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Mother’s Day follows Lag B’Omer tragedy

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The Jewish Report Editorial

This Sunday, there is one South African-born mother who won’t be celebrating Mother’s Day. Tanya Hevroni, who is the mother of three little girls, is mourning the senseless death of her husband who was killed in the Lag B’Omer stampede on Mount Meron last Thursday.

She, like so many other mothers, is now forced to come to terms with what it means to be a single mom.

She’s not alone. There are many more in Israel who lost their loved ones in this tragic incident in which 45 people died and more than 150 were injured.

It was a celebration that all those who went looked forward to, but went horribly wrong. Lag B’Omer is the one night when observant people can really celebrate during the counting of the Omer. It’s 24 hours in which people can marry, cut their hair, and do a whole bunch of things they can’t do between Pesach and Shavuot.

While I have always enjoyed celebrating Lag B’Omer, I knew very little about the annual gathering at Mount Meron. Since this largest peacetime tragedy in the history of Israel last week, I have unfortunately had reason to find out more. And the more I looked, the more the irony and horror of what happened emerged.

Shortly before this disaster struck, there was the most incredible joy at the site of Rabbi Simon bar Yochai’s grave. I find the idea of this euphoria turning into terror and then devastation hard to absorb. I can’t even imagine how those survivors are going to live with this. Also, most of them were involved in the stampede that killed people, creating what has been dubbed “Israel’s deadliest civilian disaster”. How do they live with that?

Lag B’Omer marks the day Rav Simon bar Yochai died, but it also falls on the day that ended a plague that killed thousands of Torah scholars who had studied with – among others – Rabbi Akiva. I have to admit the fact that we are living through a pandemic (or a plague, call it what you will), which has mostly now been stopped by mass vaccination in Israel, gives me the shivers. This event was the very first mass gathering in Israel since the start of the pandemic, and it was allowed only because of the huge success of the vaccination drive.

Then, I read that 110 years ago, in 1911, 11 people were killed and 40 wounded when they fell from a balcony on Mount Meron on Lag B’Omer. They were said to have fallen about seven metres when the railing around the grave collapsed. It’s way too similar to the events of last week. Back then, it clearly wasn’t safe, and neither was it safe now. Especially not for 100 000 people dancing and singing. Apparently, there was supposed to be a limit of 15 000, but this wasn’t implemented because, it seems, there isn’t a specific body or authority that controls the site.

Every year except 2020, for about 600 years, observant Jews have flocked to this site on Lag B’Omer. Was it a tragedy waiting to happen? And why did it happen this year? We can search for reasons and try to make sense of it, but I’m not sure those answers are forthcoming. I guess it’s a matter of police work and your belief system.

However, I cannot imagine Lag B’Omer on Mount Meron will ever be the same celebration. Maybe I’m wrong. The tragedy will certainly have an impact on hundreds of people being able to view Lag B’Omer as a celebration again.

In fact, it will take Israel a long time to get over this massive loss.

I don’t believe anybody meant for it to happen. However, blame is being thrown around. People apparently need to find a culprit, a reason, a bad guy. They can’t blame terrorism or crime. And so, many are blaming the Israeli government. Some blame secular Israelis and others the Haredim themselves.

Do we always have to have someone to blame? Is having someone to blame and potentially charge with a crime going to help bring back these people? Will it make anyone feel better?

I don’t believe so. It certainly isn’t going to bring Tanya Hevroni’s husband back.

While I don’t pretend to know her, I have a good idea that she will step up to the plate and continue to be an outstanding mother to her girls. That’s what mothers do.

And as we celebrate mothers this weekend, I know many mothers who would always get out of a sick bed and do the impossible for their children. Their love knows no bounds.

While we may not all be mothers, we have all had a mother in our lives. And we know the love of a mother. She is the one who was always there for us, even if she had a full-time job. She is the one on whose shoulders we cried when our hearts were broken. Hers was the hand we held that made us feel supported. She was the one who made sure we ate well, kept clean, brushed our teeth, and slept enough.

Her love was and always is unconditional. Being a mother is no easy task, but it’s the most gratifying and precious job in the world. And, having lost my own mother, I know that nothing in the world will replace the person who nurtured my siblings and me, held us when we needed it, and gave everything of herself for us. For my own mother and every mother out there who knows this love, we at the SA Jewish Report salute you!

