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Glass half full



The Jewish Report Editorial

At the beginning of the week, the news broke that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine that we had been waiting for, and which arrived last week, wasn’t going to be very helpful against the mutation most dominant in South Africa.

After all the excitement of the first lot of vaccines having arrived, we felt let down. Consequently, it led to moaning and finger pointing.

For so many of us, this seems to be a knee-jerk reaction. It’s easy. We look for the worst-case scenario, and blame someone so we can resume our position of doing nothing, complaining, and being miserable. It doesn’t help any of us though.

And, as is blatantly clear from the story on page 4 and Dr Israel’s OpEd on this page, those of us who had this reaction missed the point.

Yes, a great deal of money was spent on the vaccine and there was much anticipation of the rollout. But shouldn’t we be relieved that there is enough honesty to stop the vaccine from being distributed and people from being vaccinated for no purpose? The fact that our scientists did the research in time, making it clear that the vaccine was less than we expected, should surely be applauded. We should be proud that we have such scientists, and that there are experts now trying to figure out if this particular vaccine can still be altered or not.

What’s more, if it hadn’t been for South African medical experts, we wouldn’t know about this particular mutation of COVID-19. It was our guys who discovered it, which led to a great deal more knowledge about this coronavirus.

I must say, looking at the same scenario in this way is so much more helpful and inspiring.

The facts are the same. The government procured vaccines, the first of which arrived last week. They weren’t exactly what we needed, and we found out only once we already had them. However, there are a great deal more vaccines – different and more appropriate ones – still on the way.

From that point, it’s how you look at the situation. Yes, it’s possible there was an error or an oversight. That does happen.

However, we caught it in time. We also have many more suitable vaccines on the way. We may still be able to salvage the situation, but we will lose a few weeks in the process. Add to that the fact that we have learnt how proud we can be of our medical scientists.

You know, one of the directors on the board of the SA Jewish Report, Benjy Porter, pointed out this week how fortunate we are to have so many incredible people in top positions in our country.

He was specifically talking about the calibre of people who are willing to make time – their own personal time – to be a part of our webinars. He mentioned two in particular, Eskom Chief Executive Andre de Ruyter (see page 7) and Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, vice-chancellor at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

De Ruyter gave up his Saturday night to be put through his paces in answering questions on our power predicament. He was still doing it at 22:00 with a courteous smile, and graciously answered questions to the best of his ability.

Marwala was so impressive last Thursday in addressing how we futureproof ourselves to ensure that we aren’t victims of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

As deputy chairperson of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution and in his position at UJ, Marwala has his hands full, but he selflessly made time for us.

Obviously, like these two men, there are exceptional people who give their all for this amazing country in which we live. This is something that should inspire us.

The reality is that we have outstanding people in this country – not everyone, but a majority. The same goes for our particular community.

Most people want the same things and aspire to do good. Yes, we know there are bad people among us, and a fair number of them are in senior political positions. However, they are still in the minority, and there are far more of us who are good and do amazing things in our lives.

On last week’s front page, we wrote about Professor Efraim Kramer stepping down from the work he was doing. To my amazement, so many chose to badmouth him for his choice rather than to recognise the work that he has done for the community. He put in months of work to help make sure that our shuls were safe. He wrote protocols on safe weddings and much more. He did this only because he cared so deeply for our community’s well-being.

He was angry, and he had his reasons. Instead of thanking him for all the work he put in for us and trying to understand why he was angry, some lambasted him for challenging members of the community who are ignoring the safeguards. I do appreciate that they were a small minority, but it wasn’t helpful, respectful, and didn’t show integrity.

This week, we take you behind the scenes to see the reality faced by frontline doctors dealing with COVID-19 patients (page 3). They, too, get frustrated when people ignore the protocols because they see the results of this. Let’s recognise why, instead of lambasting them.

Right now, we are seeing a little lightness as the second wave abates. If we follow protocols and take precautions, we can hold off a third wave or reduce it significantly. It’s up to us.

We can choose to see only the bad in our country and wallow in it, or we can recognise the good that people do, and celebrate that.

I choose the latter.

Shabbat Shalom!

