Murdered Israeli helped underprivileged SA kids
A month after the massacre of 7 October, stories are still coming to light of the lives ended by Hamas. One such story is that of Tiferet Lapidot (23). Eighteen months ago, she was spending her days teaching English, geography, maths, and science to underprivileged children in Khayelitsha outside Cape Town. When school emptied out in the afternoons, she and other volunteers painted murals so that the pupils could enjoy a more colourful environment. In her own small but powerful way, Tiferet enriched the lives of South African children, leaving a lasting impact.
After going on to travel to India, Sri Lanka, and Australia, she returned to Israel for the chaggim. It was there that she attended the Supernova festival, where she was killed by barbaric Hamas terrorists. It took 11 days for her family to learn her fate.
It was during that time, as Tiferet’s family frantically traced her phone to Gaza, believing she was kidnapped, that the South African government refused to condemn the massacre that took the life of a young woman who came to this country to uplift its children.
It was while South Africa’s silence spoke a thousand words that the Canadian government went all-out to try trace and save Tiferet. “I was born in Canada, and even though she wasn’t, the Canadian government treated Tiferet as one of their own children,” says her father, Ohad Lapidot.
Though the South African government may not have shown one iota of compassion for Israeli victims – including one who had come to help our children – Ohad emphasises that his daughter was warmly welcomed by the South African Jewish community. In addition, he says the school she taught at in Khayelitsha held a memorial ceremony for her.
Photographs from her time in South Africa show her smiling, laughing, and bringing joy to everyone around her. “She grabbed life with both hands. It’s like she knew she had limited time,” says Ohad, sharing a video of her bungee jumping off the Bloukrans Bridge on the Garden Route.
“Every Shabbat she had in South Africa, she was invited to a family, and she felt like she was at home,” says Ohad. “When she was in Gqeberha, they had a seudat shlishit [Shabbat third meal] for her and her friend, Yaffa,” he recalls. “Even though it was a tiny community, they felt that it was important to host Israelis.”
Ariella Wolf hosted Tiferet when she was in Johannesburg. “She came from Harish, where my sister-in-law lives. She was a free spirit, but it was important to her to have Shabbat in a shomer Shabbos home. She spent a Shabbat with us, and she wanted to see the local shuls.”
Her husband, Dan Wolf, says, “Our time with Tiferet was uplifting. She said she was feeling homesick until she came into a Jewish home that felt familiar. She exuded an enthusiasm for life.” Dan, who is passionate about the Drakensberg, shared his knowledge with Tiferet, who used it to plan her time there, and she and her friend played with the Wolfs’ children in their garden.
“When we heard the news, it was heartbreaking,” he says. “As a family, we were privileged to have met her, and it has made this travesty so palpable. I sent her father a message, and just felt so deeply for him because this was a magnificent young woman, no different to my daughters.”
Chana Joubert hosted Tiferet in Gqeberha. “I love hosting young people as they are refreshing, and she was just that,” she says. “A sparkling personality. Tiferet and her friend fitted into our home beautifully. They became part of the family for Shabbat. I kept in contact by sending her Shabbat messages.
“Motzei Shabbat, we heard about the attacks. I contacted my Israeli visitors on WhatsApp to check whether they were safe. I didn’t hear back from Tiferet, and saw the message wasn’t read.” She was then told Tiferet was missing.
“I have daughters, and here I was hearing that this precious young woman was missing,” she says. “Then the shock came when I eventually found out she was murdered. I pray that her parents will be enfolded in Hashem’s love. Tragedy affects the whole Jewish people.”
Ohad says knowing how warmly Tiferet was hosted by the South African Jewish community has sustained him since his daughter’s passing. “We really are one big family. The saying, ‘Kol Yisrael arevim zeh ba-zeh’ [all of Israel is responsible for one another], I feel it in my guts. It’s not just an expression. We’re like one body. My call to the South African Jewish community is to continue to deepen that recognition, that solidarity. We know each other, even though we’ve never met.”
Tiferet worked with at-risk youth during her sherut leumi (national service), and then came to South Africa with the organisation Heroes for Life, which was established in 2013 so that Israeli backpackers could dedicate two weeks of their post-army trip to volunteering.
Yuval Cohen, who co-ordinated Tiferet’s delegation to South Africa, says Tiferet loved volunteering and touring in South Africa. “The pain is huge, and the reality unimaginable. With an infectious smile, eyes full of kindness, you touched every teacher and child you volunteered with. You were and will remain a significant and inseparable part of our delegation. We promise to continue spreading your light.”
Ohad says Tiferet came home for the chaggim and they had a normal Shabbat meal in which she discussed her plans to travel back to Australia. “A normal meal, but you never know that it’s the last one,” he says. He and his wife, Sarit, have six other children. Tiferet went off to the festival, and they next heard from her on the morning of 7 October, when she called to say she was “‘surrounded by murderers’. She asked if we thought she should stay with her friends or join another group. As a parent, I never thought I would be asked these questions.”
On the call, Tiferet remained calm and strong, ensuring that her parents didn’t worry. Ohad believes she was killed soon after they spoke. He doesn’t know what happened to his daughter in her final moments, and there are many unanswered questions, yet he believes “the hand of G-d Almighty” was with her. He continues to have deep faith that “G-d is with us”.
Ohad believes that just like the Jewish people emerged stronger and with their own state after the Holocaust, so after the horrors of 7 October, the Jewish people will emerge into a place of strength, healing, and gifts from G-d.
He’s also adamant that he and his family will continue to live, to celebrate simchas, and to find joy again. Even when things feel so dark, he encourages others to do the same, and to fight not only to survive, but thrive as Jews and human beings. “If we don’t carry on living, then Hamas has claimed more victims,” he says. “I don’t want to give it that. We’ll let the light in. We choose life.”