Green vs. Jew combat ends in a very red face
Canada’s Green Party leader accuses Jewish weekly of twisting her words – so they published recording of interview leaving her extremely red-faced. It seems that the harder the Green Party tried, all that this seemed to do was to add a second foot – to her own – in May’s mouth and fuel further national media hysteria in a country which is, after all, one of Israel’s closest allies in the world.
After Green Party leader Elizabeth May MP accused the Jewish Tribune of “twisting her words,” after a “combative interview” the newspaper responded on last Friday by publishing the full audio of the interview, revealing a surprisingly pleasant exchange in which Ms May indeed appears to say everything she had previously alleged were “misleading statements” devised by the Jewish weekly.
The background to the interview was Ms May’s upcoming 5 December speech to Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), a Montreal-headquartered group that favours economic and cultural sanctions on Israel. Ms May had told the Jewish newspaper in a 12-minute interview that “the Green Party does not support Israeli sanctions, and that she intended to tell the group as much.”
May went ballistic and her Green Party issued a press release on 26 November referring to the Trib’s interview as “combative” and “very aggressive” as well as saying some “misleading statements” were published.
That got the Trib’s editor’s blood boiling
May’s press release so incensed the Tribune editor that he, in turn, posted the following a statement on his paper’s website on Friday: “Last Wednesday, May posted a statement to her website that impugned the integrity of both the Tribune and our staff writer Joanne Hill,” reads a Friday statement by the Jewish Tribune.
The tribune is operated by the Jewish organisation B’Nai Brith.
The paper then offers the full transcript of the interview, saying that it shows “that May was not taken out of context.”
RIGHT: Elizabeth May, Green
Party MP, told the Trib: “I
will tell them … I’m not
going to pander,” she said,
and later denied saying it
The spat then went country-wide with Canada’s NATIONAL POST taking up the cudgels and posting the whole messy incident on Friday morning, including the full record of the interview which clearly left Ms May with egg on her face. What Ms May had claimed
May’s Green Party issued a press release on 26 November stating: “In the course of a fairly combative interview in the context of a very aggressive response to my upcoming speech at the Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East (CJPME) on December 5th 2013 in Ottawa, some misleading statements were published.
“For the record, I did not suggest the CJPME had failed to tell my staff that the event was a fundraiser and I did not describe the CJPME as ‘anti-Israel,’ said May.
What Ms May really said
The Tribune’s editor promptly published the FOLLOWING statement: “In an ARTICLE published in the 21 November issue of the Jewish Tribune, a number of quotes were attributed to Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada. Last Wednesday, May posted a statement to her website that impugned the integrity of both the Tribune and our staff writer Joanne Hill. While it is difficult to convey tone of voice in a print interview, a link has been provided of the audio of the interview which will attest to the friendly, non-combative way in which the interview was conducted, contrary to May’s statement. Below, is a transcript of the interview in its entirety, which also shows that May was not taken out of context, as she alleges in her statement. – Ed.”
“Jewish weekly publishes audio of Elizabeth May interview after she accuses them of twisting her words” ran the banner headline on NATIONALPOST.com on Friday.
On 19 November the Jewish Tribune published the results of the interview in a story headlined, “Green Party’s Elizabeth May ‘not going to pander’,” noting that the Green Party leader was distancing herself from the group’s “anti-Israeli stance” said the Post – adding they May had waited more than a week after the story’s publication, “before asserting that she had been misrepresented.”
The National Post’s take
Notably, the original Jewish Tribune story did not make either claim. It does not assert that Ms May’s staff failed to disclose that the event was a fundraiser, only that. May did not realize as much. In addition, the phrase “anti-Israel” does not even appear in the story.
“Nevertheless, when reached for comment by the National Post, Ms May continued to assert that she had been misrepresented.
“It may be a semantic difference, but as my clarification pointed out, I did not call CPJME ‘anti-Israel’,” she wrote in an emailed statement, adding that the newspaper should have written that she was referring to the CJPME’s “stance.”
When told that the paper appeared to have done exactly that — and again reminded that the word “anti-Israel” did not appear in the Tribune story — Ms May continued to stand by the statement, wrote the post.
