Israel Rugby 7s to camp with the Blitzbokke
The thrill-a-minute Rugby 7s have captured the hearts of fans around the world. The Blitzbokke, South Africa’s national Rugby 7s team, ranks second in the world, and is among the most exciting, formidable, and feared of 7s teams.
Exactly 9 191 km away are the Israelis, an emerging rugby nation that has talent, determination, and a world-class coach in South African Kevin Musikanth. Now, these two squads will meet. The Israeli 7s side will be travelling to the SAS Rugby Academy in Stellenbosch to train with the Blitzbokke.
The Blitzbokke will have the opportunity to prepare for the coming 7s rugby season by measuring their skills of play against the Israelis. And the Israelis, well, they will be rubbing shoulders with, and learning from the best in the world and honing their skills for their coming European Rugby season.
“It’s an opportunity for our boys to learn from the world’s best,” says Musikanth. The SAS Rugby Academy is run by the legendary Frankie Horn, a technical expert whose coaching guidelines and methods are second to none in World Rugby 7s.
Musikanth took over as Rugby 15s head coach in Israel in 2018, and in October 2019, he became director of rugby for the Israeli Rugby Union and head coach for the national programmes of both the 15s and the 7s.
Horn visited Israel last December at the behest of Rugby Israel and its supporting Olympic body and since then, the partnership has continued to grow. The upcoming training camp will begin in Israel, where Horn, together with Phil Snyman, the former Blitzbok captain and multiple world champion winner, will spend a week with the players and coaching staff at Wingate, Netanya, the home base of Rugby Israel. They will then all travel to Stellenbosch for a week’s camp with the Blitzbokke.
“We’ve already seen the difference through our partnership with Frankie. Two of our players were spotted by him on his previous trip to Israel, and have been training at SAS on the off-season,” says Musikanth. The two players are Omer Levinson (scrum half) and Yotam Shulman (lock).
Horn, technical advisor to Rugby Israel’s 7s, says “It is a great opportunity for both teams to derive positive benefit from the camp.”
Israel Rugby has been making considerable professional strides since Musikanth took over the reins. Israel 15s played their 100th test match against Cyprus and celebrated with a 34-22 victory.
“We’re in the top 25 in Europe in 15s and in the top 16 in 7s, the toughest, most competitive continent in world rugby,” says Musikanth, “and I can realistically see us setting our sights on the Top 15 and Top 12 respectively in the future.”
Currently, there are three eligible South Africans who are on the Israeli national squad: Jayson Ferera as flanker (Pirates Rugby Club), Daniel Stein as fly half (studying in Israel), and Jared Sichel as prop (Hamilton’s Rugby Club, Cape Town). Eligibility to play for a national team in rugby is stricter than in other sports. One does not qualify just because one has a passport. One has to have had a parent or grandparent that was born in that country or one has to have lived in the country for at least three years.
“With so much Jewish rugby talent around the world, we would be able to put a world-class Israeli national team together if not for the measures that restrict eligibility to national call ups,” says Musikanth.
The Israel Rugby development project was accelerated thanks to Musikanth initiating Bridges through Rugby. This project is the collective effort of a few South African Jewish businessmen who appreciate the long-term vision of Israel becoming a stronger rugby nation. They have come on board to assist with this most opportune tour. National financial support is fixed and, as such, is limited. While the strong players and national coaches will be attending the training camp in Stellenbosch, there will be some that will, unfortunately, have to stay behind.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our players and coaches. To get to see the best upfront and feed off their knowledge is going to be incredible,” says Musikanth. “Everyone is eager to go, of course, but there is a cap to the support we have in place. We would like to take a development u20 squad as well as coaching staff who would carry the benefits of this into the future. A rugby visit to Stellenbosch can change rugby lives in many respects. Stellenbosch is rugby utopia!”
Rugby aside, with the Israelis and South Africans camping together, the question of what will be for dinner after a gruelling day’s training may be a matter of contention. A tussle for whether to serve boerewors or shwarma may result in a scrum in the SAS dining hall to determine the outcome.
