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As the umbrella body representing South African Jewry, the South Africa Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) first took the initiative two weeks before the lockdown by co-ordinating a meeting for the national leadership of major communal bodies around the country to plan the way forward.

Since then, this forum has come together on a number of occasions, the latest being last Sunday. The meeting was chaired by our national director, Wendy Kahn, and included representatives from Cape Town and Durban. As previously, it was addressed by Professor Barry Schoub, the founding former director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, and Netcare Chief Executive Dr Richard Friedland. Both are experts in the field of communicable diseases, and all decisions have and are being taken only after careful consultation with them.

The overriding message of the meeting was that now is the time for maximum vigilance on our part in terms of minimising the risk both to ourselves and those around us. While lockdown conditions have been eased significantly, we are at the same time seeing a steepening rise in daily infections, particularly in the Western Cape and Gauteng, where most South African Jews are concentrated.

Hatzolah reports ongoing escalation in infections in the Jewish community based on the patients it’s monitoring at home and those it has transported to hospital. It’s estimated that the peak will be reached only at the end of July at the earliest, and possibly only after winter is over sometime in September. We have adopted the hashtag #InOurHands to drive home the message that we, ourselves, have to be responsible for our health and safety, and that now more than ever, we are safer by staying at home wherever possible.

On a less serious note, I’m pleased to congratulate our national president, Mary Kluk, who, along with Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, was appointed by the health minister to the new ministerial advisory committee on social change. It adds a welcome new dimension to the board’s ongoing involvement in government-civil society partnerships aimed at addressing issues of national concern.

Also of interest over the past week is further coverage by mainstream media of the unfolding antisemitism case against Simone Kriel. This came about through the publication by Cape Town Holocaust survivor Ella Blumenthal of a powerful and moving “open letter” to Kriel, in which she refers to her own horrific experiences and the kind of irrational, dehumanising hatred that made such things possible. What was truly remarkable about the letter, which could easily – and justifiably – have been bitter, angry, and accusatory, was the generous, forgiving spirit in which it was written. Kriel would do well to reflect on its contents, and perhaps think through more carefully the appalling notions she has accepted so uncritically to date.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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