Shabbat Shalom

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The Jewish Report Editorial

A little leeway is harder than none

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Why, oh, why are these doctors making such a big deal about our matriculants going on Rage at the end of the year? I mean, so many of us have been vaccinated, and it’s hardly going to be an action replay of last year…

Okay, that’s not how I feel at all, but I imagine there are some who do feel this way.

The truth is, we have no way of knowing that Rage 2021 won’t have the potential to be far worse than last year in terms of the spread of COVID-19. You see, we haven’t all been vaccinated, and being vaccinated doesn’t make us all safe.

We may well be in a different space to what we were this time last year, and Rage 2020 was the launch pad of the second wave of COVID-19 in South Africa. However, we don’t know what December 2021 will bring. That’s the crazy thing about this coronavirus, we simply cannot tell. Even the experts aren’t 100% sure what will happen and what will set off the fourth wave.

Yes, it’s damn frustrating! Yes, we all wish COVID-19 was behind us and we could regain a semblance of normality. But, that’s just it!

Right now, most of the adults I know have been ‘double vaxxed’ I was so excited to be vaccinated because I believed it would give me back some freedom. But has it?

I’m 100% sure that I’m safer from death and the intensive-care unit, but somehow it doesn’t mean we can let our hair down.

Here’s my confession: I celebrated my son’s Barmitzvah this past weekend. Yes, it was very low key and just immediate family, but COVID-19 protocols weren’t observed 100%.

I remember standing in shul watching my son begin singing his parsha, and I felt loving hands automatically reaching out for mine. I needed those hands. I needed the love and support, and I got it.

However, COVID-19 protocols don’t allow for loved ones who don’t live with you – who I have kept away from for a year and a half – to hold my hands and hug me. In that moment, I really understood how difficult it is to maintain COVID-19 protocols when we have all been vaccinated and are so tired of living in tiny bubbles.

I come from a loving and physically affectionate family – like so many Jewish families. We show our affection physically and verbally, and we rarely held back in the past. And this year and a half has been difficult.

But since March last year, we have been exemplary in following the protocols, so concerned were we about each other and making someone sick. But this weekend, it was a simcha, and it was so hard to reconcile the fact that although we had all been vaccinated, we still had to stay away from each other.

I certainly longed for and needed the hugs and love.

I do understand that we can perhaps let down our guard a little, but we still need to take care. However, to be honest, it’s sometimes tougher to let down your guard a little bit than not at all. As an adult who some may refer to as middle aged, that’s how I feel.

So, let’s move swiftly to the idea of Rage. Seventeen and 18-year-old teenagers are celebrating their freedom from school, exams, and their childhood. They are no longer school kids, but they aren’t yet adults.

Having recognised just how hard it is for me to hold back from affection as the mother of a Barmitzvah boy, I can only imagine the impossibility of expecting restraint from young adults or old teens. Surely, expecting them to show restraint is too much to expect.

So, you need to know that if you send your children to Rage, don’t expect them to hold back. It isn’t going to happen.

Don’t rely on the organisers of Rage – who promised to follow protocols last year – to restrain your children. They can’t. They are simply too few, and can’t be everywhere all the time. How can they even make promises? They shouldn’t.

So, if there is one super-spreader event at Rage, it can and will spread COVID-19 all over again. Will vaccines make the difference? All depends on how many have been vaccinated and what strain is on the go then.

So, I totally understand why GPs and other doctors are pleading with schools and parents not to send their matriculants to Rage.

As a parent, I also understand the need to give our children the gift of freedom – something they haven’t had even a semblance of for a long, long time, thanks to this horrid coronavirus. I understand wanting to allow them to enjoy time with their friends, to make new ones, and simply have the gift of pure, youthful fun.

We all had that in some form or another when we finished matric, but this is a different time. This is the time of a virus that knows no barriers.

So, sending your matriculant with their nearest and dearest friends to a flat on the coast would be preferable. Bring it down a dozen notches so that the threat of the virus is far less daunting.

In reality, we don’t have a choice. We aren’t being unkind by making plans for a different holiday (not Rage), we are being kind and thoughtful – not just for our children, but for everyone in the country.

Unfortunately, we need to live within the constraints of safety. I realise more than ever just how hard that is. I just want to hug so many people – but the time for that will come.

Hopefully, it will get easier and easier, and we will have more and more freedom. Until then, let’s try our best to bide the time it takes to be safe.

And if you do fall off the wagon of the protocols, as I did, dust yourself off and get back on again, hoping that the virus stays away from you and your loved ones.

