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Kicked out of class for displaying Israeli flag

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Luke Lange is 12 years old and supports Israel. He’s not Jewish, but believes the Jewish state is “a great country”, and was concerned about the hatred directed at it during the recent conflict. He decided to express his support by hanging an Israeli flag on his bedroom wall. But when he appeared for online school with the flag behind him, he was told it was unacceptable by at least two teachers – one of whom kicked him out of class for not taking the flag down.

Lange is in Grade 7 at Pinnacle College in Linden, Johannesburg. In an online recording of one class, we see him sitting with the flag behind him. The teacher asks him to take it down. “I see nothing wrong with it,” says Lange. The teacher tells him, “It’s not going to be acceptable to other people from other cultures and races. So, it’s fine for you, and that’s fine. But it’s not so okay for other people. I need to ask you please not to display it like that.”

In another class, the teacher sees it, and tells him, “You are showing that you aren’t sympathetic to others’ feelings and thoughts. So if you can, please, in my lesson, take the flag down, I would really appreciate that. I would feel like you are respecting me and my thoughts and feelings. I understand you have freedom of speech, thought, and feelings, but we have to do that in a respectful way.”

When he doesn’t turn off his screen, she kicks him out of the class with the click of a button. “That solved that issue. If he cannot respect us or respect anyone else’s thoughts and feelings, he will not be a part of this meeting,” she says while Lange is offline.

Another pupil, who had the Danish flag in the background, said to the teacher, “No one’s being offended by a Danish flag. Why do they have to be offended by the Israeli flag? It’s his bedroom – he’s allowed to have what he wants on the wall.”

“The thing is, you can’t expect people to react to all kinds of nationalities and all kinds of people,” responds the teacher. “I’m all for diversity. I’m all for acceptance. But you cannot tell anyone that what they are feeling is wrong.”

“But then it’s both ways,” says the pupil. However, the teacher doesn’t agree. Speaking to the SA Jewish Report, the pupil says she stood up for Lange because, “I was really angry. I felt it was wrong that Luke was being isolated like that. Everyone should be treated equally and with respect.”

Lange told the SA Jewish Report, “I didn’t expect anyone to care [about the flag]. It’s a normal flag. I never expected that from a teacher, especially when she removed me or said I wasn’t ‘sensitive enough’ to what others wanted. I felt like I was being oppressed and said so in the Zoom chat. That’s when I was removed from the class.”

At the same time, he felt empowered by sticking to his convictions, and knew that he had the right to freedom of expression. In fact, his school’s code of conduct says this explicitly. It also says, “Any distinction, exclusion, limitation, or preference made by a person in an authoritative position who uses unfair grounds to distinguish, exclude, limit, or prefer certain persons for any role or activity or benefit is prohibited.”

Lange is on school holidays, and is unsure how he will be treated on his return to school. “I stood up for myself so that other kids don’t feel scared to express themselves,” he says. To the South African Jewish community, he says, “Stand up for your rights – your right to support Israel and be proud, your free speech, and freedom of religion.”

Lange’s father, Frederick Lange, says it has been hard to watch his son be treated this way, but he’s proud of him. “Children should have a voice. Other pupils at the school are able to express themselves in the religious clothes they wear. Just recently, tests were postponed because of a religious holiday. But it seems like no one else counts – and that has a terrible effect on a child. It’s supposed to be a safe environment. He’s so strong in his beliefs, but I’m worried about the impact of this experience, especially when the teacher kicked him out and then discussed him with the class, and he wasn’t there to defend himself.”

Speaking to the SA Jewish Report as a parent of one of the children in the class, and as project manager at the Institute of Race Relations, Terence Corrigan says, “I have nothing but the highest regard for the school and its staff. But as both a parent and a professional political analyst, I find the manner in which this was handled concerning.

“There’s a principle here,” he says. “It sends a message that offence is enough to shut someone down. Is this really what we want to communicate to our children in a world where they are never going to be able to avoid wildly divergent views?

“Ultimately, it’s about consistency,” he says. “You can’t accept some forms of politics but not others – for example, Black Lives Matter but not Israel. Either it must all be restricted, or you allow a wide, even-handed berth.”

