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Hope is a formidable weapon



As our community fights the third wave of COVID-19, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by fear and uncertainty. What’s there to say when so many of us are reeling from losses – of loved ones, incomes, support systems, and freedom?

Edith Eger who wrote her Holocaust memoir, The Choice, in 2017, shared how we always have a choice about what we put into our minds, even though this is very hard to do when we are in the grip of despair. These were the final wise words from her mother, who was murdered at Auschwitz.

Right now, we can choose hope. In her latest book, The Gift, published last year, Eger explains that hope doesn’t mean coating garlic with chocolate. I know there’s “garlic” all around us – in abundance. At the helm of an organisation responsible for our community’s most frail and vulnerable people, I witness this on a daily basis. I have seen a significant increase in Jewish families requiring financial and emotional support. I see our burial services team working around the clock, I see families separated from their loved ones in their final hours. Our residential facilities for the aged and those living with disabilities have been in lockdown since March 2020. With an operating budget of R300 million a year and having to fundraise more than 70% of this figure, I know what it’s like to face an existential crisis every single day – it’s what keeps me up at night.

But I also see tremendous kindness, generosity, and compassion every single day. I get to see the very best of humanity, and that’s what fills me with gratitude and hope.

The pandemic has sadly exposed us to our country’s “third-worldness”. Until now, our incredible, generous and giving community has successfully built countless organisations to care for our every need. Looking after our own since 1888, we’ve created our own aged and disabled-care facilities, our own social welfare and health services, our own schools, ambulances, firefighters, and security organisations. We’ve bought generators, inverters, and dug boreholes to deal with the electricity and water disruptions. But with the vaccine drive in the government’s hands and its impossibly slow rollout, we are sadly helpless to prevent the trauma, illness, and deaths that are preventable.

At the Chevrah Kadisha, we are truly blessed that virtually every staff member and resident has been vaccinated, and we are already seeing the benefits. Unfortunately, this hasn’t extended to the rest of our community and country. There is much we didn’t and couldn’t choose, but we can choose how we focus our thoughts and through which lens we view our world.

King David has given us his age-old formula for walking in this world, and for the choices we can make. “Hope to G-d, strengthen yourself, and He will give your heart courage.” (Psalms 27:14). Hope is what gives us strength. Our hope is that this too shall pass, that when working together, we can rise to what life is demanding of us, and that we have the power to see the good and feel the gratitude. These things give us strength to act and do the right thing no matter how afraid and vulnerable we feel. And when we struggle with despair or helplessness, we go back to the choice we have to hope again. “Everything is in the hands of heaven, except our belief in heaven.” We aren’t in control – truthfully, we never were, but we do have one choice, and that’s hope in G-d.

When COVID-19 hit our community 15 months ago, I pulled out the Chev’s burial records from the Spanish Flu in 1918. I was desperate for some experience to lean on and some information to prepare us for what might come. I was astounded at what I found. A hundred years ago, people were burying their small children in significant numbers. I keep this record book open on my desk as a reminder that however dark things look, there’s so much light. This awful virus has spared our young children. Our choice is to see the light and the good, and to strengthen and protect ourselves with gratitude. Our choice is to hope that G-d will help us, do everything we can to strengthen ourselves, and remember that the outcome is in His hands.

Wishing us all the courage and faith to keep on hoping.

  • Saul Tomson is chief executive of the Chevrah Kadisha Group.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Vacelia Goodman

    Jul 8, 2021 at 1:51 pm

    It’s a great pity that those of us who are recipients bcos of chronic debilitating illnesses are not being vaccinated – if we’re even allowed to given our Disabling Physical Illnesses.
    Hopefully they can also source supportive supplements to at least strengthen our immune system. We have to Still go out to do our shopping.

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