G’Mar Gatima Tova and Shabbat Shalom!

Peta Krost Maunder

Editor

PS: We won’t be publishing the SA Jewish Report for the next two weeks because of the festivals. You will find us again on 7 October 2021.

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The Jewish Report Editorial

Power of the pause

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Where did this year go? I guess the saying, “Time flies when you’re having fun” isn’t always true. This hasn’t been an easy year by any stretch of the imagination. Even those who have had a positive year haven’t had an easy one.

It has been tough across the board, or so it seems. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t had their challenges.

Those who are smiling are those who have managed to turn lemons into lemonade and make the most out of a rough time.

As we move into Rosh Hashanah and look at a fresh new year, one that we’re all hoping and praying will be a whole lot better than the last one or two, it’s important to consider what we have learnt in this period.

The word that keeps coming to mind about what I have learnt is: ‘pause’.

Living through this pandemic has taught me to pause before doing anything. We stop to put on a mask before rushing out. We pause in rushing around to make way and space for other people so we can keep our distance from them.

We pause to consider the needs of those who are sick or in need before rushing off to do something. We have learnt to pause at home during lockdown, rather than carrying on with what used to be our normal life.

In the past week, I have twice run out of my car in a hurry to do something, forgot my mask, and had to rush back to put it on. I hadn’t paused.

It’s so easy to forget that little pause that reminds us what our lives are like in 2021. We have to reconfigure our consciousness to ensure that we are protocol compliant and safe before we do anything every day.

It’s so easy to forget that life has changed, albeit sometimes in small ways, but it has, and it’s unlikely to go back to what we knew as normal.

So, it’s likely that pausing is going to be a part of our lives indefinitely.

I’ve realised that pausing isn’t a bad thing. It’s something I’m grateful to have incorporated into my life. I don’t say that because I enjoy masking up, social distancing, and being far from those I care about, but because pausing, in general, is healthy for us.

It gives us that little bit of time to stop ourselves from doing something we may regret. So, for instance, if someone does something that irks you, it’s so easy to throw an ugly retort at them. To what end, though? When you pause for that split second, you can stop yourself from saying something that will hurt someone. It’s that simple.

If your child is badgering you and you are irritated, and those unnecessary destructive words are just about to tumble out, that pause enables you stop those words in their tracks.

How many times have you had an argument and realised later that it was totally unnecessary and you said things you wish you hadn’t? You know that if you had stopped to think for just one second, you would have found a way that would have had a different result. The pain caused by words can last indefinitely.

I know I can sometime be a bit of a hothead and get angry fast, without thinking too much about why. Sometimes I don’t listen to the meaning behind what people say, but jump to defend myself or someone else. I can land myself in hot water that way. I see so many people doing the same thing. That little pause could help me and others to prevent it.

My dearest friend sent me some inspiring quotes when I told her what I was thinking of writing. She paused to listen to me, and sent me the following: “Before you speak, THINK! The ‘t’ in think stands for “is it true?”, the ‘h’ for ‘is it helpful?’, the ‘i’ for ‘is it inspiring?’, the ‘n’ for ‘is it necessary?’ and the ‘k’ for ‘is it kind?’”

That certainly is food for thought. If we ran that through our minds before we opened our mouths, we would probably cause far less damage. We would also be kinder and more thoughtful human beings.

It seems like such a simple thing to do. And it has, to a certain degree, had to become a part of our lives during the pandemic. We’ve had no choice, but it doesn’t mean we’ve absorbed it into the way we operate on every level. But if we’ve managed to do it most of the time, how difficult would it be to make it an intrinsic part of our day to day lives?

I guess it’s easier said than done, but it’s much like removing gossip (lashon harah) from your conversation. It isn’t easy, but it makes you feel a whole lot better about yourself.

Pausing has the same effect, and it can improve our relationships.

I’m not saying don’t be honest or real, that would defeat the purpose. I’m saying be honest but kind, real but caring.

And when it comes to social media and those fingers do the talking before we think, pausing would really help.

So, as we count down to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we don’t necessarily have to change our entire life and start afresh, although that’s a personal choice. We can simply focus on something that, ultimately, will have a huge impact, but is small. Just pause.

As difficult as it may be for some of us to see the positives that have come out of this pandemic and time in our history, learning to pause is one of the good lessons we can take home.

I wish all of you a shana tova u’metukah, and may the new year bring you all that you wish for!

Shabbat Shalom!

