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Jewish achievers demonstrate what’s possible

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Voices

The annual Absa Jewish Achiever Awards held last Sunday showed once again how even in the most trying times, Jewish community members from across the age and gender spectrum continue to build, contribute, and innovate in multiple areas, whether in the economic, communal, cultural or human-rights fields.

Fittingly, this year’s awards celebrated the heroes of COVID-19, and “how a small Jewish community rose to the challenge of our generation”. Those honoured, along with the various nominees, demonstrated how even in the unprecedentedly difficult circumstances that have confronted us this year, much can be accomplished through innovation, creativity, and a willingness to accept the risk of failure in order to succeed. It’s encouraging indeed to see how Jewish South Africans go about making their dreams a practical reality. Rather than being discouraged by obstacles, they are finding new and creative ways to deal with them. Equally inspiring is how much these individuals are contributing to the broader society as well as our own community.

Democratic Alliance meeting

As reported in previous columns, an important part of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies’ (SAJBD’s) work consists of building relations with government, policy and opinion makers, and political parties across the spectrum. Such relationships are essential to fulfilling our core mandate of representing the interests of South African Jewry, upholding its civil rights, and bringing any concerns it might have to the attention of those in a position to make a difference. Last week, a SAJBD delegation headed by National President Mary Kluk met Cape Town Democratic Alliance (DA) interim party leader John Steenhuisen along with other representatives of the party. The main issue was certain Holocaust analogies recently made by DA spokespeople, which the SAJBD felt to be inappropriate and misleading. Steenhuisen sincerely apologised for any hurt caused, and in general, the meeting was a warm and constructive one in which our delegation felt its concerns had been heard.

Meeting with Chinese community

Establishing relationships in the political sphere goes hand in hand with forging ties of friendship and understanding with other communities. This week, Gauteng Council Vice-Chairperson Danny Mofsovitz and other council members met the leadership of the Chinese Association. The initiative followed Mofsovitz’s attendance of the recent World Jewish Congress’s Jewish Diplomatic Corps annual conference, the aim of which was to get members of the corps to reach out to local minority groups in their home countries to take a united stand whenever they or other minority groups are discriminated against. It was an opportunity to learn more about our Chinese fellow citizens, who likewise regularly come up against negative stereotyping and hate speech on social media. Our delegation was thanked once again for the solidarity shown by the SAJBD to the Chinese community in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. In turn, we thanked them for reaching out to our community when Simone Kriel published antisemitic social-media posts. We agreed to stand together on these issues, and the meeting ended off with both groups looking forward to sharing in each other’s calendar of cultural events.

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

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Voices

COVID 19 – the battle continues

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With the third wave of COVID-19 infections well and truly upon us, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) last week convened a national COVID-19 call with medical experts and representatives of major communal bodies from around the country. Discussion centred on the handling of schools, shuls, and communal functions. While we will continue to do all that we can at the collective level to guide our community at this worrying time, we reiterate the crucial need for every individual to take personal responsibility by strictly observing all COVID-19-related protocols and thereby minimising risk to themselves and those around them.

Last week, COVID-19 deprived our community of another of its most distinguished and devoted leaders, Victor Gordon. One of the guiding lights of Pretoria Jewry and a man of many talents, Gordon served South African Jewry in a range of capacities. Among other positions, he was president of the SAJBD Pretoria council for eight years, in which capacity he also sat on the SAJBD national executive council. He was also an invaluable member of the Zionist Federation media team, where his considerable writing skills were put to excellent use in the many articles and letters in defence of Israel that appeared over more than a decade. We extend our sincerest condolences to our Pretoria colleagues and in particular to the Gordon family during this very sad time.

Calling antisemites to account

Unreflecting bias against Israel is problematic in and of itself, but it brings with it the added risk of such rhetoric crossing the line into Jews as a whole being denigrated and defamed. Such was the case with an interview programme on Power FM broadcast during the recent Gaza conflict, in which several callers were allowed to make a range of malevolent comments on the theme of global Jewish domination (including explicitly invoking the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion) without at any point being challenged by the host. Our initial approach to the station was to request that someone who could respond to these stereotypically antisemitic canards appear on the same show, and in that regard, we offered to facilitate an interview with a suitable overseas expert.

In spite of being offered a reasonable, non-confrontational way of addressing the problem it had caused, Power FM chose to drag its heels as well as to try to impose objectionable conditions on the manner in which the interview would be conducted. The conciliatory approach having failed, the SAJBD then decided to escalate the matter by taking it to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA). In our letter of complaint, we explained the fundamentally racist and defamatory nature of what had been said on the show, as well as stressing the signal failure of the host to contradict it. (Indeed, the latter’s response when being challenged by another caller on a later show was to deny that anything wrong had been said.) The BCCSA has acknowledged receipt of our complaint, and advised that it will revert as soon as it has received Power FM’s response.

