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It ain’t so bad here

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The Jewish Report Editorial

I can’t say I’m surprised that people get nervous when they read that aliyah figures are at a record high. They aren’t worried about those leaving the country, but about those of us staying behind.

I understand if you might be wondering if you are missing something. Are you not reading the writing on the wall?

I will stick my head out and say that there’s no writing on the wall. We are a country that, like many others, has crises.

And if there are people running away, I believe they take their troubles with them. Those people who are pulled to go to live in Israel or somewhere else, I’m sure they will find happiness. Emigration happens around the world, and it’s healthy.

Having spent three and a half fabulous years in Israel, I know the pull of that country, but I also know that despite everything we have and are experiencing, we have a wonderful life here.

There is a strange belief that Israel will come and rescue South African Jews if things get tough here. I was glad to hear the Israel Centre’s Liat Amar Arran say this week (on page 1 and 4) that Israel isn’t waiting for us. She also said Israel isn’t going to come and rescue us, as such.

Israel is the Jewish homeland, but it’s a tough country to live in and competition is rife. So many of the niceties and luxuries we take for granted here aren’t readily available in Israel. Olim don’t arrive in Israel and have the pick of their careers. Nobody is waiting to hire us. Those tiny flats in Tel Aviv that you would have snubbed in South Africa are extraordinarily expensive and difficult to come by.

Far be it for me to dissuade anyone from making aliyah, I would be loath to do that because I love Israel. All I’m saying is, don’t romanticise living in Israel because it isn’t easy. It may be wonderful and challenging, but not a walk in the park.

After what we have experienced this year in South Africa, what with the pandemic and the recent violence and looting, it’s easy to be disheartened enough to say you want to leave.

But don’t leave in a panic. Don’t leave in desperation. Know that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side unless you have done your research, made your plans, and have a clear idea of what is on the other side for you.

And know that while Israel is an exciting place to live, it’s difficult to move away from everything you know and love, not least of all friends and family.

Though your parents and grandparents put on a brave face because they believe you’re doing the right thing, leaving them behind will be tough for all of you.

Just this week, I read a Facebook post written by a woman I shared a tent with when we were teenagers at Habonim machaneh. She has been living in Australia for many years. I shed tears reading her heartache in losing her mother and not being able to be with her. I took it that her mother was here in South Africa and died from COVID-19, because I could feel her frustration in not being able to say goodbye, not being at the funeral, and so on.

That’s part of the sadness of emigration.

Once again, I consider what we have here, and I’m grateful. I recognise that there are many who may have been well off or comfortable who are now really battling for money.

I also acknowledge that our communal organisations may not be getting the kind of finances they used to get or would like to get.

I also know that for most of us, life is a lot more challenging than ever before.

However, we have the most incredible community in the world – and I say that with complete conviction.

Look around you, we support one another without question. We have communal organisations that literally ensure that we have ambulances when we need them, medicine when we need it, and that we are protected. We have organisations that will take care of us in times of need. I can go on and on because our communal structures are world class.

I know of family and friends overseas who may be content and happy in their new homes, but they long for the communal life we have. And with good reason.

We are a real community! We fight with each other, but when push comes to shove, we back each other and stick together.

Over the past year and a half during the COVID-19 pandemic, it wasn’t just Hatzolah and our doctors that rallied around to support the sick in the community. Jewish women created groups to make sure that those who were sick were supported and didn’t feel alone. Others made sure they had food.

Which other community had someone checking on those at home with COVID-19 a number of times a day? If you needed oxygen, it would arrive. If you needed to go for x-rays, you would be taken.

And now, in the case of vaccinations, a young Jewish doctor arranged a slick, fast-paced drive at The Base Shul in Glenhazel on Sunday, where more than 3 000 were vaccinated in one day. And, this wasn’t the first time. Now, The Chev and Hatzolah have set up their own vaccination sites to get the rollout done and dusted so we and everyone else can move on out of this pandemic.

That’s our community. I’m not sure there are others in the world quite like us, and that makes me proud and so hopeful.

So, yes, times are tough. Yes, there are many of us leaving South Africa to go to Israel. May all those who have gone be happy and healthy. May they find what they are looking for there.

But for those of us who remain behind, I feel confident that we will be far better than just okay. We will thrive as we have done before.

And as we launch our nomination drive for the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards, please nominate those incredible people in our community. Let’s give them the acknowledgement and kavod they deserve.

Shabbat Shalom!

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Dita

    Jul 29, 2021 at 7:35 pm

    Great article editor Peta. I too have lived in Israel, love Israel and endorse completely what you say. It is tough. It is tough to find work as one gets older and whilst there are so many benefits, our lives here are full and robust. Change never happens easily or quickly. I am in awe of what our community is doing – the Chev having just opened a vaccination site, Hatzollah bringing vaccinations to your home, monitoring us. WE THE COMMUNITY are loving and compassionate.