Advocate Mark Oppenheimer, who has an interest in constitutional law, notes that, “The underlying premise of the teacher’s position is that people’s feelings cannot be questioned and that the best way to respect people’s feelings is through censorship, warding off anything that could make anyone uncomfortable. She claims to respect free speech while at the same time demanding that the student remove his camera and block the background, which would, of course, not be respecting his right to free speech. It might be sufficient to protect his right to private property – in the sense that he’s free to have the flag up in his room – but his expression requirement is that he can express that image to others, and she’s intruding on that right.

“The situation in which the other child raises the Danish flag is an excellent example of reductio ad absurdum,” Oppenheimer says. “In other words, she takes the teacher’s position and reduces it to the absurd. Her actions say, ‘I have put up a flag of another nation, which also has a religious symbol on it [a cross], and if you think that I should be free to have this image up but that he shouldn’t be free to have the Star of David in his background, then there’s a problem.’”

Oppenheimer says there are double standards at play, and “if you indulge feelings as a reason for censoring, then it’s very hard to put the genie back in the bottle”.

Mike Aitken, the managing director of ADvTECH schools (which includes Pinnacle College Linden), says, “Our review of this incident is ongoing, and includes discipline considerations, coaching, support, and education/training.

“When viewed in isolation, the video doesn’t reflect all relevant events surrounding this incident or align with how we would have wanted this [to be] managed. We are taking action to ensure that our staff are better empowered to deal with situations in online classes that trigger this sort of response. Unfortunately, school holidays and responses since the event have detracted from us using this as a teaching moment as emotions became heated very quickly, and some associated and consequent conduct wasn’t aligned with our values.

“We unequivocally accept Luke’s right to have the Israeli flag,” he says. “We equally understand that for some students, its symbolism is triggering and traumatising, and their rights are as important. As an inclusive South African school, we rely on temperance from everyone as we learn together what a respectful and diverse world can be like.

“We prefer not to have any religious or political symbolism on display in our classes as this can detract from the scheduled teaching and learning process. That being said, we expect this preference and situation to be managed collaboratively and compassionately. We always remain willing to facilitate respectful discussions between students on potentially emotive topics, but prefer these be handled in a planned and managed way so as to derive the greatest understanding and benefit for all parties involved.”

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. chave

    Jul 8, 2021 at 2:19 pm

    You would think that I teacher would have some brains and a brave young man Luke for standing up for his believes

  2. Erene Schwarz

    Jul 8, 2021 at 3:01 pm

    We know this family. They are great people with open hearts and compassion for others . We have know Luke since he was a baby. . We are proud of his stand and for his convictions. I don’t see how the teachers can be so aggressive over what he has in his bedroom or what believes is right. Where is his freedom of speech? Sadly this is the sign of the days we live in but we will continue to stand for truth. Well done Luke. Don’t give in to the bullies !

  3. Barbara Levin

    Jul 8, 2021 at 9:49 pm

    Brave Luke Lange I hope he continues to stand for diversity and human rights . These do not pertain only to Black and Asian people but to Jews and Israel too. The teacher’s behaviour certainly indicates her prejudice

  4. Sarlina

    Jul 8, 2021 at 10:03 pm

    I believe this young man is brave and strong. Every person is free to believe the truth in his own house, not as media presents it. Truth sets one free, brings life and hope for all people. Go, Luke!

  5. Pam

    Jul 12, 2021 at 8:19 am

    Clear bias and unprofessional behaviour on the part of the teacher – should be fired, we don’t want people like this poisoning the minds of the generation that is going to be the future of this country. Get rid of her, quicksmart.

  6. Dan nitzan

    Jul 13, 2021 at 4:22 am

    RESPECT young man. 1 of Our future leaders

  7. MaryAnn

    Jul 16, 2021 at 2:08 am

    Good for you Luke! The teacher should be reprimanded and fired! Absolutely prejudiced behavior on the teacher’s part. I think the school could have been much firmer in their stance and insisted on an apology to him from the teacher and school district!

  8. Ruven Golan

    Jul 17, 2021 at 3:51 am

    Anti-Semitism

  9. Avraham

    Jul 23, 2021 at 3:48 pm

    The teacher do what their management allow. This is pure anti semitism, no use not seeing the elephant in the room.

