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Lifelong friendship helps to change the world

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Community

A friendship that started more than 50 years ago in South Africa has sown the seeds for remarkable philanthropic success in two different continents.

Best friends Glynne Wolman and Dorit Sallis have achieved success in their respective charitable efforts and changed the lives of their beneficiaries.

Wolman is the founder of the The Angel Network, a charitable crowdfunding initiative run by a dedicated group of Jewish women that reaches more than 200 000 people across social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

Sallis’s Zurich-based nongovernmental organisation, the Twin Star Project, has also had great success since it launched in 2018, giving financial and legal assistance to economic migrants who have fled West Africa and the Middle East for Europe.

Wolman and Sallis first became friends in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) in the 1960s when they were only three years old. They were best friends throughout primary school at Theodor Herzl, but Sallis and her family emigrated to the United States in 1978 when she was 13.

The two friends lost touch with one another, with Sallis residing in various places, including New York, Russia, London, and her current home, Zurich. Meanwhile, Wolman also lived in various places, including London, Israel, Cape Town, and her current home, Johannesburg.

In spite of this long separation, the two were never too far from one another’s thoughts, and in 2016, they reconnected via Sallis’s aunt (who still lives in South Africa). They have subsequently been in regular contact through WhatsApp, but neither initially knew what the other was doing in terms of their philanthropic initiatives. However, since finding out about each other’s organisations, they have collaborated to assist one another.

Wolman is providing invaluable support and advice to Sallis and the Twin Star Project, where she is on the board along with Sallis and seven other people, including two migrants.

Sallis is using the same web designer and social media manager from The Angel Network to assist the Twin Star Project, while her husband has provided critical funding for The Angel Network.

Wolman founded The Angel Network in November 2015 after being asked on Facebook to assist with funding for matric dance dresses and a Santa Shoe Box. After receiving an overwhelming response, Wolman realised that social networking had the potential to realise a considerable change for good for those less fortunate. The Angel Network now has branches in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, and even Sweden and Sydney, Australia.

Through social media, this organisation helps to co-ordinate assistance for a variety of people in need in the local Jewish community and general South African society. Philanthropists and organisations have opened their wallets and hearts, with millions of rand donated to the network.

Rather than merely provide charity on a short-term basis, Wolman seeks to ensure that recipients are given the tools to become self-sufficient and forge sustainable success in their lives and careers – a philosophy that she describes as giving a “hands up”.

However, during 2020, the nature of this assistance changed drastically, as the focus shifted to providing immediate and urgent financial and organisational assistance rather than long-term self-sufficiency. This period has also brought out the best in people, Wolman notes.

“We have met the most phenomenal human beings during COVID-19 who are doing such incredible work on the ground and in their communities. These people have nothing, but still drive around and do the kindest, most benevolent work with no assistance – they are such good people.”

Similar to The Angel Network, the Twin Star Project’s overarching goal is to give a “hands up” to migrants, and help pave the way for them to have a financially self-reliant and productive life.

These migrants face an uphill battle from the moment that they begin their journey. Driven by dire poverty, they travel north through the Sahara Desert to Libya and cross the Mediterranean in dinghies. Tragically, Sallis notes, only about 20% of them successfully make this perilous journey. Many of the migrants who survive then land in Italy, where they struggle to find work after leaving a reception camp, and end up homeless and begging on the streets.

Relying on financial donations, the organisation performs a bridging function, meeting the immediate survival needs of migrants in the precarious period after they leave the reception camp. Migrants are placed in a halfway house in Italy, and are provided with a raft of financial and legal support, including housing and financial aid for living and medical expenses – be it in Europe or back in their countries of origin.

The Twin Star Project then assists the migrants to find future employment either through training or by funding small businesses, either in Italy or back in their home countries.

There have already been numerous success stories, with one migrant having been given the financial aid to establish a grocery store in Nigeria, while her husband is being given advice and material support to set up a business.

Sallis notes that a similar philosophy to The Angel Network underpins the Twin Star Project’s work.

“Ultimately, I want the people that the Twin Star Project helps to move towards their goal as efficiently and quickly as possible. But I also want to ensure that I take good care of them until they find a long-lasting solution for their careers and lives.”

