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Just Now Jeffrey feels like right now – and very Jewish

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Watching Just Now Jeffrey, the soon to be launched South African movie, was like a trip down memory lane, watching my youth through the eyes of the boys I could have grown up with.

It felt almost biographical, like someone stepped into our shoes back in the late 1980s in Jewish South Africa. The cast could have lived in Linksfield, Victory Park, Sea Point, or Milnerton, or just about anywhere that was predominantly Jewish here in the late 1980s.

It’s so easy to forget what it was like living under an apartheid government, and having VHS and Betamax video machines, cassette tapes, faxes, and phones attached to our walls. But the movie was a warm reminder of those days.

The Pesach seder was a classic, with the one child in the family, Jeffrey Greenbaum, the lead actor – played by Julian Robinson – focused totally on his hormonal urges, while his sister could think only of the injustices in South Africa under apartheid. Meanwhile, the uncle, who lives with them, sees only swart gevaar and ugliness. That could have been my own family’s seder table, and probably most tables in the community back then.

Though the story is universal in terms of being about a teenage boy and his sexual urges, singular focus on getting laid, and interactions with big bullies and the opposite sex, it’s deeply enmeshed in the South African Jewish community. It’s a very Jewish, edgy, coming of age story. The “Yiddishisms” and “Hebringlish” slang is so much a part of our language even today, it may not be so easy for people outside of the community to understand, but I could be wrong.

My favourite character was Moshik, the Israeli school sports instructor, played by Nik Rabinowitz, who I found totally hilarious, but also so similar to sports coaches I knew and was so fond of back in my day at King David School.

What was also amusing for me is how in 1989, the headlines on newspapers were about the country being “on a knife edge”, and the community talking about how it was going down the tubes, but not only did that not happen, we’re still saying the same things so many decades later.

The antisemitism seen in the movie may look extreme and almost over the top, but it feels a little like what’s happening right now. Same same, just a little different! Back then, it was Afrikaans people who were pushing our buttons in South Africa. Now it’s the trendy left who wrap themselves up in Israel-hating keffiyehs and claim that their gripe is definitely not about Jews but anyone who aligns themselves with Israel. Right!

It’s fascinating how watching Just Now Jeffrey, you notice how much time has passed, but there are so many similarities with how we live now. Granted back then, the domestic worker ran the home, but potentially got paid a pittance and had no time for a personal life, and that wouldn’t work today. She’s still running the home, though, and she still has our children’s backs.

Our children are still trying to get out of PT at school, using every excuse in the book, only now they don’t call it PT, but PE (physical education).

And today, those sitting at the table who might once have been the anti-apartheid activists, are now sitting at the seder or Shabbos table criticising Israel, making us feel equally uncomfortable.

This wonderful movie, which is partially a parody of our younger lives and partially a blisteringly real replay, feels so Jewish to me. The terminology, behaviour, experiences, et al fit so perfectly into our community’s past, that I have no doubt it will go down in history in our community as being the local film you cannot miss.

However, I wonder how it will be received by a gentile audience? Will they get the nuances, and does it matter if they don’t? How will our community be seen in their eyes – and again, does it really matter?

Go see for yourself! I have no doubt that though a younger audience will love it, those of us past our halfway mark, will see it a little differently.

Just Now Jeffrey will be released in cinemas across South Africa on 3 May.

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