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The Jewish Report Editorial

Inject suitable caution into Purim festivities



The excitement is palpable. As more and more doctors and healthcare workers are vaccinated, there is a sense that we are slowly on our way out of this quagmire of illness, separation, and death.

So many of these frontline doctors, nurses, and others in the healthcare industry have put their lives on the line to save ours. No oath or commitment is strong enough to make people do that. It’s pure determination to save lives that’s behind this – a life mission. The kavod that should go to these people is immeasurable.

And to see so many of them, who themselves may have comorbidities or vulnerable family members, rejoicing after getting their vaccine is exciting.

It means that the rest of our vaccines aren’t far behind, especially seeing as the next batch of vaccines is due to arrive in South Africa this weekend.

What we must remember is that these healthcare workers are, in fact, testing the vaccine for us. The vaccine isn’t yet registered for commercial use globally, in spite of it being rolled out in the United States, United Kingdom, and here. So, once again they are putting themselves at risk so we know how effective the vaccine is and what – if any – side effects there are.

Having said that, it’s clear that healthcare workers feel very confident in this vaccine.

You may wonder why we temporarily changed the format of our front page this week to photographs only and no stories. The simple truth is because these men and women being vaccinated is history in the making. We will look back on this time as a turning point in our pandemic crisis. Or at least, we hope we will be able to do so.

It was around this time last year that the Wuhan flu began to hit home. It began to sink in that this dreaded illness that had hit China and other parts of the world was heading this way.

For so many, Purim last year was the last Jewish festival that was celebrated in what was then the normal way. It was festive. It was bonding and celebratory. People took it for granted that they were safe when they hugged each other, danced together, shared a plate of hummus, or dipped into their finger food. Even sharing hamantaschen with friends was totally acceptable.

We took our health and safety for granted when we surrounded ourselves closely with friends and family. We also thought nothing of kissing and being unmasked – yes, even on Purim – with people we didn’t live with.

One year later, and so much has changed. Masks are the norm, and part of our protection from this dreaded coronavirus. Being separate is the rule. And, trying to find a way to celebrate Purim while still observing all the COVID-19 safety protocols is the call.

Our rabbis, Hatzolah, and doctors have put out a stern warning to us to totally downscale celebration of this fabulous chag.

In the words of doctors, they are “urging and appealing to everyone to make sure that this festival of Purim isn’t the catalyst for the beginning of another surge of coronavirus”.

While they aren’t saying we shouldn’t celebrate, they are saying that “this isn’t the time for communal meals, events, and senseless alcohol consumption”. They ask that we keep our seudot to “each person’s home/family bubble”.

They are dissuading people from sending and delivering mishloach manot to lots of friends and family as this could spread COVID-19. They suggest limiting this to a minimal number of people.

While, like us, they would love to celebrate Purim as we have always done, they have seen the ravages of this deadly virus up close, and want to guide us in doing what’s right to prevent a further surge.

The rabbis particularly ask that we limit our seudot to our nuclear family and focus on the “preservation of life” this year in the hope that next year, we can celebrate in the manner we are accustomed to.

Hatzolah gives some great tips in how to safeguard ourselves over Purim this year. This includes making sure all surfaces are sanitised and that people who don’t live together remain two metres apart at any given time. They also encourage plated food, and individually bottled drinks. They recommend having seudot outside and with as few people as possible, avoiding the elderly and people with comorbidities.

The vitally important take-home information this week is that we are on the right path but we are a long way from safety and security in terms of COVID-19.

It’s 100% up to us to keep our guard up, keep social distances, wash and sanitise our hands. You know the drill by now.

It’s too easy to let it go when the numbers are low. So easy! Nobody believes that when the numbers are low, they can get the virus. In fact, most people who have contracted the virus were shocked and never believed it would happen to them.

It’s exciting that the rollout has begun, and our healthcare workers are getting vaccinated. It’s brilliant and a sign of great things to come. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we won’t get there in the next few months.

The light is bright but it’s way down the line. We need to accept that we will still be wearing our masks through the middle of this year. We are most likely still going to have a third surge no matter how quickly we vaccinate two thirds of the population.

So, let’s lift our spirits because there is hope in sight, but let’s make a commitment to stay safe over Purim no matter how difficult that is.

Chag Purim Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!

