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Just get vaccinated

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The Jewish Report Editorial

As the dust settles on the violence and looting that took place last week, the community has bonded in raising funds and gathering essential goods for those sorely affected by the chaos. These include our community in KwaZulu-Natal.

I was astonished to see people, many of whom were fasting on Tisha B’Av, making their way into townships to help clean up over the weekend. The kindness and generosity of our community has, again, come to the fore.

Literally millions of rand has been raised in days to help people, mostly in KwaZulu-Natal. People who have barely left their homes in months made their way to help pack boxes and sort through essentials that were destined for Durban.

It was amazing how the horror of the pandemic took a back seat to the crazed looting, burning, and madness that was believed to have been caused by Zuma’s cronies, now known as the “dirty dozen”.

For a week, our focus shifted to another devastating situation in our country.

But as the damage is being weighed up and the true toll on the economic and political playing field is tallied, the rest of us return to the reality of the pandemic and that level 4 lockdown is still with us. The number of people with COVID-19 is still extremely high, but it’s dropping. This is a huge relief.

There is undoubtedly hope in the air, and that hope comes in the form of an injection, a jab, a shot, or a vaccination – call it what you will.

Never before have I witnessed people crying with joy when they receive a vaccination. And many are willing to wait quietly, in their masks and keeping a social distance, for hours on end just to get that small vial of muti vaccinated into their arm.

I know I was quite emotional when I had my first jab. It felt like one step towards freedom. One step towards being able to live a life without so many restrictions. As I was vaccinated, I pictured myself surrounded by my loved ones at a dinner table.

Isn’t it amazing how regular events that we took for granted have become something we long for?

While most people I know just want to be vaccinated for all the same reasons I do, I don’t understand why there are others who seem to look for excuses not to. Now, normally (if there is such a thing), I believe in letting people follow their own path. If they don’t agree with my views, so be it. They don’t have to.

However, the only way we are going to get to population or mass immunity is if more than 65% of the population is vaccinated. So, it isn’t as simple as looking the other way.

To get to the point where we can’t carry coronavirus and make someone else sick, many more of us need to have one of the vaccines on offer in South Africa. At this stage, we are vaccinating about 200 000 people a day. So far, we have given 5.5 million individual doses. The government’s aim is to vaccinate 300 000 a day.

According to the most recent research done by experts at the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch, nearly one in four are still hesitant to be vaccinated. And one in 15 are strongly opposed to it. Their reasons vary from not trusting that the vaccines have been tested for long enough to vaccinations being a global plot. I have heard and read the most ridiculous reasons for not getting vaccinated. The point is, those people who are dying and very ill in hospital are generally not vaccinated. Isn’t that enough of a reason to get the vaccine?

The reality is that as a nation, we can avoid a fourth wave. The sooner we’re all vaccinated, the sooner we can resume a semblance of normality.

Can you picture it: going to the cinema, dinner in a cosy restaurant, parties where we dance with each other.

Imagine going to a concert in the park with people all around us, dancing, smiling, and laughing. It seems almost like a dream.

The idea of going to shul and sitting next to a friend and enjoying a brocha afterwards seems like a fond memory.

Just being able to walk down the street and smile at people and see them smiling back at you would be so pleasurable. And South Africa is one of the few countries in which strangers smiling and greeting each other happens all the time.

The truth is, this isn’t that far off if we all just get vaccinated. Everyone from the age of 35 and older can get their jabs now.

In the next few weeks, the SA Jewish Report is going to focus on trying to dispel myths and answer any questions, worries, or concerns about vaccines so that we are all armed with all the facts.

This Sunday, if you are registered on the Electronic Vaccination Data System, you can go along to The Base Shul in Glenhazel where they are vaccinating. Anyone is welcome as long as he or she has their identity document and is registered. You can be on a medical aid, but you don’t have to be. You certainly don’t have to be Jewish.

Our responsibility isn’t just to get ourselves and those in our family above 35 vaccinated, it extends to those in our circle or those we know. What if the security guard at your office block has had difficulty registering and/or getting somewhere that he could be vaccinated? Don’t let him wait, help him to get there.

The same goes for your domestic workers, gardeners, other staff, or even that woman you know down the road. Do a mitzvah, help someone or a number of people to get vaccinated.

Make it your commitment to get yourself vaccinated, and everyone you know who wants to be protected against this killer coronavirus.

As a community, let’s do the right thing. We have seen too much death and illness, it’s time to bring it to an end.

And it’s not about which drug will work better and will there be a hospital bed if you get very ill with COVID-19. It’s all about doing everything you can to prevent you, me, and everyone else from getting this virus.

Let’s do it!

Shabbat Shalom!

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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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