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History of SA Jewry trends in Israel

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Mark Wade is happy but surprised to hear that his documentary series on the history of South African Jewry, Legends & Legacies: A Story of a Community is the third most-watched programme on the streaming platform IZZY Stream Israel. This after just three weeks on the platform.

Legends & Legacies is more popular than the documentary Screams Before Silence, a film documenting the sexual violence carried out by Hamas on 7 October airing on the same platform. His series is among the likes of Shtisel and other Israeli productions.

“When I was told that it was the third most-watched show on the site, I was more surprised than anything,” said Wade, the series’ producer.

“I’m pleased that it’s out there internationally and being received so well because people can see how South African Jews made an incredible contribution to our country starting from nothing,” he said.

“This is the first – and probably last – time that South African Jewish history has been documented in such a way. I’m frankly surprised that it’s so popular,” he said.

“Most of the other programmes on the platform are mainstream,” said Wade, “so the fact that this is a documentary and a historical documentary no less and has been watched to the extent that it has, shocked me.”

The programme emerged from Wade wanting to discover more about his wife’s family who were Jewish refugees from the Island of Rhodes. It led him to start to explore the history of South African Jews in spite of not growing up Jewish himself, being raised by an Afrikaans mother and French father, and later converting.

“In many ways, I was looking at the South African Jewish community as an outsider looking in as opposed to being within the community with an established knowledge and history. So I came up with this weird and wonderful idea of wanting to put that history in the story of the Jewish community in South Africa as a whole.”

Five years ago, when Wade decided to embark on this project, he knew it was going to be an uphill battle. He struggled to get funding as many saw the documentary as a “glamour project” that no-one would be interested in.

Fortunately, Wade received funding from the Kirsh Foundation, and brought Alan Swerdlow, a renowned South African stage, television, and film actor, director, radio presenter, and theatre reviewer into the project, working on the research and scripting, and presenting the series.

The duo spent six months doing research. “We started with a little library of two or three books, but after a lot of searching, stealing, and rummaging, we landed up with a small library of 80 books on the South African Jewish community to build our documentary,” said Wade.

Wade and Swerdlow went on a countrywide road trip to film the documentary and start to build the story. “We went from Cape Town to Pretoria, going to little villages in the Karoo, through the Free State visiting old communities, synagogues, and schools to build our story by filming hours of footage.”

The series of eight episodes, each lasting an hour, documents the history of the South African Jewish community not in chronological order but rather by answering questions.

“It was amazing to see that most of the Jewish people who arrived in South Africa did so as penniless refugees who in their time in this country have actively helped to make it better,” said Wade.

The first few episodes of the series cover where the South African Jewish community came from and how they arrived at the foot of Africa; how the Jewish community moved from hawkers to captains of industry; the establishment of communal institutions from graveyards to schools; how the Jewish community integrated into South African civil society; and the way the community engages with the political realities of South Africa.

The second half covers the thinkers; philosophers; writers; people of science; medicine; and the leaders of the South African Jewish community. It covers Jewish involvement in the theatre and arts scene, and what it did for the community.

The final episode showcases an informal gathering of Jewish family and friends while they contemplate the present and future of South Africa’s Jewish community.

The series was completed in June 2022, and it took another nine months for Wade to get the series licenced and distributed.

“I was introduced to a local company called Indigenous Films, and with it we were able to get a licensing deal with Amazon Prime,” said Wade, “Unfortunately, this deal allowed the series to be distributed only to Africa, where it has had its home for 18 months.

“I was frequently contacted by ex-South Africans overseas asking how they could see the programme, and that’s when I found out about IZZY, which would stream the series internationally,” said Wade.

The programme has been on the platform for only three weeks, premiering in June 2024, when Wade was notified that it was the third most popular series.

“I feel proud to know that people are tuning in to find out more about the history of South African Jewry,” Wade said. “People who have left South Africa have written to me saying that the series brought so much nostalgia to them and their childhood in South Africa.”

“It shows that we mustn’t forget our history and where the South African Jewish community comes from,” he said.

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  1. Michael Sandler

    July 4, 2024 at 10:41 am

    Kol haKavod, Mark! So happy to see your vision brought to life. Congratulations!

    • Mark Wade

      July 6, 2024 at 4:00 pm

      Thanks Michael …

  2. Mark Wade

    July 4, 2024 at 10:45 am

    Thank you very much for featuring an editorial on my ‘Legends’ series.

  3. Corine

    July 4, 2024 at 4:48 pm

    We battle to find the complete series. How do we find all eight parts. In order. Not just the trailers. Some assistance needed please.

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