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Feed our children positive narratives

Teach your children the history of freedom if you want them never to lose it, Lord Jonathan Sacks wrote in a piece published in the London Times at Pesach a few years ago. He said that freedom was won not on the battlefield but in the classroom and the home.

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Voices

VANESSA VALKIN

At least three times in Exodus, Moses instructs his newly freed tribe of Jews to pass on the miraculous story to the next generation of escaping Egypt and the exciting journey to the Promised Land. “You shall tell your child on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what the L-rd did for me when I came out of Egypt’,” Exodus 13.8, is one of them. The ritual of the seder is primarily focused on teaching our children about our heritage.

Well, Passover has come and gone and this week we will again be teaching our children the very important message of remembering and honouring the tragedy of the Holocaust as a way of ensuring that it can never happen again. We, as parents or even grandparents, are constantly sending out both conscious and unconscious messages to our children about the world around them, and what it means to be Jewish in it.

For the children of Holocaust survivors, of whom there are an estimated 200 000 in the United States alone, their parents’ experiences have had a substantial impact. A predisposition to post-traumatic stress disorder, difficulties in separating from family and a mix of resilience and vulnerability, are all part of the psychological profile of the children of survivors. Psychologist Eva Fogelman has termed it the Second Generation Complex.  

According to studies, some survivors could never discuss with their children the horrors they endured and so created walls of silence and an oppressive atmosphere at home. Others spoke too much of it and made their children feel guilty for the kinds of plentiful lives they would go on to lead. As a result, children of Holocaust survivors were found to be more prone to depression and anxiety through exposure to their traumatised parents.

This confirms the view of many psychologists that even when we don’t intend to, the way we engage with the world and how we perceive it, is transmitted to our children. What an intimidating notion. Indeed,-when we parents, are running the most important public relations campaigns of our lives where the correct “messaging and branding” is vital.

South African Jewry is less directly connected to the Holocaust than some other Jewish communities. This is not due to lack of awareness of its enormity or gravity, but because the majority of us are descendants of Lithuanians who came to South Africa well before the Second World War years and generally prospered, while our European brethren were sadly suffering.

And while our parents may not have passed on an anxiety of the ever-present possibility of annihilation to us, we likely assimilated the view that the world around us was not safe. We became adults in a country tainted by violence and inequality and, many of us, with a parental message that South Africa’s future was tenuous (have your takkies on in case!). 

Our own awareness of a sometimes traumatic past as a people and the current realities of rising anti-Semitism, Israel’s struggles and, more personally, trying to be Jewish in a modern world, are all difficulties we unwittingly pass onto our children.

This week our children may hear from us, or if they attend a Jewish school, then from their teachers too, about Hitler and the camp;, they will light candles, they will be told to stand proud as Jews and to be hypersensitive to acts of anti-Semitism.

Cautionary messages and teaching our children that our freedoms today are hard-won, are essential in a world of excess and too many choices. But we should ensure that our children are also processing the very positive aspects of being part of this fascinating tribe of people who have thrived wherever they have settled.

The world is not only out to get us; we, as a people, have made an astounding contribution to our societies; we live in a great democracy in South Africa – are the kinds of fearless, constructive and hopeful narratives our children should absorb. Only then can they go out and build bridges, succeed, lead and, as Lord Sacks says, be free.

 

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Choni

    Apr 21, 2015 at 9:09 am

    ‘Unfortunately there is no positive message one can give to our children while they are living in exile, outside their only true land, EXCEPT that they should yearn with all their hearts to someday join their fellow Jews in Eretz Yisrael. Maybe this is the message of the Holocaust.’

  2. David

    May 17, 2015 at 5:17 am

    ‘tiresome advice from a broken record — When will Choni accept that there are millions of Jews in the diaspora who are not Zionistically inclined as he is ? ?’

