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From Herzlia, with love

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For many Cape Town Jewish couples, United Herzlia Schools (UHS) was not only where they got their primary education, but the place they met their bashert (soulmate).

As Herzlia celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, it can look back on being the launchpad for many relationships that started as strong friendships, be it on the playground, in the hallways, or at the matric dance.

Most alumni who became couples were in the same year at school, and say that the time together at Herzlia has given their union an unshakeable foundation. Many now have children in the Herzlia system, so the school is an integral part of their story, from generation to generation.

Matthew Gruzd is chairperson of UHS – the culmination of a long history with the school for him and his wife, Carri (née Sennett), who is also a lay leader at the school.

Describing their relationship as one of “childhood sweethearts”, Gruzd says, “Carri and I met at the start of what was then Standard 6. It was my first year at Herzlia, having moved to Cape Town from Johannesburg. We were in the same year and matriculated in 1996, During our school years, we were the best and worst of friends – typical adolescents, with long nights on the phone. We briefly dated at school, and started dating seriously in our first year of university.

“In spite of our relationship becoming more formal at university, we had loved one another for a lot longer.” They got married in 2005, and live in Cape Town with their two children who are both at Herzlia Weizmann.

Going to school together gave their relationship a strong foundation because, “our friendship allowed us to develop a profound understanding of each other”.

Asked if he thinks the Jewish education they received at Herzlia has given him and his wife a similar outlook, he responds, “There’s no question [about this]. While at school, we had no idea how valuable our Jewish education would be in terms of how we live, where we live, and the life choices we make regarding our family.”

Many people feel Cape Town is too small to meet a Jewish partner, but Gruzd says, “You only need ‘the one’ – be vulnerable, and take a risk. Cape Town has great people. If you do find someone from outside, make sure to bring them back to Cape Town and grow our community.”

The Gruzds say that the most important values in a relationship are, “Always be honest, even when it’s hard, love fiercely, and be kind to each other, and never take today for granted – it’s a gift, and we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”

The couple emphasises that, “Herzlia has given us and our children so much. It’s a massive part of our community, and like a loved one, can make us laugh and cry. Herzlia wouldn’t be much without our community and conversely, our community wouldn’t be much without Herzlia.”

Abigail Smith says that she and her now-husband, Ryan Epstein, “Were best friends from the end of Standard 3. Ryan was at Herzlia Highlands, and I was at Herzlia Weizmann. We met on Clifton 4th beach. We connected immediately, and spent the rest of school as close friends.” They both matriculated in 1999.

It was only when they were students that the realised they were in love. “We started dating at university at the end of our second year. We spent so much time together at university and shared and enjoyed doing the same things. One day we realised that we were in love and wanted to be together,” recalls Smith. The couple got married in 2010, and live in Cape Town with their son who is at Herzlia Alon Ashel.

Asked if they feel that going to school together gave their relationship a strong foundation, Smith says, “Definitely. We still laugh until we cry about funny things that happened at school or at machaneh [camp]. We didn’t just go to school together – we were best friends at school. Sports tours, Judaica club, projects, school plays. Our childhood and teen years happened together, so we have shared memories and silly private jokes that are still going 20 years on. We both loved school, and loved our time at Herzlia. We took everything we could from our time at school.”

The couple are still close to many of their peers from their Herzlia days. “It’s amazing, we have a massive, beautiful group of friends from school. We are close, and so are our kids.”

Lori Joffe (née Berelowitz) clearly remembers meeting her now-husband, Dean, when they both arrived at Herzlia Middle School. They were friends from then on, and decided to go to their matric dance together in 2004. Just two weeks later, they began their relationship. “We’ve been inseparable ever since,” says Lori. “I would definitely say we were high-school sweethearts.” They were married in 2016, and live in Cape Town with their one-year-old son.

Going to school together “gives you a history of your partner that you might not otherwise have if you met later in life”, they say. They retain a large group of school friends, some of which they have been close to for more than 20 years, and who are g-dparents to their son.

Dean says his time at Herzlia was fundamental to where he is today. “Herzlia helped me to develop my career. The school gave me the ability to learn in my field of audiovisual technology, and invested in that. I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today if it wasn’t for Herzlia.”

The couple say that to them, the most important values in a relationship are, “Communication, respect, trust, sharing responsibility, helping each other out, and showing gratitude.”

