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Finding our way together




It has already brought out the best and worst in us, which is typical of any crisis situation.

The point is, as a community and as individuals, we need to be careful of our dark side. We need to steer clear of finding people to blame or finger pointing. Oh boy, it’s so easy but so devastating if you are the person people are pointing fingers at. The truth is, those same fingers could be pointed at us.

There is no way anybody in this community would purposely infect someone else. It’s as simple as that.

As I understand it, the COVID-19 crisis in South Africa is going to get worse before it gets better, but we are going to survive it. As a people, we have survived so much worse. We are resilient, resourceful, and so innovative, we will make a plan – or in fact many of them – to get through this. Of that, I’m absolutely sure.

Look at all those school kids who are learning from online teaching this week. Who would have thought it possible, even two weeks ago?

How times have changed!

I’m so proud of what we have achieved in one week, ever since COVID-19 first touched our community.

I salute Gary Sweidan for immediately letting the community know that he had COVID-19 and doing what he needed to do by going into quarantine. He set a great example for us all, at great cost to himself. He had no idea how our community would react, but he did it anyway. Kol hakavod!

The others followed his lead, and we are grateful for that.

The truth is, only those in our community who got COVID-19 – as far as I know – have been open about their identity. It takes courage to do this in the light of the anxiety, fear, and panic coronavirus has created. And it was done with the interest of others at heart.

As a newspaper, we have purposely not named those who haven’t given us permission to use their names. We don’t feel we have the right to do that. This is an intensely private situation with an extremely public face.

Shortly after we heard of the first case in our community, Jewish communal leaders from all over the country and in every sphere had a long and tough emergency meeting to thrash out what to do.

Their urgency and quick thinking was wise, and the combined decisions they made were on the mark. They closed all schools, cancelled all communal functions, and laid down strict guidelines for all of us.

They stepped up to the plate and did what we always hope our leadership will do. Again, kol hakavod!

Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein had to make a desperately difficult decision on Wednesday afternoon to close the shuls. He would have done almost anything to avoid it, but he did what he needed to do as our spiritual leader.

None of these decisions have been easy. They have all curbed our freedom, our lives, and our education. Nobody wants to make these kind of decisions.

However, much like President Cyril Ramaphosa did this week when he stepped so strongly into his own leadership role, so too did our communal leaders.

Each one of us will be faced with many tough decisions in the immediate future. They are likely to all be tough.

Some of us have already gone into quarantine because we are concerned we may have hugged, kissed, or shook hands with someone who has the virus. Don’t “pooh pooh” those people, be grateful. They are worrying about you, not themselves.

The point is that we all need to step up into our own leadership roles, and make the tough decisions about our staff, working from home, going to a gathering, or sending our child on a playdate. These are everyday occurrences, but they have taken on a whole new dimension.

These decisions now have to be based on looking out for our own health and that of everyone else in this country.

I know we are all somewhat afraid because we have never been in this situation before – or anything similar.

Many of us have found our income severely curtailed by COVID-19, not least all of those in the travel industry. Although words are cheap, the truth is that you aren’t alone.

For all of us, the next months – and I have no idea how many – are going to be difficult. They are going to challenge our resolve. There are going to be days, possibly weeks, when we might not remember how easy things were in 2019.

All the more reason to pull together as a family, as a community, and as a country. We can’t do this alone. If we dare to ignore the strict guidelines regarding coronavirus, we risk getting infected and infecting others who are way more vulnerable to it.

As a community, we can get through this. We won’t do it holding hands, but we can guide, help, and support one another.

We can follow our leadership who led the way in making the tough changes to our lives. Let’s lead. Let’s be a light unto the nations.

Shabbat Shalom!

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