Herzlia boys’ individual rights must be balanced against obligation to others
The incident at Herzlia in Cape Town involving two misguided boys kneeling during the singing of the Jewish national song, Hatikvah, is just another instance of the post-modern dictum of “anything goes”. In a world where values are relative, every individual sees himself as a moral beacon.
Chuck Volpe, Sydney
For those who don’t know, Hatikvah translates as “The Hope”. It is the anthem of the state of Israel, but it is much more than that. The words were written in 1878, 70 years before Israel was established, and it reflects the Jews’ 2 000-year-old hope of returning to the land as a sovereign people.
It is the song of the Jewish heart, yearning for a second exodus from the persecution and suffering of the diaspora. In short, Hatikvah expresses Jewish identity as well as nationhood. In 1944, as Czech Jews were being led to the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau with the accompanying Waffen-SS guards beating and humiliating them, they sang Hatikvah. It was the last thing they did.
Hatikvah represents a sacred value. To use it as a means to an end is to commit an act of desecration which plunges a metaphorical knife into the Jewish heart. Acts of desecration are the very opposite of respectful discussion and gentle argument, and are the province of those who believe their truth is unassailable (the Taliban spring to mind).
Of course it was a setup. The boys had hardly risen to full height when others rushed in to demand their right to free speech be respected, the respect they deny to others. But free speech is a strawman argument and in any case, besides the point. It’s a strawman argument because no one denies them the right to speak freely in the appropriate forum. And it’s beside the point, because even if they were denied this right, it is still not permissible to desecrate values held dear by millions. Our rights as individuals must be balanced against our obligations to others. Rights are individual and man-made, our deepest values are communal and derived from our nature as social beings. It’s called ubuntu.
Some have called them courageous, but there’s nothing courageous about Jew-baiting. Would they have dared juggle a crucifix in a Christian Church to protest the behaviour of priests, or banged a drum in a mosque during Ramadan to protest against suicide bombers? Not a chance!
They would do well to remember that Jews stand in the shadow of a long history which includes the delegitimisation of their religion, the delegitimisation of their race, and now the delegitimisation of their nation state. No Jew, not even these two, can step outside that shadow.
Welcome to new Cape Council executive director
This week, we officially welcomed on board our new South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) Cape Executive Director Daniel Bloch. Bloch comes from a background in the events and media industry, and has worked with many international companies as a team leader and decision maker on various projects. In terms of his Jewish communal background, he is a graduate of Herzlia High School and recently served on its governing body. He is also a long-serving member of the Marais Road Shul (aka the Green and Sea Point Hebrew Congregation). We congratulate him on his appointment, and look forward to working with him going forward. At the same time, we thank and bid farewell to outgoing Cape Director Stuart Diamond, who is taking up a new communal leadership position in the United Kingdom. It has been a pleasure working with him these past few years, and we wish him all success in his challenging new position.
Confronting global antisemitism
This week, SAJBD National President Mary Kluk was one of the speakers at the 16th World Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly, titled “5th WJC International Meeting of Special Envoys & Coordinators Combating Antisemitism”. The assembly is the WJC’s highest decision-making body, attended by the leaders of Jewish communities from all around the world. Kluk, who represents our community on the executive committee of the WJC, spoke about recent trends and developments regarding antisemitism in South Africa, and how the SAJBD has gone about addressing it.
The Board has always maintained close links with international Jewish communities and organisations. By involving ourselves in forums such as these, we are able to forge mutually beneficial working relationships with our overseas colleagues in addressing such common issues as combating antisemitism, promoting inter-religious contacts, and encouraging cultural and intellectual exchange.
Judicial appointments in SA (continued)
The Board continues to bring to wider attention in the media and in other relevant forums the manner in which two Jewish candidates were treated by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) during their recently-held interviews for judicial positions. This has been done by commenting in the mainstream media, conducting radio and television interviews, and writing opinion pieces for online publications. Notwithstanding the JSC’s denial this week that it did anything wrong, we believe that the questions put to the candidates were inappropriate and discriminatory, and therefore in contravention of the constitutional right of all South Africans to equality and freedom of belief and association. We continue to pursue the matter with relevant State bodies.
- Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.
Playing the blame game
I sometimes wish that I had the confidence that I see in others around me. I wish I had the clarity to say out loud why bad things have happened and what we should be doing about them so that they don’t happen again. I wish that I could see things with the simplicity that others seem to when they lay blame for tragedies and the ills in the world. I wish I knew why the horror that occurred on Lag B’Omer in Meron did, and what we are meant to do about it.
But I don’t. And in spite of the confidence that others seem to have, I’m not convinced that they do either. Perhaps they are even more unsettled than I am, but don’t have the courage to acknowledge it. And perhaps the bravado simply covers up the fear, pain, worry, and realisation that life is precarious and bad things happen.
