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Mandela Day can be the new normal

Mandela Day is a special day in many of our lives when we reflect on the values Nelson Mandela stood for. But, it also allows us to ascribe to values beyond those he might necessarily have thought of.

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Voices

MARC LUBNER

Pondering Mandela’s values of conscious leadership, we create our own additional thoughts about living a life of service for others.

Mandela Day has been mooted as a day of doing good deeds for others. Many South Africans are motivated to spend 67 minutes consciously engaged in activities that are about giving. However, Mandela Day achieves a greater purpose insofar as it creates the opportunity to cross lines of diversity. Corporates bring staff members together in acts of random kindness and in doing so, cultural, racial, and religious barriers are diminished as teams pull together.

It’s critically important for our Jewish community to showcase how we can be a light unto the nations by using this day to integrate with various other communities in activities that promote a sense of well-being for the receiver, and the parties who are giving.

The economic woes of our country are a direct result of deficiencies within our system. High unemployment is a result of poor productivity. However, productivity is influenced by factors such as the majority of South Africans still living in townships with limited public transport to places of work. It is influenced by the fact that people live in areas with hopelessly inadequate resources, so when adults go off to work, they don’t know that their children are being cared for in safe environments, with adequate health and educational support.

Mandela Day creates an opportunity for those who are insensitive to such conditions to cross over Louis Botha Avenue into townships like Alexandra, to see just how difficult living conditions are for residents in that community. Equally, visits to Alex on Mandela Day create the opportunity for insight into the magic of the people living within these communities.

Too often, we simply discredit township communities because they might be financially impoverished, without realising the colour, creativity, and humour that exists within these communities. In most instances, people end Mandela Day with a sense of awe and respect for the majority, who create social structures and a functional network in spite of huge infrastructural gaps.

It’s important that Jewish parents use Mandela Day to teach their children about the gift of gratitude. Often, I see how children from fortunate homes go home at the end of the day with a sense of appreciation and an awareness for the simple fact that they have food in their fridges, and running water in their toilets.

I don’t think our community realises just how good our lives are in relative terms. Too often, I hear people bemoan the lack of financial support they get from the Chevrah Kadisha. Comparatively, a youngster attending an Afrika Tikkun centre is filled with song and laughter simply because he/she is given one or two basic meals, some home and work support, and the knowledge that somebody cares enough to offer some momentary love.

We celebrate many Jewish holidays where it is beholden on us to practice acts of tzedakah (charity). Invariably, we do this through contributions made to members of our own society or to community support programmes.

Mandela Day should be a day where we realise that we have an obligation to care beyond the needs of our own community. This is not to discount our community for a minute, but to recognise that we are fortunate to be able to support our own and other South African communities.

According to author Yuval Harari, homo sapiens is the dominant species on the planet as a result of its ability to form social pacts and work in unison. The world is changing, and the age-old boundaries which people use to define their associations are being redefined. The internet says that we are no longer bound to associations based on geographical limitations. Common purpose now bonds individuals together on themes such as dealing with environmental issues to forming political parties.

South Africans can be pro or anti Brexit, and through social media, can participate in ways that influence the views of others across the globe. Members of the Jewish community can align with any one of an array of political parties without necessarily negating their faith. It’s therefore imperative that as a community, we show a sense of responsible kindness in defining who we are, and what we stand for.

Mandela Day gives us the opportunity to do this, not merely by putting money into a yellow arc, but by consciously giving thought to the outcomes we would like to achieve. We need to consider how we might get involved in bringing about meaningful change. Mandela Day should be a day where our community gives thought to actions and deeds directed at using our influence to make life better for those around us, in a sustainable manner.

We can resolve to greet those pesky street beggars, recognising them as fellow human beings, irrespective of whether we support giving cash as a donation. We can ask ourselves how Mandela would respond to the plight of children who are in desperate need of surgery, but whose parents can’t afford medical aid.

Instead of thinking about impoverished township communities, we can recognise and respect the efforts that individuals within these communities make to build lives of dignity, and we can find ways, whether through mentoring on an ongoing basis or co-funding a bursary – or a variety of other methodologies – to uplift our fellow South Africans.

There is a wonderful expression that says, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” In giving, we become the ultimate recipients.

Mandela Day also provides an interesting umbrella, in which this awareness can be unlocked without individuals feeling that they have to be beholden every day thereafter. It’s accepted that life returns to ‘normal’ after Mandela Day, but hopefully the definition of what’s normal changes in a positive and ever more conscious way as a result of the magic of the “Madiba moment”.

  • Marc Lubner is chief executive of Afrika Tikkun.

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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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Voices

RIP Fred, terrier of my life

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Fred died this morning. Not to speak ill of the dead or anything, it needs to be said that he was a bit of a narcissist. We were never close, and if I’m honest, I could hardly stand him. I’m also confident that he felt the same way towards me. And whereas my family is bereft at his passing, I probably won’t miss him.

