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Lifting up artists taken down by lockdown




“Performing artists rely on gatherings of people. So in a sense, they’ve been hit hardest by lockdown. Any way you look at it, they have no options,” says performer, choreographer, director and Fame Academy owner Vicky Friedman.

Friedman and other professional performers in Johannesburg – Lorri Strauss, Shelley Meskin, Talia Kodesh, Caryn Katz, and Sharon Spiegel-Wagner – say they cannot stand by and watch their contemporaries suffer. The group have formed Noah’s Art, an initiative to collect food and money for performing artists negatively affected by the pandemic.

“The needs within our industry are unprecedented. Noah’s Art aims to help feed as many performers and their families as possible during this time of crisis,” says Friedman.

In a moment of powerful synchronicity, Meskin happened to mention to performer and studio owner Jonathan Birin that they had formed this initiative. Birin said that he thought Glynne Wolman and The Angel Network would love to get involved. At the same time, Birin was organising the Saturday Night Unplugged webinar with Howard Sackstein, the chairperson of the SA Jewish Report. Within minutes, these various forces came together, and the webinar, which had an estimated audience of 9 000 from all over the world, became an avenue to support South African artists who are literally starving.

“Working in the performing arts is already hard. Most people are freelancers, and they survive from gig to gig, corporate event to corporate event,” says Friedman. “Add lockdown, and they are truly stuck. For example, you may be a dancer, but you can’t teach a dance class online because you have no data. There is a mountain of problems. There was one dancer who was losing so much weight from going hungry that his friends had to club together to help him even though they also had nothing.”

Friedman says that although everyone in the performing arts has suffered, those in the Jewish community have mostly been able to get by because of support from family, friends, the community, and communal organisations. But others aren’t so lucky, and these are the performers that Noah’s Art aims to help.

“They are people who we’ve performed with in hundreds of productions. They’re the ones next to us on stage, lifting us up into the air! We couldn’t just stand by as they told us their stories. We hoped to collect food for a few weeks, but then it just snowballed. We are so grateful that so many “ears” picked up what was going on. It was a huge surprise on Saturday night when Glynne handed over R104 000 from The Angel Network. We were flabbergasted. We couldn’t believe what we were hearing. And then we were shocked and awed by the generosity of the community, which raised R200 000 on the night of the webinar.” One hundred McDonald’s vouchers were also generously donated.

The funds raised will go towards nutritious food parcels packed by The Angel Network, as well as food vouchers, supporting at least 715 families. Wolman says that they hope to raise even more. This isn’t the first time that The Angel Network has supported those in the performing arts, and Wolman agrees that the situation is “dire”. She emphasises that every cent raised will go towards food parcels and food vouchers. “The webinar was beyond our wildest dreams, in terms of entertainment and fundraising,” she says.

“These are skilled, talented entertainers. They’re not used to living in poverty,” says Friedman. “They have made their way very capably in the world. They are our friends.” Many people who work behind the scenes, from crew members to runners to lighting designers, have also been hit hard, and many small businesses have had to close down.

“The other element is that the arts feeds our soul. There is the emotional and mental implication of not being able to do what we love,” says Friedman. “This webinar made people realise the importance of the performing arts to us as a community. Look how we rely on performance, music, and the stories in movies and series on Netflix to keep us going during lockdown. So, people’s hearts just opened.”

Birin says he has been performing virtually for a year at the Mike’s Place Open Mic Night every Monday night, after the famous Israeli venue hosted musicians from all over the world to perform and keep their momentum during tough times. It was the inspiration for the SA Jewish Report webinar. Then, when Birin got heart-wrenching voice notes from well-known entertainers saying they didn’t have enough money for food, he got The Angel Network involved.

“I know an artist in Israel who has 90% of his salary covered by the government. Here, artists just starve,” says Birin. “And they’re the top names in the industry. If there was a major event, they would be the ones on stage. They’re so embarrassed to say they’ve got no food. And they’re not asking for steak and chips, they need an apple and some muesli. They’re like a forgotten tribe. But this community is so special, and the donations and comments came flying in. It’s amazing how a few small actions have led to this avalanche of goodness. And we aren’t even doing this for our own community, we’re doing it for others. Because that’s who we are.”

