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‘G-d isn’t playing around’

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Voices

So, there we were in the desert waiting to enter the land of Israel, when the spies returned from their reconnaissance mission. They had news which we didn’t like. And, because we complained, G-d, who wasn’t having a particularly good day, decided that for the next while, we would be destined to wander. And while we did that, said G-d, who wasn’t happy at all, the older generation would die out and only then would He allow us to enter the promised land.

There is something biblical about the COVID-19 pandemic. Something unnatural and suggestive of a plague from another realm. It has felt even more like this over the past few weeks with the older members of the community being particularly hard hit. Day after day, we are assailed by news of the passing of friends and their parents and each time, the shock seems to be less but the weariness a lot greater. With each death, our spirits sink lower, and we wonder what our world will look like on the other side of this.

A Facebook advert posted by one of the kosher restaurants in Johannesburg as follows: “Winter Warmer. Ready to eat meal – serves 3-4 (also great for shiva house meal or family in isolation/quarantine)” reflects the gravity of the situation. No doubt more than it intended to. Whether the post was in good, bad, or no taste at all, is irrelevant, but it does indicate the need and the demand. We’re a community that’s alternating between quarantine and shiva. And we need to eat.

The situation in Gauteng is grave. Hospitals are on divert, beds are scarce, and schools are trying the best as they can to remain open. Netcare has announced the suspension of visitors to protect patients, and educators are forced to decide daily which grades and classes need to be quarantined so as to protect the environment. Daily shul services are now filled with those saying kaddish for lost parents, and it’s hard to keep track of the bereavements.

As a friend put it, “G-d isn’t playing around.”

I write this having returned from yet another COVID-19 funeral. Yet another passing of a person who seemed to be in their prime, who had children, who although adults, are too young to be mourning. And a wife far too young to be a widow. My fingers are tired and my heart is weary from sending WhatsApps to people asking if they would prefer me not to attend a service because of the numbers and regulations. And although I might process the world through words, I find that I have none that can be any comfort.

Not to the bereaved and not to myself.

The list of names that I include in my prayers is too long. And then just like that, it’s too short. We’re living through a time that is infused with loss and punctuated with sorrow. We’re seeing those a few years older than us disappear before our eyes. And we seem unable to stop it.

The only thing that we can do is to be as cautious and careful as possible. We have tested the alternative, and the results speak for themselves. We might not understand why this is happening and why our generation has been chosen to live through it. But I do know that we need to introspect, reconnect with faith, and accept that we don’t control this world.

G-d, it seems, isn’t playing around.

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Voices

COVID 19 – the battle continues

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With the third wave of COVID-19 infections well and truly upon us, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) last week convened a national COVID-19 call with medical experts and representatives of major communal bodies from around the country. Discussion centred on the handling of schools, shuls, and communal functions. While we will continue to do all that we can at the collective level to guide our community at this worrying time, we reiterate the crucial need for every individual to take personal responsibility by strictly observing all COVID-19-related protocols and thereby minimising risk to themselves and those around them.

Last week, COVID-19 deprived our community of another of its most distinguished and devoted leaders, Victor Gordon. One of the guiding lights of Pretoria Jewry and a man of many talents, Gordon served South African Jewry in a range of capacities. Among other positions, he was president of the SAJBD Pretoria council for eight years, in which capacity he also sat on the SAJBD national executive council. He was also an invaluable member of the Zionist Federation media team, where his considerable writing skills were put to excellent use in the many articles and letters in defence of Israel that appeared over more than a decade. We extend our sincerest condolences to our Pretoria colleagues and in particular to the Gordon family during this very sad time.

Calling antisemites to account

Unreflecting bias against Israel is problematic in and of itself, but it brings with it the added risk of such rhetoric crossing the line into Jews as a whole being denigrated and defamed. Such was the case with an interview programme on Power FM broadcast during the recent Gaza conflict, in which several callers were allowed to make a range of malevolent comments on the theme of global Jewish domination (including explicitly invoking the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion) without at any point being challenged by the host. Our initial approach to the station was to request that someone who could respond to these stereotypically antisemitic canards appear on the same show, and in that regard, we offered to facilitate an interview with a suitable overseas expert.

In spite of being offered a reasonable, non-confrontational way of addressing the problem it had caused, Power FM chose to drag its heels as well as to try to impose objectionable conditions on the manner in which the interview would be conducted. The conciliatory approach having failed, the SAJBD then decided to escalate the matter by taking it to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA). In our letter of complaint, we explained the fundamentally racist and defamatory nature of what had been said on the show, as well as stressing the signal failure of the host to contradict it. (Indeed, the latter’s response when being challenged by another caller on a later show was to deny that anything wrong had been said.) The BCCSA has acknowledged receipt of our complaint, and advised that it will revert as soon as it has received Power FM’s response.

