Jewish Report how the items came to the centre. “Robin Sharon Papayanni [who goes by Sharon] received this letter from Otto Frank in response to a letter she sent him. In her letter, she expressed her admiration for Anne and her writing, and asked him to send her photos of Margot and Anne. She kept the items in a drawer at home until she decided it was time to place them in a more secure location and for them to be available to researchers and academics.”

As an archivist and historian, Abrahams was “awestruck and humbled by these important historical items” when Papayanni presented them to the centre. “Not only is it an original letter signed by Otto Frank, but he also refers to the socio-political situation in South Africa at the time, which is a very rare find. I would even go so far as to say it’s one of a kind. Such a rare find is an important addition to our archive.”

The letter and photos will be reproduced and used in an educational programme that the centre is developing for younger learners. “The originals will be wrapped in acid-free tissue paper, placed in acid-free archival grade boxes, and in permanent storage in a climate-controlled storage room at our partner institution, University of Cape Town [UCT] Special Collections,” he says. “Though our collections are kept at UCT, the CTHGC remains the custodian of all the material placed in the UCT archive.”

Abrahams says it’s extremely meaningful to have these items in this archive. “The items prove indisputably that people recognised early on that the lessons of the Holocaust could be used to teach about the effects of unchecked prejudice and discrimination. The letter also serves as proof that people recognised that apartheid was wrong. As such, it will be used to teach young people not only about the Holocaust but also about apartheid.”

The public can see the letter and photographs over the upcoming summer holidays. “They will be on display at the centre from 1 November 2021 until 31 January 2022. Thereafter they will be digitised, placed in permanent storage, and made available online alongside our other collections,” says Abrahams.

“We urge people who have artefacts, documents, photographs, and items related to the Holocaust, World War I, World War II, Jewish life in Europe before, during, and after the Holocaust to consider donating these objects to our archive,” he says. “This will ensure that they are preserved for future generations and available to researchers and academics.”

The CTHGC archive is supported by the Claims Conference (Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany).

The link to the centre’s digital finding aid is: https://atom.lib.uct.ac.za/index.php/za-uct-bc1556-a

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The ‘Imperial Tour’ that cemented the Jewish Commonwealth

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Exactly one century ago the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire, Dr Joseph Hertz, arrived in South Africa on the first leg of a global tour which lasted almost a year.

Arriving in South Africa on 27 October 1920, he spent more than three months in the country. He then went on to visit significant Jewish communities in other dominions: Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. The entire tour covered 42 communities and 40 000 miles (64 000km).

Hertz, who became chief rabbi in 1913, got the idea of conducting a tour after seeing the Prince of Wales’ visit to Canada following World War I. He wanted to do something similar, and visit smaller communities, saying he was “enthused to come into personal touch with the distant communities under my ecclesiastical jurisdiction”.

Earlier on in his career, he had served as rabbi to the Witwatersrand Old Hebrew Congregation in Johannesburg (from 1898 to 1911). During this time, he publicly challenged the Kruger regime, and supported the administration of Lord Alfred Milner, who recommended him to Lord Rothschild for the vacant post of chief rabbi of the British Empire.

Hertz set sail from the United Kingdom (UK) on 8 October 1920, and reached South Africa almost three weeks later. The tour was branded a “pastoral tour”, but the agenda was also to raise £1 million for Jewish education as a memorial for those who had died in the Great War. Indeed, a letter in the United Synagogue archives reveals correspondence from a man in South Africa to Hertz, aggressive in tone, asking whether the trip was for the purpose of Jewish pastoral care or if it was to raise money for the Jewish War Memorial.

The chief rabbi replied, “Let me assure you, dear Mr Ehrlich, that I am coming to South Africa on a purely Jewish mission. It is true that there will be an accompanying appeal for the Jewish War Memorial, but I regret the ‘war’ part of it as much as you do.”

South African Jewry had a population of 66 000 at the time. Hertz travelled throughout the country, covering 5 000 miles (8 000km) by railway. His first public engagement was a sermon at the Great Synagogue in Cape Town on Shabbat 30 October 1920. He was impressed by the shul, describing it as “the largest and most impressive Jewish house of worship in the empire”.

He also warmed to its minister, Rev A P Bender, whom he said was “a most popular and respected figure, not only in the Jewish, but also in the general life, of [the] Cape Colony”. Bender was a part-time professor of Hebrew at Cape Town University. In the following days, the chief rabbi was given a banquet at City Hall, delivered a sermon at New Synagogue, and attended a reception of the Cape Town University J-Soc.