  10. Mark Jacobovitch

    Jul 23, 2021 at 6:17 pm

    Wtg Luke

  11. Craig

    Jul 27, 2021 at 4:45 am

    Thank you Luke, from a Jew in America! If you give in to antisemitic hate like the teacher wanted you to, it would only get worse. The teacher should be investigated, I have a feeling she supports Islamic terrorist groups. I read about this on Israellycool.com

  12. Marden Paul

    Jul 30, 2021 at 5:41 pm

    This situation is becoming all too common. There’s an adage about a spider web. Every day, a spider makes a beautiful web. Every night, a human destroys the web. The spider re-weaves and the human destroys. Eventually, the spider gives up making perfect webs and they degrade. The spider gives up because of the constant pressure on its life. Be brave Luke. Don’t give in to ignorance and hate.

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‘Happy-go-lucky’ twins’ tragic deaths raises questions

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Identical twin brothers Leonard and Jason Rom – inseparable in life and death – were laid to rest side by side on Sunday, 16 January, at Westpark Cemetery on a bleak, grey morning attended by a small gathering of mourners.

No one knows exactly what pushed the brothers, aged 44, to take their lives in a dramatic, seemingly macabre, and grisly finale to what must have followed months of anguish, desperation, and despair.

Devoted to each other from birth until their dying minutes, the Rom brothers’ bodies were found on 10 January in their company-branded car in Simon’s Town, about 35km from Cape Town.

The bodies of Jason’s four beloved bulldogs, Hercules, Franky, Gucci, and Coco, were found with them in their small Peugeot. Attached to their car was a trailer containing all their belongings. Both divorced, Leonard leaves behind two young children, a boy and a girl.

His distraught son clutched onto the trolley carrying his father’s coffin for what seemed like forever as the twins’ coffins were wheeled side by side to their final resting place.

According to reports, Simon’s Town police were called to the scene at about 08:30, where they found the brothers with gunshot wounds to their chests. They were declared dead on the scene by paramedics.

Captain Frederick van Wyk told the SA Jewish Report that the circumstances surrounding the deaths are under investigation, and an inquest has been opened.

The Roms’ untimely and sudden deaths have left many reeling in utter disbelief. Those who knew them were aware that the brothers were extremely close and did everything together. They lived together and were in business together as the former owners and partners of 1 Two 1 Cellular, a cellphone repair company in Craighall Park, Johannesburg.

“They couldn’t live without each other. I have never seen a brotherly bond like this,” said their friend, Quentin Neuper, who described them as fun-loving, warm, and friendly.

“They were awesome guys. I adored them. They would go out of their way to help customers, often driving to their homes. Every time I was in the shop, they made me laugh and made my day.”

He said Jason loved his dogs “with his life”. “They were his everything. They both loved animals. We are all trying to make sense of this.”

The brothers apparently didn’t leave a note, but no sooner had news of their passing spread, so too did rumours and wild speculation.

Was it a hit? Was it a robbery gone wrong? Were they on the run? Was it a moment of blind madness fuelled by drugs or alcohol? Were they simply in too deep, above their heads? Or did they fall prey to the endless cycle of depression and anxiety exacerbated by the brutal COVID-19 pandemic?

The twins may have taken the answers to their graves, but they have left behind loved ones hanging on to lasting memories.

Jason’s ex-wife, Monique Cardona, told the SA Jewish Report that she last spoke to Jason about two weeks ago. She kept in regular contact with the brothers, even though she had been divorced from Jason for 10 years.

“I’m shocked, this was totally unexpected. They seemed ok, things were hard, but they weren’t more down than usual,” she said.

“They weren’t just brothers, they were best friends, attached at the hip. They even wore matching clothes sometimes and always had this way of making people smile,” she said fondly. “They came as a package deal, and always ran things by each other.”

She’s aware they had sugar diabetes and heart issues, but they never spoke about depression. She said as far as she knew, they wanted to make a new life for themselves and start over.

Initial reports last week suggested the brothers were tourists in the Mother City, but it has since been established that this wasn’t the case.

There was no summer holiday for the beleaguered twins, who had experienced financial difficulties in recent years to the point of closing their shop and working from home. It’s believed they left Johannesburg a few months ago in the hope of starting a new life after a series of financial blows which left them with few options. Some said they were thinking of starting a food-truck business.