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The Jewish Report Editorial

The many inventions of war



War brings out the best and worst in humanity. And we are certainly living through a world war against a virus. The battlefield is different, the enemy is invisible, but humans are all on the same side in this conflict. That’s in spite of some differing views on how we fight the enemy.

One of the incredible things about the worst kinds of wars is the amazing invention and innovation that stems from these awful times.

I couldn’t help wondering about this when reading about the so-called “miracle drug” Israeli scientists have come up with, and listening to talk about other potential medication that might help against COVID-19.

It also struck me that in one year, there have been so many vaccines created against COVID-19, each of them different, but all said to be effective.

Then I thought about Ivermectin, which isn’t a new drug, but something used to treat parasitic infestations. Somewhere along the line, as medical experts got more and more desperate to save lives and protect people from this coronavirus, they found that Ivermectin might be helpful. In fact, there are some who swear it could be much more than that. Read our story on page 3.

Then, there is much talk about this new drug in Israel that has successfully passed its first clinical trial.

The EXO-CD24 inhaler treatment, developed by Professor Nadir Arber at the Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, was tested on 30 patients with moderate to severe conditions. They all recovered, 29 of them within just three to five days.

This drug was initially formulated to treat cancer patients, and is meant to prevent a cytokine storm (when the body starts to attack its own cells). This reaction appears to happen in severe COVID-19 cases when patients develop acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis this week asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if his country could participate in clinical trials of the drug. But, the truth is that it’s a long way from being proven to be a miracle drug, in spite of Netanyahu dubbing it so.

However, this is just further evidence of the amazing innovation people come up with in a war. In other words, in times of need, people do phenomenal things. Or, necessity is the mother of invention.

Have you noticed those foot sanitiser pumps at the entrance to almost every shop, building, or office block? That certainly wasn’t around before COVID-19.

While inventions abound around the world, Africa has its fair share.

Students from a school in Senegal built a robot to lower the risk of passing COVID-19 between patients and caregivers. The robot is remote controlled via an app. It’s able to move around the rooms of quarantined patients, take their temperatures, and bring them medicine and food.

This is just one of many inventions, most of which we will find out about only long after the pandemic is over. It often seems to happen that the inventions created in wartime don’t see the light of day for many years.

During World War I, a material that was five times more absorbent than cotton was used for surgical dressing for the first time. Red Cross nurses saw its benefit for their own personal hygiene, and the sanitary towel was created. Once the war was over, there was no need for it as a surgical dressing, but its second use took off, and women have been using them ever since.

Tissues, sun lamps, wristwatches, stainless steel, and zips were also just some of the inventions that date back to World War I. So, too, do vegetarian sausages and tea bags.

A tea merchant started sending tea in small bags to his customers during the war. It’s not known if it was on purpose or by accident that one of these bags landed up in water, but it resulted in what we now know as tea bags.

As for soya sausages, they are attributed to an invention by Konrad Adenauer, who was the mayor of Cologne (Germany) during the war, and later became the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1949. He researched ways of substituting scarce food items, like meat, with other ingredients, eventually resulting in these sausages.

World War II gave birth to the ballpoint pen, radars, photocopying, jet engines, penicillin, satellites, superglue, and freeze dry coffee. Each has its own story.

My point is that as we are witnessing the scramble to find solutions to stemming COVID-19 and the crises created by the pandemic, we see people creating marvellous products.

Zoom – which has become our most common form of online communication since the beginning of the pandemic – wasn’t the result of the pandemic. It was invented before, but found its footing at the beginning of the pandemic.

However, I’m sure there have been many other more innovative variations on it since the beginning of this war. These will probably lead to some phenomena down the line that will take our technological prowess many steps further. We will then look back at the amazing inventions from this time.

I’m sure those who have challenged themselves on the medical and scientific frontier, which is the frontier of this particular world war, are coming up with much more than just vaccines.

For all we know, someone may have stumbled onto the prevention of the common cold and flu while trying to find a cure for COVID-19, or a way of preventing malaria or tuberculosis.