Hertz then travelled to Kimberley, where the community dated back to 1869. It was there that he sounded a warning about assimilation. In a sermon, he said that there had been “too much drifting in religious life”, and the perils faced by South African Jewry were the same as those confronting Jewish communities in England, Australia, and Canada.

After a trip to Bloemfontein, which brought back memories of consecrating the synagogue in 1902, Hertz moved on to Johannesburg. In this city, he received a rapturous welcome, with crowds waiting for his arrival at the railway station.

The Sunday Times reported afterwards, “There can be no doubt of the warmth of his welcome from his old congregation. He comes here not only as the high priest of English Jewry, but as an old friend who through long years of unselfish work among us endeared himself equally to Jew and Gentile.”

The next stop was Pretoria, where Prime Minister Jan Smuts gave a speech praising the contribution of the Jewish community and looking forward to it flourishing in the future. In his remarks at the reception, Smuts declared, “The Jews in South Africa are welcomed in every walk of life, and have achieved the greatest successes. Nobody grudges them their success because they deserve it. Let them bring their resources and talents to this country.”

At his next destination, Bulawayo in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), he said he found “Jewish hearts throbbing with enthusiasm for all forms of Jewish endeavour”. Hertz spent a final few weeks in South Africa visiting Pietermaritzburg, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, and Oudtshoorn.

One of the things Hertz noticed about the Jews of South Africa was how charitable they were – a characteristic still identifiable today (even among those who now live in Israel, the United States, and the UK). He was struck by the care shown in the orphanages in Cape Town and Johannesburg. He was also impressed by the community’s raising of £450 000 for the War Memorial Fund, remarking that it was “a record of generosity that surpasses even that of American Jews”.

Afterwards, Hertz wrote about the success of the visit. “Thank G-d it has been justified by the results, which in view of the extraordinary financial position prevailing in this country, are very gratifying indeed.”

After this ground breaking world trip lasting almost 11 months, Hertz arrived back at Southampton on 30 August 1921, and had a private audience with King George V at Buckingham Palace in November.

The “Imperial Tour” is one of the things Hertz remains most famous for, along with his commentary on the Chumash. It solidified the bonds between the UK and her then dominions, and gave him and his office profile on the world stage.

A century on, the historic ties endure. The sun may have set on the British empire but, 100 years after Hertz’s landmark tour, the ties between Jewish communities across the Commonwealth remain strong.

  • Zaki Cooper is on the diplomatic advisory board of the Commonwealth Jewish Council.

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Beth Din dispute with manufacturer foments discontent over pricing

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Local manufacturers of kosher food say they are looking overseas for alternative kosher certification following the furore caused by the Beth Din’s removal of a company’s kashrut licence last week.

A longstanding relationship between the Johannesburg kosher department and Honeyfields, an ice cream, sugar cone, and chocolate manufacturing company, turned sour, resulting in it being stripped of its kosher licence.

The Beth Din claims it was because of a contractual breach following “ongoing non-compliance” with its stringent kosher model, in which it has a zero-tolerance policy for non-compliance.

Honeyfields claims it all comes down to money, saying that the Beth Din took its kosher certificate away because it steadfastly refused to accept the “exorbitant spike” in Beth Din kosher fees.

However, the Johannesburg kosher department insists it has nothing to do with fees.

“This has nothing to do with an increase in Beth Din fees. The breakdown is purely over non-compliance over many years and the unco-operative nature of the company with regard to kosher compliance,” said Head of Kashrut Rabbi Dovi Goldstein.

There has been a lot of allegations this week both on social media and on ChaiFM over what people in the community claim to be “sky-rocketing kosher food prices” and the Beth Din’s alleged “lack of service, transparency, and communication”.

The Beth Din has threatened to seek legal action following Honeyfield’s message to its Jewish clients in which it allegedly questioned the Beth Din’s integrity and pricing models. Honeyfields is further challenging the Beth Din’s price hikes at the Competition Commission, claiming unfair business practice.

The owner of Honeyfields, George Georghiou, told the SA Jewish Report that he may have made mistakes in the past, but he always rectified them. “I accept and admit there have been mistakes with the printing of my labels in the past, but I always acknowledge this and fix them. This is not about me and my procedures being kosher or parev, it’s to do with the increase in fees which I’m not prepared to pay,” he said.

He said he believed many manufacturers would “ be looking at obtaining kosher certification elsewhere overseas because they are left with little choice,” he said.

