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Eric Samson a giant of SA Jewry

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Voices

South African Jewry has long been regarded as a model diaspora community. We are famed for our excellent communal infrastructure, high level of identity and involvement, and we have a deserved reputation for punching above our weight on the international Jewish stage.

All of this, of course, was made possible only by the deeply committed men and women who, over the years, have devoted so much time, effort, and resources to their community. These have included many remarkably generous benefactors, who in addition to what they contributed to the wider society, have consistently dug deep to ensure the continued well-being of their fellow Jews and viability of their communal institutions, whether religious, educational, Zionist, welfare-related, or cultural.

In the pantheon of Jewish philanthropists, few have matched and none have exceeded the record of Eric and Sheila Samson. Innumerable organisations and individuals benefited from his support throughout his life. This was true not just for our own community, but for the people of South Africa as a whole and for Israel. Earlier this week, we were heartbroken to learn that Eric had passed away. As our press statement put it, he was a visionary leader and nation builder, one whose multifaceted legacy would benefit our country long into the future.

One of the primary beneficiaries of Eric’s unsurpassed generosity was the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD). He was unstinting in his support for the Board, recognising the vital importance of its work to protect the civil liberties of South African Jewry and represent its vital interests, locally and abroad. The SAJBD pays fulsome tribute to a South African giant, the magnitude of whose achievements was surpassed only by the greatness of his heart.

In everything that he did, Eric was supported and assisted by his dear wife, Sheila. May she and the family be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem, and may Eric’s memory be a blessing and an inspiration for all those who follow in his footsteps.

Rabbi Desmond Maizels, zt”l

The sudden passing in Cape Town last week of Rabbi Desmond Maizels is another loss that will be deeply felt not just by his congregants and Union of Orthodox Synagogues (UOS) and Cape Beth Din colleagues, but by the whole of South African Jewry.

A true doyen of our community, Rabbi Maizels was someone whose dedication and expertise in the field of halacha went hand in hand with his whole-hearted love for his fellow Jews. Whether in his work on the Beth Din, as a congregational rabbi, or as an esteemed community leader, he epitomised ahavat Yisrael (love for fellow Jews) in all that he did. Rabbi Maizels was renowned in particular for his work in the field of kashrut in Cape Town, and the extraordinary lengths to which he went to create a system that would encourage and facilitate its practice. We extend our sincerest condolences to the family and his colleagues in the UOS, Beth Din, and the Rabbinical Association.Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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Voices

Duty to remember from generation to generation

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Tribute to Veronica Phillips, o”h

When Holocaust survivor Veronica Phillips, who sadly passed away earlier this week, was the guest speaker at the Johannesburg Yom Hashoah ceremony many years ago, it was the first time that she had spoken in public about her harrowing experiences. From that time on, however, she was a regular speaker on Holocaust remembrance platforms, including at the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre, as well as in schools and media interviews. Veronica was a proud and committed member of our community, and an inspiration to those who knew her. One theme she continually stressed in her addresses was that of l’dor v’dor (the duty of passing down the torch of remembrance from generation to generation). This, indeed, is the keynote theme of this year’s Yom Hashoah ceremony, where survivors will stress the solemn responsibility of youth today to ensure that the stories of survivors and above all, those who perished, aren’t forgotten. Although this time, Veronica won’t be with us to drive home that message, her dedicated, unselfish work in doing so in the latter part of her life will always resonate with those who were privileged to hear her tell her story.

Jewish Affairs – 80 years young

This week, the first issue for 2021 of our journal Jewish Affairs (Vol. 76, No. 1, Summer 2021) was published. The articles cover a wide range of subjects, from the Biblical writings, history, and archaeology of ancient Israel, to Zionist pioneers in the modern era, to such noteworthy Jewish South Africans who made a difference like the late Clive Chipkin, a celebrated architect, architectural historian, and Johannesburg heritage activist who passed away earlier this year. To read it, along with all previous issues that have appeared since the journal switched to its online format, go to South African Jewish Board of Deputies (sajbd.org). PDF versions of all previous issues going back to 2009 can be found at Jewish Affairs – archived issues.

Exactly 80 years have passed since the appearance of the inaugural issue of Jewish Affairs in 1941. I warmly thank all the loyal subscribers, advertisers, and contributors who have enabled us to reach this milestone. The original purpose of the publication was to serve as a vehicle for reporting back to the community on the work of the SAJBD and provide information on issues of concern to the community. In succeeding years, it developed into the country’s leading Jewish current affairs, historical, and cultural journal, and is now a vital resource for academics, journalists, genealogical researchers, and others with an interest in the history of our community.

Jewish Affairs is housed on the main SAJBD website, but a new, standalone Jewish Affairs website is in an advanced stage of production. Those interested in taking full advantage of this rich communal resource can do so simply by signing up, at no cost, as a subscriber. Send your name and email to david@sajbd.org.

