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Herzlia make cricket semi finals

On Wednesday (March 5), the combined United Herzlia Schools under-13 cricket team faced Milnerton Cricket Club in the quarter-finals of the Feedem Pitseng knockout challenge

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TRACY KLASS
 PHOTOGRAPH: RODNEY BLOOM

On Wednesday (March 5), the combined United Herzlia Schools under-13 cricket team faced Milnerton Cricket Club in the quarter-finals of the Feedem Pitseng knockout challenge.  

Herzia went in to bat first and scored 162/1, with Guy Sheena scoring a formidable 117 not out and Rohan Bloom 45 not out. 

Milnerton were bundled out for 36. As a result Herzlia goes through to the semi-finals which will be played at the Newlands Cricket Ground during the first week of April.

We at Herzlia are extremely proud of a team that showed absolute commitment, cricket discipline and sportsmanship throughout the game and we wish them the very best for their next match.

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Battle over will breaks down East London community

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The East London Chevrah Kadisha (ELCK) is in an ugly dispute with the former rabbi of the coastal city’s community, which has led to the breakdown of the congregation in spite of extensive efforts by the Beth Din to mediate a resolution.

And as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur draw closer, it’s likely that the 38-strong congregation wouldn’t have gathered in shul if the lockdown was not in place.

As the conflict with the rabbi unfolded, the community’s cohesion crumbled with it. This once thriving, albeit dwindling community used to gather every Friday and Saturday morning in shul for a service. They would celebrate chaggim together, have brochasafter shul, and generally enjoy the fruits of a healthy congregation. Today, there is much animosity.

The whole sorry saga revolves around the will of the late Israel Bayer, who died at the age of 92 on 5 December 2018. The will has become the subject of litigation in the High Court and before the Beth Din, with applications and counter-applications between the ELCK and a rabbi accused of attempting to divert funds from Bayer’s estate that were originally intended for charity. The community is caught in the middle.

The congregation’s now former rabbi, Rabbi Chanoch Galperin, went before a disciplinary process that concluded in February this year, and was presided over by attorney Janette Gordon.

Her finding from the hearing stated, “The employer (East London Hebrew Congregation) advised that as a result of the employee’s [the rabbi’s] conduct, the congregation has all but been dissolved. Shul is no longer held, and the majority of the members of the congregation have stated that they no longer want the employee to continue as the rabbi. It was evident from the process that the relationship between employee and the congregation/employer has irretrievably broken down.”

In a notice of motion submitted to the High Court Eastern Cape Division in Grahamstown on 7 July 2020, which has since been withdrawn for procedural purposes , the ELCK alleges that Galperin tried to gain control of Bayer’s estate by forging his will, which would enable him to receive a third of Bayer’s estate.

However, both parties agreed to a hearing by the Beth Din on 19 September 2019, which found the rabbi to be innocent, and the allegations of him forging the will to be “rejected and without any merit”.

The advocate representing the ELCK, Stanley Pincus SC, was critical of the Beth Din’s process. However, the rabbi, represented by his attorney Michael Bagraim, applied to make the Beth Din’s decision an order of the High Court on 27 August 2020. Pincus says the ELCK will oppose this, and bring a counter application, which if granted, will result in the ELCK not being bound by the Beth Din ruling.

Dayan Rabbi Gidon Fox says, “The issue was investigated thoroughly and impartially. This is a complex issue, and the judgement speaks for itself  Furthermore, with the claim of fresh evidence, the Beth Din was willing to revisit the ruling based on said evidence. This offer has, to date, not been taken up by the claimant [the ELCK].”

However, recent correspondence shows that the ELCK wanted a retrial with the Beth Din, but Galperin rejected it.

In an affidavit, the rabbi writes that he had a “healthy and friendly relationship with the late Mr Israel Bayer, and assisted him with his affairs. In the last will and testament of the deceased, dated 22 March 2018, the deceased bequeathed one third of his estate to me.”

