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Give schools a break

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Voices

We need to give schools a break. They are forced to find a perfect balance between trying to educate our children, keep them and the teachers safe, adhere to the sometimes confusing and always changing regulations, all while staying afloat financially.

They have unenviable and impossible decisions to make. And they do this in the full knowledge that no matter what they decide, someone’s mom or dad or grandmother is likely to be outraged.

Ahead of the schools’ decision, the department of education was to meet to establish the approach for the country. The private schools were waiting for the outcome of this meeting before deciding what they would do. They had consulted their medical teams and their own principals and boards, but needed the ruling before informing parents.

This is the context in which I received a letter from our school informing us about the plan for the week. My daughter had been checking in with me in 15-minute intervals to see if we had heard from the school. She got wind of the fact that an email had dropped, and came running in to the room to ask me if school was starting or not.

While she stood there in eager anticipation, I read the email. Then I reread it and skimmed it one more time. I looked at her expectant face, and felt the failure that I knew I would be when I uttered the words, “Honestly, I have no idea.”

“But you are reading the email!” she shrieked as only a 16-year-old on the brink of maybe Grade 11 could do. “Yes,” I replied. “And I genuinely have no idea. Maybe ask mom.”

It should have taken just one reading of the school’s communique to realise that I wasn’t equipped to understand it without a master’s in engineering. It needed a methodical approach, maybe even some coloured pens if I was to get a grip on what it had decided. I thought initially that a quick Excel spreadsheet would assist me in figuring out which grades were going to school for orientation only, when they would be on campus, and when they wouldn’t be. It should then have been easy to see which years would go back full time and what the reasons were, as well as the dates of travel that would preclude children from doing so.

I whipped it together in no time at all, only to give up when I realised that I needed to introduce a new tab for hotspots, weddings, and illegal minyanim.

The communication shared by some of the private Jewish schools last week was a perfect representation of how challenging the task is. It illustrated above all else how hard they are trying in full knowledge that very few would be happy.

What’s remarkable is the expectation we seem to have of our schools. The truth is, no one knows what the next day will bring in terms of COVID-19. Also, there’s not a country or government in the world that has got this right. Add to that the fact that parents will lie to the school about their own behaviour, and you see how astounding it is just how high the bar has been set.

As parents, we need to take it down a notch. We need to take a moment to appreciate just how much the schools care, how hard they are trying, and applaud the unbelievable effort they put in to educate and care for our children. Even if we don’t always understand their emails.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Wendy Kaplan Lewis

    Jan 21, 2021 at 11:06 am

    Humouress
    Delightful
    Insightful

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Voices

Duty to remember from generation to generation

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Tribute to Veronica Phillips, o”h

When Holocaust survivor Veronica Phillips, who sadly passed away earlier this week, was the guest speaker at the Johannesburg Yom Hashoah ceremony many years ago, it was the first time that she had spoken in public about her harrowing experiences. From that time on, however, she was a regular speaker on Holocaust remembrance platforms, including at the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre, as well as in schools and media interviews. Veronica was a proud and committed member of our community, and an inspiration to those who knew her. One theme she continually stressed in her addresses was that of l’dor v’dor (the duty of passing down the torch of remembrance from generation to generation). This, indeed, is the keynote theme of this year’s Yom Hashoah ceremony, where survivors will stress the solemn responsibility of youth today to ensure that the stories of survivors and above all, those who perished, aren’t forgotten. Although this time, Veronica won’t be with us to drive home that message, her dedicated, unselfish work in doing so in the latter part of her life will always resonate with those who were privileged to hear her tell her story.

Jewish Affairs – 80 years young

This week, the first issue for 2021 of our journal Jewish Affairs (Vol. 76, No. 1, Summer 2021) was published. The articles cover a wide range of subjects, from the Biblical writings, history, and archaeology of ancient Israel, to Zionist pioneers in the modern era, to such noteworthy Jewish South Africans who made a difference like the late Clive Chipkin, a celebrated architect, architectural historian, and Johannesburg heritage activist who passed away earlier this year. To read it, along with all previous issues that have appeared since the journal switched to its online format, go to South African Jewish Board of Deputies (sajbd.org). PDF versions of all previous issues going back to 2009 can be found at Jewish Affairs – archived issues.

Exactly 80 years have passed since the appearance of the inaugural issue of Jewish Affairs in 1941. I warmly thank all the loyal subscribers, advertisers, and contributors who have enabled us to reach this milestone. The original purpose of the publication was to serve as a vehicle for reporting back to the community on the work of the SAJBD and provide information on issues of concern to the community. In succeeding years, it developed into the country’s leading Jewish current affairs, historical, and cultural journal, and is now a vital resource for academics, journalists, genealogical researchers, and others with an interest in the history of our community.

Jewish Affairs is housed on the main SAJBD website, but a new, standalone Jewish Affairs website is in an advanced stage of production. Those interested in taking full advantage of this rich communal resource can do so simply by signing up, at no cost, as a subscriber. Send your name and email to david@sajbd.org.

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

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Voices

Finding G-d in fresh herbs

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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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Voices

Online Yom Hashoah focuses on youngsters

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Last year’s COVID-19 lockdown rendered impossible the traditional Yom Hashoah commemorative gatherings. Instead, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), working with the South African Holocaust Foundations, survivors, and other stakeholders, organised a single national virtual Yom Hashoah ceremony for the entire country. This was a signal success, with more than 17 000 people participating. While we are no longer subject to the hard lockdown conditions that prevailed in 2020, the COVID-19 threat is still far from over, hence this year, we will once again be hosting a combined online ceremony. The event is being organised by a national Yom Hashoah planning committee, once again headed by SAJBD National President and Durban Holocaust Centre Director Mary Kluk, and will take place on 9 April at 12:00.

As can never be stressed enough, each victim of the Shoah wasn’t a statistic but a distinct, unique individual, one whom others loved, esteemed, and cared about. For this reason, the practice of preceding Yom Hashoah gatherings with reading out of some of the names of those who perished is now commonplace throughout the world. For this year’s ceremony, we have launched a campaign to encourage community members to send through the names, place, year of birth and, where known, the year of death of family members lost to the Shoah. This will feature in the online programme. In line with the emphasis on passing on the torch of remembrance to the next generation, we encourage younger community members in particular to participate by providing us with these details, even (or perhaps especially) though they won’t personally have known the people whose memory they are helping to perpetuate. To send through these details as well as for further information on the event, write to yomhashoah2021@gmail.com.

COVID-19 and interfaith activism

Confronting the COVID-19 threat is inextricably bound with adapting everyday behaviour to minimise contracting and spreading infection. The leaders of various faith communities have a vital role to play because of their ability to guide and influence their respective constituencies, and hence they have been identified as an important resource by governments around the world. Mary Kluk continues to represent our community on the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Social & Behavioural Change, and our leadership has been participating in several other interfaith forums, including the president’s meetings with religious communities. For the United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week, our Cape Council held a webinar titled “Coping with COVID-19 – thoughts of the interfaith community”. Speakers included representatives of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Baha’i communities, as well as the Western Cape government interfaith team. The event was fully subscribed, attracting many from other faith communities and nongovernmental organisations with others participating via Facebook. We commend our Cape colleagues on this most worthwhile initiative.

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

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