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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

Vaccination drive in our backyard

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There was a welcome return to shul and school this week, as well as the reopening of restaurants and other facilities. While infection rates remain high, the worst of the dreaded “third wave” appears to be behind us. Thankfully, Hatzolah’s latest figures show a significant decline in COVID-19 cases in our own community. That being said, the pandemic is still very much a part of our daily reality and won’t go away by itself. What the past 16 months have shown is that the only way that people can protect themselves over the long term is to ensure that they are vaccinated as soon as possible.

Fortunately, there has been a steady uptick in vaccination rates countrywide. For the Jewish community, the process has been greatly facilitated by the availability of vaccination services within the community itself. This past Sunday, a pop-up vaccine centre at The Base in Glenhazel (the brainchild of Dr Menachem Hockman, who also headed up a vaccination drive at the Jabulani Mall) reported that 3 000 people had been vaccinated. Both the Chevrah Kadisha and more recently Hatzolah have set up vaccine centres, respectively operating at Sandringham Gardens and above KosherWorld (1 Long Avenue, Glenhazel). It’s a reminder of how fortunate our community is to have so effective a communal infrastructure to assist and guide it during difficult times like these, along with so many dedicated volunteers, professionals, and benefactors who ensure that the wheels keep turning.

Jewish helping hands

In the wake of the devastating violence and looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) has prioritised the alleviation of hunger caused by the unrest. The SAJBD Food Relief Fund, together with our partner, The Angel Network, is working with nongovernmental organisations on the ground to ensure that vital food aid is directly, efficiently, and timeously distributed. In KwaZulu-Natal, we are working on several projects, including partnering with the Union of Jewish Women in delivering food and other necessities to aged and children’s homes in need, and with Rev Shlomo Wainer, who is working with Christian groups in Inanda and Phoenix.

In Gauteng over the past week, we have inter alia worked with the Clive Mashishi Foundation through its church network in distributing hundreds of food parcels in Eldorado Park, Orange Farm, Vanderbijlpark, and Kliptown. During the unrest, Ditau Primary School in Orlando East was looted, and all the food for children’s meals stolen. Following an approach from the school, this week, we replenished its pantry so that the school feeding programme can continue. During our recent clean-up initiative at the Mayfield Mall in Daveyton, we realised that the hard-hit East Rand area is often neglected in terms of food-relief drives and thus this week, are arranging for food relief to be delivered to Daveyton.

We thank all our valued colleagues, partners, volunteers, and supporters who are making it possible for us as the representative face of the Jewish community to contribute on the ground and make a meaningful difference to those in need in our society.

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

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Voices

Freed of Fred

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This is an apology to my daughter, Abby, to animal lovers everywhere, and to the late Yorkshire Terrier called Fred. May his memory always be for a blessing. I can’t apologise for not getting along with him, but I can apparently apologise for writing an article less than two hours after his sudden passing. According to my wife, it was even too soon to be “too soon”. In my defence, however, I was emotional and writing is cathartic. And I had a deadline.

Some context. Fred died peacefully after 13 years of my suffering. Something that was bravely borne (by me). We never got along, but I treated with him kindness and respect, aside from the odd occasions when I might have suggested in front of him that if he didn’t stop abluting under my desk or barking incessantly while we were eating dinner that I would have him put down. For the record, we never did that, and Fred died peacefully last Tuesday after eating thinly sliced chicken breasts that he had me cut up for him, as he didn’t like to chew on his own.

As a family we are, of course, saddened by the loss, and may we know no more sorrow. But just because he’s now dead, doesn’t mean that I have to pretend that he was ever a nice person. He wasn’t. And I have no doubt that had I “gone” before him, he wouldn’t have had a kind word to say about me.

Such was our relationship.

A well intentioned and kindly listener to my show messaged me to say that she had a magnificent pet cemetery to recommend for Fred. “It’s a bit far out of Johannesburg, but it’s worth it,” she suggested. As thoughtful as that was, considering that I have both parents at Westpark and I can hardly find the time to visit them, I can’t imagine dedicating an entire Sunday to spend time with Fred at his final resting place. Besides, I had seen the R450 invoice on the kitchen table from the vet for “cremation of small dog”, so that ship had clearly sailed.

He wasn’t well loved by anyone other than my daughter, whom I suspect did so just to annoy me. So unpopular was Fred (may his memory be blessed), that around a year ago, a security guard, in the absence of alternatives, actually drew his gun and pointed it at him. It wasn’t a pleasant event, and whereas I don’t want to speak ill of the dead – G-d forbid – any more than I need to, it does illustrate the type of reaction Fred caused. After months of having his heels nipped at, the poor bloke finally almost lost it. And no one could blame him. Not even my daughter.

The reaction to my article was interesting. Whereas some enjoyed the take, others were deeply offended. Social etiquette demands that we mourn the loss of our pets. It demands that we call them our “fur babies”, and that we post sad photos in happier times. And I would have probably done that if Daisy or Gatsby had suffered the same fate. Because they are, indeed, all of the above.

The offers we have had in the past week, not for meals to assist in our time of loss, but from people offering to give us their “Fred” to comfort us, suggest that I’m not alone in my experience. Where I might be alone, however, is in my foolishness in acknowledging it. Especially when I did so too soon even to be “too soon”.

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Voices

Compelled to clean up and contribute

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In the early days of his presidency, when the United States was all but crippled by the effects of the Great Depression and a pall of despair and despondency hung heavy over the nation, Franklin D Roosevelt famously said, “It’s common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly, and try another. But above all, try something.” As history shows, these weren’t mere words, but a statement of intent that underpinned what came to be known as the New Deal, a comprehensive array of laws and state-headed social upliftment initiatives that, while not solving the country’s problems overnight, kick-started the essential process of rebuilding.

What’s true for governments is equally true for ordinary citizens. In times of difficulty, each individual should look for ways to be part of the solution and contribute, even in a small way. As our own tradition puts it, “You aren’t obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot, 2:21).

Last week, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, as the representative body of the Jewish community, had the opportunity to make a difference on the ground when we joined with our fellow South Africans from across the spectrum to clean up the Mayfield Mall in Daveyton in the wake of the devastating looting and destruction that had taken place there.

Following an approach from the office of the MEC for sport, arts, culture, and recreation, Mbali Hlophe, we put out a call to the community and early on Thursday, 15 July, a seven-car convoy set out from the KosherWorld parking lot. When it arrived at its destination, the volunteers were greeted by scenes of utter devastation, but together with local community members, they painstakingly set about sweeping, cleaning, and removing debris such as rocks, broken glass, and discarded packaging until the task was done.

Commenting on the experience, National Director Wendy Kahn wrote afterwards, “We left knowing that we had played some role in restoring some order to this area. And we had also showed a community in the East Rand that the Jewish community was concerned about them.”

At both national and local level, the Board is involved in many outreach projects with The Angel Network and other partners to assist communities affected by the unrest. Since Durban and other places in KwaZulu-Natal were especially hard hit by the violence, much of this critical work is being undertaken by our KwaZulu-Natal branch, the Council for KwaZulu-Natal Jewry.

Of immediate concern is alleviating the desperate poverty which so many were suffering from even before the unrest, and which the violence and looting has greatly exacerbated. You can assist us in this work by supporting our Food Relief Appeal at SA Jewish Board of Deputies, Standard Bank Killarney, Account 200305190, Swift code SBZAZAJJ, Reference Food Relief.

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

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