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

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Voices

Finding G-d in fresh herbs

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Sunday wasn’t a day for bald people to be outside without a hat. But I was, and although it was good to walk around a nursery choosing pots and creepers for our courtyard area, I was pretty much well done after an hour.

My wife on the other hand seemed just to be getting warmed up, and it didn’t take a genius to foresee that there was a significant possibility, left to chance, that we would be spending the rest of the day roasting in the fresh herbs section. Because, Howard, our kitchen needs instant access to thyme. And rosemary, obviously.

By this stage, the two assistants we had co-opted along the way – and no strangers to spousal negotiations – started to become a little skittish and moved the laden trolleys towards the airconditioned indoor pay area. I was impressed by their use of non-verbal cues, and resolved to increase their tip once the car was loaded.

Only, G-d had other plans. Further context is that my wife had also left her purse at home and had asked me for my credit card earlier in the day. For something or other. And it was now very much missing. Her claims that she had given it back to me were patently a poor attempt to grasp at any straw possible, but it was clear that we now had a tiny problem. The helpers, now not only afraid for the loss of their tip, also looked to be afraid for their lives as the establishment refused Samsung Pay, and EFT, and an offer of our youngest born as compensation for the jasmine.

It needs to be known that my wife is significantly more attuned to the whims of G-d than I will ever be. And so, she confidently turned to the cowering assistants and in her most evangelical voice said, “We need to trust that He will help us, and we will find that credit card.” Inspired by her Sunday sermon, they seated me in the cool breeze of the aircon, and went on their mission in search of the card. I’m not exaggerating when I say that they were quite literally chanting, “Trust in G-d! Trust in G-d!” as they went on their walk with G-d. And my wife.

They obviously found it. The nursey is acres large and we had traversed it all in search of the perfect pot and creeper. Which meant that the credit card could have been pretty much anywhere. And yet, they found it, unsurprisingly in fresh herbs. Because our kitchen needed fresh thyme. And G-d would never have abandoned us. Apparently.

Between the religious experience and perhaps the tip they received in gratitude for putting up with us, the nursery assistants were clearly inspired. With “G-d is great!” and “Trust in G-d” as their final words, we left the centre with me grateful I didn’t need to call Investec and my wife glowing from the whole religious experience. So inspiring was it, I wouldn’t be surprised if Goodwill and Kingston didn’t join us for megillah reading on Thursday night.

Which is the point. As annoying as the experience was, my wife was right. Purim is a time of hidden miracles. It’s an illustration of G-d’s presence in every aspect of our lives. And just because this miracle isn’t a grand one, doesn’t mean that He isn’t present.

Sometimes you just have to look for Him in fresh herbs.

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Online Yom Hashoah focuses on youngsters

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Last year’s COVID-19 lockdown rendered impossible the traditional Yom Hashoah commemorative gatherings. Instead, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), working with the South African Holocaust Foundations, survivors, and other stakeholders, organised a single national virtual Yom Hashoah ceremony for the entire country. This was a signal success, with more than 17 000 people participating. While we are no longer subject to the hard lockdown conditions that prevailed in 2020, the COVID-19 threat is still far from over, hence this year, we will once again be hosting a combined online ceremony. The event is being organised by a national Yom Hashoah planning committee, once again headed by SAJBD National President and Durban Holocaust Centre Director Mary Kluk, and will take place on 9 April at 12:00.

As can never be stressed enough, each victim of the Shoah wasn’t a statistic but a distinct, unique individual, one whom others loved, esteemed, and cared about. For this reason, the practice of preceding Yom Hashoah gatherings with reading out of some of the names of those who perished is now commonplace throughout the world. For this year’s ceremony, we have launched a campaign to encourage community members to send through the names, place, year of birth and, where known, the year of death of family members lost to the Shoah. This will feature in the online programme. In line with the emphasis on passing on the torch of remembrance to the next generation, we encourage younger community members in particular to participate by providing us with these details, even (or perhaps especially) though they won’t personally have known the people whose memory they are helping to perpetuate. To send through these details as well as for further information on the event, write to yomhashoah2021@gmail.com.

COVID-19 and interfaith activism

Confronting the COVID-19 threat is inextricably bound with adapting everyday behaviour to minimise contracting and spreading infection. The leaders of various faith communities have a vital role to play because of their ability to guide and influence their respective constituencies, and hence they have been identified as an important resource by governments around the world. Mary Kluk continues to represent our community on the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Social & Behavioural Change, and our leadership has been participating in several other interfaith forums, including the president’s meetings with religious communities. For the United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week, our Cape Council held a webinar titled “Coping with COVID-19 – thoughts of the interfaith community”. Speakers included representatives of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Baha’i communities, as well as the Western Cape government interfaith team. The event was fully subscribed, attracting many from other faith communities and nongovernmental organisations with others participating via Facebook. We commend our Cape colleagues on this most worthwhile initiative.

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

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