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

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Voices

Like Zurich – without the chocolates

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One of the vivid memories that I have about the period in my life spent on planes was taking off from Zurich Airport on the way to Munich early one November morning. It was a dark, cold, and wet morning. No one looked happy, and very few seemed filled with the joy of living, which might have been expected considering that it was Switzerland, where a smile is no one’s resting face. It was so dank that when we boarded the flight, it was impossible to tell if the water on the window was rain or cloud moisture.

As we began to taxi, the captain welcomed us on board and gave us some details about the short flight. The weather in Munich was apparently much the same, but the flying conditions would be good. Because, as he explained, “it’s a beautiful day a few metres up”. Shortly after, we took off and he was right. It took seconds for the cabin to fill with sunshine. Suddenly everything looked colourful and bright, and I’m certain that even some of the Swiss might have smiled. On the ground, in the grey and the dark, it would have been impossible to imagine what a magnificent day awaited us.

This week, South Africa felt like Zurich. Without the chocolates, banks, the Alps, and electricity. And water. And watches. And trams, and snow. It was similar in that it felt dark and grey, and it was impossible to know what was causing the water on the windows. Was it COVID-19 or the infrastructure failure or vaccine delay? Was it the fact that we can’t socialise and that we don’t laugh nearly as much as we need to, or that it’s hard to imagine the sun shining again.

I bumped into a friend when I was walking on Shabbat. After he asked me how I was, he gave me his theory as to why it’s particularly bad at the moment. He said that bad things have always happened. People have always died before their time, and things have always gone wrong. But normally, there is more balance. After a difficult week, we can get together with friends, have a drink and laugh. Now it feels like all that we have are funerals. I wanted to disagree with him. I wanted to tell him how blessed we are as a community, how fortunate we are to have all that we have in this country, and how wonderful South Africans are. I wouldn’t have been wrong. But to say it would have been empty.

It also doesn’t help to repeat that it’s “darkest before the dawn”, that “this too shall pass”, and that there is “light at the end of the tunnel”. And that “every cloud has a silver lining”. All might be true, but none are helpful.

What helps me at a time like this is to find a role to play. We each have a “job”, and a way that we can assist in helping others get through this time. Purpose is a life saver. And it has saved my life even before it helped others. It also helps me to think of that November morning in Zurich when it was hard to imagine the sunshine. Until we took off and within seconds, we saw what a magnificent day was waiting for us. Just where we couldn’t see it.

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Voices

ORT Jet – helping small Jewish businesses and changing people’s lives

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ORT Jet was founded by key stakeholders in the community in 2005 to support Jewish businesses, and since then, the shift in the business world has been startling. Over the years, ORT Jet has worked with a large network of mentors, facilitators, and staff to assist businesses in need in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban.

“ORT Jet attracts Jewish business people who need help to grow existing businesses. Others are struggling to make their businesses profitable, and need a combination of training and mentorship to help solve issues. ORT Jet also receives many entrepreneurs wanting to take a business idea further. The invaluable mentorship, training, and resources they receive has been paramount to the success of thousands of businesses over the years,” says ORT SA Chief Executive Ariellah Rosenberg.

ORT Jet has three sets of specialised panels consisting of experienced business mentors. The first is business’ first “port of call” where the state of the business is analysed. Every three to six months, the catch-up panel assesses its progress, and allocates a new mentor if necessary. During the business’ journey with ORT Jet, it may meet the creative thinking panel, which will shift thinking and help the business to look at the world differently.

An extra panel was formed during the global pandemic called the business rescue panel. It gave advice to businesses in financial distress by directing them to the Gesher Fund and providing them with information to stay afloat.

“My mentor is incredible. I’ve sat with him twice already in the past week, and I feel like I have another partner in the business. He’s deeply interested in what we do, and assists with things like management strategy, auditors, legal matters, even networking, says ORT Jet beneficiary Darryl Epstein.

“We recently ran our fifth business induction for the year. We attracted a variety of businesses, start-ups, and people with wonderful business ideas. Today, one needs to look at what the world needs and adapt accordingly. Change brings opportunities, and those with creative and open mind-sets will thrive,” says ORT Jet HOD Helene Itzkin.

The ORT Jet impact on the community is evident. Through its webinars, people are trained from all over the world. For extra value add, participants receive useful resources after each webinar and the opportunity to engage with the speakers. “The Canva webinar with Mike Said was absolutely fabulous,” says training participant Debby Bear. “Thank you to ORT Jet for giving us opportunities.”

ORT Jet continuously collaborates with industry experts to keep the training relevant and packed with skills.

To access the ORT Jet training calendar, visit the ORT Jet website at www.ortjet.org.za. All webinar recordings are available on the JETflix YouTube channel. Subscribe at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgK1Y634pfTfquMrNd5SjQw

To join the ORT Jet programme, email admin@ortjet.org.za. The next induction for new sign-ups will be held on 30 June from 14:00 to 15:00 on Zoom. Follow ORT Jet on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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