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‘Jack in a Shack’ reminisces on forgotten people

Helen Suzman had a motto: “Go see for yourself”, as she was known for visiting areas where people suffered, particularly under apartheid.

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Lifestyle/Community

SUZANNE BELLING

PHOTOGRAPH BY SUZANNE BELLING

Jack Bloom, a member of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature since 1994, leader of the DA in the legislature from 2011 till 2014, took her credo a step further: “Go experience for yourself,” he said. “Don’t forget the forgotten.”

At a crossroads in his life, Bloom decided to spend 30 nights – one evening every month – with the “forgotten” in their shacks throughout Gauteng.

It started on August 21, 2011 when he visited the scene of a devastating shack fire in Jeppestown in central Johannesburg. Fifty-six shacks had burnt down through a fire started by a paraffin stove.

“I spoke to an elderly man, who had been there since 1980. He cried on my shoulder and I could easily have cried with him but I held back, which I regretted later,” Bloom wrote in his newly-launched book “30 Nights in a Shack – a Politician’s Journey”, launched at the Rabbi Cyril Harris Community Centre last week Wednesday.

Bloom returned to the scene of the fire, spending the night with the old man and his four sons in their partially rebuilt shack. “There was no shelter from the elements, as there was no roof.”

He wrote that there was an open fire and the smell “assaulted my nostrils” and he thought of the effects on children. He was cold in his sleeping bag, did not sleep much and was awoken by a cell phone alarm at 04:00, wondering how the phone was charged without electricity.

After his first night, Bloom appealed for help publicly. He resolved it would not be “out of sight, out of mind” – hence his decision to spend a night each month with a “forgotten” community.

His next visit was to Stinkwater which had one tap for 8 000 people. The bigger problem was that water in the area was contaminated by a collapsing sewerage system.

Bloom received extensive recognition and publicity for his campaign, and was dubbed “Jack in a Shack”.

On his visits to the poor communities, he came across Doctor Hlahane, who had rescued young men from a life of crime and drugs and formed a choir. Bloom saw to it that they were fitted out with black suits and the choir members chose to complete their outfits with blue DA T-shirts!

Bloom embarked on projects in the shanty towns, including providing some with solar lighting, tackling the problem of a rat infestation in Alexandra township and getting “down and dirty” by sanitising pit toilets, using enzymes and bacteria.

Bloom’s journey changed his way of thinking. He became Jewishly observant, donned a yarmulke, blessed people and started davening regularly. He even lit Chanukah lights, the flames of which blended with the candle-lit home of shack-dwellers.

This influence was a result of his newfound association with Chabad and especially with Rabbi David Masinter, director of Chabad House in Savoy. He became a regular shul-goer at Rabbi Masinter’s shul in Riverclub.

He visited the grave of the late Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson in Crown Heights, New York, which increased his faith and observance.

In all, Bloom visited over 100 informal settlements. Some of the shacks were beautifully furnished and had tended gardens. His project improved the living conditions of many and his book records his journey in a most readable and enlightening way.

He was really “leading from the front”.

 

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Lifestyle/Community

Shabbat Around The World beams out from Jozi

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More than 75 devices around the globe logged in to Beit Luria’s World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Shabbat Around the World programme on Friday, 15 January.

Whether it was breakfast time in California, tea time in Europe, or time to break challah in Johannesburg, participants logged in to take part in Beit Luria’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.

Among those participating were Rabbi Sergio Bergman, the president of the WUPJ; chairperson Carole Sterling; and Rabbi Nathan Alfred, the head of international relations. Singers Tulla Eckhart and Brian Joffe performed songs from a global array of artists, along with Toto’s Africa to add a little local flair to the service. After kiddish was said and bread was broken, Rabbi Bergman thanked Beit Luria for hosting the WUPJ. The shul looks forward to more collaborations with its global friends in the future.

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UJW Sewing School graduates model creations

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The outfits modelled by graduates of the Union of Jewish Women’s (UJW’s) Sewing School were all the more spectacular for the fact that some of their creators had never seen a sewing machine prior to the four-month course.

They were modelled at the school’s graduation ceremony at Oxford Shul on 15 December to much excitement and applause.

UJW executive member and Sewing School Manager Ariane Heneck expressed her gratitude to Chido Tsodzo, the school’s superb teacher, and the event ended with a much appreciated lunch for graduates and their invited guests.

The self-empowerment Sewing School for unemployed men and women was started by the UJW 10 years ago. It now has a small production team of ex-students, and some of its graduates have been employed in factories, while others are selling their own creations.

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Israel Rugby 7s to camp with the Blitzbokke

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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.

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