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Freedom and democracy

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The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) has had pre-election initiatives at every national and municipal election since 2009. They are part of our engagement with the broader society. Such is also true of our annual Freedom Seders, in which we share the lessons our heritage on the themes of freedom and human rights with political leaders, civil society, diplomats, other faith groups, university and student leadership, and the media. This event has become a highlight of our calendar, allowing us to engage meaningfully with various allies and stakeholders from different communities. Our Freedom Seder dinner this year was held just ahead of Pesach and Freedom Day at the end of April. What has always been a special and meaningful evening had added significance on this occasion. A record number of people accepted our invitation, so many that we had to get a bigger venue. Over chicken soup and kneidlach, charoset, and matzah, our speakers talked about issues of slavery and freedom, which this year had added resonance with an empty table, set in yellow, with photographs of the more than 100 hostages still held by Hamas.

Guest speaker Muzi Kuzwayo, the co-founder of South Africa’s Promise, drew parallels between Jewish freedom as symbolised by the exodus, and that of South Africa celebrating Freedom Day. Sharing his own experiences of growing up in Springs, he reflected how Jews and black South Africans lives were interconnected. For my own part, I spoke about how South Africa’s freedom was hard won, including through the hard labour of Nelson Mandela and the many others who gave their lives and liberty for the right to vote. I urged those present to honour their sacrifices, not be cynical, and to do the right thing by making sure that they vote, particularly now when it counts so much.

On Sunday, 19 May, as part of our traditional pre-election Make Us Count campaign, we’ll host an Election Indaba in Johannesburg and an election debate in Cape Town, which will be broadcast live by eNCA.

The indaba in Johannesburg will be attended by nine political parties and moderated by journalist Mandy Wiener. What’s more, Wayne Sussman will be providing an analysis of the political landscape, and for the first time, we’ll offer attendees the opportunity to engage with political leaders one-on-one over cheese and wine. We encourage community members to reserve their places quickly as seats are limited and demand is high.

Additionally, as part of this campaign, the SAJBD is leading an interfaith observer team. The team is made up of 93 people from across the country and different religions, races, backgrounds, and languages, who have volunteered their time to ensure that the election is conducted in a fair and just manner. This undertaking is a clear demonstration of the community’s commitment to democracy in South Africa, and willingness to be actively involved in the election process.

We’re so proud to have witnessed extremely large attendances, not only at the Freedom Seder, but also at Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron, and Yom Ha’atzmaut. Truly, the community is showing that it’s engaged, active, and willing to participate in these very important moments in spite of the challenging period we are experiencing.

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

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