In a letter to a number of ELCK members dated 14 July 2020, the organisation’s treasurer, Ellen Ettinger, writes, “At the beginning of 2019, we discovered that the will of the late Mr Bayer had been lodged with the Master of the High Court Grahamstown. It was a handwritten will that the attorneys who had all Mr Bayer’s previous wills had no knowledge of until after his death, when Rabbi Galperin brought it to them.” Ettinger claims that the signature appeared to differ with his previous wills, and the ELCK didn’t believe it to be Bayer’s signature.

“In Mr Bayer’s last will dated 18 October 2017, his estate was to be paid out with Chevrah Kadisha Johannesburg, Arcadia Children’s Home, and the ELCK each receiving one third of his total estate. However, in the handwritten will, the ELCK was replaced by Rabbi Galperin as the one beneficiary,” writes Ettinger in her letter.

The Beth Din judgement says, “It was the respondent [rabbi] who actually convinced the deceased to include the ELCK as a beneficiary of his estate … something that did not feature in previous wills. This was confirmed by lawyer Ingrid Gaertner.”

Both sides submitted copies of the will to forensic experts, who came back with differing opinions as to whether the handwriting was legitimate or not. Because of this, the Beth Din judgement found neither handwriting analysis report to be conclusive.

Bayer’s two caregivers signed as witnesses to the will in question, but later one of the witnesses, Dorothy Manuel, wrote an affidavit saying that they had not been in the same room as Bayer when the will was signed.

She and fellow carer, Kholiwe Fekani, later signed new affidavits saying they had, in fact, been in the same room as Bayer. Manuel also told the Beth Din that her original affidavit had been signed under duress, and that “she had been promised to be compensated for her time”. The ELCK says this is untrue, and the new affidavits were drawn up only ten days before the Beth Din hearing.

Bayer resided at Kennersley Park Leisure Home for Senior Citizens from 2 June 2017 to about 28 August 2017. The rabbi says he then moved him to a smaller facility, The Residence. He resided there until about 30 January 2018, after which the rabbi says he moved him to a flat with a garden and paid two carers to look after him full time.

In her letter and the notice of motion, Ettinger alleges that she and other community members tried to visit Bayer, but the rabbi wouldn’t give them Bayer’s address. The rabbi says Bayer left his previous facility because he couldn’t get kosher food and wasn’t being treated well, and he didn’t hide him from the community.

The rabbi says he had power of attorney (POA) to “sort out some of the issues. This was on the advice of the estate attorney so that Mr Bayer’s affairs could be properly handled”. Ettinger writes, “We discovered that the rabbi had taken complete control of the financial matters regarding Mr Bayer using a POA which was signed by Mr Bayer. We have been advised by our attorneys that this POA is fraudulent.”

Documents in the notice of motion show that Bax Kaplan Russel, on behalf of the rabbi, wrote to Derek Puchert, a board member of Kennersley Park (where Bayer was residing at the time), advising that “we insist that as our client [the rabbi] has been specifically chosen to handle Mr Bayer’s financial affairs, that nobody be allowed to approach him [Bayer] or have anything signed or any payments approved without our client [the rabbi] being present”.

Puchert, an attorney, said that he had met Bayer, in which he is recorded as having “repeatedly informed me that he had no recollection whatsoever as having signed a general power of attorney, didn’t want to sign any such document, was most concerned as to why your client [the rabbi] was interested in his financial affairs or should have any control over them, didn’t want him or anyone to have any control over them, and even questioned the authenticity of your client being a rabbi.”

The Beth Din didn’t have access to this correspondence when making its judgement. In the notice of motion, a report by psychiatrist Dr S Mtshemla shows that Bayer was of sound mind at the time. It was the rabbi who took Bayer to be assessed.