Meskin says, “We had to get on the ground and actually do something to help our fellow artists. They haven’t earned a cent since last March. They can’t feed their families, pay rent, buy basic medicines, or get electricity, airtime, or even water. The ‘pit’ is endless and deep. We hope to keep the momentum going. We’re just a group of girls who want to help, so thank you to the SA Jewish Report, The Angel Network, and the community for allowing us to do something. There is so much to be done. This has helped us to pick up where the government has let us down.”

Noah’s Art is also collecting non-perishable food. See its Facebook page for more information. Drop off items at: Voodoo Lily Cafe, Migali, Photogenic (Norwood), Bowring Levin School of Dance, JATA Johannesburg Academy for Theatre Arts, Stageworx, Andrea Beck School of Dance, Osrin Goldsmith Dance Academy, Jade Tannous Dance Academy, Rosenberg Dance Studio, Claire van Niekerk 5678 Productions, Joanne Bobrow, or King David High School Victory Park.

Donations can be made to: Noah’s Art; Investec; account no: 50016898206; branch 580105. Reference: your name.

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Enough vaccines to go round, say experts, but not for a while



There is a widespread perception in the community that South Africa is lagging way behind in its vaccine rollout, but insiders say there will be enough vaccines to go round and herd immunity isn’t a pipe dream.

Discovery Group Chief Executive Adrian Gore told the SA Jewish Report this week that South Africa had secured 51 million doses of vaccines. These include 31 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

“Together, these should be sufficient to cover more than 40 million adults in South Africa, exceeding the population herd immunity target of 29 million people,” he said.

He said cabinet had indicated an intention to vaccinate all high-risk groups, including essential workers, people over the age of 60, and people living with multiple co-morbidities by the latest October 2021.

“Discovery, together with public and private-sector partners, is pushing hard to achieve this sooner, pending the available supply of vaccines.”

Professor Barry Schoub, emeritus professor in virology at the University of the Witwatersrand and the former director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, agreed that there was a perception that the country was lagging behind.

However, Schoub said South Africa was lucky that the lag hadn’t been too damaging, because of the low transmission rate of the virus. This, he said, was “unlike the continuing devastation in the northern hemisphere in spite of extensive vaccine rollouts in those countries”.

“We do hope that there will be sufficient vaccination in good time for a large proportion of high-risk individuals to be covered before we experience our third wave and before winter,” he said.

“Unfortunately, financially, we weren’t able to race with the hounds and grab all the good vaccines, as most of the high-income countries have selfishly done, procuring far more than their populations needed.”

Schoub, who also chairs the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 tasked with advising the government on vaccine-related matters, said there were a number of important things to remember about the rollout.

“First, many of the middle and lower-income countries have opted to roll out with vaccines which haven’t yet been approved by what are called stringent regulatory authorities, for example the United States Food and Drug Administration,” he said. “For example, vaccines from China and Russia, which may well be very good vaccines and are also undergoing review in South Africa, but haven’t yet been approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).”

South Africa is “very fortunate” in having an excellent regulatory authority in SAHPRA, Schoub said, advised and supported by a team of excellent local scientists, in order to uphold high standards of safety and efficacy in approving vaccines for use in this country.

“Also, it’s indeed fortunate that we didn’t, in fact, like high-income countries, rush to buy large amounts of vaccines because of the dominance of the B.1.351 variant in South Africa. This variant is proving to be a major determinant of vaccine efficacy.

“We are also fortunate in this country to have a network of scientists which ranks amongst the top in the world in the COVID-19 field, who can provide the most advanced scientific evaluation of the suitability of vaccines for the South African environment, especially given the dominance of the B.1.351 variant.”

South Africa’s vaccines are expected to start arriving in the middle of this month, according to Gore.

A total of 0.6 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses are scheduled for delivery this month, and a further 4.5 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses are scheduled for delivery in May and June, with the remaining 15 million doses scheduled for delivery in the third and fourth quarters of this year.