Contrary to the perception that migrants are opportunists looking to take advantage, they are earnest and salt-of-the-earth people, Sallis says.

“I have found migrants to be decent, honest, and exemplary people. Even though they have suffered unimaginably hard times, their kindness and goodness shines through. I want to see them fulfil their potential.”

Sallis has had an illustrious professional career. She is currently managing director of the Joint Chamber of Commerce, which serves as a business bridge between Switzerland, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the South caucuses, promoting bilateral relations between 13 countries in this region.

In spite of this success, she was motivated to create a larger impact on society. She started the project after seeing images on television of migrants travelling from West Africa to Europe on precarious dinghies.

“I saw images of people floating in dinghies and it broke my heart. As a Jewish person, I know all about expulsion and feeling left out, and I couldn’t just let this go by. It touched a deep nerve. I realise that I got lucky in life, and I want to share my good fortune with those less fortunate.

“The Twin Star Project is the culmination of my professional career, and is beyond meaningful. I believe I will continue to do this forever.”

Sallis says the example set during the Holocaust by the Righteous Among the Nations is an example that she aims to emulate.

“Non-Jews have helped Jews in need in the past, and we have to reciprocate in the present. If they could help us then, then we can help those who are in need right now.”

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Communal organisations help make Rosh Hashanah special

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With Rosh Hashanah upon us, communal organisations are hard-pressed to make sure that every community member is looked after, but the number of people needing help has spiked since the onset of the pandemic.

The Chevrah Kadisha – which looks after the lion’s share of those in need – has recorded a 35% increase in the amount of financial assistance that it gives families towards living costs. In the Western Cape, Jewish Community Services Cape Town (JCS) recipients have increased more than 100%.

The Jewish Women’s Benevolent Society (JWBS) has also noticed an increase in the number of people in need over the past few years. “With COVID-19, it’s especially hard,” said Maureen Disler, the co-chairperson of the organisation which has survived for more than 127 years. “People have lost their jobs, and some people ask for food vouchers. They haven’t got enough to feed their children.”

The Chevrah Kadisha gives special yom tov meals to the 850 elderly and physically or mentally challenged people living in its residential facilities. However, its wider reach extends to nearly 11 000 people, helping them with living costs, food, healthcare, education, accommodation, and social services throughout the year.

“The Chev is unique in the sheer volume of people it helps, the duration of time that it helps them for, and the diverse range of its activities from cradle to grave,” said Saul Tomson, the chief executive of the largest Jewish welfare organisation on the African continent.

The organisation distributes R5 million every month to families in the community, totalling R60 million for the year. This is a significant increase from pre-COVID-19 times. It’s also involved in education, with nearly R1 million a month going towards 279 children in Jewish schools and remedial schools, as well as 130 university students who are being educated through the Chev’s interest-free student-loan programme.

“Particularly now leading up to Rosh Hashanah, a lot of assistance is being distributed through our COVID-19 emergency release fund,” Tomson said.

Smaller organisations like Yad Aharon & Michael have also been inundated with new requests over the past two years.

“Whereas the number of families who receive weekly food parcels from us stands at about 700, families who aren’t in a position to provide festive meals for Rosh Hashanah through to Sukkot apply for food parcels, which we gladly provide, thereby increasing the number of parcels packed by anything between 20 to 30 plentiful yom tov hampers,” said Alice Friedman, the chief executive of the organisation founded more than 23 years ago.

Ingrid Koor, the chairperson of the Union of Jewish Women (UJW), which assists just more than 100 people over Rosh Hashanah, said, “There are many more people in need as many families have emigrated, leaving elderly people. The economic downturn and COVID-19 have made things more difficult. With, unfortunately, many more elderly passing, our numbers have remained the same for a few years.”

The UJW’s flagship project, Kosher Mobile Meals (KMM), will supply festive cooked kosher Rosh Hashanah meals, plus honey for a hopefully sweeter year. “We will also distribute yom tom joy parcels supplied by the HOD [Hebrew Order of David] consisting of treats and non-perishable food to recipients,” said Koor. “KMM distributes kosher cooked meals to those Jewish elderly over 75 who are unable to cook for themselves.”

