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Like Zurich – without the chocolates

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Voices

One of the vivid memories that I have about the period in my life spent on planes was taking off from Zurich Airport on the way to Munich early one November morning. It was a dark, cold, and wet morning. No one looked happy, and very few seemed filled with the joy of living, which might have been expected considering that it was Switzerland, where a smile is no one’s resting face. It was so dank that when we boarded the flight, it was impossible to tell if the water on the window was rain or cloud moisture.

As we began to taxi, the captain welcomed us on board and gave us some details about the short flight. The weather in Munich was apparently much the same, but the flying conditions would be good. Because, as he explained, “it’s a beautiful day a few metres up”. Shortly after, we took off and he was right. It took seconds for the cabin to fill with sunshine. Suddenly everything looked colourful and bright, and I’m certain that even some of the Swiss might have smiled. On the ground, in the grey and the dark, it would have been impossible to imagine what a magnificent day awaited us.

This week, South Africa felt like Zurich. Without the chocolates, banks, the Alps, and electricity. And water. And watches. And trams, and snow. It was similar in that it felt dark and grey, and it was impossible to know what was causing the water on the windows. Was it COVID-19 or the infrastructure failure or vaccine delay? Was it the fact that we can’t socialise and that we don’t laugh nearly as much as we need to, or that it’s hard to imagine the sun shining again.

I bumped into a friend when I was walking on Shabbat. After he asked me how I was, he gave me his theory as to why it’s particularly bad at the moment. He said that bad things have always happened. People have always died before their time, and things have always gone wrong. But normally, there is more balance. After a difficult week, we can get together with friends, have a drink and laugh. Now it feels like all that we have are funerals. I wanted to disagree with him. I wanted to tell him how blessed we are as a community, how fortunate we are to have all that we have in this country, and how wonderful South Africans are. I wouldn’t have been wrong. But to say it would have been empty.

It also doesn’t help to repeat that it’s “darkest before the dawn”, that “this too shall pass”, and that there is “light at the end of the tunnel”. And that “every cloud has a silver lining”. All might be true, but none are helpful.

What helps me at a time like this is to find a role to play. We each have a “job”, and a way that we can assist in helping others get through this time. Purpose is a life saver. And it has saved my life even before it helped others. It also helps me to think of that November morning in Zurich when it was hard to imagine the sunshine. Until we took off and within seconds, we saw what a magnificent day was waiting for us. Just where we couldn’t see it.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Loretta .L.Barnett

    Jun 17, 2021 at 11:49 am

    Beautifully written thanks so much for reminding us.

  2. Wendy Kaplan Lewis

    Jun 17, 2021 at 2:02 pm

    Howard your articles always put a smile on ones face wnd a little giggle

  3. Deanna Isaacs

    Jun 17, 2021 at 2:19 pm

    Thank you for a lovely article you brightened my very dark day

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Voices

Challah – bread of Jewish men’s affliction

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There are many reasons why it isn’t easy to be a Jewish male. Expectation of performance begins at eight days, and hardly eases up until we shuffle off the mortal coil, well ahead of our time, exhausted from the effort and stress of it all.

The expectations are seemingly without end. We need to make our parents proud, we need to provide for our families, to be good husbands and better fathers, and we need to have run at least one marathon in a far-flung city by the time we are 45.

We need to be able to sing in front of the community at our Barmitzvahs, just when we are at our most awkward and when our voices are the most unreliable. We need to be able to intone anything at any given time.

And then, on the one night of the week when we can relax, we are required to cut the challah with the precision of a surgeon, the speed of Usain Bolt, and we need to do so while everyone watches in hungry expectation.

Following the kiddush prayer and the ritualistic washing of hands, there is a period of silence. With no speaking until the eating of the challah, it’s one of the most underrated aspects of being a Jewish male. It’s a moment that represents almost every aspect of “Jewish maleness”, and it happens week after week after week. Why?

Because no matter what, it will be done wrong. The slices will be too thick. Or thin. Or the wrong challah would have been selected. Too much, too little salt will have been added. And the challah serving plate will have been passed in the wrong direction. Eyes will be rolled, lips pursed, and heads will be slowly shaken. From side. To side. To side.

A Jewish male it would seem, cannot please a Jewish woman.

I have asked around. A friend’s wife told me that she can’t stand the way he cuts the challah, and prefers to do it herself. “He just can’t get it right. It’s got so bad that I hardly even let him carve the meat.”

She even went as far as to buy an electric carving knife, which she used before he got home from work on a Friday so that he didn’t need to. It might be worth mentioning that when he’s not “butchering” the challah, he’s a well-respected surgeon. At least he made his parents proud.

And there are those who are too precise for their own good. My father-in-law is one such case. Each piece of challah is measured to perfection. Sliced the way through, and then checked in case any remnants of attachment to the piece before remains, before moving on to slice number two. And so on.

Generally, we like to start Shabbat on Wednesday when visiting, as it takes about that long before we get to eat. All while we sit in silence.

The slicing of challah is the most underrated aspect of being a Jewish male. It carries with it all the expectation along with all the disappointment of generations of men who have failed before them.

It’s a moment that’s shared in all households across the Jewish world week after week. It bonds Jewish women to the past, and will link them to their great granddaughters, who will one day share knowing looks with their sisters as they watch their husband “butcher” the challah, just as their father did.