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Habonim honours Anstey, a ‘superman without a cape’

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The outgoing manhig (leader) of South African Habonim Dror, Errol Anstey, took his departure from the youth movement after 20 years of service in an online Zoom call with nearly 300 current and former members, friends, and family.

“I agreed to take the job for a year or two back in 2000, and never dreamt it would end up being 20 years of challenging but hugely satisfying work,” Anstey said in an emotional speech to his audience from around the world.

In the late 1990s, the movement had dropped in numbers, finances were in a mess, and the well-known Onrust campsite was in bad shape, former shaliach Ronen Segall recalled. “Errol was the obvious choice for someone with deep knowledge of the movement, its workings, and its campsite. In my eyes, Errol became Habonim’s true hero, a superman without a cape but full of capability.”

In a short space of time, Anstey led a significant turnaround for Habonim along with the team of shlichim and Habonim leadership. His fundraising, finance, and administration skills shone, and over his term as manhig an estimated R20 million has been raised and invested in the Onrust campsite to make it one of the most sought-after and valuable campsites in South Africa.

“This has enabled the movement not only to maintain the site to a high level, but the revenue has helped finance many of the movement’s activities,” Anstey proudly told his audience.

The traditional role of the manhig since the founding of SA Habonim Dror was always to be the “adult in the room” to act as a guide and mentor to the movement’s young leadership. Former mazkira klalit (general secretary) of Habonim from 2005, Micaela Browde, paid tribute to Anstey saying, “You were really a stalwart for us, you fought for us, you had our backs, you made sure we were supported, guided, and you did so with strength, humility, and humour.”

Anstey described some of the challenges during his stint including differences of opinion and sometimes open confrontation with mainstream Jewish community leadership when Habonim was critical of some of Israel’s actions. “It wasn’t easy to be a lone voice for progressive, liberal thinking as South Africa’s community became predominantly conservative,” he said with his usual frankness.

Another mazkir klali, Daniel Sussman from 2019, described Anstey’s catch phrase as “do everything, all the time, never sleep”. This succinctly summed up for him the endless number of projects and activities which Anstey led over the past two decades on behalf of Habonim.

Stanley Bergman, originally from Port Elizabeth and now in New York, the national treasurer for Habonim in 1968, paid tribute to Anstey’s enormous efforts to support several generations of Habonim members. He praised him for his ability to connect with graduates from the movement around the world and develop a donor community to support the Habonim Foundation which he initiated.

Anstey spoke of the erratic provision of Habonim shlichim from Israel over the years, and how he had additionally become a shaliach himself, which meant mentoring the leadership and members of the movement. He emphasised that he had “the privilege of working with the cream of South African Jewish youth” and said “there was nothing more fulfilling than working with inspired youth”. Their activism had motivated him to run successfully for public office in 2011 as a member of the Democratic Alliance.

During the Zoom session, many participants showered praise on Anstey’s term as manhig including Isaac Herzog, the chairperson of the Jewish Agency for Israel, who acknowledged the “outstanding contribution” that he had made to Habonim over so many years.

Former mazkir klali in the early 1980s, Stephen Pincus, expressed his appreciation for Anstey’s earlier roles as camp organiser at one of the largest Onrust camps ever, and later in spearheading the 50th anniversary celebrations of the movement.

“It was clear from those early years that Errol had that obvious aptitude for organisation along with a commitment to the movement,” he said. “Little did we know that we unleashed a formidable force which reverberated in the movement for more than 40 years.”

Anstey told the audience that his two children, Saul and Talia, had followed in his footsteps, having attended 12 Onrust camps and later became his “eyes on the ground” regarding movement dynamics. He also noted that it was probably an unprecedented situation that they had actually left the movement before their father did.

Anstey warmly welcomed the new incoming manhig, Wayne Sussman, in his usual modest style saying how satisfying it was for him to hand over the mantle to “someone who will be better than me and will take Habonim to new heights”.

Sussman responded in the session with his usual passionate style, describing the six previous manhigim who preceded him as “giants on whose shoulders we stand”. He lamented the fact that the Habonim leadership was on a Zoom call and not at the annual Onrust camp, and how challenging it was going to be in 2021 without the lessons learned and experiences from machaneh.