For Rosh Hashanah, Yad Aharon & Michael is handing out double portions of seasonal fruit, apples and vegetables, supplemented by meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products. Its dry goods hampers include honey, grape juice, challahs, and honey cakes in addition to all the basic requirements needed to prepare yom tov meals and usher in a happy and sweet new year.

“I’m confident our families won’t need to shop for extra food for two days of yom tov,” said Friedman. “Our aim is to enable them to enjoy plentiful meals free from worry and anxiety. This is made possible by the community’s renowned generosity.”

JWBS is giving money to its recipients to sweeten their Rosh Hashanah. It also recently gave out activity packs. “People are lonely and isolated, so we’ve given them each an activity pack. They really look forward to it,” said Disler.

This Rosh Hashanah, the JCS’s hampers include round challot, ready-made vegetable soup, roast chicken, pumpkin pie, vegetables, salads, and strawberries.

“Of course, we add in the apples, honey, grape juice, and candles,” said Lauren Cohn, the chairperson of the JCS Tikvah Foodbank Committee. “In addition, we include a Tupperware container filled with teiglach, meringues, dried fruit, and Sparkles. Every food hamper has a special Rosh Hashanah card handmade by children in our local Jewish schools. These food hampers are well thought out, meticulously planned, and beautifully presented with the love, dignity, and respect that we all deserve.”

The JCS is raising funds through the Rosh Hashanah Appeal, which entails sending out e-cards on behalf of the Tikvah Foodbank’s donors. The organisation also relies on volunteers.

“Our Rosh Hashanah and Pesach [fundraising] campaigns are the biggest,” said Friedman. “We have a Rosh Hashanah campaign running at the moment. It’s widely posted on social media, advertised on street poles in suburbs known to be frequented by the Jewish community, and in the SA Jewish Report. We’re also selling beautiful yom tov gifts at various points in Joburg, which is a successful initiative.”

The JWBS phones people to ask for donations as COVID-19 restrictions prevent it from running traditional functions such as theatre shows and golf tournaments.

Since many of the UJW’s recipients don’t have family nearby or the funds to pay for their meals, KMM is run mostly on donations. “We launched a fundraising campaign on social media and via our databases to raise money,” said Koor. “We also phoned people to ask for donations.”

Although the UJW’s principal need is donations, it also needs volunteers to chat to its isolated elderly when it’s safer to do so. “KMM recipients are more isolated since COVID-19,” said Koor. “We used to host elderly people to a Wednesday lunch at our UJW house. These people are sorely missing the social interaction.”

Asked what advice she has for those wanting to help others on Rosh Hashanah, Friedman said, “Teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah are the three elements which Hashem takes into account when finalising our verdict for the coming year. I’m fully cognisant that everybody is financially stretched, but helping those in our midst who cannot celebrate Rosh Hashanah and the chaggim without our assistance is a communal responsibility. Treating the needy with sensitivity, kindness, and empathy underpins Yad Aharon’s brand of chesed, and addressing the harsh reality of hunger and destitution in our midst forms an integral part of our mission.”

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Hudaco-ORT helps disabled entrepreneurs

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ORT South Africa hosted a ceremony on 12 August for 10 entrepreneurs who it assisted to obtained SETA qualifications to help them start their own businesses.

The potential and existing entrepreneurs were assisted by Hudaco-ORT to obtain National Qualifications Framework (NQF) level 2 new venture creation qualifications, assisting them to start and grow their business ventures.

Hudaco-ORT helps people with disabilities by facilitating their completion of the NQF level 2 qualifications, which equips them to capitalise on opportunities. The beneficiaries received their Sector Education Training Authority (SETA) certificates at the ceremony.

“We often unintentionally consume ourselves with what’s considered the norm rather than focusing on our own uniqueness,” Hudaco-ORT said. “People with disabilities are the epitome of uniqueness, forming a vital part of society and reminding us to value our own strengths and weaknesses.”

Said, beneficiary Mncedisi Bengu, “It was a surprise. I was fairly happy and shocked at the same time. I didn’t think I would be successful. My teacher, Sarah Malape, gave me an experience that I had never had in my life. She taught me to respect myself and other people, and to be myself.”