Bodies hadn’t been fully identified or buried before the accusations started. It was, apparently, the Haredim, the police, the secular government who had been wrestling for control of Meron. It was the rabbis, the students, the vaccinated, the anti-vaxers, and it was the “I told you so” crew who predicted this. It was the fact that there is no unity among Jews, and it was because the Israeli government is afraid of the ultra-Orthodox.
If this was a multiple-choice quiz, it might be that the correct answer could be “none of the above”. “All of the above” could also be correct.
Remember all those years ago, before CAP, when hijackings were all the rage? News of a criminal incident would often go something like this.
“Oy. Did you hear that Neville was hijacked?”
“No! Terrible. What car was he driving?”
“Brand-new-out-the-box BM. Seriously looking for trouble!”
“For sure. Really stupid! What did he expect was going to happen?”
We all had those conversations. And although it might seem unreasonable now, in some way, they actually made perfect sense. It was a form of protection from the randomness of the crime and the fear that it could happen to us or to our families. The implication was that if we didn’t drive a new-out-the-box BM, then we wouldn’t fall victim. The goal was to reduce anxiety and stress by somehow distancing ourselves from the incident. Even if it meant blaming Neville and his car of choice.
This doesn’t mean that there are no lessons to be learned from the Meron tragedy. There are, no doubt, many. The investigation into the incident has begun, and chances are that multiple factors will have contributed to the event. And, of course, there are things that we should be doing: seeing the loss through compassionate eyes, feeling the pain of others, and resolving to keeping our blame for a group that we aren’t part of in check.
In many ways, South African Jews – perhaps due to our numbers or the fact that many non-religious Jews have returned to observance – are best equipped to lead the way in showcasing what unity means.
We can’t know exactly why Meron happened. And we can’t know exactly what’s expected of us. But it can’t do us any harm to consider what it means to each of us. After all, it’s unlikely that anyone drove to that mountain in a brand-new-out-the-box BM.
Cubans to the rescue
Being blessed with five children and not enough time in the day to give them all what they need, we have begun considering importing a few Cuban youngsters to help our children to be children. Because Cuban kids, much like their doctors and engineers, apparently offer something unique that we simply can’t find here in South Africa.
South Africa’s obsession with Cuba and her people had me wondering if there wasn’t something that I was missing. First, the African National Congress (ANC) imported doctors to assist in our fight against COVID-19. The move took place at a time when our own doctors were unable to find posts, and yet the outcry from local doctors failed to stop the initiative.
And now, in their latest Cuban import programme, it was announced that 24 engineers from Cuba had arrived and been welcomed in order to assist with water, sanitation, and infrastructure. According to the department, “The highly-qualified Cuban specialists will assist as advisors at provincial and local levels across the country, sharing their vast skills in the areas of mechanical, electrical, and civil engineering, as well as project management.”
Not everyone was happy. Political parties and labour organisations criticised the government’s decision to obtain help from Cuba at the expense of local talent.
Labour union Solidarity went so far as to send the department a list of 120 South African engineers who it said were qualified, competent, and willing to help fix the country’s water infrastructure. The union said it was unjustified to import foreign workers in the midst of an unemployment crisis, with South Africa’s official unemployment rate at almost 33%.
But the ANC remains undeterred. It’s clear that the government knows something we don’t. And it cannot be without good reason that it places such immense faith in the quality and expertise of this remarkable nation.
To be fair, I have never met a Cuban I didn’t like. Not that I have ever met one. But I trust the research the government has done, which made me wonder if there isn’t a pool of talent that could be the answer to some of our other challenges.
What if we could consider Cubans to fill roles at home and in our community? With the shortage, for example, of qualified Hebrew teachers, it could well be time for the South African Jewish Board of Education to start importing them from Cuba? Work visas won’t be a problem, and they must be known to be the best in the world (the ANC will provide references).
Further, I know of many a shul and community in search of a rabbi. Why not bring in a newly minted Cuban one? Mashgichim for the Beth Din? Car guards outside KosherWorld? Community Security Organisation volunteers? Talk show hosts for ChaiFM? The list is endless.
I have taken this strategy home. It has to be said that my wife isn’t fully on board with this, but I have started to threaten our children with bringing in Cuban substitutes if they don’t clear the table when I ask them to. Because, G-d knows, I will find a willing Cuban child who will. And they are the best at it. Apparently.
All said, we do need to be grateful to the Cubans. So often as South Africans we underplay the talent that we have, the training, ability, and quality of what our own country has to offer. We need to be grateful to the Cubans and the ANC for reminding us that in spite of what the government is telling us, our qualifications and skills are pretty decent and our kids aren’t not nearly as lazy as we thought they were. Even if they don’t clear the table when we ask them to.
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