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Don’t leave in fight or flight mode




I’ll just come out and say it. There should be a pause on all aliyah applications for six months. Like a cooling off period. Because whereas going to live in Israel might be the appropriate and right decision for all the right reasons for many, the decision isn’t a small one. It has major implications. It isn’t without its challenges. And it shouldn’t be made when we are in fight or flight mode.

Even those of us who aren’t psychologists but can read, know this. At times of perceived danger, our primal instincts kick in. When faced with what we think is a threat, our adrenalin surges, and we are unable to think rationally. Our need for survival takes over, and we quickly assess if we should stay to fight, or if we should run for the hills as fast as our Jewish flat feet can carry us (which is probably not that fast).

The fight or flight instinct has kept us alive – or at least running – for generations. It has largely worked, and is the most likely reason that most Jewish South Africans are alive to tell the tale, our grandparents or great grandparents having chosen flight rather than fight.

There is a “but”, however. Not every situation is life-and-death danger. Not every event is pre-war Europe, and not every Facebook post from a concerned expat is without its own perspective. The challenge is to recognise what’s long-term vision versus short-term, knee-jerk reaction.

When faced with real danger, the implementation of a “flight” strategy correctly places survival over every other factor. Other factors like financial concerns, education, social, and family are moved to the “less important” column.

This is perfectly sensible, given that a dead person doesn’t need to earn a living or worry about who to invite for Friday night. What this means is that making a fight or flight decision when one is not in mortal danger can result in a pretty poor decision.

It’s not just a South African phenomenon. The pandemic-related lockdown has made many of us jittery and anxious. Our need to travel, engage, and feel less “trapped” will undoubtedly result in a significant global migration, as people seek something new or different. We aren’t alone in that. Where South Africa is different is that the recent unrest has been particularly unnerving. Coupled with lack of faith in the government, and there’s little surprise that people are nervous.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean “flight”.

As someone who has lived in several countries around the world, I’m by no means suggesting that people don’t make aliyah or move to Australia. What I’m saying is that the decision should be made rationally. Look not only at what awaits, but also what you are giving up on. Look at the magnificence of the South African Jewish community, look at what you are able to do to make the country a better place and how that feeds you. Look at the education and the medical systems that we have in place, and look at fellow South Africans from all the beautiful communities that make up this insane country. Write down what you love about South Africa, and then write down the reasons you want to leave.

The suggestion of a pause of aliyah applications is, of course, not literal. If anyone wants to go and live in Israel, they should be encouraged to do so. But there is a major difference between running away from something and running towards it.

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  1. Vanessa Fisher

    Aug 12, 2021 at 10:39 am

    Thank you for this well written perspective. Moving countries is not like moving from one house to another. It is a whole new ball game and what people don’t realise is the pressure a move so drastic places on the family unit and the parental relationship. Moving to a new country is s decision not to be made lightly or in haste, but calculated, discussed, investigated and researched. Emigration/immigration is not for the feight hearted!

  2. Melanie Fish

    Aug 12, 2021 at 1:10 pm

    Excellent article.

  3. Shlomit Lemel

    Aug 12, 2021 at 3:38 pm

    I have been in the UK for 23 years old and you are right there is something be unique about the Jewish community in SA which you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

  4. Roslyn wainer

    Aug 12, 2021 at 3:50 pm

    People need to think logically and completely when leaving. Look at all the pros and cons. In Israel you have a freedom to live and go outside your 4 walls.its truly amazing for kids. We are here but my family have just gone. Will take 2 years to fully integrate. Don’t expect miracles.language,banking,medical,education,jobs are all different. Be prepared. Sadly I don’t see any leaders on the horizon in our beautiful country

  5. Ricci Lee Herzberg

    Aug 15, 2021 at 7:40 pm

    The best article I’ve read in a long time. Thank you for sharing.brilliant article.

  6. Donna

    Aug 18, 2021 at 2:29 pm

    Well. heard and understood.
    It’s important too to hear and understand our community in this time in South Africa .
    Having returned pre Covid from Israel ( having worked 2 months to get help me decide on Aliyah or not). I lost my job and understood clearly there is no job for a white 55 years old woman or a safe path to walk before sunrise and after sunset .
    I choose to change that for a very a simple, committed to whatever position I get to live whatever life is left with me.
    It’s not flight or fight. It’s right

    Thank you

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Making us count on Election Day



The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) this week focused on final preparations for the multifaith election observer team that will be taking part in the local government elections this coming Monday, 1 November 2021. The Board initiated this project as part of its education and awareness campaign for the 2009 national and provincial elections, and has run it every election since then. Its purpose is to bring together volunteers from a range of different backgrounds to assist the Independent Electoral Commission by monitoring proceedings at polling stations to ensure that everything is fair and above board as well as offering hands-on logistical assistance where required. Aside from its purely practical benefits, the project is a rousing example of participatory democracy, and the fact that Jewish leadership is heading it up is certainly to the credit of the community as a whole.

From the Board’s point of view, the observer-team initiative further helps us to realise a core aspect of our mission, namely to “work for the betterment of human relations between Jews and all other peoples of South Africa, based on mutual respect, understanding, and goodwill”. It enables people to join their fellow citizens in being an active, contributing part of the democratic process, and over the years, participants have found it to be an inspiring bridge-building experience. The participation of the observer team on polling day also marks the culmination of the Board’s #MakeUsCount pre-election awareness and education campaign, one of the flagship initiatives through which we seek to lead our community in identifying with, contributing to, and participating in our robust democratic culture.

I warmly commend our professional staff, in particular Charisse Zeifert and Alana Baranov, for putting together another very successful #MakeUsCount campaign in spite of the short notice and added pressure of simultaneously having to organise the Board’s national conference. Regarding the elections themselves, I urge you all to turn out on the day and make your cross, regardless of which party you might support.