Their company was once successful and thriving with clients far and wide. It was even rumoured they assisted Oprah Winfrey on one of her visits, and the company was once nominated for a 702 small business award.

Things were good for a while, said friends this week. They were known for miles around for providing excellent, personal service. Jason took care of the customers in the front of the shop, while Leonard was the technician.

Having started out in the early 2000s, the company grew steadily. Sadly, the business took a few knocks, and after some time, Jason sold his house in Fairmount, just a few houses from Leonard’s house. It’s believed a series of break ins, some bad luck, and the pandemic finally took their toll. Relationships fell apart, and the close-knit brothers lived together before deciding to try their luck in Cape Town sometime last year.

Customers this week praised the pair for their expertise and professional service, many recalling their jovial, friendly, and good-humoured demeanour.

“This is a story I cannot get my head around,” said Rabbi Shaul Bacher, describing their passing as “a calamity” and a “tragedy of such magnitude”. Speaking at the funeral, he said, “There are no words to give comfort.”

Bacher said it was “hard to believe” that both brothers were in such a bad way that neither could see a way out or persuade the other that they were making a grave mistake.

“I work in drug rehabilitation, I have seen depression, but I have never seen something like this. You can’t make this up,” said Bacher.

Like most, the rabbi is dismayed at the circumstances surrounding their passing. “None of it makes any sense,” he said, urging the urgency of addressing depression and anxiety.

“All of this is hard to fathom, but we need to take something from this that will encourage those in need to reach out and get the help they desperately need. People should also make it their business to become aware of those suffering around them.”

The twins’ half-sister, Beverley Mans, who lives in Israel with their sister, Sharon Slimowitz, said the family was heartbroken and in shock. “We are all devastated beyond words, we can’t believe it,” she said.

“They were such happy-go-lucky boys, we cannot believe what transpired. Whoever you ask is in total shock. They didn’t say much, we know times were tough for them as for everyone else. They wanted to start a new life in Cape Town.”

She said the Rom boys were born in Johannesburg, and made aliyah with their late mother in 1994. They returned to South Africa, where they were first involved in the towing business before starting 1 Two 1 Cellular.

Their loved ones are waiting for the results of the inquest, hoping it will help them to reach closure.

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Kiff vibes for a well-known psalm

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The South African Jewish community received a special Shabbat “gift” on the first Friday of 2022, when David Scott (better known as The Kiffness) released his latest remix on 7 January. Taking a joyful rendition of the psalm Im Hashem Lo Yivneh Bayis by the Shira Choir, the South African musician added his own beats and even a cameo of a cat, to take it to new heights.

For many, it was a delight to see such a celebrated South African performer embrace Jewish music and bring it to his diverse and global audience.

What’s more, Scott released the song online just hours before his wife gave birth to their first child. “It’s been a crazy day,” he told the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation (Gardens Shul) pre-Shabbat Zoom session, where he was a special guest. The shul’s chazan, Choni Goldman (Choni G), had provided invaluable advice to Scott as he worked with the song and then invited him to join the community online.

When Scott shared that his wife had just gone into labour, Gardens Shul Rabbi Osher Feldman blessed the musician and his family. He also thanked him for showing that music can bring people together.

Making time to speak to the SA Jewish Report from the hospital after his son was born, Scott explained how the remix came about. “Most of my remixes start with fans messaging me on Instagram, Facebook, or email. This particular video of the Shira Choir (who are based in Brooklyn, New York) popped up in my inboxes a couple of times, so I checked it out and was instantly hooked and amazed by the wonderful music.”

He says that the choir was aware that he was working with its music. “Whenever I embark on a collaboration of this nature, I always reach out to the original artist[s], introduce myself, tell them what I do, and ask if they would be okay with me doing a remix. I sent them an early draft of the remix I was busy working on. I was very glad to hear that they liked it! The rest was history.”

“The original is already a masterpiece on its own. My remix just injects a bit more chutzpah into the song,” he says.

The response to the remix has been hugely positive. Asked why he thinks this is the case, Scott says, “Music is a universal language, and people recognise and resonate with good music regardless of where it comes from. But I do think there’s something special about this song. I feel as if the composer tapped into something much bigger than ourselves when he wrote the melody, as did David when he wrote The Song of Solomon (Psalm 127).”