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The Jewish Report Editorial

The other pandemic

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As I write this, I’m recovering from COVID-19. I have settled into isolation and healing – and, of course, putting to bed the first edition of the SA Jewish Report for 2022.

We have come a long way since the panic and devastating fear of getting coronavirus. I’m so grateful for that, although, like everyone, I certainly didn’t want to get it. But, thankfully, if I was going to get it anyway, this was the time to get it. I guess I have what is commonly called “COVID light” as I’m not 100%, but I have had far worse flu viruses.

It was around this time two years ago that we started hearing about this killer virus in Wuhan and we tracked down a South African Jewish man in the city who told us just how hectic it was.

Never in a million years would I have been able to predict what the next two years would look like for any of us. Our world went off kilter, to say the least.

Suffice to say this has been a long journey for all of us – in our community, in the greater South Africa, and the world. No-one has been spared some kind of significant pandemic experience – whether it involved contracting the virus or not.

Most of us who are vaccinated and contracting the virus at this point are the lucky ones. We have watched helplessly as others suffered and experienced that abject fear in not knowing how it was going to play out for them.

When I realised I had COVID-19 en route home from my glorious holiday in the Western Cape, I wasn’t fearful. I knew what to do. Strange days indeed when you head home from holiday, but go straight to Ampath for a COVID-19 test before you reach your front door. That was us. What is that saying in Monopoly, “Head straight to jail [in this case, Ampath], do not pass go, or collect R200”?

It’s not to say that some people aren’t getting a serious case of this virus. There are people who have been hospitalised, but most of them are either unvaccinated or have other comorbidities. I’m not a doctor, so I will stop right there.

However, we dare not make light of COVID-19. As we have learnt, this coronavirus does some strange things, and just when we think we know how it works, it mutates. How many people do you know who have been with someone throughout their isolation with COVID-19 and yet didn’t contract the virus. Then, that person goes to a shop a month later where someone has the virus and contracts it. Go figure!

So, while I believe that we are learning to live with this virus, we certainly don’t know that it’s coming to an end or that our lives are going back to normal. We – or the experts – simply don’t know.

My belief is that the worst days of COVID-19 are over and, as long as we’re vaccinated, we’ll start getting a semblance of our lives back in 2022. From my mouth (or in this case, my fingers) to G-d’s ears!

However, as the fear of COVID-19 subsides, the other pandemic that has many in a vice grip is that of sexual violence. A number of times since the start of the COVID-19 era, our president has brought up this other pandemic. This is the pandemic of gender-based or sexual violence and abuse.

Unfortunately, every year from as far back as I remember, our leaders speak about this dreaded scourge in our society, but not a lot happens.

This issue was recently thrown into our ball park because of Chaim Walder, who was somewhat of a folk hero in certain groups in the Jewish world. Only, it turned out that he was a sexual predator for decades too.

Somehow, he had never been brought to book over all these years, and was protected when his individual victims reported him to their leaders. Then, when it eventually began to be dealt with, Walder committed suicide.

Yes, he was a part of the religious community in Israel, but, in my opinion, that’s not specifically relevant to this fairly common scenario. I believe it happens in every society to some degree or other.

On page 8, Rabbi Sam Thurgood and Koleinu’s Rebbetzin Wendy Hendler and Rozanne Sack deal with this situation more closely.

I believe that it’s natural to want to protect those to whom we look up to and admire. We don’t want to believe that someone we care about or trust is a monster. However, the reason sexual violence and abuse is a pandemic is simply because monsters get away with their crimes. The two reasons for that are: victims fear reporting what happened to them, and people inadvertently protect the monsters and dismiss the victims who come forward.

In the light of the Walder scandal, we do have reason to consider where we, as a community, are going wrong in terms of abuse. We also need to look at it on a national and international level.

We have to understand that though most people are good, there are monsters who live in our society and they don’t look like monsters. They don’t come across like monsters. And, if allowed to continue to harm people, they will. For the most part, they are psychologically tainted – although this isn’t apparent – and they can’t stop.

So, by protecting them, we are allowing them to spread their disease and harm innocent people. By stopping them through use of the criminal justice system, we ultimately help them to stop harming others.

One of the most important things we must do is make it safe and easy for victims to be able to report what happened to them, and to believe that justice will be done to stop these predators. We have to enable them to let the criminal justice system work.

It’s so difficult for someone who has been subject to gender-based violence or abuse to report it. They have so much fear. They fear the person who harmed them. They fear the shame it might bring on them and their families. They fear the secondary rape/abuse that reporting it will entail and more.