Gore, who has been working with the task team (chaired by Schoub) appointed by the health minister to support vaccine procurement, said 2.8 million Johnson & Johnson doses were scheduled for delivery from April to June, with the balance scheduled for delivery in the third and fourth quarters of this year.

He said Discovery had been working on detailed plans to ensure its medical-scheme members and clients were able to access vaccinations as soon as they were eligible according to national prioritisation criteria.

“In alignment with the national priority setting process and three-phase rollout, we have segmented and stratified our member base based on those at highest risk. Through this exercise, we have identified more than 550 000 clients and members as high-risk,” he said. “The aim is to vaccinate this group as quickly as possible, then to go on to provide access to vaccination for the remaining 2.5 million members and clients as quickly as possible in the following phases of the rollout, ideally before the end of 2021.”

He said Discovery was also preparing to help its members navigate the vaccination process. This includes how to register on the Electronic Vaccination Data System, how to locate accredited vaccination sites, providing follow-up reminders for second doses, and providing access to vaccination certificates.

“Discovery is participating in Business for South Africa workstreams that are planning the roll out of the national COVID-19 vaccination programme alongside the national department of health. We are contributing skills and expertise to support this national effort,” Gore said.

He said Discovery remained in regular contact with vaccine manufacturers, while making every effort in co-ordination with the health department to speed up availability to members of the medical schemes it administers.

“Schemes administered by Discovery have ring-fenced funds for vaccination for all members. We are ready and waiting to disburse these funds pending the arrival of vaccines and official launch of the next phase of the rollout,” he said.

According to the health department, the number of healthcare workers vaccinated under the Sisonke Protocol remains 269 102, a tiny figure compared with the United States, where a record four million people received a vaccine last Saturday alone.

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Labia Theatre’s nine-year battle against anti-Israel film



It’s been nine years since Labia Theatre owner Ludi Kraus was unwittingly caught up in a fight with the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) over the screening at his theatre of a documentary which compares Israel to apartheid South Africa.

“This is a battle I didn’t choose,” he says in an exclusive interview with the SA Jewish Report. “I stood up for the rights of independent cinemas and in particular my theatre. It’s been enormously stressful, but I didn’t want my theatre to be used for an event that was central to something as divisive as the opening of Israel Apartheid Week (IAW). So, I stuck with those principles.”

In a judgment delivered on 26 March 2021, Western Cape Judge Andre Le Grange of the Equality Court ruled that the Labia must screen the film The Roadmap to Apartheid within 60 days, and it was ordered to pay costs.

Kraus, who is Jewish, couldn’t at the time of going to press share how he and his legal team would respond to the judgment, but he recalled how it all started. “I received a request from a publishing company to rent a cinema on a Sunday afternoon. It was called, somewhat innocuously, Workers World Media Productions.

“An arrangement regarding the screening of the film was made, and I was told to send an invoice to the PSC. I was puzzled because I thought it was a South African movie linked to apartheid. The publishing company hadn’t mentioned the PSC at all. So I googled the film, and to my surprise, found that it was about comparing apartheid to Israel and the Palestinians. I didn’t feel comfortable showing the film, especially when I found out that the screening at the Labia was to be a central part of the opening of IAW in 2012.

“I was unhappy with the film and the event. I felt it wouldn’t be popular with the majority of my patrons, especially considering the hundreds of other venues that could be used to screen it instead. I phoned the publishing company, and told it that I didn’t want to proceed. Communication was initially polite. They were understanding, and said they would discuss it with their colleagues.

“The next thing, I was by accident sent some in-house emails that weren’t intended for me, in which one person said that they were happy to find an alternative venue, but others insisted that it be shown at the Labia, which would generate publicity for their cause.

“We were then subjected to emails, threats, boycotts, and pickets every Friday for a year. They got academics and the media involved. Meanwhile, the film was shown on UCT [the University of Cape Town] campus, and went on a national tour.

“They also got organisations to boycott us, and some of it did affect us. We were then approached by Right2Know (R2K), which said it was prepared to mediate. It culminated in our agreeing to a screening of the film on condition that the South African Zionist Federation [SAZF] be present to debate the film afterwards. We obviously wanted to try and have a balanced debate. But the SAZF pulled out. Because the condition hadn’t been met, we cancelled the screening, which led to a further outcry.