Green tries to save red faces with Post
A Green Party spokesperson in an e-mail to the National Post Friday on night (after the Post had posted the original story on their website), gave the following explanation: “The statement posted on the website was a response to some individuals that interpreted it to mean that Elizabeth (May) called CJPME anti-Israel when she spoke with the (Jewish) Tribune.”
All that this seemed to do was to add a second foot – to her own – in May’s mouth and fuel further national media hysteria in a country which is, after all, one of Israel’s closest allies in the world.
The transcript of the interview by the Tribune’s
Joanne Hill with Green Party MP Elizabeth May:
Joanne Hill: Well, Elizabeth, I told your people that I was calling about your participation in the CJPME’s fundraiser and about the Israel/Palestine issue as well, because that’s what it’s really all about. So I’d like to ask if you are endorsing CJPME’s policies which –
Elizabeth May: Of course not.
Joanne: Of course not.
Joanne: Because I just want to bring to your attention – one of their policies includes making it against the law, like they want the Canadian government to make it against the law for Canadians to donate to charities that operate in the West Bank, for Canadians to own homes in the West Bank, to own or run businesses in the West Bank, and to invest in any Jewish companies or Jewish banks or any banks that do business in the West Bank.
Elizabeth: There are a lot of policies of the organization that I don’t support and that the Green Party doesn’t support. We don’t support any forms of boycotts of Israel: we oppose those.
So, and I didn’t – in accepting this speaking invitation – Joanne, I have to say quite candidly, I didn’t see it as a fundraising event, I was asked to speak.
Former Parliamentarian Warren Allmand is also speaking; he is someone I have worked with for years.
And I don’t plan to give a speech that deviates from the Green Party’s strong support for the State of Israel.
I think that dialogue is important and I think there are many good people who belong to this organization but who have not thought through what the real politic of life in the Middle East; the positive role that Israel plays as the bulwark of democracy in the Middle East.
Similarly, I’m sure the Bnai Brith society would be disappointed the number of times the Green Party and I have felt that decisions by the State of Israel have not been in the best interests of peace in the Middle East.
So, we are not in any way – in coming to speak at this event – we’re not – far from it would we want to be associated with the policies of any group.
I speak to many, many organizations and do so without endorsing, or imagining for a moment that anyone would think that I was endorsing, or supporting the overall goals of other organizations. It happens to be – I could give you a litany of organizations to whom I’ve spoken at events where, even when they’ve charged admission, where part of what I say is, ‘the reasons I don’t agree with some of your positions on this, that or the other thing, are the following,’ just in the interest of dialogue.
So the Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, they certainly have, they have attracted supporters including in my own riding. Local members of the organization have come to meet with me on many occasions because they’re concerned and believe that their participation in this group is a way to advance peace in the Middle East. I don’t happen to agree with these policy positions or suggested tactics; I think we all agree with the [inaudible]. I think most right-thinking Canadians want to see peace in the Middle East and want to see Canada play a constructive role in that. And, to the extent that Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, I think have made a mistake in thinking that they will advance the goal of peace in the Middle East by basically putting forward an agenda hostile to the State of Israel and I don’t think that’s a constructive way forward. I plan to tell them that.
Joanne: You plan to tell them that?
Elizabeth: Of course, because I’m speaking at their event. I have to identify those areas where I think they are, they are making a mistake in, in, I mean, that’s the point of dialogue, in my view. The point of accepting a speaking invitation – I did the same thing, I mean, there’s the – the Free Thinking Society, for instance, has sponsored a lot of presentations that deny the science of climate change. Well, if they’re gonna invite me to speak, I’ll point out where we agree and where we disagree, and thank them for the opportunity to promote the dialogue. And that’s the spirit with which I accepted their invitation.
Joanne: I see, I see. So, do you understand how some people would see your participation in the CJPME event as a signal that the Green Party’s policies on Israel/Palestine might have changed or might be about to change to be more –
Elizabeth: Oh, that’s why I was happy you called. I spoke to Richard as well. This is no change in our policy or position. This organization, CJPME, they invited me to speak knowing our policies. I’m sure they don’t think that I’ve changed my position and they are obviously prepared to hear where we agree and where we disagree and how, what the best way is to go forward.