In the later motion, it is described how ELCK co-presidents Louis Robinson and Bernie Aufrichtig as well as Ettinger went to the rabbi’s house to discuss the issue of the will, but the meeting became heated, and the issue was left unresolved.

After further investigations revealed concerns, disciplinary proceedings were instituted. Documents submitted to the enquiry show 12 charges questioning the rabbi’s conduct. Gordon, the attorney presiding over the enquiry found the rabbi guilty of all 12, recommending summary dismissal. On this basis, the East London Hebrew Congregation terminated Rabbi and Rebbetzin Galperin’s contract. They were asked to vacate the community’s property by 31 March 2020, which they haven’t yet done.

The Beth Din’s conclusion is, “The will was signed by the deceased in the presence of the two witnesses who signed on the will, and in view of the above, the charge that he forged the signature of the deceased and altered the will of his own accord in his favour, is rejected without merit.”

Fox says, “It should further be noted that in this matter, the Beth Din wasn’t only requested to adjudicate the question of the will – which is a legal matter. It was also requested to broker an agreement which would allow for the high holy days’ services to continue unaffected. Following a lengthy engagement with both the claimant and the respondent separately, this was achieved.”

However, services dwindled after the High Holy days last year, and with no official rabbi and the advent of COVID-19, they have essentially come to an end. This has had a sad and hopefully impermanent impact on what was once one of the hubs of Jewish life in South Africa.

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5780 – a year of two halves

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Historians use the term BCE (Before the Common Era) for events preceding the birth of Jesus, and CE (the Common Era) for the last 2020 years. Looking back at the Jewish Year 5780, it too divides into BCE (Before the COVID-19 Epidemic) and CE (in the COVID-19 Epidemic).

To remember what happened since last Rosh Hashanah, I scrolled through the SA Jewish Report’s online archives. It was like travelling in a time machine to a forgotten era. The headlines were dominated by rising online antisemitism, the second and third Israeli elections, and the indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the arrival of Lana Marks, the American Ambassador to South Africa (and designer of extremely expensive handbags). The newspaper celebrated the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup triumph in Tokyo, the annual Shabbos Project (the world’s newest Chag), and the failed attempt to get the University of Cape Town to cut ties with Israel. The only masks in sight were for Purim.

We heard from ex-South Africans affected by the bushfires that devastated Australia. Other former-South Africans were worried about a possible win for Jeremy Corbin’s Labour in the United Kingdom elections in December, but he was beaten by Boris Johnson’s Conservatives. The South African Embassy in Israel remains operational, but has had no ambassador since May 2018. So it’s a downgrade without a downgrade.

Jewish Members of Parliament weighed in on the high-profile resignations from the Democratic Alliance. Israel faced barrages of Hamas rockets, yet again, from Gaza. Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions South Africa (BDS-SA) rebranded itself as ‘Africa4Palestine’ amid swirling rumours of scandals. In January, United States President Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ peace plan for the Middle East was unveiled. It was largely welcomed by the Jewish world, but roundly condemned by pro-Palestinian groups, including the South African government.

Then, slowly, stories about the novel coronavirus that began in Wuhan, China started appearing in the paper from mid-February. We read about the ordeals of Jewish South Africans on their travels, stranded in China and Italy. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies showed solidarity with the Chinese community that had been the subject of xenophobic words and deeds. Israel was one of the first countries to introduce lockdowns and quarantine, and was working on a vaccine.

South Africa registered its first COVID-19 case in early March, and the first infections in the Jewish community soon surfaced. Jewish schools closed their doors, first in Cape Town and then in Johannesburg, as did old aged homes. The painful decision to shut down shuls – probably for the first time ever in this country – was taken in mid-March. The country went into a five-week total lockdown. One silver lining was that the pandemic resulted in the hateful annual ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ being cancelled.

