Fiery message in the embers
It’s one week before Lag B’Omer, and it seems to me that all we are hearing about right now is fire.
Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital in Parktown was severely damaged by a fire last Friday, and Cape Town was burning from Sunday until late Tuesday this week.
It has been said that Johannesburg firefighters didn’t have the infrastructure to contain the hospital fire with speed, hence the extensive damage. There were also disparaging words about the hospital not having an emergency plan, and its fire hydrants not being in working order.
However, in spite of everything, not one person was injured in the fire, and the hospital team managed to get each of about 800 patients out safely and to other hospitals. Some might say it was miraculous.
In Cape Town, the fire raged for days and seemed to be stretching further and further into suburbia and the City Bowl. It gutted beloved iconic Mother City landmarks like the Windmill on the side of the M3, and University of Cape Town’s (UCT’s) Jagger Library, which forms part of the UCT Libraries Special Collections.
A ministerial home was gutted, as well as so many other houses. About 4 000 students in residences were evacuated, and many others who live and work on and around the mountain.
Firefighters didn’t sleep as they focused on their mission to put out the fire. Helicopters flew backwards and forwards with sea water, dropping it onto the fire to try and douse it. Firefighters’ nerves were frazzled, but they kept going until they finally succeeded in putting out the fire late on Tuesday. The problem was, the firefighters explained, every time they thought they were gaining control over the fire, it kept reigniting.
Amidst the mayhem, all sorts of people did incredibly brave deeds to save human and animal lives, precious items, and memorabilia. Read our story on page 1.
The young Rabbi Nissen Goldman rushed into the Kaplan Centre of Jewish Studies on UCT campus, close to the Jagger Library that burned down. He risked his life to save the Torah housed in Kaplan Centre.
Across town the following day, Herzlia’s director of education, Geoff Cohen, evacuated four Torah scrolls from Herzlia Highlands Primary. The whole school was closed on Monday and Tuesday as the fire was way too close for comfort, and smoke hung over the school like a pall, dropping ash everywhere.
You can, of course, think what you want, but I believe there is something very symbolic in these fires. Fire in Judaism is an extremely powerful symbol. Remember, G-d convinced Moses of his existence when he spoke to him from a burning bush.
We light fire to welcome the Sabbath, and we light up to end the Sabbath and begin a new week. We light candles to remember those who have left us, and we speak of our eternal flame being the light within us, our souls. This flame is also believed by many tzaddikim to be Torah, which is believed to keep Judaism alive.
Now, in Judaism there are two types of fire, the fire that burns, which is the unruly fire as experienced in Cape Town and at the Johannesburg hospital, and then the fire that gives light (as in domestic fire). Wildfires, while they may be caused by humans, are uncontrolled and forces of nature. They take with them everything in their path, burning the good, the bad, and the ugly. By destroying iconic landmarks and a massive library filled with historic books, there is a message for us about protecting the old, but also letting go what we can’t save because we don’t have total control. Could it be that it’s a message to let go of the old and make way for the new?
Or to preserve what you can, but remembering that lives are so much more important than belongings or things. Even iconic buildings aren’t as important as lives.
It’s astonishing that with all that could have gone wrong with both fires, there were no deaths. And in the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, not one of the many sick people – some of whom were in intensive care and on ventilators, hooked up to drips, and unable to walk – were injured or harmed because of the fire.
It’s mind-blowing that in spite of what sounded like fiery mayhem, they were all safely transported and accommodated in another ward in another hospital. Read our story on page 4.
In both fires, there were people who risked their lives to save others. I’m always amazed at how in times of crises, heroes emerge. Sometimes it’s those you least expect who step up to the plate to help. And of course the firefighters and medical staff who put their own lives in jeopardy for other people were simply incredible. Kol hakavod!
Crime and weddings
Fires and crime seem to be on the increase all over Johannesburg and Cape Town. We have to take every precaution to prevent it happening to us. I know that’s easy to say, but we have to ensure we have adequate security and use it at all times. (See page 3.) And we have to make sure our protection against fire is up to date and ready just in case we need it. There are people who can advise us on this. Take their advice, and safeguard yourself and your families.
In this edition, we also look at how many weddings have taken place this year where COVID-19 protocols have been mostly ignored. Now, I would never want to dampen the happiness of newlyweds, but we would all hate it if one of these weddings became a super-spreader event. We have put the COVID-19 wedding protocols on our website. Take a look at it, and let’s be responsible. Again, take precautions to avoid distress and trauma.