I don’t agree with a policy for Canada that says – which our current Prime Minister – and I know that most of the people in the community are happy with Stephen Harper’s approach: that ‘whatever Netanyahu does is okay with us.’
I mean, there’s a more critical analysis of what Israel does within Israel, than there is within the PMO these days. But a pro-Netanyahu, ‘whatever Netanyahu does, right or wrong, is okay with Canada,’ is not the Green Party position, but neither would we ever want to be associated with the anti-Israeli stance of the Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.
We think that a two-state solution is essential and at the heart of that is the absolute inviolability of the principle that Israel has a right to exist and that its nearest neighbours are often threatening in stance and certainly Iran is a particularly worrying case in point.
But so, too, I mean, there was recently, John Kerry made the point that the continued settlement construction, when we are trying to restart a peace process, isn’t helpful. I mean, you can say that some of Israel’s actions aren’t helpful without moving to the position of condemnation and calling for boycott as the list of policies you read at the beginning of our interview. Those are not something that the Green Party would ever support.
So it’s, you know, I think dialogue is important. We have a lot of concerns about what is currently happening within Syria. In other words, there’s a lot to talk about within the rubric of peace and justice in the Middle East; I just don’t happen to agree with many of the policy positions of this organization.
And of course I will tell them that in my speech; I’m not going to pander.
Joanne: Even so, and I do understand what you’ve said, because I did read the policy on your website and I know what you’ve just told me is in line with your policy, and I know that you call for balance.
Joanne: Even so, you’re gonna be the star attraction at their fundraiser and the money will go to fund what you’ve just called their anti-Israel stance and their activities –
Elizabeth: Yes, and I said –
Joanne: Which would include –
Elizabeth: Yeah, I accepted the –
Joanne: Yeah, sure, just one sec – which includes their misleading ‘Disappearing Palestine’ ad campaign, so does that concern you?
Elizabeth: Well, again, I – as the event unfolded – certainly never considered that it was a fundraiser as opposed to just yet another speaking invitation that I was accepting. So, mea culpa on that, I did not see, and I didn’t consider that I was the star attraction. For me, I haven’t seen Warren Allmand in a good, long time and he’s somebody that I respect enormously from his parliamentary work when he was in the House.
So I don’t expect that – goodness only knows that they’ll actually – I have a lot of experience with fundraising events – we’ll see if it actually raises any money.
But in any – I hope to, my larger hope is that my speech influences what they do with all of their money. I’m more concerned with that than whatever small amount they might be raising at this event.
When I went to the Negev Dinner in Ottawa the other night and goodness, I could see that we were successful; it was a great event. It was sold out and the tickets were a significant commitment to the great work that’s done in making the desert bloom. No doubt in my mind a lot of money was raised there.
This [CJPME] event is not on that scale, it’s not going to raise a lot of money, and I think my participation is likely to have a bigger impact in raising questions about those policies. In other words, I think overall in the balance, my participation will do more good for creating, I hope, some questions on the part of the organization and those who support it, that their work could be more constructive if they were to be more balanced in recognizing the importance of the good work the State of Israel does in the world, while balancing where we would prefer to see policies change towards an approach that was more committed to working with other partners in the international community in order to find long-term peaceful solutions.
Joanne: Regarding your mea culpa, will you be having your staff maybe do a little bit more research before you accept future speaking engagements? Will this change sort of the way you make your decisions about those things?
Elizabeth: I think that’s the case, yes. It’s fair to say, I should have been much more aware of the fact that it was a fundraiser as opposed to just another speaking engagement.
Joanne: Yeah, yeah, okay.
Elizabeth: But I appreciate your call. I’m sure my conversation with you won’t satisfy everybody who’s concerned but – to the extent that you can underscore that the Green Party of Canada is very strongly supportive of the existence of the State of Israel, recognizes the importance to the Canadian community of having a strong and stable democracy in the Middle East, while at the same time feeling that it’s okay for friends to offer advice and criticism.