The lyrics translate as, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. Guardian of Israel.”

“The song resonates because it’s a gentle reminder that everything we build is in vain unless it is built upon solid principles,” he says. “I have always believed that anything that’s difficult now will make life easier in the long run, and anything that’s easy now will make life harder in the long run. We live in a society where instant gratification is rife, so it was refreshing to hear David’s psalm in the context of music. Music has a way of making truth more digestible.”

Though the response has been overwhelmingly positive, “unfortunately there have been a few negative comments”, he says. “My response is always either to ignore them, block them, or if I’m up to it, respond in kindness. The few nasty comments I have seen, I‘ve decided to block.”

On working with Goldman, Scott says, “I know Choni G through performing at Barmitzvahs, Batmitzvahs, and weddings together. When I began remixing the song, I wanted to make sure I had all the right translations and transliterations in place. I knew Choni could help me, but what I didn’t know was how gracious he would be with his time and willingness to help. What a guy!”

For his part, Goldman told the SA Jewish Report that “Dave messaged me asking if I know the song, saying people had sent it to him asking to remix it, and he digs it. I told him, ‘Go for it!’ I knew the choir, and pointed out that the verses are from Psalms. Dave is a super talented guy. He didn’t need my help! But wherever I thought I could help out from a Jewish perspective, or just by being a soundboard for him, I did.

“Over the next two weeks while he remixed it we were in touch with various things,” says Goldman. “This ranged from giving my take on subtleties, how people might receive it, to helping with translations, transliteration, and Hebrew text, and putting him in touch with the right people in New York to license the song. The remix is great, and I’m a big fan of his work. I’d love to work on something together at some point. I’m sure we will.”

Scott says that joining the Gardens Shul pre-Shabbat Zoom session was “really great. It was very special to receive such a wonderful blessing from the rabbi before heading to the hospital as we prepared for the delivery of our first-born son.”

Asked if he would work with more Jewish music in future, he says, “I’m open to all kinds of music as long as it resonates with my spirit. This particular song resonated with me deeply, and maybe it will open more doors to working with more Jewish music in the future.”

He says the community can support him by simply subscribing to his YouTube channel. “You will be notified of my upcoming videos. Every view helps me to keep an income and to continue what I enjoy doing.”

To the South African Jewish community, he says, “I’d like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the warm reception to the song. It was a leap of faith on my part [as a Christian] to work with music outside of my own faith, but I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and went for it. I did find comfort in knowing that the Psalms are celebrated in both faiths and essentially point toward the same thing, which is G-d. So with that in mind, I had a gut feeling that it would work out, and I’m glad I was right. I have nothing but love and respect for my Jewish brothers and sisters.”

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Shock as ‘Eishet Chayil’ murdered in Cape Town

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At the beginning of 2021, Doreen Lewis’ brother, David Lewis, died from COVID-19 at age 68. The siblings lived together and were deeply involved in the Cape Town Jewish community. But before the year was out, tragedy struck again: Doreen was murdered in her home in lower Vredehoek around midday on 14 December 2021.

Described as having a “special neshama”, Doreen (73), dedicated herself to caring for her brother, who was born deaf. She was planning her brother’s consecration an hour before she was brutally murdered. The two siblings are now buried one grave apart.

Speaking to the SA Jewish Report from London, their surviving brother, Frank Lewis, says he hadn’t seen his siblings since before the pandemic, but they spoke every day. Even though he left South Africa in 1989, he never imagined his sister would one day be tied up and murdered in her own home.

“Doreen was a beautiful girl who never married. She dedicated herself to caring for my late parents and brother,” says Frank, pointing out that there are many “unanswered questions” about the murder.

Their cousin, David Stein in Cape Town, says that after her brother’s passing, Doreen lived alone, although more recently her domestic helper and her husband had moved in after their room on the property had burnt down. Because the domestic helper’s room was being rebuilt, there were many builders on site. The flat is in Myrtle Street, right by the Gardens Shopping Centre.

“They think the guy [who murdered her] posed as a builder or insurance agent. It happened around noon – in broad daylight,” he says. “The domestic helper and her husband were in the flat, but they heard nothing. The murderer can be seen on the security cameras but because he’s wearing a mask, it’s difficult to identify him. All he took was an old cell phone. The motive was probably robbery.” Stein says the domestic worker discovered the body, but isn’t a suspect.

