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Finding G-d in fresh herbs




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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  1. Maxine Fine

    Feb 25, 2021 at 12:18 pm

    I so enjoy your columns. They never disappoint. I am sure of a good chuckle for the rest of the day. This post reminded me of the time we lost our 2-year-old son at the Botanical Gardens in Durban, Pietermaritzburg or Joburg. The location is less important than the grand hunt for the small child. Everyone joined in the search. Eventually he was found sitting under a bush. When we asked him why he didn’t shout, he looked perplexed. It was obvious. He didn’t feel lost.
    We didn’t yet know, but he’s autistic.

  2. Lucy Jacobson

    Feb 25, 2021 at 12:39 pm

    Love this story!!

  3. Deanna Isaacs

    Feb 25, 2021 at 5:33 pm

    I loved your story thank you

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Compelled to clean up and contribute



In the early days of his presidency, when the United States was all but crippled by the effects of the Great Depression and a pall of despair and despondency hung heavy over the nation, Franklin D Roosevelt famously said, “It’s common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly, and try another. But above all, try something.” As history shows, these weren’t mere words, but a statement of intent that underpinned what came to be known as the New Deal, a comprehensive array of laws and state-headed social upliftment initiatives that, while not solving the country’s problems overnight, kick-started the essential process of rebuilding.

What’s true for governments is equally true for ordinary citizens. In times of difficulty, each individual should look for ways to be part of the solution and contribute, even in a small way. As our own tradition puts it, “You aren’t obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot, 2:21).

Last week, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, as the representative body of the Jewish community, had the opportunity to make a difference on the ground when we joined with our fellow South Africans from across the spectrum to clean up the Mayfield Mall in Daveyton in the wake of the devastating looting and destruction that had taken place there.

Following an approach from the office of the MEC for sport, arts, culture, and recreation, Mbali Hlophe, we put out a call to the community and early on Thursday, 15 July, a seven-car convoy set out from the KosherWorld parking lot. When it arrived at its destination, the volunteers were greeted by scenes of utter devastation, but together with local community members, they painstakingly set about sweeping, cleaning, and removing debris such as rocks, broken glass, and discarded packaging until the task was done.

Commenting on the experience, National Director Wendy Kahn wrote afterwards, “We left knowing that we had played some role in restoring some order to this area. And we had also showed a community in the East Rand that the Jewish community was concerned about them.”

At both national and local level, the Board is involved in many outreach projects with The Angel Network and other partners to assist communities affected by the unrest. Since Durban and other places in KwaZulu-Natal were especially hard hit by the violence, much of this critical work is being undertaken by our KwaZulu-Natal branch, the Council for KwaZulu-Natal Jewry.

Of immediate concern is alleviating the desperate poverty which so many were suffering from even before the unrest, and which the violence and looting has greatly exacerbated. You can assist us in this work by supporting our Food Relief Appeal at SA Jewish Board of Deputies, Standard Bank Killarney, Account 200305190, Swift code SBZAZAJJ, Reference Food Relief.

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

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RIP Fred, terrier of my life



Fred died this morning. Not to speak ill of the dead or anything, it needs to be said that he was a bit of a narcissist. We were never close, and if I’m honest, I could hardly stand him. I’m also confident that he felt the same way towards me. And whereas my family is bereft at his passing, I probably won’t miss him.

Fred Feldman was a Yorkshire Terrier with plenty of attitude and no personality. He was self-absorbed and relentless, and would do anything for a piece of chicken breast. But nothing for schnitzel, because he hated to chew anything for himself.

Fred joined our family in a prisoner-swap deal that went down in Centurion outside Pretoria. The terms remain vague in my mind, but I know that it involved a road without a name, a house without a fence, and a handler with a heavy accent and legs with more varicose veins than I thought was possible. I do recall that we were required to leave my daughter’s “Nuk” dummies in her dustbin in exchange for a six-week-old puppy that would torment me for the next 13 years. Had I known then what I know now, I would gladly have offered my three-year-old a lifetime supply of whatever colour she preferred and an orthodontal treatment plan.