We do believe in dialogue and there’s no – I’m the kind of politician who does things that most won’t, which is – I will wade into areas where most people don’t want to go for fear of catching some sort of third rail.
I’m prepared to talk about why we need carbon tax, why we need to have a climate policy. I think we can have discussions on moral issues with respect towards each other without saying certain issues are always off the table. In other words, I respect the intelligence of an audience and I respect the intelligence of Canadians of all views to be able to have civil discourse and I don’t like the idea that some issues are just too hot to handle and we can’t ever discuss them and in that spirit I’m going to be opening this dialogue with this group in early December when I am back from the climate negotiations in Warsaw.
Joanne: Okay, good. Thank you so much, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: Thank you so much. I hope to meet you sometime; you’ve been very lovely to talk to.
Joanne: Thank you, you too.
Stories from hell: SA Jews remember 9/11
September 11 2001 was 20 years ago and seemingly a million miles away, but for some South African Jews who were eye witness to the events, it remains close to home.
“I still have nightmares,” says Jonathan “Jonty” Kantor, who was meant to meet a friend at the World Trade Center (WTC) that day. He slept late, and woke to news of the attack, which profoundly changed his life.
“We didn’t know what was going on, and we honestly thought the world was coming to an end,” he says, a sentiment echoed by other South African Jews who were there. With all communication cut off, those who witnessed the chaos and horror had reason to believe it.
Kantor now lives in Johannesburg, but he was a student at Yeshiva Somayach Monsey at the time. He remembers that when he woke up, “everything was so quiet. Then I saw other students in a panic. They believed we were all about to die. They told me that planes had hit the WTC. I had always wanted to go there, and had arranged to meet a friend there that morning, but we both thankfully survived.”
He was also teaching a class whose students all had parents working at the WTC. By some miracle, all the parents survived. He also remembers that there were two brisses that day, which delayed people from going to work.
In the weeks that followed, “it was the same heaviness in the whole city that you see in a dead body. The only light was seeing Hatzolah rushing in to help. And you couldn’t walk more than a block without people hugging you.” This was in complete contrast to the city he had arrived in at the end of 2000, where he found people to be incredibly unfriendly.
Soon afterwards, he decided to return to South Africa. “I realised that nothing was more important than being with the people I love. 9/11 taught me that we shouldn’t take for granted the life we have. We complain about the small things, but they’re actually not important. Here in South Africa, we have a really good life, even with the difficulties. If we focused more on the positives, we could be happier.”
Port Elizabeth-born Grant Gochin, who now lives in Los Angeles, was supposed to be on United Airlines Flight 175, which crashed into Tower Two. “Our friends Dan, Ron, and their three-year-old son David had been on vacation in Rhode Island. We were in Manhattan. We were supposed to meet up and fly home together. My son, Bryce, was only about five months old. He was as cranky as hell. I was so frustrated that I said to [my husband], Russell, ‘Let’s just go home.’”
“We came home on the Monday. On the Tuesday morning we had the television on. The first plane hit, and I thought it had been an accident. Then United 175 hit, and I asked Russell, ‘Wasn’t that the flight we were supposed to be on?’ We realised that Dan, Ron, and David were dead.”
American born and bred Stacie Hasson now lives in Cape Town, and has some unsettling links to 9/11. Her close friend lived next door to lead hijacker Mohamed Atta, who lived and trained in South Florida in the months before the attack. “We would spend so much time at my friend’s house, and Atta would be around. He was always wearing a baseball cap and dark glasses,” she says.
Not only that, but she also lost a friend in the attack. “I remember exactly where I was at just 21 years old, learning that my childhood neighbour, Michelle Goldstein, lost her life in Tower Two shortly after calling her mother to say she was okay after Tower One was hit. She got married six months to the day before it happened. Finding Michelle’s name at the memorial was unlike anything I could have prepared myself for.”
“I saw people jumping out of the towers,” says Elise Barron Jankelowitz, who was visiting New York with her brother after attending her other brother’s wedding in Chicago. They were going to stay at a friend, but landed up staying at the Marriott Hotel that linked the Twin Towers.