“The investigation is being dealt with by seasoned detectives”, Warrant Officer Joseph Swartbooi of the South African Police Services Western Cape Media Centre told the SA Jewish Report. “The investigation has reached a sensitive stage, and the investigating officer is following up on all leads.”

Captain Ezra October of the Cape Town Central Police Station added that he had interviewed the investigator, Detective Warrant Officer Shaun Bardien, regarding an update. “He informed me that the investigation is at a sensitive stage. The community arranged possible video footage, and he is awaiting feedback.”

Bardien is a member of the Serious and Violent Crimes detectives unit. Local media report that he and his team have successfully solved two murder cases in the Cape Town City Bowl, so there’s hope that this killer will also be apprehended. Victims in the two cases were aged 81 (killed in 2017) and 60 (killed in 2018). They were both killed in their homes.

Cape Town Jewry and the wider community reacted in shock and anger to the murder, especially because the area has deteriorated in recent years. “We lived near Gardens Centre for a while and it was more dodgy than just about anywhere else we’ve lived subsequently, including on Long Street,” wrote one resident of the area on Facebook. “A very uneasy mix of street dwellers and car guards checking out everybody and everything. My car got broken into four times near Gardens Centre.”

Said another resident, “I moved here last year, and as much as I know that no area is unaffected by crime, I have never felt this uneasy in my own home.” Another person added, “I have been threatened by multiple car guards while walking in Schoonder and Myrtle streets after shopping.”

“The Gardens Centre area has been frightening for us all to park nearby and approach on foot for many years,” wrote a third resident. “This area has been described as a hot spot for years. Residents have had to fight for themselves.”

Doreen’s brother, Frank, says they spoke about his sister moving after David’s passing, but she didn’t want to as she was comfortable in her lifelong family home. Her murder comes after another elderly Jewish couple, Rosalie Bloch and Aubrey Jackson, were tied up and murdered in their home in 2018. Two years ago, Western Cape police offered a R100 000 reward for information, but the investigation has stalled.

“Doreen was a quiet type, and well-loved. She was an excellent cook and baker,” says Stein. “Their parents always had a welcoming and hamishe home. They lived close to Schoonder Street Shul, and every visiting rabbi would spend Shabbat with them.”

Cape Town attorney Peter Greenberg knew the siblings for many years. “I had my law practice in Gardens Centre for 28 years and during this time, I got to know Doreen and her brothers. I think David’s passing was devastating for Doreen as they were very close. Doreen was devoted to taking excellent care of David’s day-to-day needs. She was well-loved and a true eishet chayil [woman of valour]. Her untimely and sudden passing was a huge shock.”

“David was the first deaf referee in South Africa, and was known to have given Rabbi David Rosen a red card in a local soccer game,” Stein says. “He also played bowls and loved Yiddishkeit. They were both in hospital with COVID-19. Doreen survived, David didn’t.”

“David refereed at provisional and club level, and he represented South Africa as a referee at the Maccabi Games as well as local derbies,” says his friend, Adam Zartz.

Frank Lewis’ sister-in-law in Cape Town, Jenny Cohen, says, “Doreen had an amazing sense of humour. She would do small acts of kindness, like taking a plate of homemade biscuits to the guard every time she visited the cemetery.” Now, she lies in that same cemetery, taken too soon.

Stanley Norrie of Café Riteve on the Cape Town Jewish Community Campus says Doreen visited the café every day, spending time with old friends as they reminisced about their childhoods centred around Schoonder Street Shul. Writing on Facebook on 15 December 2021, he said, “Two weeks ago, Doreen Lewis was celebrating a birthday with her friends at Café Riteve. Every day we saw Israel, Noreen, and Doreen smiling and laughing. Yesterday, she was brutally murdered! We are so sad and wish her family strength. It’s absolutely incomprehensible.”

Zartz says Doreen battled in the wake of her brother’s passing, especially because COVID-19 restrictions meant that she couldn’t attend the community events she so loved. “Maybe this was Hashem’s way of saying that she and her brother needed to be together. Their memory will be cherished.”

Anyone with information is urged to call Crime Stop on 08600 10111.

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