So, we have to find a way of making it easier, not more difficult, for them to help us to protect potential victims.

I know our community may be distrustful of the police. However, those in the know, like Koleinu and certain specialist lawyers, know the police who specialise in gender-based violence. They can be trusted and know their job.

This is but an introduction to this issue, as I believe we all have a lot to do to make this place a safe space for the community. The only way to do this is to stop the perpetrators of gender-based violence or abuse. I stand by the rabbinic leadership, organisations like Koleinu, and anyone else who is going to make this a reality.

Shabbat Shalom and may your 2022 be a safe, peaceful, and healthy year!

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The Jewish Report Editorial

Get on with living … cautiously

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Too many people I’m close to have COVID-19. My housekeeper, two close friends, my sister and her family, and my rabbi. Go figure!

This is way too close to home. Having said that, home is exactly where we have been since this time last week.

We have been isolating. Doing what it takes to make sure that we don’t pass on this virus that we thought we might or might not have.

“We are sick of COVID-19!” It sounds like the mantra of this community, this country, and possibly the world. And I can’t say there’s any surprise in that.

This is the fourth time we have been bulldozed by this potentially deadly virus. This is the second December holiday that has been sorely impacted by this maddening illness. This is the third time I have had one of those irritating things stuck up my nose in a COVID-19 test. Others have had it done more often. And it’s the umpteenth time my precious plans have been thrown asunder because of this dreaded lurgy. I would so like to shout out that it’s enough, only I dare not do that.

You see, as much as I’m sick and tired of COVID-19, the virus seems to be getting smarter about spreading itself around those I care about. In that group are those who are more vulnerable.

The truth is, I would hate to know that I made anyone sick, especially if they got particularly ill or found themselves in a difficult situation because of me.

I have no desire to play G-d. I have to consider other people – we all do.

This weekend, my family and I were invited to go to a barmitzvah of a dear boy who is my son’s best friend. It was an event we had been looking forward to for ages. It was going to be a barmitzvah party to remember.

The young man was having a joint barmitzvah with his first cousin, whose birthday was just days apart from his.

The reason they were joining forces was because they have close family who live around the world and they wanted them to share in their simcha.

So, as you can imagine, first, the overseas family weren’t able to come. Then, the party was postponed, but the boys were still going to go ahead with reading their haftorah.

Only, the last straw was that our rabbi got COVID-19, and that put paid to the barmitzvah at this point.

These friends have been so gracious in accepting the inevitable, as were the young, soon-to-be barmitzvah boys. They learnt a very important lesson that you have to roll with the punches and deal with things not happening the way you want them to.

But though the disappointment was inevitable, the mother of my son’s best friend said, “We want this to be a special day, not a day that will be remembered for making people sick.”

I get that. I guess that was a similar reason for the rabbi of our shul making the decision to shut the shul down until the spike passes.

I know there’s absolutely nothing illegal in having protocol-compliant events. There are still large barmitzvahs, weddings, and other end-of-year functions happening. They may well be run totally according to government protocols, but that doesn’t mean they won’t land up spreading this variant. Who knows? Nobody does, that’s the point.

I cannot say to anyone, “Don’t have your event.” It’s not up to me and, more than that, I understand the need to have some fun. I understand the need to let my hair down. I understand the frustration of living so long under the threat of this dreaded coronavirus.

The idea of dancing at a party or having just plain fun is so enticing.

It’s such a difficult decision to make – to have or not to have an event. It’s difficult to decide to stay home from a restaurant because this variant is so contagious.

We planned a lovely outdoor end-of-year lunch, which we cancelled under advisement. I was so grumpy about it as I really wanted to spend time with my co-workers and our board. But, we did the right thing, albeit the unpopular and irritating thing.

I believe many of us are in a position where we want to do the right thing, but it’s becoming more and more difficult because we are so gatvol of living with this constantly mutating virus.

There are many who are questioning whether they should go on holiday, and some have already cancelled.

I’m not one of them. I believe I can safely have a beautiful holiday without putting myself or others under threat of illness. It isn’t that difficult to stay within your little bubble and not get up close and personal with others. Spend time on the beach, but keep your distance. Spend lots of quality time outdoors. Fly a kite. Take a long walk in the fresh air. Get a tan. Relax. Take a deep breath. Enjoy some quiet time with a good book.

Do those things that you don’t have time to do during the year but don’t involve being in close proximity to people without masks. You know the drill. We can all do it, it just takes being conscious and thinking before doing.

I know it’s frustrating to have to think constantly of ways of having fun that don’t involve being surrounded by people. I get it, but the time will come when this dreaded coronavirus is nothing more than the flu.