On receiving his certificate, he said, “I’m excited. At my home, they gonna [sic] be happy for me, and say, ‘Wow you did it.’”

Said another beneficiary, Sthembile Gumede, “I’m so happy, and my grandmother is happy for me. I wish I learnt more because I like books.”

ORT SA wishes all the beneficiaries of the Hudaco-ORT Project well in their future endeavours, and is grateful to Hudaco for partnering with it to make a difference in people’s lives.

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Rabbi and craftsman perfect the art of charity

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Two people from two different backgrounds – Rabbi David Masinter and artist Leonard Nyathi – have come together with the goals of teaching, educating, uplifting, and spreading the message about the need for charity around the globe.

Masinter, the rabbi of Chabad House in Johannesburg and the founder of the fundraiser Miracle Drive, was looking for a good craftsman who could also teach in the most destitute areas.

He came across Nyathi, a master craftsman whose business struggled before Miracle Drive recognised his talents and commissioned custom artworks.

Masinter told Nyathi, “Let’s identify the artists, bring them together, train them, and I will buy in a whole bunch.”

Encouraged, Nyathi started working with Masinter. “We worked as a team, an unusual team,” says Masinter. “The only thing we have in common is that we both like to teach.”

They started hiring and training underprivileged people. “We normally hire street kids and people with disabilities,” says Nyathi. “We also give training to people that don’t have an education. The rabbi and I decided to employ people so that they could make a living.”

Masinter says they found underprivileged artists in the most remote areas, and improved their skills. “When you find a skill within a person, you improve not only that skill but every other aspect as well,” he says.

Nyathi and the other artists are turning Jewish objects into what Masinter calls “African art”. All the artworks are handcrafted and hand painted – from ceramic mezuzah cases and ceramic dreidels to ceramic arks and a set of three ceramic grating plates (meat, parev, and dairy). It can all be purchased on the online Gallery of Goodness and Kindness, set up due to COVID-19. According to Masinter, they also “have a whole bunch” of non-Jewish products.

“The gallery online is only the beginning,” says Masinter. “We are building a proper gallery like the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art – a proper beautiful online gallery to promote South African art, underprivileged and other artists, one that can bring a smile to people’s faces.”

Asked if they have a marketing and sales strategy, Masinter says, “A hundred percent. That’s why this thing is going global. We also doing displays in different shopping centres, and we are taking it overseas.”

Nyathi is thankful for Masinter’s help. Now, he and the other artists can afford to pay their rent and support their families. “If it wasn’t for Shabbat, we were going to close this business,” Nyathi says.

When people praise his artwork, Nyathi says he feels “over the moon” and “recognised” in his heart.

Asked where the funding comes from for the materials, Masinter says, “Where required, I will do the funding, but the idea is to make it self-sustainable. This thing is global. We have already got orders from overseas. We are changing our world for good. Everyone should be energised by this. We can do much more.”

Masinter believes every Jew is obligated to uplift the spiritual and material welfare not only of every Jew, but also non-Jews as well.

“Therefore, we cannot live as South Africans only focusing on Jewish things when we have a fortune of programmes, from kids programmes to teenage programmes, to senior-citizen feeding programmes. We have to worry about everybody. You can’t live in a country where millions of people are living in squalor and say, ‘It’s not our problem’. The way to [help] is through job creation, and this project is helping with that. We have 21 libraries in the city in underprivileged areas. We have the whole learning programme for primary school children. We have a job-creation programme, and now during COVID-19, we went into this programme, which is self-explanatory. A rabbi and an artist have come together to turn the world upside down for good, with one thing in common, a passion for art and education.”

Masinter’s charitable work is based on two philosophies, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime” and “You don’t have to stay down, you can uplift everybody.”

Asked how long he has been doing his charitable work, he says, “I’m a Chabad rabbi. Every Chabad rabbi does charitable work. We don’t talk about the past. It’s about what we could be doing. You must energise people to copy what we are doing. We can’t sit here with millions of people living in squalor. We should all be asking what are we doing to assist welfare in this country, Jewish and non-Jewish.”•            The Gallery of Goodness and Kindness can be found at: https://www.chabadsouthafrica.org/templates/articlecco

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