New era for Jewish Affairs journal

Over the decades, the SAJBD’s core mission of representing the community and protecting its civil rights has been expanded to include preserving and promoting South African Jewish heritage. One of the most important vehicles for this is our archives, which comprise of a comprehensive record of the Jewish presence in southern Africa and are regularly used by academics, genealogists, and journalists. Another is Jewish Affairs, the community’s leading Jewish historical, cultural, and current affairs journal, which has been produced under the auspices of the SAJBD since 1941.

Last week, Jewish Affairs embarked on an exciting new era in its 80-year history with the launch of its new stand-alone website: I encourage readers to browse through this site, which provides free access to all material published since 2009, and consider signing on (likewise without charge) to the mailing list to receive regular updates on the latest posts.

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

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Malema not such a tweet about Jewish survival



I fully intended to be outraged at an Economic Freedom Fighters tweet that quoted Julius Malema. He was speaking at an election event that was live tweeted by his party. “No one will force anyone to vaccinate. I’m vaccinated because I believe in science, and [the] trials for COVID-19 were run on white people, and that was unusual. Even Jews are vaccinated, and those people don’t play with their lives.”

Perhaps it’s rude to refer to anyone as “those people”, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. And as one of those very people, I do find it hard to find fault with his statement. Because Jews don’t, as a rule, play with our lives.

It’s not to say that Jews can’t be warriors, soldiers, and members of the Community Security Organisation who bravely leopard crawl across the soccer fields of Jewish school campuses. It’s not to say that we can’t compete in well-co-ordinated trail runs through the mountains outside Plettenberg Bay when the moment demands it of us. Or, throw caution to the wind and run without a full reflector vest moments before sunrise.

It doesn’t mean that some of us have been known to walk to shul without our orthotics and even to miss repeated sessions with our biokineticist as if we hadn’t a tight hamstring in the world. Or (G-d forbid) neglect to take our Crestor (to lower bad cholesterol), knowing full well that given our genetics, it could result in it bordering on or dangerously slightly above the recommended level. (G-d forbid).

It’s not unreasonable to suggest that we value life, and that we don’t play around with it. Whereas Malema might not have considered the extent of his comments, and probably didn’t stop to wonder why it’s the case, Jews might well be more sensitive to survival than others who haven’t been persecuted for centuries. The reality is that Jews have spent generations trying to prevent people from annihilating us simply because they could.

The consequence of our history shouldn’t be understated. In a conversation that I had some years ago with music legend Johnny Clegg, he recounted a story from his childhood in Zimbabwe. He told me there were six children in his class, which didn’t go unnoticed by a teacher at Hebrew school. She told them in no uncertain terms that each of them represented and bore the responsibility of a million Jews that had perished in the Holocaust. Each would have to metaphorically carry them on their shoulders. This was too much for Clegg, who decided then and there not to have a Barmitzvah.

The other consequence is the anxiety that Jews live with. Partly interbreeding and partly survivor genetics, we are tuned to nuance, to a shift in tone, and to medical issues. We see our survival not just in terms of our own ability to live another day, but in terms of the understanding that we hold the key to Jews surviving as Jews in a world that might not always want us. But always needs us.

The tweet might have been clumsy. It might not have been politically correct. It might not have what we expect or want from a politician. But it was pretty darn accurate.

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Don’t vote, don’t complain



The conversation would go something along these lines. “Mrs Feldman,” they would say, on seeing my late grandmother, “You are looking too wonderful!” A pregnant pause would follow as she contemplated the horror of what had been said. “Really?” she would finally answer, lips pursed, eyes narrowed, “You should only know how terrible I feel.”

And then, just to prove her point. Or to make them suffer, she would tell them. Complaint by complaint. Ailment by ailment, punctuated with a detailed description of her matching medication. At a family function, my grandmother would find desserts “too sweet” and the band too loud. She was never happy with where she had been seated, and there was always someone who didn’t greet her appropriately.

She wouldn’t have it any other way. Because complaining made her happy.

Whereas our generation might not complain about the same things, we’re hardly different. Social media is a complainer’s dream, where at a whim and at any time, we have the ability to slate, moan, and denigrate anything or anyone we choose. The “Hello Peters”, Google Reviews, and Facebook groups all provide fertile environments for anyone having a bad experience or simply a bad day. Because like it or not, complaining makes us happy.

It does, however, have its limits. And there are conditions attached to our ability and right to complain. We might, for instance, not be happy with the state of our roads, or the water pipes or electricity, but we forfeit the right to complain about them if we choose not to vote in the forthcoming municipal elections. No one will stop us, and maybe no one will even know, but electing not to participate in the choosing of representatives for our neighbourhoods and cities renders our complaining voices silent on a moral level.

The refrain of, “There’s no one to vote for” isn’t only inaccurate, it’s also lazy. The options might not be perfect, but each presents an opportunity for change and improvement.

The decision not to vote is a vote for the status quo. Which means that it’s affirmation that things are just as they should be. It means that the roads are pristine, that our water sparkles and is reliable, and that our lights switch on with the predictability and consistency of high school Charidy callers. It means that everything is just as it should be. Because, why else would anyone choose not to choose?

In conversations with the leaders of the Democratic Alliance, Action SA, and the African Christian Democratic Party, each told me the same thing: this election is all about service delivery. It’s about selecting the party and person who has the highest chance of getting the job done.

It might be true that there’s no perfect party and no perfect candidate, but then it might be worth choosing the one that’s the least imperfect of them all. Failure to do that will result the loss of the right to complain about all the things we love to complain about.

Which would make our grandmothers very unhappy.

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