  3. Choni

    May 17, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    ‘David, Obviously you couldn’t care less that the Diaspora is ‘killing’ 60,000 Jews a year through assimilation and intermarriage. At least this old \”broken record’ is trying to save even one Jewish boy and girl that fate by promoting Aliyah.’

  4. Yoni

    May 17, 2015 at 7:25 pm

    ‘From Choni who lives comfortably in South Africa because Israel didn’t work out for him.’

  5. David

    May 18, 2015 at 11:55 pm

    ‘Interesting from Choni  — We respect your opinion Choni but it’s time you respected ours as well  —  just wondering whether he understands the western belief of

      \” Pro  Choice \”  It applies in this sense too —  that’s why we live in democracies.’

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Voices

COVID 19 – the battle continues

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With the third wave of COVID-19 infections well and truly upon us, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) last week convened a national COVID-19 call with medical experts and representatives of major communal bodies from around the country. Discussion centred on the handling of schools, shuls, and communal functions. While we will continue to do all that we can at the collective level to guide our community at this worrying time, we reiterate the crucial need for every individual to take personal responsibility by strictly observing all COVID-19-related protocols and thereby minimising risk to themselves and those around them.

Last week, COVID-19 deprived our community of another of its most distinguished and devoted leaders, Victor Gordon. One of the guiding lights of Pretoria Jewry and a man of many talents, Gordon served South African Jewry in a range of capacities. Among other positions, he was president of the SAJBD Pretoria council for eight years, in which capacity he also sat on the SAJBD national executive council. He was also an invaluable member of the Zionist Federation media team, where his considerable writing skills were put to excellent use in the many articles and letters in defence of Israel that appeared over more than a decade. We extend our sincerest condolences to our Pretoria colleagues and in particular to the Gordon family during this very sad time.

Calling antisemites to account

Unreflecting bias against Israel is problematic in and of itself, but it brings with it the added risk of such rhetoric crossing the line into Jews as a whole being denigrated and defamed. Such was the case with an interview programme on Power FM broadcast during the recent Gaza conflict, in which several callers were allowed to make a range of malevolent comments on the theme of global Jewish domination (including explicitly invoking the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion) without at any point being challenged by the host. Our initial approach to the station was to request that someone who could respond to these stereotypically antisemitic canards appear on the same show, and in that regard, we offered to facilitate an interview with a suitable overseas expert.

In spite of being offered a reasonable, non-confrontational way of addressing the problem it had caused, Power FM chose to drag its heels as well as to try to impose objectionable conditions on the manner in which the interview would be conducted. The conciliatory approach having failed, the SAJBD then decided to escalate the matter by taking it to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA). In our letter of complaint, we explained the fundamentally racist and defamatory nature of what had been said on the show, as well as stressing the signal failure of the host to contradict it. (Indeed, the latter’s response when being challenged by another caller on a later show was to deny that anything wrong had been said.) The BCCSA has acknowledged receipt of our complaint, and advised that it will revert as soon as it has received Power FM’s response.

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

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Voices

Like Zurich – without the chocolates

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One of the vivid memories that I have about the period in my life spent on planes was taking off from Zurich Airport on the way to Munich early one November morning. It was a dark, cold, and wet morning. No one looked happy, and very few seemed filled with the joy of living, which might have been expected considering that it was Switzerland, where a smile is no one’s resting face. It was so dank that when we boarded the flight, it was impossible to tell if the water on the window was rain or cloud moisture.

As we began to taxi, the captain welcomed us on board and gave us some details about the short flight. The weather in Munich was apparently much the same, but the flying conditions would be good. Because, as he explained, “it’s a beautiful day a few metres up”. Shortly after, we took off and he was right. It took seconds for the cabin to fill with sunshine. Suddenly everything looked colourful and bright, and I’m certain that even some of the Swiss might have smiled. On the ground, in the grey and the dark, it would have been impossible to imagine what a magnificent day awaited us.