“We arrived the night before, and woke up to a blast. The hotel’s alarm was going off. Our windows were starting to crack, and we saw smoke and debris.” At first they were told to stay in their rooms. If they had, they wouldn’t be here to tell the tale.
“Eventually, they told us to get out. We got dressed, grabbed passports and travellers cheques, and started walking down the stairs from the 15th floor,” she says. “The lifts weren’t working. We heard people shout, ‘A body hit my [hotel] window!’ Lots of people were in pyjamas. As we were ushered out, policemen said, ‘Cover your head and run.’ As we were crossing the road, we heard this insane noise of a jet engine, and then the second plane hit.”
That was when they saw people jump. It was also when her brother told her “these buildings are coming down – we need to get away”. He also said they should stay near water in case they needed to jump in.
That was when the first building fell. “I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. A man appeared and it looked like his eyes were bleeding. He was covered in ash. I gave him a bottle of water, and as he washed his face, he said, ‘I’ve just come from hell.’”
They were waiting by the Staten Island Ferry when the second tower fell. “We hid under a truck. Everyone thought bombs might fall, or another plane might hit.” Eventually, they made their way to Staten Island where they bought essentials and got hold of family. They lost everything they left in the hotel, but were grateful to be alive. “As we flew out of New York six days later, there were fighter jets on either side of us. I’m so grateful my brother thought so smartly. We went back a year later to retrace our steps.”
Rabbi Levi Avtzon, now rabbi of Linksfield Shul, was a 17-year-old yeshiva student when he saw the second plane hit. “In the corner of the large study hall, which was on the fourth floor of a large building in Brooklyn, there was a fire escape. If you stood there, you had a perfect view of the Manhattan skyline.” He heard that smoke was coming out of the towers, so he and others went to look. Some drifted away, but he stayed. “A plane suddenly showed up. I was sure it was from the fire department coming to spray water. A split second later, the top half of the south tower blew up. It looked like a 50-story fire – like a bubble of fire.”
Later, visiting Ground Zero, “I remember the stench. It was all-encompassing. The whole experience made me feel unsafe. I would stand at the same fire escape and check that the Empire State Building was still there. Twenty years later, I still struggle to make sense of the events of the day.”
Abraham Accords, one year on
This week a year ago, Ebrahim Dahood Nonoo switched on his television set and like the rest of the world, heard the surprise announcement that Bahrain, a tiny country of 33 islands situated between the Qatari peninsula and the north eastern coast of Saudi Arabia, was making peace with Israel.
Nonoo was stunned. As head of the Bahraini Jewish community that comprises only 36 Jews, he had no idea what had been happening behind closed doors.
“For me it came out of the blue,” he says while we walk through the local souk (marketplace) where his grandfather sold spices after arriving from Iraq in the early 1900s. The tiny shops on the cobbled streets all advertise the same clothing, spices, and antiques, regardless of what the pushy merchants claim as we walk past.
“We knew the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was signing peace with Israel and that was a huge step forward,” smiles Nonoo.
“We were thinking, ‘Oh G-d, is it going to be us next?’ But we didn’t know. And then, of course, after it was announced, all the newspapers wanted to know more details and I went to the foreign minister and said to him, ‘Listen, they’re all asking us to give information. So what do you want us to do?’ He said, ‘Well, just tell them whatever you want.’”
Just two days after the announcement, a signing ceremony was held at the White House.
Israel, the United States (US), the UAE, and Bahrain signed the historic Abraham Accords in which the latter two recognised, for the first time, the state of Israel and set about normalising diplomatic relations with her.
Later, two other Arab nations, Sudan and Morocco, followed suit and joined the Accords, raising the number of Arab states with formal diplomatic ties to Israel from two to six.
The Abraham Accords weren’t just a diplomatic victory. They opened up collaboration on tourism, trade, technology, and more. But because they were a foreign policy win for former American president, Donald Trump, his successor, Joe Biden, didn’t exactly call attention to this year’s anniversary. In fact, the current US administration’s spokesperson has never used the term “Abraham Accords”.