SA teen curates LA Holocaust exhibition
Youngsters who have seen David Labkovski’s paintings of the Holocaust say the artworks are much more raw and emotional than the black and white images we have come to know so well.
“It really hits home. You get the feeling of what these people went through,” says a student commenting on the artist’s work.
Now, Labkovski’s works have been combined with the stories of famed Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem in a new online exhibition titled “Recalling a Lost World – David Labkovski brings Sholem Aleichem stories to life”, hosted by the Holocaust Museum Los Angeles. One of the curators of the exhibition, which opened on 28 October, is 14-year-old Eva Trope in Grade 9 at Yeshiva College in Johannesburg.
In the exhibition of about 30 artworks, Labkovski’s depiction of the world of Eastern European Jews prior to, during, and after the Holocaust, is combined with the writing of Aleichem, who Labkovski thought of as his muse. Though Aleichem’s characters were created decades earlier, they are so true to life, he could have been describing the people of Vilnius – or Vilna as it was then known – in Lithuania, Labkovski’s childhood home.
For Labkovski, reading Aleichem’s stories brought him back to his childhood. He wanted to commemorate the Jewish world that was, not just how the Jewish people died, but how they lived for centuries before the Holocaust.
The exhibition has a dark side, moving from paintings with bright colours and Aleichem’s fairytale-like settings to increasing scenes of destitution. Some place their subjects in the Vilna ghetto with Jewish stars on their clothing, and the exhibition culminates with an image of the destroyed Great Synagogue of Vilna after the war.
The exhibit includes audio tours which share Labkovski’s illustrations of Aleichem’s stories with the audience along with teacher educational lesson plans combining the art and literature.
The combination is a powerful way to educate viewers, particularly youngsters. “I could stare at the works for hours,” Trope says of the exhibition. “The placing of the people, buildings, the colour of the sky … many of the Holocaust stories I found unrelatable before have come to life.”
Trope, who “loves art in all its forms”, got involved in the exhibition through a poetry competition organised by the David Labkovski Project (DLP) earlier this year. The DLP uses Labkovski’s art to improve youngsters’ understanding of the Holocaust and promote tolerance and acceptance.
The competition brought her in touch with Stephanie Wolfson, director of education at the DLP, and Trope joined the DLP’s six-months-long International Student Docent Programme with students (Grades 8 to 12 ) from around the world who learn how to educate others about Labkovski’s art. From this, she was asked to join the team curating the current exhibition.
Curating is a “big job”, she says. She worked on the layout, narratives, translations of interviews and story summaries, among other things. Trope was even required to attend meetings at 01:00 at times because her co-workers in the United States were nine hours behind her. “It was a bit stressful with school work and exams,” she admits, but it was worth it.
At 14, she was the youngest member of the team by far, “but we had sophisticated discussions, and listened to each other”, Trope says.
Michele Gold, the president of the Holocaust Museum Los Angeles, describes Trope’s involvement as “remarkable”.
“Eva is wise and professional beyond her years,” says Leora Raikin, the founder and executive director of the DLP. “She has shown dedication not only towards the creation of the virtual exhibit, but the translation of movie footage. She was also part of the official speaking panel for the launch of the international exhibit along with the Israel consul general to Los Angeles, Dr Hillel Newman.”
What’s next for this budding art historian? She aims to get involved in other exhibitions, and to help expand this project by, among other things, assisting in bringing the exhibition to South Africa.
Falling in love with the world’s hottest real estate
Falling in love with Jerusalem was the last thing Sarah Tuttle-Singer could have imagined. However, the love story that would unfold between this American-born writer and the ancient Jewish city proves that their match was ordained from the start.
A journalist and the author of Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered, Tuttle-Singer shared her story at eLimmud2 this past Sunday, 25 October. It began in the first summer she spent in Israel at the age of 16 in 1997. Raised in Venice Beach, California, today she lives in Israel with her two children and has made it her mission to come to grips with what it really means to live in the Jewish capital.
“Going to Israel was the last thing I wanted to do,” she said. “I wanted to hang out at the pool, go to the movies, and to the mall. But my parents had another idea, and I remember the afternoon my mother called me into her office.