Parenting is seldom easy, but the morning of Fred’s passing was particularly difficult. I had carried him downstairs at about 04:00 as I normally do (he hated to walk so early in the day), and I had taken him outside, where he did nothing but wait to come inside (preferring to use my study for his ablutions). I had cut him some chicken breast (schnitzel not being his thing) and then went to do some work (me, not Fred). Although he normally nagged me to pick him up and put him on the couch (he didn’t like to jump up), he didn’t do that this morning.

It was toward the end of my radio show when I got the message from my daughter that he had shuffled off the mortal coil. In truth, I was surprised, more than anything because he had done something for himself. I left the studio as soon after my show ended, but noticed that the day was distinctly warmer, and the sun was shining that little bit brighter than the day before. I’m certain that I wasn’t imagining it.

I didn’t need to be a body language expert to interpret the look on my wife’s face when I walked into the house. It contained a written warning that suggested exactly what was expected from me. I needed to be supportive and contrite. And sad. No humour. No jokes. And definitely no celebration. I didn’t seek clarity on the duration that the edict would be in place. Which in retrospect might have been a mistake.

I’m not going to win any parenting awards this week.

After 18 months of excess death, sickness, of watching friends and family suffer through isolation and anxiety, this morning was a welcome reminder. It was a day reminiscent of a time when we would focus on the loss of a pet, the sadness of a girl who lost a companion. It was a reminder of a time when we would drive to Centurion to find a road without a name, a house without a fence, and a heavily accented woman with varicose veins. I also know that as much as he annoyed me, tomorrow morning at 04:00, I will miss picking up that selfish Yorkshire Terrier, carrying him downstairs, and cutting him chicken breasts because he never liked schnitzel.

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Keep calm and a cool head in the chaos



Along with continued high levels of COVID-19 infection resulting in an extension of lockdown conditions, South Africans have been confronted over the past week with a disquieting eruption of violent protest, vandalism, and looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. Understandably, this has generated much unease in our community, with many fearing that the unrest will spread to the main Jewish residential areas.

On Tuesday evening, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) organised a webinar titled “Cutting through the chaos – understanding the current crisis” to give our community a more in-depth understanding of what’s happening and how best to respond. SAJBD Gauteng Council Chairperson Professor Karen Milner chaired the event, in which a panel of security experts, academics, and communal leaders gave their perspectives on the situation. Presenters included representatives of the Community Security Organisation (CSO), security company CAP, and the Institute for Security Studies, all of whom were in a position to provide a reliable report about what was happening on the ground.

While no-one sought to sugar-coat the situation, all participants urged people to keep calm, act responsibly, and in cases where they felt uncomfortable or became aware of potential threats, to contact the CSO (control room number – 086 18 000 18) and other security providers. Another point that was stressed, particularly by University of the Witwatersrand academic and media expert Dr Nechama Brodie was the importance of not exacerbating public fears by rushing to believe and pass on unverified information (such as fake-news stories about local malls being attacked). To a significant extent, the problem has been exacerbated less by a dearth of reliable information about what has been happening than by the plethora of unsubstantiated rumours that have been doing the rounds via social media.

Milner concluded with the comment, “We need to rely on whatever well of resilience we have to weather this crisis, and very soon, we need to be there to rebuild our communities and country.”

We are engaging with our KwaZulu-Natal Board to find ways to support and assist KwaZulu-Natal Jewry who have been directly impacted by this serious crisis.

Tribute to a Jewish institution

Many people will have been saddened to learn that one of Johannesburg Jewry’s most venerable and highly regarded kosher food suppliers, Gary Friedman Caterers (GFC), has closed its doors as a result of COVID-19-induced losses. From the SAJBD’s point of view, we have lost a resource that we have relied upon for decades, not just in terms of reliably providing quality kosher products for so many of our public functions, but through the unfailing helpfulness and support that Gary and his team have provided. In common with everyone else who has benefited from its services and will sorely feel the company’s absence, we hope very much to see GFC, at least in some form, up and running when these difficult times are behind us.

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

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