“Our first task will be to assist the 2021 bogrim led by the new mazkir, Aaron Sher, to capture some of the magic which will be lost, but I’m confident we can do it,” said Sussman.

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JNF Blue Box enters the digital age

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When is a Jewish National Fund (JNF) Blue Box not a blue box? Never. Even though the physical box now has a digital donation option, it’s still the age-old Blue Box.

This box has for decades symbolised the JNF and the commitment of Jewish people around the world to rebuild Israel.

And for decades, it has been filled to the brim with pennies, cents, nickels, dimes, lira, and francs – coins of every denomination dropped in, one could almost say, religiously every Friday evening before Shabbat candle lighting.

Now it’s no longer limited to physical coins and a metal box. The new Blue Box with a digital donation option via SnapScan will be launched in time for Channukah to keep the tradition of the Blue Box alive for the next 120 years.

The first real Blue Box was, oddly enough, Theodor Herzl’s hat. At the Fifth Zionist Congress in 1901, he used his hat to solicit donations from delegates as a means of purchasing land to establish a Jewish homeland.

Soon after, a Polish bank clerk proposed that a collection box bearing the words “National Fund” be placed in every Jewish home to raise money for land purchases. Production began in Vienna. The boxes were initially produced in a blue material and thus became known as Blue Boxes.

Over the past 120 years, funds collected via the Blue Box from around the world have assisted the JNF to realise its aim of developing land in Israel: building roads and water reservoirs, establishing parks, and preparing the soil for agriculture and settlement. Beyond fundraising, the Blue Box is also an important educational tool for spreading the Zionist message and renewing the historic bond between the Jewish people and EretzYisrael.

Stories about the Blue Box have become legendary. In the United States around Tu B’Shvat, teams of children brandishing JNF Blue Boxes would travel from Brooklyn to Manhattan on the New York City subway system. They would move from train car to train car with these ubiquitous boxes in hand, soliciting contributions from passengers and stopping only when they sensed or saw the approach of policemen.

In South Africa, members of the JNF would visit Jewish homes every Sunday to collect and then empty Blue Boxes, diligently counting the hundreds or thousands of coins inside them. In addition to being proudly displayed in almost every South African Jewish home, Blue Boxes were also present in schools, shuls, Jewish-owned businesses, medical waiting rooms, even hairdressing salons.

In times past when life wasn’t so frenetic and women could spend afternoons playing rummy and socialising, the money raised and won during the games was often dropped into the Blue Box, adding to the largesse and reputation of that particular hostess.

Today the iconic Blue Box (or pushke) remains the link between the Jewish people and the land, and to many, perhaps even to the majority of the Jewish world, it’s a symbol of Jewish continuity. They can also be quite valuable: a few antique Blue Boxes were auctioned by Sotheby’s recently, realising more than $3 000 (R46 006) each.

However, in the age of credit cards, cryptocurrency, and e-wallets, fundraising via a coin-based Blue Box risks becoming an anachronism.

So, the JNF has relaunched the Blue Box and linked it to the SnapScan mobile-payments app. A QR code will be found on all new Blue Boxes purchased from the JNF. People with old boxes can bring them in to have the QR code imprinted for no extra charge.

It’s modern technology indeed, but inextricably linked to a century-old tradition of keeping Israel alive in every Jewish heart.

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Back to Work

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So many in our community have lost jobs since the onset of lockdown. We are publishing their details to help them find work. This is the last group for this year. We will resume in 2021.

Name: Fran Lurie

Experience: Sales Consultant

Education: Matric

More information: I have worked in the exhibition industry for 20 years, and because of COVID-19 this was the first industry to go. I was retrenched and now seek new employment. I am driven, enthusiastic and ready to take on a new venture.

Current location: Johannesburg

Willing to relocate: No

Email address: franlurie@telkomsa.net

Name: Nicole Williams

Email address: nmoskovitch@gmail.com

Experience: National Key Accounts Manager/PA/Secretary

Education: Matric (Herzlia); Travel and Tourism diploma (Travel and Tourism Academy)

More information: I’d like to work for a company which will allow me to grow professionally and as an individual. I’m eager to work in a team structure and am happy to travel. I enjoy new challenges, and having a proactive mindset has helped me achieve success. I’m creative, energetic, and pay attention to detail. I’m committed, loyal, enthusiastic, and give 101% in everything I do.

Current location: Cape Town

Willing to relocate: No

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