This week, South Africa felt like Zurich. Without the chocolates, banks, the Alps, and electricity. And water. And watches. And trams, and snow. It was similar in that it felt dark and grey, and it was impossible to know what was causing the water on the windows. Was it COVID-19 or the infrastructure failure or vaccine delay? Was it the fact that we can’t socialise and that we don’t laugh nearly as much as we need to, or that it’s hard to imagine the sun shining again.

I bumped into a friend when I was walking on Shabbat. After he asked me how I was, he gave me his theory as to why it’s particularly bad at the moment. He said that bad things have always happened. People have always died before their time, and things have always gone wrong. But normally, there is more balance. After a difficult week, we can get together with friends, have a drink and laugh. Now it feels like all that we have are funerals. I wanted to disagree with him. I wanted to tell him how blessed we are as a community, how fortunate we are to have all that we have in this country, and how wonderful South Africans are. I wouldn’t have been wrong. But to say it would have been empty.

It also doesn’t help to repeat that it’s “darkest before the dawn”, that “this too shall pass”, and that there is “light at the end of the tunnel”. And that “every cloud has a silver lining”. All might be true, but none are helpful.

What helps me at a time like this is to find a role to play. We each have a “job”, and a way that we can assist in helping others get through this time. Purpose is a life saver. And it has saved my life even before it helped others. It also helps me to think of that November morning in Zurich when it was hard to imagine the sunshine. Until we took off and within seconds, we saw what a magnificent day was waiting for us. Just where we couldn’t see it.

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Voices

ORT Jet – helping small Jewish businesses and changing people’s lives

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ORT Jet was founded by key stakeholders in the community in 2005 to support Jewish businesses, and since then, the shift in the business world has been startling. Over the years, ORT Jet has worked with a large network of mentors, facilitators, and staff to assist businesses in need in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban.

“ORT Jet attracts Jewish business people who need help to grow existing businesses. Others are struggling to make their businesses profitable, and need a combination of training and mentorship to help solve issues. ORT Jet also receives many entrepreneurs wanting to take a business idea further. The invaluable mentorship, training, and resources they receive has been paramount to the success of thousands of businesses over the years,” says ORT SA Chief Executive Ariellah Rosenberg.

ORT Jet has three sets of specialised panels consisting of experienced business mentors. The first is business’ first “port of call” where the state of the business is analysed. Every three to six months, the catch-up panel assesses its progress, and allocates a new mentor if necessary. During the business’ journey with ORT Jet, it may meet the creative thinking panel, which will shift thinking and help the business to look at the world differently.

An extra panel was formed during the global pandemic called the business rescue panel. It gave advice to businesses in financial distress by directing them to the Gesher Fund and providing them with information to stay afloat.

“My mentor is incredible. I’ve sat with him twice already in the past week, and I feel like I have another partner in the business. He’s deeply interested in what we do, and assists with things like management strategy, auditors, legal matters, even networking, says ORT Jet beneficiary Darryl Epstein.

“We recently ran our fifth business induction for the year. We attracted a variety of businesses, start-ups, and people with wonderful business ideas. Today, one needs to look at what the world needs and adapt accordingly. Change brings opportunities, and those with creative and open mind-sets will thrive,” says ORT Jet HOD Helene Itzkin.

The ORT Jet impact on the community is evident. Through its webinars, people are trained from all over the world. For extra value add, participants receive useful resources after each webinar and the opportunity to engage with the speakers. “The Canva webinar with Mike Said was absolutely fabulous,” says training participant Debby Bear. “Thank you to ORT Jet for giving us opportunities.”

ORT Jet continuously collaborates with industry experts to keep the training relevant and packed with skills.

To access the ORT Jet training calendar, visit the ORT Jet website at www.ortjet.org.za. All webinar recordings are available on the JETflix YouTube channel. Subscribe at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgK1Y634pfTfquMrNd5SjQw

To join the ORT Jet programme, email admin@ortjet.org.za. The next induction for new sign-ups will be held on 30 June from 14:00 to 15:00 on Zoom. Follow ORT Jet on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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