“I walked in and saw her sitting at her old library desk, drinking her coffee, and smoking a cigarette. She said, ‘Sarah. Sit down.’ I wondered what sin of mine she’d found out about, but then she said, ‘I’ve decided it’s time for you to go to Israel, experience your roots, and meet the people who are your family.’”
Such a trip wasn’t a priority for her daughter, in spite of having grown up on stories of her mother’s travels in Israel in 1967, involving camels walking through Damascus Gate and the smell of rose water and the peals of church bells in the Jerusalem markets. But her mother remained adamant.
Her intuition proved right.
“I fell in love,” said Tuttle-Singer. “For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to explain why I kissed a mezuzah on the side of the door or explain why I didn’t eat shrimp tempura. It was the first time all the pieces of my identity came together, and it all made sense. I stood on a rooftop overlooking the Old City, and I fell in love. I felt at home.”
Tuttle-Singer swore she would return on aliyah, knowing that Israel was where she belonged and that the root of her belonging was in Jerusalem. She returned for brief subsequent visits, feeling connected to Jerusalem and its people, believing this was where she ultimately belonged. However, it didn’t occur to her that things weren’t as positive as they appeared.
“One night, I took a walk in the Old City, and ended up at the Damascus Gate,” she recalled. “I was standing there having a fantasy moment, and I suddenly felt a searing pain in my head and neck. I touched my head and my hand was sticky with blood. The pain hit, and I realised that someone had been throwing stones at me. I was terrified.
“I was standing there covered in my own blood. I ran headlong into the Muslim Quarter, and found myself surrounded by loud and scary Arabic, jarring sounds, and my senses were bouncing. I found two border police officers, they walked me out, and I sat at Jaffa Road and cried.
“I thought I’d never go back again.”
In spite of returning to America, Tuttle-Singer married an Israeli, and while they led comfortable lives in Los Angeles, they resolved to make aliyah. Plagued by fear and doubt, however, she was reluctant to leave the safety of home and return to Israel with her husband and two children. Still, she resolved to rediscover her love for Israel but chose to stay away from the Old City.
Reeling from a breakdown in her marriage and subsequent divorce, it wasn’t until colleague and journalist Avi Issacharoff convinced Tuttle-Singer to venture back into the ancient quarters that she slowly reignited the passion of her youth.
“My heart was in my throat, and I felt sick to my stomach,” she recalled. “It was my first time back in 15 years, and the last time I had been there was I hurt.” Tuttle-Singer gradually overcame her trauma, and with the help and care of local residents, rediscovered her love of Jerusalem.
“I slowly realised that I wanted to live in the Old City, to go into it as deeply as I could and be part of it,” she said. “I divided the year into four parts, just like Jerusalem is divided into four, and I wanted to be part of each community.”
Over time, Tuttle-Singer engaged with people across the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian quarters, and came to a realisation.
“This is the hottest piece of spiritual real estate in the world,” she said, “and we’re afraid to look each other in the eye in spite of being in love with the same space. I resolved to go into the city again to see beyond the borders and the fear that divides us.”
While her experience has blended uplifting spiritual moments with physically frightening ones, Tuttle-Singer said that she learned the importance of connecting with others based on a shared love of the ancient city.
“I learned that you can have a treaty between governments, but unless people live by the treaty, it’s meaningless. We won’t live by it unless we know each other, unless we take steps to begin having conversations, it will never happen.
“One conversation may not change the world, but if it leads to more conversation, you have a friendship, and that can become a basis for positive change.”
Lees is more for KDVP’s new principal
King David Victory Park (KDVP) Primary School’s new principal, Kevin Lees, describes himself as a traditionalist in terms of teaching and learning, but also unconventional and flexible.
“If COVID-19 proved anything, it’s that we can’t simply rely on tried and tested methods of education,” he says. “It has brought some positive changes like blended learning and the use of technology.
“The flexibility it brought was also positive, as was the re-examination of key aspects of the curriculum, making us focus on the essentials. COVID-19 will be with us for some time, but I hope that when things get back to normal, we won’t ignore what worked, and lose that reflection and movement.”