From all accounts, this strain of COVID-19 is much more contagious than the ones we have seen before, but it doesn’t seem to be making most people very ill. This is a very, very good sign. It appears to signal just what we are hoping for. Exactly when that will be, I can’t say. But it will happen.

So, for now, let’s just go with the flow. Do things consciously. And, most importantly, stay healthy and have a wonderful, relaxing, and peaceful holiday!

We won’t be publishing over the holiday period, but we’ll be back on 13 January 2022.

Shabbat shalom!

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The Jewish Report Editorial

Panic never got us anywhere

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Isn’t it amazing how we can plan things to perfection and then, in one fell swoop, it all falls apart. And we had nothing whatsoever to do with it, and no recourse.

This is what happened over the past week. We all had our holidays planned to a tee. We had end-of-year parties organised. Magnificent weddings and Barmitzvahs were on the cards. We had youth movement camps confirmed – trommels packed and ready. And even Rage, something many of us were worried about, was going ahead. So many things to look forward to.

And then, Omicron reared its ugly head, and our scientists told the world about it. So, the world turned on South Africa, and the rest is history. Though the latter is true, we cannot dispute the ever-worrying fact of COVID-19 numbers increasing very quickly.

Never before has the saying, “Man makes plans and G-d laughs” been so evidently true. However, I don’t believe He is laughing when observant Jews are forced by Israel to fly home on Shabbos because the regulations changed while they were on their way there. Some of these people were doing a mitzvah in going to Israel to support the family of South African Eli Kay, who was murdered in a terrorist attack the week before.

I also don’t believe that anyone is laughing when we are cut off from Israel – or the world.

I love Israel but as I have said so many times, it’s not perfect. But for the Jewish State to force Jewish people – observant or not – to fly on Shabbos in unacceptable. If there is one country that should know the implications of that for those people, it’s Israel.

I have to say, I’m proud of our rabbinic leadership for standing up to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and vocalising their anger. I’m also pleased to see our chief rabbi calling the Israeli government to task for preventing Jews from going to Israel at any point.

This group wasn’t the only one whose international travel plans were shredded. In fact, the numbers of people who have been left in the lurch are only starting to surface. People were going for the birth of grandchildren, going to get married, going or coming for once-in-a-lifetime events, and making a long-awaited visit to their elderly parents, possibly for the last time.

All these plans have been scuppered. I guess if we knew that there was a fact-based reason – that we would contaminate or kill people with the virus – perhaps I can understand. But, for the most part, it was a knee-jerk reaction against South Africa and this continent.

However, though our anger and frustration can be taken out on governments around the world, the truth is that it might be misplaced. You see, at the end of the day, this is about this dreaded coronavirus that keeps mutating and coming back to hit us again and again.

The panic that was spread by overseas governments in shutting us off was, exactly that, panic. There was at the time no data-based information behind it except that it was a new, unusual variant.

At this point in time, we know that the numbers in Gauteng and the Western Cape are going up rapidly, but it hasn’t yet been seen in hospitals. Perhaps that will follow, or perhaps not. We don’t know.

What I’m hoping to hear is that our vaccines will keep us healthy – or limit the impact of the virus on us. And I believe that to be the case. So far, the people I know who have contracted COVID-19 recently and were vaccinated have suffered what appears to be much like flu.

I believe that if that’s the case, we can learn to live with this virus, as President Cyril Ramaphosa said. But I’m not a scientist, nor can I see into the future.

What I do know is that panic never got us anywhere except into trouble. It’s so much wiser to take the precautions we need to safeguard ourselves within reason.

Should you be cancelling your holiday? Well, are you going to be surrounded by unmasked and potentially COVID-19-positive people all day? If so, perhaps your holiday plans aren’t so smart. But if you’re going to hang out in your small bubble of people, spending most of your time outdoors, sanitising, washing hands regularly, wearing masks, and all the other protocols, I don’t believe that you should cancel. I believe we cannot cancel our lives.

Our economy needs you to go on holiday and, after this year, so do we all.

We have to live with caution, but we still have to live. The best way to do this is to follow the protocols and vaccinate. Vaccination – as I have said so many times – has to be the key to finding a balanced way of living with protocols, but still living.

We dare not ignore the numbers rising, and we have to take every precaution within reason. Perhaps I’ll regret saying this, but there are two types of health involved in this pandemic. They are physical and mental health. Our mental health also needs to be nurtured, as is clear in the story on page 5.

And to be cut off from other people again could have devastating effects. Let’s use our G-d-given sechel and not deny the existence of this virus. Let’s not blame others, let’s follow protocols, and within those parameters, go ahead with plans for our holidays.

Chag sameach for the rest of Chanukah! Here’s hoping for another Chanukah miracle!

Shabbat Shalom!

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