Forewarned is forearmed
On Monday, we go to the polls for our local government election and for the first time in a long time, I’m hearing people questioning who they are going to vote for. Somehow, I have the sense that many are taking this election more seriously than before because they recognise that it will have a direct impact on their day to day lives.
People are genuinely trying to work out which person is going to be best for them and their suburb. I, for one, and most of the people I know are sick and tired of trying to avoid driving into the huge vehicle-destroying dongas on our roads. These seem to remain unfilled for months, and are exacerbated by the rainy season.
We are tired of power outages that last for days with no respite and apparently nobody doing anything about them either. We are tired of suddenly not having water coming through our taps.
The frustration is endless, and I would love to know that there was someone in a position of power who was on our side, making sure that when we have these problems, they are dealt with quickly and painlessly.
So, would it be better to vote in someone from the Democratic Alliance (DA) or African National Congress (ANC) because of the power in numbers and the fact that one of these two parties is likely to run the major cities? But then what happens if your ward counsellor is DA in an ANC municipality – would she or he be restricted?
Perhaps we should be voting for that independent guy who looks like he’s so committed to the right kind of change, he’s put up his Barmitzvah money to stand in this election. But maybe as a lone soldier in the opposing army, he’s not likely to have much persuasion power. How about that party that wants Cape Town to be its own country?
I don’t have the answers for you, although we have tried to give you as much information as we possibly can. We have introduced you to the Jewish people standing for election (page 10 to 11), written about a proposed mayor (page 12), got experts to write for you (page 6), and put on webinars to educate us all.
Now it’s up to you. Make your vote count because your vote matters. It could be your vote that tips the scales towards one particular person or even a whole party. So, don’t underestimate your power.
I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone how many people died in this country so that every citizen has that right to vote. It’s a precious right that we need to use so that the government does what it needs to do for us.
I was shocked when a close friend of mine, who has always been very politically involved, told me he was going to the coast this weekend to be back in a couple of weeks. I asked him about voting, and he sheepishly said that he was hoping nobody would ask because he can’t vote at the coast.
My sense is when people who criticise the authorities don’t vote, they relinquish the right to that criticism.
We all make our choices, but I implore you to use that precious right and vote so that we can ensure that the people looking after our day to day needs are going to do a better job than they have been doing.
This brings me to one of the key issues that has been used in campaigning for votes, namely whether or not to vaccinate.
As someone whose whole family is now vaccinated and proudly so, I cannot believe that people are still vacillating over this. I’m astonished at how many people are still refusing to be vaccinated, citing nonsense they have picked up on social media as proof positive that they shouldn’t vaccinate.
As we have a less stressful hiatus between waves and get to experience just a little more freedom, I can tell you I don’t want that freedom taken from me again.
And it’s clear that the more people are vaccinated, the less chance of another serious wave that will put us back under lockdown. Let’s vaccinate for freedom.
I must say, I was pleased to hear that Julius Malema agreed with me, getting vaccinated because he “believes in science”. He even called on his supporters to get vaccinated. Then he went on to cite that because all the Jews were being vaccinated, he knew it was safe because “they” put a high price on life (page 5).
At first, like Howard Feldman (page 14), I had to think about what he said and I wondered if it was meant to be an insult. However, to me, it was clearly a veiled compliment – if that’s a possibility coming from Malema – and is true. We do value life, and do everything possible to preserve it.
And although our experts didn’t think him saying this was kosher, I have to admit that after Israelis had vaccinated their children, it made me feel safe to vaccinate mine.
However, there have been many counsellors and party leaders around the country who have used their campaign to dissuade people from vaccinating. Frankly, I see this as an abuse of power, but I guess I have to allow people to make up their own minds.
Having said that, I was significantly irked this week by the lack of warning about potential threats to our children post-vaccine.
I was fortunate to be on Dr Sheri Fanaroff’s mailing list on 17 October, when she put out a piece about teens being vaccinated. In it, she warned that teens, especially boys, shouldn’t do strenuous exercise for up to a week after being vaccinated to safeguard them from the rare incidence of pericarditis or myocarditis.
So, I knew about it when my boys were vaccinated, but nobody told them or me when they were being vaccinated. And I wonder just how many people were made aware before their teens were vaccinated.
For this reason, I asked Dr Sheri to write the piece on page 5 to ensure we all know about it and can watch out for any signs.