Trump predicted at this time last year that about five more Gulf countries would sign similar normalisation agreements with Israel in the ensuing months. Although this hasn’t happened – nor is it expected to any time soon – the good news is that experts agree the inked deals, at least, are here to stay.
“For more than 70 years we have been in a state of no war, no peace, stagnation,” says Dr Shaikh Khalid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, the chairperson of the King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence in Bahrain. We meet in his air-conditioned office where he regales me with stories about his first visit to Israel at the end of last year.
“This is a historic moment for us. My generation has wasted time with hatred, wars, and violence, as everyone knows. People in Bahrain have changed in recent years. If you mentioned Israelis 20 years ago, it would evoke war, violence, and hatred. Today it’s different.”
Al Khalifa insists most Bahrainis support the deal in spite of the Palestinians claiming to feel betrayed.
“We really have to end it. There’s no way that we can continue living in a state where we aren’t really in a war with Israel and we aren’t at peace. It should have been done years ago, especially as we in Bahrain have no enmity with Judaism as a religion. For us, the Christians, Jews, and Muslims are one,” says Al Khalifa.
Bahrain’s Jewish community is one of the smallest in the world although its origins date back more than a century. Arabic sources record Jews living in the area at the time of the Islamic conquest in 630 CE.
Nonoo, sporting a black yarmulke, meets me at the souk at midday. It’s the worst time to visit as the temperature has climbed to 45 degrees Celsius and most prospective shoppers have gone home to return later in the evening. But as soon as they notice Nonoo, there’s a lot of “Salaam alaikum” and back-slapping.
“This is where commerce started in Bahrain,” he tells me, pausing to sip some dark Arabic coffee. “All these little shops sold mostly materials and Jews were very good at that. Many of the first Jews who came here, came from Iraq looking for opportunities. They had an edge because they were able to transact with suppliers from across Europe. They would take container loads of goods and sell them and pay the suppliers back later. There was so much Jewish participation in the market that on Saturdays, everything closed here for Shabbat. Even the local Bahrainis, the Muslims and Christians, used to close.”
Since the 2000s, Bahrain has had quiet relations with Israel and especially the local pro-Israel community didn’t need a lot of convincing to buy into the Accords. But several Bahrainis I talk to, off record, and who ask not to be named, say they are still suspicious of Israel and any peace agreement.
“You can’t expect us to change our views overnight,” one university student proclaims. “There’s still the occupation and Israel continues to build settlements on Palestinian land!”
But while there might be anti-Israel sentiment in some quarters, albeit the minority, Nonoo insists that antisemitism has never been a problem in the country. It’s a view echoed by everyone I meet. And Nonoo’s grandfather?
“If he was alive today, he wouldn’t believe that something like the Abraham Accords could happen. It’s absolutely amazing,” his grandson declares!
- Paula Slier is the Middle East bureau chief of RT, the founder and chief executive of Newshound Media International, and the inaugural winner of the Europcar Women in Leadership Award of the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards.
Mangoes and the Queen Mum: new book documents Jews of Kampala
Janice Masur is keeping alive the memory of one of many Jewish communities that disappeared in the past century – the Jews of Uganda.
The history of Eastern European Jewry in Kampala had all but died out when Masur recently brought out a book believed to be the only one devoted to the Jewish community in the capital city of Uganda.
Titled Shalom Uganda: A Jewish Community on the Equator, the well-researched book begins with a historical overview of Jews in Africa, and goes on to tell Masur’s story of living in a little-known Ashkenazi Jewish community in Kampala from 1949 to 1961.
Although this tiny and remote community had no rabbi or synagogue, its 23 families formed a cohesive group that celebrated all Jewish festivals together and upheld their Jewish identity. Sadly, while Kampala Jewry made every effort to survive, the community eventually withered under the hot African sun, leaving few traces of its existence.
However, Masur’s desire to bear witness to the place where she spent her childhood has resulted in its history being preserved in this compelling memoir, supported by interviews, photographs, and in-depth research.
The idea for the book originated in a modern East African history class she attended at Simon Fraser University in Canada. She began writing in 2005, travelling to interview octogenarians and nonagenarians who had arrived in Kampala earlier in their lives.