The trickle of COVID-19 stories became a tsunami. Families could not celebrate Pesach together, and Jewish health professionals were on the front line. Professor Barry Schoub and Dr Anton Meyberg became household names as they advised the community how to avoid infection. Communal commemoration of the Yomim – Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom Ha’Atzmaut, and Yom Yerushalayim – went online. So did brisses, barmitzvahs, and weddings. We all had to learn to live with the ‘new abnormal’.

The SA Jewish Report broadcast over 40 online events, from food and fashion to emigration and epidemics, with thousands tuning in from around the world. The paper tackled the pandemic from every angle imaginable. It brought us many remarkable stories of Jewish organisations and individuals helping those around them in these torrid times. Funding became strained for Jewish communal bodies.

There were non-COVID-19 stories too, of course. The Jewish Community Survey of South Africa, released in April by the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research at the University of Cape Town, showed that South Africa’s Jewish population is just 52 300. It has declined 20% over the last 20 years.

Israel was finally able to cobble together a unity government in May, avoiding a fourth election. In June, ISIS-linked rebels increased their violent attacks in Mozambique. In July, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng was under attack for pro-Israel statements. In August, the United Arab Emirates became only the third Arab country to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. The first El Al flight to Abu Dhabi took off and landed safely (piloted by South African-born Tal Becker).

During the year, prominent Jewish figures who passed away included Sir Donald Gordon, Ben Turok, Denis Goldberg, and Sol Kerzner.

Let’s hope 5781 is a better year for everyone, and that we can pass into ACE – After the COVID Era.

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Victory as Ehrenreich finally makes acceptable apology

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Tony Ehrenreich, the former Western Cape provincial secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has finally apologised, six years after his Facebook post that attacked the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and the South African Jewish community, calling for violent revenge for the war in Gaza at the time.

“After noisily holding himself up as the champion of human rights, [Ehrenreich] has now had to go on record as having violated the democratic rights of the very organisation – and by extension the community it represents – he has so consistently insulted. For the SAJBD, this is both a political and a precedent-setting legal victory,” says SAJBD President Mary Kluk.

Ehrenreich’s original post in August 2014 called for revenge attacks against the SAJBD and other “Zionist supporters” in retaliation for the deaths of Palestinian civilians. He wrote, “It’s time for an eye for an eye against Zionist aggression. The time has come to say very clearly that if a woman or child is killed in Gaza, then the Jewish Board of Deputies, who are complicit, will feel the wrath of the people of SA [South Africa] with the age old biblical teaching of an eye for an eye.” He also accused the SAJBD of being “complicit in the murder of the people in Gaza”.

The SAJBD laid a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), and after a protracted legal process, the commission found him guilty of prohibited hate speech, harassment, and of violating the Jewish community’s right to dignity and equality. It ordered him to apologise in writing in August 2018.

Exactly a year ago, Ehrenreich “apologised”, but the SAJBD didn’t accept it, saying it reinforced the original intent. However, this time, both the SAJBD and the SAHRC have accepted his apology, made on 23 July 2020.

Kluk says the Board is satisfied with this apology because it “amounts to a public admission of guilt. The fact that Ehrenreich fought so hard and for so long to avoid having to make it indeed testifies to the significance he himself attributed to it. The wording of the apology itself is an unambiguous, unequivocal admission of fault without back-door attempts to somehow justify the impugned statements by rehashing the usual anti-Israel invective.”

In apologising, Ehrenreich said, among other things: “After due consideration of the findings and recommendations of the SAHRC, that I have violated certain sections of PEPUDA [The Promotion of Equality and Prohibition of Unfair Discrimination Act], I have come to the conclusion that in the interest of promoting national unity and setting a good example, it would be appropriate to tender an apology for my statements on Facebook on 13 August 2014. Whilst it was never my intention to promote violence, I understand how my statement can be construed to promote violence in this context.