Georghiou says he is looking for a new hechsher as he wants to remain loyal to his Jewish clients. “Three products including parev and dairy chocolate-lined sugar cones and wafer baskets are going into 600 stores nationwide and sadly, the Jewish community won’t be able to buy them even though the products are kosher, but are now uncertified,” he said.

In a message to his Jewish clients last week, he said the Union of Orthodox Synagogues (UOS) had inflated his fees by a whopping 600%, which was going to affect the prices consumers were going to pay in the future. He wrote that he was offered numerous payment methods to meet the obligation, which he told the SA Jewish Report remained unaffordable.

“I’m just a simple chocolate and ice cream maker, I’m not here to fight. But when they decide to damage my turnover, that’s declaring war, and I will go to war with the Beth Din,” he said.

Georghiou isn’t the only manufacturer prepared to take a stand.

Johannesburg mashgiach Akiva Mallett decided to explore alternative options when he set up his new company, Dairyluv, which makes Chalav Yisrael dairy products. “I found that during my application process, there was a lack of commitment on the part of the UOS, and I felt it would turn out to be a disappointing relationship,” he said.

So he looked further afield for kosher certification.

“I applied to six of the world-leading kosher authorities, and chose Montreal Kosher. It was a long application process, but made easy with the professional people working there. We have a six-hour time difference but overcame that obstacle through proper communication and understanding.

“Even though the exchange rate plays a role, I believe the fees will still be less than what I would be paying here,” he said.

The owner of The Chocolate Tree, Moshe Amoils, told the SA Jewish Report that this outcry has brought to his attention the fact that manufacturers and producers aren’t alone in this struggle.

He said his Beth Din kosher Pesach fee in 2017 was R7 200. It went up more than 300% in 2020 to a staggering R45 000.

He successfully negotiated this down with the kosher department, explaining how it would negatively affect the community.

“Many people realise that there are actually other options available. People are considering moving further afield, and will do so if they find it more affordable, especially if it comes with better service and improved relationships.”

One longstanding manufacturer who prefers to remain anonymous said he was dissatisfied with the way the Beth Din conducted itself. “After many years, I’m considering applying elsewhere for an international hechsher,” he said.

Colin Hurwitz of Glens Sauces told the SA Jewish Report that the consumer was the biggest loser. “My heart broke earlier this year when I overheard an old lady complain that she couldn’t afford to buy a bottle of my kosher-for-Pesach tomato sauce. These are the people who are suffering. The Beth Din has lost sight of this.

“My tomato sauce costs what it does because of the many crippling hidden costs over and above the Beth Din Passover fee,” he said.

Another kosher manufacturer and retailer speaking under condition of anonymity questioned whether the Beth Din had the community’s interests at heart.

“Eateries are constantly trying to cut back and streamline their businesses to the bone because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep the cost of kosher down for the end user. They are constantly listening to complaints by the consumer about increased food prices while doing their utmost.”

Goldstein told the SA Jewish Report he was saddened by this latest scandal, considering the fact that the department had worked tirelessly to improve customer relations and ensure food prices were kept as low as possible.

The Stan & Pete saga had positive results in a vastly transformed department and a total revamp in kashrut, including a new scientific and equitable pricing model, he said.

“Our goal is for more people to eat more kosher more often. We don’t turn people away when they can’t afford the full price. In fact, we offer them various ways to remain on board because it’s in our interest to have more kosher products available for the community,” Goldstein said.

According to him, every company, no matter the size, is charged the same R32 000 annual base fee according to the new scientific pricing model. This is the standard fee applied across the board before other expenses come into play, for example the number of factories and products.

“People can apply for a special discount. We don’t turn people away, we understand times are tough, especially during COVID-19 when we have offered payment holidays and alternative payment options,” he said.

In the case of Honeyfields, he said, “The company had been included in no less than five alerts over the years which we consider way beyond the acceptable norm. The situation became untenable.

“Our community trusts that our stamp can be relied on, and when we have tried multiple times to work with a company and it still refuses to work with us, we are left with no choice.

“Sadly Mr Georghiou has taken a shot at our reputation, and we take this seriously. This is why we have decided to take legal action,” he said.

When a company asked for financial assistance, the department would “go out of its way on a case-by-case basis to offer a discount or phase-ins over multiple years to make it fair and equitable”, Goldstein said.

“Our approach is to benchmark against the world’s best kashrus agencies, and we are seeing that we are more than 50% less than other international agencies. So, you would need to question how some overseas hechshers can offer their services at such low costs, and whether it’s sustainable.”

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