Masur herself was born in Eritrea, where her parents chose to move from Palestine in 1942, presumably for better job and financial opportunities. They settled in Uganda in 1949 after Masur’s father, Helmut, was hired to manage the isolated Kampala Tile and Brickwork Company.
“I am a second-generation Jewish woman and have only one cousin who joined us in Kampala with his family,” Masur told the SA Jewish Report from her home in Vancouver, Canada. “We visited South Africa in 1961 when travelling by car from Uganda to Durban – and stayed in a Jewish hotel – to board a cargo ship which deposited us in New Zealand [where she attended university].”
Today, she is strongly rooted in her Jewish community in Vancouver, where she lives with her husband.
“I visited South Africa again in 2001, meeting a childhood friend in Cape Town,” Masur said. “I visited Namibia in 2010 – not really South Africa.”
In one of the anecdotes as a nine-year-old in Kampala, Masur writes in her book that “a rabbi was imported from South Africa for Yom Kippur” in 1953. He stayed with her family, and held the service in their house. Her parents told her to eat breakfast in the bathroom so that the rabbi would be unaware of her not fasting.
“Many years later, I learned that children under the age of 12 were permitted to eat on the fast day of Yom Kippur, so it seems that Jewish law wasn’t fully understood. Still, my parents did their best with whatever they remembered,” she writes.
Masur shares another experience in her book, the significance of which she discovered only later in life. While living in a single-level house that had an avocado tree and a badminton court, she often saw her family’s “houseboy”, Odera, dancing and singing around the house.
“My mother spent a lot of time screaming at the houseboy in frustration at his supposed inability to follow instructions, which I later learned was a passive tactic of rebellion against British rule,” she writes.
From 1957 to 1960, she attended the government (semi-private) Highlands School in Eldoret, Kenya, and noticed that post-war antisemitism was endemic. “Unkind girls in Eldoret would sometimes bully me by telling me that I was a misfit because my nationality was Jewish, not British, although I was naturalised British and my religion was Jewish!” she writes.
On several occasions, Masur stood with her mother in the driveway outside the gates of Government House in Entebbe with a crowd of other people to watch the arrival or departure of Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth II, and the Queen Mother.
In preparation for the visit of the latter in 1959, all the shops on the main street were scrubbed and painted, the road islands were dolled up, and flags and bunting feverishly bought. To meet the dress requirements, Masur’s mother and aunty had to borrow gloves and hats from friends. Soon, the duo laughed to see their picture shown on the front page of the Uganda Argus newspaper with the Queen Mum.
Masur hasn’t returned to Uganda since leaving Kampala for New Zealand as she thinks that “perhaps memories are best left to glitter in the distance”.
That said, her formative years in the country have left a lasting imprint. “To this day, I love mangoes, and growing up in Kampala has made me feel comfortable in the company of all ethnic groups,” Masur recently told the Canadian website Jewish Independent.
Today, Uganda has about 2 000 observant Jews known as the Abayudaya – the “people of Judah”. Having converted to Judaism in passive rebellion against British rule in 1921, the Abayudaya is a now-thriving, self-sufficient black Jewish community in Mbale, boasting synagogues, Jewish schools, a mikvah, and a cemetery.
However, there isn’t even a cemetery to mark the existence of Masur’s family and 22 others who managed to create an Eastern European Jewish community in Kampala. Masur hopes that her book will document and honour what she describes as “an imploded star vanished in the diasporic galaxy”.
Letters/Discussion Forums4 days ago
Tribute to a man who embodies Judaism at its best
Letters/Discussion Forums4 days ago
Deafening silence about Afghanistan, hue and cry about Israel
Tributes4 days ago
Sea Point “boytjie” Paul Sulcas leaves a legacy
Sport4 days ago
The record-breaking, observant “Jewish Jordan”
Sport4 days ago
Bacher hit for six by Boucher outrage
Voices4 days ago
Make Us Count 2021
Voices4 days ago
To a sweet, unsticky, New Year
Religion4 days ago
Learning to fall teaches us to fly