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

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Voices

Like Zurich – without the chocolates

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One of the vivid memories that I have about the period in my life spent on planes was taking off from Zurich Airport on the way to Munich early one November morning. It was a dark, cold, and wet morning. No one looked happy, and very few seemed filled with the joy of living, which might have been expected considering that it was Switzerland, where a smile is no one’s resting face. It was so dank that when we boarded the flight, it was impossible to tell if the water on the window was rain or cloud moisture.

As we began to taxi, the captain welcomed us on board and gave us some details about the short flight. The weather in Munich was apparently much the same, but the flying conditions would be good. Because, as he explained, “it’s a beautiful day a few metres up”. Shortly after, we took off and he was right. It took seconds for the cabin to fill with sunshine. Suddenly everything looked colourful and bright, and I’m certain that even some of the Swiss might have smiled. On the ground, in the grey and the dark, it would have been impossible to imagine what a magnificent day awaited us.

This week, South Africa felt like Zurich. Without the chocolates, banks, the Alps, and electricity. And water. And watches. And trams, and snow. It was similar in that it felt dark and grey, and it was impossible to know what was causing the water on the windows. Was it COVID-19 or the infrastructure failure or vaccine delay? Was it the fact that we can’t socialise and that we don’t laugh nearly as much as we need to, or that it’s hard to imagine the sun shining again.

I bumped into a friend when I was walking on Shabbat. After he asked me how I was, he gave me his theory as to why it’s particularly bad at the moment. He said that bad things have always happened. People have always died before their time, and things have always gone wrong. But normally, there is more balance. After a difficult week, we can get together with friends, have a drink and laugh. Now it feels like all that we have are funerals. I wanted to disagree with him. I wanted to tell him how blessed we are as a community, how fortunate we are to have all that we have in this country, and how wonderful South Africans are. I wouldn’t have been wrong. But to say it would have been empty.

It also doesn’t help to repeat that it’s “darkest before the dawn”, that “this too shall pass”, and that there is “light at the end of the tunnel”. And that “every cloud has a silver lining”. All might be true, but none are helpful.

What helps me at a time like this is to find a role to play. We each have a “job”, and a way that we can assist in helping others get through this time. Purpose is a life saver. And it has saved my life even before it helped others. It also helps me to think of that November morning in Zurich when it was hard to imagine the sunshine. Until we took off and within seconds, we saw what a magnificent day was waiting for us. Just where we couldn’t see it.

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ORT Jet – helping small Jewish businesses and changing people’s lives

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ORT Jet was founded by key stakeholders in the community in 2005 to support Jewish businesses, and since then, the shift in the business world has been startling. Over the years, ORT Jet has worked with a large network of mentors, facilitators, and staff to assist businesses in need in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban.

“ORT Jet attracts Jewish business people who need help to grow existing businesses. Others are struggling to make their businesses profitable, and need a combination of training and mentorship to help solve issues. ORT Jet also receives many entrepreneurs wanting to take a business idea further. The invaluable mentorship, training, and resources they receive has been paramount to the success of thousands of businesses over the years,” says ORT SA Chief Executive Ariellah Rosenberg.

ORT Jet has three sets of specialised panels consisting of experienced business mentors. The first is business’ first “port of call” where the state of the business is analysed. Every three to six months, the catch-up panel assesses its progress, and allocates a new mentor if necessary. During the business’ journey with ORT Jet, it may meet the creative thinking panel, which will shift thinking and help the business to look at the world differently.

An extra panel was formed during the global pandemic called the business rescue panel. It gave advice to businesses in financial distress by directing them to the Gesher Fund and providing them with information to stay afloat.

“My mentor is incredible. I’ve sat with him twice already in the past week, and I feel like I have another partner in the business. He’s deeply interested in what we do, and assists with things like management strategy, auditors, legal matters, even networking, says ORT Jet beneficiary Darryl Epstein.

“We recently ran our fifth business induction for the year. We attracted a variety of businesses, start-ups, and people with wonderful business ideas. Today, one needs to look at what the world needs and adapt accordingly. Change brings opportunities, and those with creative and open mind-sets will thrive,” says ORT Jet HOD Helene Itzkin.

The ORT Jet impact on the community is evident. Through its webinars, people are trained from all over the world. For extra value add, participants receive useful resources after each webinar and the opportunity to engage with the speakers. “The Canva webinar with Mike Said was absolutely fabulous,” says training participant Debby Bear. “Thank you to ORT Jet for giving us opportunities.”

ORT Jet continuously collaborates with industry experts to keep the training relevant and packed with skills.

To access the ORT Jet training calendar, visit the ORT Jet website at www.ortjet.org.za. All webinar recordings are available on the JETflix YouTube channel. Subscribe at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgK1Y634pfTfquMrNd5SjQw

To join the ORT Jet programme, email admin@ortjet.org.za. The next induction for new sign-ups will be held on 30 June from 14:00 to 15:00 on Zoom. Follow ORT Jet on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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