“That was followed by both the PSC and R2K lodging complaints with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). The SAHRC found in favour of us.

“Unbeknown to us though, the PSC and R2K then appealed the SAHRC decision without notifying us that they were doing so,” Kraus says. “This time, on appeal, the SAHRC overturned its initial decision, and found against us. The first we heard about the appeal ruling was a year after it had taken place. Yet, it’s a legal principle that you can’t rule against someone if you haven’t given them the opportunity to hear their side of the story, as was the case here.

“So, we took the SAHRC’s decision on review to the High Court, and we won that battle. But the Equality Court, in a separate matter brought by the PSC, ruled against us, ordering a screening of the film.”

Going forward, Kraus is most concerned about the ongoing funding of legal costs, especially if the case goes all the way to the Constitutional Court. The cinema has had a tough year financially as it was in lockdown for five months. It was then hit by the second wave during the holiday season – the only time it could have ‘caught up’. Having now fought two high court cases, it simply doesn’t have the resources to continue to fight with an appeal to the Supreme Court and then, if necessary, the Constitutional Court. Kraus says that even with his attorneys acting pro bono, the cost of driving these matters through the courts is still substantial for a small business.

“It’s a struggle. Many of our patrons are older people who aren’t ready to return to the cinema, even though we have COVID-19 safety protocols in place,” says Kraus. The cinema is hoping to draw a younger audience with more commercial titles. It has also launched a streaming service that is available anywhere in South Africa.

Kraus believes that the PSC and its supporters don’t care much about the actual screening of the film at the Labia anymore. “For them, all these years later, it’s more about the publicity that’s being generated over the issue,” he says.

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Photos reveal Africa’s Jewish tapestry



“My photographs try to weave together the complex tapestry of the Jewish African peoples segregated by historical, cultural, linguistic, and regional divides yet united by a faith in Hashem.”

So says Jono David, a British-born photographer living in Japan who has travelled the globe to amass what is perhaps the most extensive archive of contemporary images of Jewish heritage and heritage sites in the world.

Included in his growing compendium of more than 120 000 photographs from 116 countries and territories is his collection of photographs of Jews in Africa from 30 countries on the continent. The best of these photographs are in a book titled, The Jews of Africa: Lost Tribes, Found Communities, Emerging Faiths that includes essays by scholars, rabbis, and African Jews.

“Between August 2012 and April 2016, I embarked upon eight unique Jewish Africa photo tours comprised of about 60 total weeks of travel to 30 countries and territories,” David writes. “Ultimately, I archived about 65 000 Jewish Africa photographs, and I did so with the aim of answering one primary question: who are the Jews of Africa?

“I was particularly interested in the emerging black Jewish communities in places such as Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Madagascar, Gabon, and Cameroon. Over the past 20 or so years, the phenomenon of religious renouncement and self-conversion to Judaism has, in some cases, as in Ghana, Cameroon, and Gabon, grown with the rise of internet connection there. Real-time connection is weaving a black Jewish tapestry across the continent,” David writes in his book.

“So far, these small but fervent communities remain largely ignored by official entities in Israel and in the mainstream Jewish world. The century-old Abayudaya community in Uganda is officially recognised by Conservative Judaism, but that’s an exception. Connections with outside Jewish organisations and rabbis are increasing, however, and official Jewish recognition remains an important aim.

“In my travels, these communities held a particular fascination, but I was equally mindful of the European-rooted congregations. I was curious not merely about their history, but about their manifestations of Jewish life in comparison to familiar ways in Europe.

“Today, while Jewish communities of the southern African region shrink and ancient ones of the Maghreb cling on [notably in Morocco and Tunisia], black Jewish groups are growing in number, in location, and in commitment,” David concludes. “Following subjugation over the centuries by invaders both political and religious, motivating factors for this Jewish awakening are rooted in a quest for truth and identity, truth rooted in the tenants of Judaism and the Torah, an identity founded in self-determination.”

  • See more of Jono David’s Jewish work at

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