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Voices

Rebuilding hope and rewarding service

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This week, we have been hard at work finalising the upcoming South African Jewish Board of Deputies national conference, to take place on Sunday, 17 October, from 16:00 to 18:00.

The theme of the conference is “Hope and Recovery”, and as the title indicates, the focus will be on rebuilding following the testing and often traumatic events of the past two years. To share the challenges as well as the path of hope and recovery in areas of crucial concern, we have a panel of experts comprising Minister of Finance Enoch Godongwana, Eskom Chief Executive Andre de Ruyter, and Advocate Wim Trengove. We are further privileged to host Ambassador Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, and Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai, both of whom will be speaking.

The Board’s national conferences are also an opportunity to honour community members who have made a particularly noteworthy contribution to society, whether to the country as a whole or South African Jewry specifically. Since 1999, we have recognised those who have advanced the cause of human rights and democracy. The scope of the award, now called the Rabbi Cyril and Ann Harris Humanitarian Award, includes those involved in social outreach and upliftment work.

This year, it will be presented to Natie and Francis Kirsh and family in recognition of the unfailingly generous support they have provided to our community and our country over many years, but particularly during the COVID-19 period.

For those who have excelled in communal service, we will be presenting the Eric Samson Mendel Kaplan Award. Two presentations are made, one to a lay leader and the other to a professional. In the “lay” category, the recipients are Professor Barry Schoub and Dr Richard Friedland, two leading medical experts who during the COVID-19 pandemic, have shown extraordinary commitment and played such a pivotal role in guiding our community. In the “professional” category, we will honour Vivienne Anstey, the exemplar of a thoroughly professional, innovative Jewish public servant for more than 30 years, and Uriel Rosen, Hatzolah’s operations manager and the originator of its Wellness Monitoring Programme that has been so transformative in helping those suffering from COVID-19.

Please join us for what promises to be a fascinating conversation about how to move forward and rebuild. To register, go to https://www.corpcam.com/SAJBD17102021

#MakeUsCount events

Along with preparing for conference, the Board has been running its #MakeUsCount pre-election awareness campaign. During the past week, our Gauteng, Cape Town, and Durban branches have hosted lively and well attended “Great Debates” between representatives of the main competing parties. At the time of writing, Gauteng is preparing for a second event, a webinar with leading political journalist Stephen Grootes in conversation with political and election experts and analysts Wayne Sussman, Nompumelelo Runji, and Dr Ralph Mathekga. I look forward to updating you about further #MakeUsCount events in the days leading up to the municipal elections on 1 November.

This being my last Above Board before my term as National Chair comes to an end, I take this opportunity of recording how great an honour it has been to serve our community for the past four years and wishing my successor everything of the best.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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Voices

Board calls for practical implementation of hate-crime legislation

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This week, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) submitted written comments on the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill after its release for public comment by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services. We have requested an opportunity for the SAJBD to give an oral submission on the Bill in due course. As a steering committee member representing the Board on the Hate Crimes Working Group (HCWG), our representative, Alana Baranov, was also involved in the drafting of the HCWG submission on the Bill.

The genesis of this important piece of legislation goes back to 2016, when the first draft of the Bill was released. The Board, at its own behest and through the HCWG, has been involved in the process from the outset, including making previous submissions. While we have raised certain legal-technical concerns over aspects of the Bill, in general we have welcomed it as being aimed at giving practical effect to the prevention of racism and discrimination and providing for the prosecution and prevention of hate crimes and hate speech.

The SAJBD’s submission on the Bill focused on the specific concerns of the Jewish community regarding antisemitism. It further stressed that the Act must be so framed as to make its practical implementation possible, and to this end, recommended expanding the reach and effectiveness of current legislation and mechanisms for dealing with incidents of hate, such as the South African Human Rights Commission and Equality Courts. These institutions have been of critical value to the Board in addressing numerous antisemitic incidents that have arisen over the past two decades, including those involving senior office bearers in government and trade unions. It’s therefore vital that they are adequately empowered and resourced.

JSC drops ball a second time at Concourt interviews

Earlier this year, the way in which two Jewish candidates for Constitutional Court positions were treated during their interviews by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) generated much justified outrage. As previously recounted in this column, both were subjected to a barrage of irrelevant and inappropriate questions pertaining to their Jewish identity, association with the SAJBD, and views on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Other candidates were also subjected to inappropriate treatment. In response, the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution launched a successful challenge to that process in the High Court, resulting in the JSC being directed to re-interview the candidates.

Unfortunately, the second round of interviews, conducted earlier this week, amounted to “Groundhog Day” for the Jewish community. Following their stinging rebuke at the hands of civil society and the courts, one would have expected the JSC to steer clear this time round of offensive questions concerning a candidate’s Jewish affiliations, yet once again, a Jewish candidate was so targeted, specifically for his previous association with the SAJBD. The characterisation by one of the commissioners of the SAJBD as a “pro-Zionist body that is bullying their people and organisations who are objecting to the Israeli establishment in the Palestine region” was especially out of line. This was specifically referred to in our media release issued this week, and will be one of the key issues we will address with the JSC.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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