I’m not telling you this because I think we should rethink vaccinating our kids. To the contrary, I just believe in taking every precaution to safeguard us all from any harm. And I believe forewarned is forearmed. A few days without sport won’t hurt anyone…
So, before you head out to the polling booths on Monday, make sure that you have done your research, using all we have given you and whatever else you can find to guide you to make your choice. That way, you too will be forearmed to choose the people who would best serve you, your suburb, and our community.
Power to your pencil!
Seeing heroes emerging
To make us all feel happier, we need to feel safe, secure, and well. And these three tiers in our lives have been battered and bruised over the past few years. However, I feel happier right now because I am seeing these needs being met again. You may be thinking that I have finally lost my marbles, but let me explain…
Our sense of wellness has been challenged severely by COVID-19, but we are well out of the third wave, and so many of us have been vaccinated. Now, we have the opportunity to get our youngsters vaccinated too. That’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time.
I totally understand why some parents are a little hesitant to rush into vaccinating their children, but I believe that vaccination is our ticket out of this torrid coronavirus-ridden time we are living in. It’s our ticket to freedom, travel, and having a semblance of our former life. I cannot imagine anyone of us is not longing for that. I sure am!
As my teenage boys said to me when I asked if they wanted to have the vaccine, “It’s a no brainer, mom, we have to have it!” And apparently, I can’t override their choice legally – not that I plan to.
However, I do get that some parents are nervous about putting chemicals into their children’s bodies unnecessarily. Can I say, I have seen too much illness – even in young people – in the past year and a half to believe this is unnecessary. It’s essential to protect your children, your other loved ones, the community, the country, and the world. It’s that simple!
So, any good parent should hesitate, but don’t pause for long because, as my boys said, “It’s a no brainer, mom!”
The second tier I want to look at is safety. After hearing about the horrific murder of the much loved jeweller, Mark Kopelowitz, last week, I felt physically sick. I couldn’t help imagining this father of four lightly saying goodbye to his family in the morning on his way to work, never thinking that it would be for the last time. They may or may not have kissed him goodbye because – as we all do – they assumed that he would be home at the end of the day, as normal. But that wasn’t to be.
That’s enough to shatter our sense of safety. However, there’s another side to this horrific story and that’s the fact that within hours, a crack team of investigators made up of our own CAP, the police, and others had culprits behind bars with evidence to take them to court.
Now, that’s a huge accomplishment. You see, part of our feeling of insecurity is tied into the fact that we don’t feel protected by the police anymore. However, this crack team is doing the most amazing work, particularly in our areas, and it’s fighting crime in a way that it hasn’t been fought for decades. They are bringing back our sense of security.
One of the worst issues regarding crime is criminals getting away with it. In so doing, they have no fear of doing it again and again, encouraging mayhem and an attitude that they are all powerful. This crack team is showing them that crime will no longer pay. They are changing the face of crime-fighting in our areas. Hopefully, their example will be followed around the country.
Isn’t it amazing how it can be done with the right commitment, people, and technology?
Following on that, I would like to take you to another story we covered in Sandton this week.
An armed robbery right next to a Jewish school that could have ended in tragedy. But it didn’t because of the quick thinking and action of teachers at the school and the Community Security Organisation. Their actions were so swift and calm, the nursery school children didn’t even realise that they were all in their safe rooms because a real crime was happening. They were blissfully thinking it was another drill that they experience regularly.
So, those children will remain emotionally unscathed by this senseless attempted robbery.
Again, these people inspire safety and security in me.
Living in South Africa, we have no choice but to accept the threat of crime. It exists, no matter how much we hate it. We just hope and pray we remain unscathed.
It is, however, essential to be vigilant and protect ourselves all the time. I know that sounds easier said than done – it is. And every one of us is going to let our guard down at some point. We’re only human.
We just need to keep our guard up as much as possible and, should something happen, we must do whatever it takes to safeguard ourselves, our children, and those around us.
More and more, I’m seeing people doing just that. We may not personally be able to stop crime, but we can do our best to avoid it or use what we have learned to teach others.
Nicky Sher had a horrific experience when hijackers took her on a joyride, leaving her fearing for her life. (See page 3.) Incredibly, this brave woman has come out with her story in order to help others who may find themselves in a similar situation. She wants to warn and help them.
So, when I say that I believe these needs are being met, I really do. I see heroes emerging. I see a community gathering to put an end to the darkness in the only way we know how.
I feel inspired and happy!
No more double standards
When the South African government hosts the foreign affairs minister of another country, it’s generally good news. When we welcome leadership from elsewhere, it mostly means increased co-operation between the two states, building relationships, and boosting trade.