Fred Feldman was a Yorkshire Terrier with plenty of attitude and no personality. He was self-absorbed and relentless, and would do anything for a piece of chicken breast. But nothing for schnitzel, because he hated to chew anything for himself.

Fred joined our family in a prisoner-swap deal that went down in Centurion outside Pretoria. The terms remain vague in my mind, but I know that it involved a road without a name, a house without a fence, and a handler with a heavy accent and legs with more varicose veins than I thought was possible. I do recall that we were required to leave my daughter’s “Nuk” dummies in her dustbin in exchange for a six-week-old puppy that would torment me for the next 13 years. Had I known then what I know now, I would gladly have offered my three-year-old a lifetime supply of whatever colour she preferred and an orthodontal treatment plan.

Parenting is seldom easy, but the morning of Fred’s passing was particularly difficult. I had carried him downstairs at about 04:00 as I normally do (he hated to walk so early in the day), and I had taken him outside, where he did nothing but wait to come inside (preferring to use my study for his ablutions). I had cut him some chicken breast (schnitzel not being his thing) and then went to do some work (me, not Fred). Although he normally nagged me to pick him up and put him on the couch (he didn’t like to jump up), he didn’t do that this morning.

It was toward the end of my radio show when I got the message from my daughter that he had shuffled off the mortal coil. In truth, I was surprised, more than anything because he had done something for himself. I left the studio as soon after my show ended, but noticed that the day was distinctly warmer, and the sun was shining that little bit brighter than the day before. I’m certain that I wasn’t imagining it.

I didn’t need to be a body language expert to interpret the look on my wife’s face when I walked into the house. It contained a written warning that suggested exactly what was expected from me. I needed to be supportive and contrite. And sad. No humour. No jokes. And definitely no celebration. I didn’t seek clarity on the duration that the edict would be in place. Which in retrospect might have been a mistake.

I’m not going to win any parenting awards this week.

After 18 months of excess death, sickness, of watching friends and family suffer through isolation and anxiety, this morning was a welcome reminder. It was a day reminiscent of a time when we would focus on the loss of a pet, the sadness of a girl who lost a companion. It was a reminder of a time when we would drive to Centurion to find a road without a name, a house without a fence, and a heavily accented woman with varicose veins. I also know that as much as he annoyed me, tomorrow morning at 04:00, I will miss picking up that selfish Yorkshire Terrier, carrying him downstairs, and cutting him chicken breasts because he never liked schnitzel.

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Voices

Keep calm and a cool head in the chaos

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Along with continued high levels of COVID-19 infection resulting in an extension of lockdown conditions, South Africans have been confronted over the past week with a disquieting eruption of violent protest, vandalism, and looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. Understandably, this has generated much unease in our community, with many fearing that the unrest will spread to the main Jewish residential areas.

On Tuesday evening, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) organised a webinar titled “Cutting through the chaos – understanding the current crisis” to give our community a more in-depth understanding of what’s happening and how best to respond. SAJBD Gauteng Council Chairperson Professor Karen Milner chaired the event, in which a panel of security experts, academics, and communal leaders gave their perspectives on the situation. Presenters included representatives of the Community Security Organisation (CSO), security company CAP, and the Institute for Security Studies, all of whom were in a position to provide a reliable report about what was happening on the ground.

While no-one sought to sugar-coat the situation, all participants urged people to keep calm, act responsibly, and in cases where they felt uncomfortable or became aware of potential threats, to contact the CSO (control room number – 086 18 000 18) and other security providers. Another point that was stressed, particularly by University of the Witwatersrand academic and media expert Dr Nechama Brodie was the importance of not exacerbating public fears by rushing to believe and pass on unverified information (such as fake-news stories about local malls being attacked). To a significant extent, the problem has been exacerbated less by a dearth of reliable information about what has been happening than by the plethora of unsubstantiated rumours that have been doing the rounds via social media.

Milner concluded with the comment, “We need to rely on whatever well of resilience we have to weather this crisis, and very soon, we need to be there to rebuild our communities and country.”

We are engaging with our KwaZulu-Natal Board to find ways to support and assist KwaZulu-Natal Jewry who have been directly impacted by this serious crisis.

Tribute to a Jewish institution

Many people will have been saddened to learn that one of Johannesburg Jewry’s most venerable and highly regarded kosher food suppliers, Gary Friedman Caterers (GFC), has closed its doors as a result of COVID-19-induced losses. From the SAJBD’s point of view, we have lost a resource that we have relied upon for decades, not just in terms of reliably providing quality kosher products for so many of our public functions, but through the unfailing helpfulness and support that Gary and his team have provided. In common with everyone else who has benefited from its services and will sorely feel the company’s absence, we hope very much to see GFC, at least in some form, up and running when these difficult times are behind us.

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

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