“I further apologise to the Jewish community and all South Africans for the rash statements that I made, in relation to an ‘eye for an eye’. I commit myself to a more thoughtful and considered approach to my statements and utterances in future. I, however, remain committed to fighting oppression. I will strive to do this in a responsible manner which promotes the values of freedom, equality, and dignity. I am committed to the values of the Constitution. I thank the SAHRC for the manner in which this matter was handled, and for pointing out the error in this statement. The opportunity for honest reflection, which allows one to learn from past conduct, has been immeasurable.”

Kluk emphasises that the apology “didn’t just happen. It was arrived at and eventually accepted only after considerable three-way engagement involving ourselves, the SAHRC, and Ehrenreich.

“For six years, Ehrenreich tried everything he could to portray himself as the voice of justified moral outrage, and avoid having to apologise publicly to people he had persistently accused of being complicit in the cold-blooded murder of innocent Palestinians. For a long time, he tried to ignore the SAHRC’s directive that he apologise, then he refused to apologise unless the Board did so as well. When he could no longer get away with this, he then tried to water down his apology,” Kluk says.

“In the end, the Board wouldn’t budge, insisting on an unequivocal apology that fully acknowledged fault without at the same time qualifying it by repeating his previous anti-Israel invective. Whether Ehrenreich was sincere or not in doing so is almost beside the point. What is the point is that he was ultimately compelled to publicly back down and concede that he had been guilty of propagating hate speech against those who contest his views on Israel,” she says.

Rael Kaimowitz, the chairperson of the Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies, says, “The Cape Board welcomes the apology. It’s indeed a shame and shows a lack of respect for the democratic mechanisms of complaint in our country that it has taken so long for an appropriate apology to be issued. However, it highlights that a prolonged legal battle won’t deter the SAJBD from pursuing justice and fighting hate speech. There’s no place for hate in the Western Cape and in South Africa, and Mr Ehrenreich’s apology shows that he, too, ultimately had to admit this in a public forum. We call on all leaders and commentators to act responsibly, and to weigh up the consequences of their actions and speech.”

Milton Shain, emeritus professor of history at the University of Cape Town and an expert on antisemitism, says he was pleased when the SAHRC found Ehrenreich guilty. “ I’m also pleased he has finally apologised,” says Shain. “He’s not the only opponent of Zionism who has declared open season on all Jews when disagreeing with Israeli actions. Many others have done so before him. It seems to me that hostility to the Jewish state is so deep among many South Africans that one has to ask if anti-Zionism is simply a fig leaf for Jew-hatred.”

Kluk says that the SAJBD has fulfilled its mandate of protecting the Jewish community’s rights in this case. “The outcome amounts to an admission of guilt that sets an important precedent, namely that antipathy towards Israel in no way justifies threatening or inciting harm against Jews,” she says. “While this particular case, for reasons beyond our control, took six years to conclude, it will make it considerably easier for the SAHRC and other judicial bodies to adjudicate on any similar cases that might arise in future.

“It’s significant that even though Ehrenreich denied wrongdoing and refused to apologise for so long, from the time that the Board lodged its complaint, he made no further threats against the Jewish community and its representative leadership. Our experience has been that once formal complaints are lodged against antisemitic agitators, they back down so as not to give the Board further ammunition in its case, no matter how much they insist that what they said was justified.”

The SAJBD hopes this will send a message to others who may make similar remarks that, “If they cross the line from simply bashing Israel to inciting harm against Jews who support Israel, there’s an organisation that will take them on and force them to publicly retract, regardless of political connections, and no matter how long it takes,” says Kluk. “Under the circumstances, we believe that most people so inclined will conclude that it’s simply not worth the price or the trouble.

“The SAJBD has zero tolerance towards antisemitism”, says Kluk. “The fact that levels of antisemitism in South Africa are relatively low isn’t only due to the culture of anti-racism in the country, but also because of the SAJBD’s determination to fight antisemites until the end. People read about the Ehrenreich case six years ago, and forgot about it. We have been fighting it every day, every month, and every year since then, eventually ensuring that he was properly called to account for his actions.”

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