We will find out down the line…

I know every week, we record history, but this week is special. Being able to capture a photograph of the first Jewish person to get vaccinated in South Africa is an astonishing coup for us. Down the line, people will always be able to see this history in the making. Dr Darren Joseph will go down in our history as being the first person in our community to get the vaccine and we have the visual proof.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Recognising our invisible heroes



Our newspaper last week was described by some as “depressing”, and they had good reason to do so. While we paid tribute to our paramedic heroes, there was much illness and death in the newspaper.

We thought long and hard about giving you a newspaper that was so sad when we were all feeling a little down in the dumps thanks to the second phase of this horrific killer virus and the extended lockdown. Should we have scoured our community for more positivity and happy stories? Well, we did, but didn’t find much at all.

The truth is, we painted an accurate picture in the newspaper of what was relevant in the week. We did our best to capture what was in the ether and what people were experiencing. Unfortunately, it wasn’t uplifting or happy!

However, it was a week in which we recognised the heroes in our midst. Those heroes are visible. So many of us have met them and paid tribute to them personally. In fact, I wonder how many have added their monthly contribution to Hatzolah and the Community Security Organisation in the last while because of personal experience with these superheroes. I understand why. They are brave, talented, attentive, and go way beyond the call of duty.

However, they aren’t alone. There are many more heroes in our midst, but we don’t always see them. And if we do, sometimes we look right through them when they are standing right next to us.

These heroes don’t wear dashing uniforms and don’t perform life-saving miracles. They do the work that most of us wouldn’t do even if you paid us lots of money. This could be a description of many different heroes in our community and hopefully down the line, we will salute all of them.

However, in this case, I’m referring to those unsung heroes from the Chevrah Kadisha who deal with dead bodies, funerals, burials, and all that unpleasant but vital work to do with death.

They are the people who, with absolute integrity and kindness, fetch our loved ones after they are gone. They take them away and prepare their bodies for burial. They then put them in coffins and prepare the graves. Then they help with the funeral, doing the work that most people prefer not to see. They ensure that our funerals and burials run smoothly and efficiently.

Perhaps you recognise them, even know their names, but do you ever think about what they do for us?

Throughout the pandemic, these heroes have been worked off their feet. In some weeks, they have had to work around the clock. With fewer people at funerals, I guess their work is even harder because they have less help on the ground.

They are the silent helpers who make the saddest and most grief-stricken times of our lives so much easier.

This week, we meet some of these men and find out a little about what they do, how they do it, and why. We pay tribute to them on page 4.

This week, as our first batch of vaccinations arrive in South Africa, we asked the most prominent expert in the field, Professor Barry Schoub, what this means for us (on this page). We also look at what vaccinations have achieved in Israel, a country that has vaccinated the highest percentage of people in the world.

We ponder the fact that while vaccines may help us medically, we still have to deal with the psychological impact of this pandemic.

I don’t think most of us are aware how much grief and sadness and in many cases sheer loneliness we’ve had to deal with. There has been much anger, frustration, and so many other emotions that weren’t necessarily as profound before COVID-19 as they are now.

These emotions fluctuate, and may not have an impact on everyone, but most of us have to deal with them in some way or another.

In some cases, they have made us more insular, quick to anger, supercritical, and constantly looking for an individual or group to blame for how we feel.

This is the reality! It’s because of the time we are living in and the insecurity of not knowing what’s going to happen next. We have to live without knowing what to expect tomorrow, next week, or in six months’ time.

We don’t know whether our children, most of whom went back to school physically this week, will still be there next week or next month. Or will they have to deal with another iteration of online learning? Are we to expect a third wave of COVID-19? And if so, what will its impact be on us? Will we be able to go to the beach this December?

Will we continue to work from home? Will we be able to have some semblance of family Pesach seders this year, or will we be alone again?

This is a difficult time, and even though it’s never easy to deal with people blaming you or finding fault, it would be incredible if we could all dig deep and find tolerance and understanding in ourselves.

We should also apply that tolerance and understanding to ourselves. If you are having a horrible day, week, or extended period, you don’t have to be hard on yourself. It’s okay. This too shall pass.

Let’s all find something special to look forward to. Something that will make us smile, laugh, and find enjoyment.

I wish you all a beautiful Shabbos, one that can now legally include going to shul, having a glass of wine, and being out until 23:00. You see, we do have something to be positive about.

Shabbat Shalom!

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