In fact, in the past 18 months, in spite of the pandemic, we have hosted a number of leaders, including President Emmanuel Macron of France; Spanish secretary of state for foreign affairs, Cristina Gallach Figueras; Algerian Foreign Affairs Minister Sabri Boukadoum; Dr Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, the president of the Republic of Malawi; and Lesotho Prime Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro.
The countries we invite or simply welcome are varied, some being more or less important to us in terms of trade and bilateral agreements. Some official visitors are more or less impressive to host. Nevertheless, making friends and influencing other governments is generally a good sign in a country’s leadership.
Considering this, I would expect to be glad when South African International Relations and Cooperation Minister Dr Naledi Pandor hosted and welcomed with open arms the minister of foreign affairs and expatriates of the state of Palestine, Dr Riad Malki. It’s neither here nor there if such a country in fact exists. South Africa should be enhancing relationships with other leaders around the world.
However, it gets stuck in my throat when the same honour isn’t proffered to the leadership of Israel. In fact, our dear minister of international relations and cooperation is unlikely to be available for such a meeting even if it was hosted in her honour.
But yet, at the same time, she will have these warm and friendly meetings with this Palestinian leader, talking about peace in the Middle East and finding a two-state solution. This actually sounds wonderful, except that you cannot work towards peace by dealing with only one side. You cannot negotiate peace without both parties being given an equal platform, or am I somehow mistaken?
Let’s talk more about creating an equal platform. In their discussions, the foreign ministers of South African and ‘Palestine’ agreed to do all they could to remove Israel’s newly bestowed observer status at the African Union. Why, you may ask? Quite simply, to punish Israel. Is that a way of working towards peace between Israelis and Palestinians? I think not.
Then, while Pandor is going to welcome Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for a state visit to South Africa, she wouldn’t be seen anywhere near the company of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. And, the latter’s crime? None that I know of, but we would have to ask the very learned Dr Pandor.
The Palestinian and South African bilateral discussions also brought about agreement to host a Cape Town conference for Palestinian heads of missions in Africa this year where the “state of Palestine’s policy towards Africa” will be discussed and contemplated. What are the chances of our government hosting such a conference for Israelis? The truth is, in this instance, I’m sure holding such a conference for Israelis would be perfectly acceptable, only it would inspire a huge protest, and so on.
So, I repeat, government hosting this Palestinian leader is essentially good news, as is its hosting of most other leaders. However, it’s the double standards that irk me.
Though South Africa will entertain leaders from countries with horrific human-rights records, it won’t meet Israel. China is way up on this index, as is Libya, Syria, Iran, all of whom are friends of our government, but not Israel (which doesn’t really feature on this abusive list).
What’s so perplexing for me is that it seems like South Africa is being left behind with its anti-Israel sentiment – or can I go as far as calling it South Africa’s blind spot?
Most countries in the world recognise these days that a relationship with Israel can only be good for them. Israel is way ahead of so many countries in terms of technology, agriculture, science, and even medicine, that it’s worthwhile to maintain a good working relationship with it.
So many African countries with a good relationship with Israel have benefited hugely on numerous fronts, but South Africa cannot or will not consider this.
I totally understand that a country with a background of human-rights abuses would find it unconscionable to be friends with a country that commits human-rights abuses. If Israel was really such a country, then perhaps we wouldn’t have room to talk.
However, Israel is in the heart of the Middle East, nestled among a number of countries where human-rights abuses are horrific. And yet, South Africa picks this tiny country to put its pins into, ignoring the friends it has that commit human-rights abuses. I say it again: these are very convenient double standards!
I also understand looking out for Palestinian women and children who have been treated badly and made homeless. I feel for them, and wish I could help them. However, what about Afghan women and children? Or is it okay to abuse them or ignore the fact that they are being abused because it isn’t woke to protest against that?
I feel as if I have said this all before, and I know I have. However, somehow, it seems important to come back to it when our government’s double standards are being showcased once again when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians.
I can’t ignore it. We can’t ignore it.
The only solution is to make it clear that if the South African government or our foreign affairs minister is going to meet Palestinian leaders, then she needs to meet Israeli leaders. She needs to get to know the issues from both sides, to sit down and discuss them. Visit Israel. See for herself. Don’t take it from others. Do the research, and make up her own mind based on the facts.
It isn’t rocket science. It’s simply taking away the blinkers of prejudice and replacing them with the facts. We can help! Just say the word.
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