Peta Krost Maunder

Editor

P.S. We won’t be producing a newspaper next week because of Rosh Hashanah, but will return to you the day after Yom Kippur, 16 September.

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The Jewish Report Editorial

Looking for the lighter side

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Most of us are feeling a little fragile and exhausted. Many are suffering from what would otherwise be diagnosed as low-grade depression, but I’m not sure you can give a blanket diagnosis to such large numbers of people.

I’m not a psychologist, but I can only go on what I see and hear, and I do believe we are all having an extraordinarily challenging time.

This has been a long and tough year – one like nothing we have ever experienced before. I recognise that it’s the second year of this pandemic, but somehow, it didn’t seem so bad when it was in the early days. We were still getting used to life under lockdown and behind masks. There was a novelty value, and it didn’t seem so endless.

My children never let me forget how convinced I was that lockdown or COVID-19 would be brief and forgettable. I told them that we would laugh when we reminisced about it from the beach in December. Well, so much for that. By the time we were together on the coast, we weren’t allowed on beaches because of COVID-19 and we were once again under lockdown.

Now, although many of us are vaccinated and ready and raring to move forward, the end isn’t quite in sight. And for so many, the long, difficult period we have lived through has soaked into our bones and makes us feels like, no matter what we do, there’s no end in sight.

People seem to get angry quickly and don’t want to witness, read, or watch anything that’s uncomfortable, depressing, or violent because we have too much in our lives already.

We are all looking for inspiration, something to make us smile, laugh, or just feel like there’s a lighter side to life, like there is some hope.

When SA Jewish Report chairperson Howard Sackstein had a webinar with the most positive business leaders – advertising executive Mike Abel, Discovery chief executive Adrian Gore, and Nando’s Robbie Brozin – the response was overwhelming. It attracted a massive audience of 23 224, and a significant number told Sackstein that that the webinar had inspired them. A few even said it had saved their lives. It lifted people’s spirits, and made them able to see a future, something better down the line. We all really, really need inspiration and hope.

This plays out in people’s reaction to stories in this newspaper.

Our community responds well to stories about South Africans in other countries and stories that we can relate to, but don’t really touch our lives. They also respond well to wacky, offbeat stories.

But when we wrote about the tragic death of a South African woman at the hands of people she had helped, people were devastated. Some literally didn’t want to read it.

It wasn’t about the gruesome details, but living in South Africa, the murder of someone in the community is devastating and instils fear in all of us.

Amazingly, we haven’t had such stories in the paper for a long time. This has been the first in more than two years. And as someone pointed out, it’s important to tell such stories because it means that it matters to us when someone is killed.

When it no longer matters, we have a real problem on our hands.

The point is, right now, the trauma and horror that touches our lives is too close for comfort. We can’t deal with it.

We need a break from trauma, violence, death, and sadness.

We really long for uplifting simchas and happiness to share with those we care about.

Just the thought of being able to spend time with my whole family for a Shabbos is like a dream, something I long for. To share a joke or have a good – even challenging – discussion across the table seems so precious.

The time for that is up ahead. We all know it intrinsically. Exactly when, we don’t know. Will it mean a booster vaccine? Again, we don’t know. Will it be next year? Who can tell? However, we can be certain the time will come.

Until then, we need to find ways of staying positive and hopeful. Firstly, it’s important to get off our own backs. If you aren’t feeling thrilled about life, that’s okay. If you are battling, get help.

I had a chat last week to Rabbi David Masinter, who this week held the uplifting Miracle Drive to raise funds. In him, I see someone who finds ways to remain positive because he spends his life trying to uplift others. He does it by introducing them to Pirkei Avot and tehillim, but also by putting up colourful sculptures of the words “Be Kind” and other simple but thought-provoking phrases in public spaces.

He also gives work to people in need to create beautiful Jewish art for others. (See page 9.)

Now, can I categorically say he is always happy? I wouldn’t be able to do that, but the ability to keep helping and uplifting people cannot be harmful.

So, Rabbi Masinter has inspired me to try my very best to do one small thing every day to make someone else’s life a little better.

I’m not talking about giving millions to charity because I simply can’t do that. I’m talking about little things that could be big things to certain people – and every day, I will decide what that will be.

I’m hoping that this will put smiles on other people’s faces, which in turn will put one on my own. I would love to spread joy and smiles because I believe we all need it. Who wouldn’t?

Anyone going to join me?

Shabbat Shalom!

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