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‘Golden Girls’ reunite during lockdown

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Lockdown has had numerous negative repercussions, but it has also led to some new beginnings. For a group of Sephardi women who grew up together, it offered a chance to build an even closer bond and to start a walking group that has given them a new lease on life.

“We call ourselves the Golden Girls,” says Yvette Zive. “There are about four to six of us who meet every day to walk together. We all come from the [Belgian] Congo [now Democratic Republic of Congo], and were friends from about the age of three. Our parents were friends from Rhodes Island. Some of them were sent to the concentration camps, survived, and they met up again in the Congo,” she says.

“So we are the second generation. Even as we raised our own families, we kept in touch. Some members of the group eventually moved to Belgium or South Africa, but we all celebrated each other’s simchas together. Of those in Cape Town, we lived in different suburbs, but are now all in Sea Point.” In a case of coming full circle, they all live within walking distance of each other, just like when they were children.

“We always kept our traditions,” says another member of the group, Rina Ades. “At home, our parents spoke in French and Ladino, which they passed on to us, and of course, our mothers taught us to cook Sephardic food.”

Most of the Golden Girls lost their husbands in the past four years, and while they are close to their children and grandchildren, lockdown gave them an opportunity to strengthen their bond.

“In early lockdown, we WhatsApped every day, and sometimes delivered flowers to each other. When we were allowed to go out, we decided to walk together for an hour. None of us were really ‘walking people’, but it was the only way we could see each other.” They now can’t imagine life without their daily walk.

“We walk and reminisce about our younger days, our parents, their friendships, and how we used to ride bicycles to each other’s houses. Monique Cohen and I come from the same village – Kipushi – and we lived in the same street. It’s 69 years of friendship,” says Zive. “We keep threatening to hire bikes and ride on the Sea Point promenade!”

“We have known each other since birth,” Cohen says. “In 1967, Yvette went to Rhodesia, and I went to Belgium. We met again in South Africa.”

Three of the women, including Zive, celebrated their 70th birthday under lockdown in May, June, and July. Although it wasn’t what they expected, being able to see their childhood friends to celebrate more than made up for any big parties that couldn’t happen. “It’s important to always look on the good side of things. Being negative is easy, being positive is much more difficult, but it makes the world of difference,” says Zive.

If it’s raining, the Golden Girls WhatsApp each other and discuss their days. “Some enjoy cooking or painting. I love arts and crafts, so we have also been to Clay Cafe to paint ceramics. When we walk, we sometimes stop for coffee or ice cream, always in the open air,” says Zive.

As the women are in the age bracket that is more at risk of COVID-19, they are careful and responsible in how and where they gather. “You have to live each day at a time, and do your best,” says Zive. Over Shabbat and on the weekend, they are usually with their families, but sometimes see each other.

To others who are alone or feel lonely under lockdown, Zive advises that they “reconnect with someone. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a friend, it can be a neighbour or family member. In our building, we phone each other on a Friday to wish each other Shabbat Shalom. It’s important to find someone to connect with.”

The group’s regular walkers are sometimes joined by others who come and go, and who are always welcomed warmly with open arms. “As long as we are all still in South Africa, we will always get together. Our children are also friends – the third generation of friendships,” says Zive. “Then, we have members of the group in Brussels, Israel, and all over the world. With all the new technology, it’s easier to keep in touch. We are a very close-knit community.”

“COVID-19 has been quite stressful, so going on a walk with old friends is just the best medicine,” Cohen says.

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