Lees takes over from Rabbi Ricky Seeff, who has been appointed general director at the South African Jewish Board of Education. He may have been just a week in the job, but his commitment to the school and enthusiasm for everything education is palpable.
He was appointed in March, though he started his tenure at the beginning of October. It was a bombshell month for educators, with schools suddenly locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and teachers having to adapt overnight to online teaching. Lees saw out the storm in his former post as head of Theodor Herzl Primary in Port Elizabeth.
Lees says he believes we shouldn’t “sweat the small stuff”. He isn’t obsessed with hair length or uniforms, though he stipulates that children must be “well presented”. That was another interesting change wrought by COVID-19 – when children were allowed to go to school in civvies.
“Children should be given a level of flexibility to learn in a different way,” he says. “My previous classes were allowed to experiment with flexible seating, though admittedly it didn’t work for everyone – and sometimes, some children just need to be given a break when needed.”
It doesn’t undermine how seriously he takes the job. “Teachers aren’t merely facilitators,” he says. “We play a massive role in the lives of children. Teaching and learning must evolve. We must incorporate methods and curricula relevant to the 21st century.”
Lees has been an educator for 22 years, first at St George’s Preparatory in Port Elizabeth, followed by a stint in London, then becoming head of Theodor Herzl in 2012, where he doubled enrolment during his tenure. The career educator, who also has a degree in theology, says he felt an immediate connection with the philosophy, ethos, and approach of Theodor Herzl.
The ability to adapt and be flexible are strengths of Jewish schools, he points out, which aren’t tied up with unnecessary tradition, and have a critical-thinking culture. So, too, is an intimate connection between teacher and child, leading children to feel safe and secure. This is a particular strength of KDVP, by virtue of its size and teacher-child ratio.
Like Theodor Herzl, KDVP Primary School is small – with about 300 pupils. It allows the principal to know every pupil and parent and have an “open-door” policy, creating a sense of community, and making it easier to manage.
“We doubled enrolment at Theodor Herzl, but I wouldn’t go bigger than that,” Lees points out. Other strengths are that there is greater participation by all children in sport and the arts. “KDVP is known for its whole-school dramatic productions,” he says, “this is impossible at bigger schools.”
Though he’s not Jewish, he believes religion plays a beautiful and significant role in education. An environment like King David leads to reflection, critical thinking, and social responsibility, which is what sets our community apart. Children at King David are brought up to see themselves as part of a community, not just as individuals, and this is critically important. To this extent, he’s looking forward to working with the vibrant and closely connected Jewish community in Gauteng.
Lees is aware that he is filling big shoes in taking over from Rabbi Seeff, who was an inspiring leader and made many positive changes to the school. “Rabbi Seeff isn’t lost to the system,” he says, “we will lean on him.” But he points out that as a career educator, perhaps he brings a different lens to the job. “There is a debate among principals about the value of teachers running schools,” he says, “but if you have spent time in the classroom, it influences your perspective. Fundamentally, you must be motivated by a love for children, and be willing to listen to those around you.”
Lees is an educator and a parent – he has children who are enrolled at King David, so he is uniquely equipped to see things from both perspectives.
He has outlined four main tasks for himself in the next year. First, he wants to familiarise himself with the school, tuning into its culture, the board, and the community. He stresses that he will be careful about making changes before he has done so. He hopes to build trust and confidence among the community. Second, he will identify areas of concern by walking around and interacting with people on the ground. Third, he emphasises the continued fallout of COVID-19, ensuring the continued success of blended learning. The pandemic’s emotional impact on children is still to be felt, and he aims to address this too. Fourth, Lees is prioritising the building of partnerships and networks – educational and in the Jewish community – in Gauteng, where the community is particularly vibrant.
Finally, he may just learn some Hebrew. “I was cornered by a teacher at Theodor Herzl, who said she would teach me Hebrew, but I don’t have a gift for languages,” he comments. “Though, in a sense, it’s given me a sense of what the children go throug
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