Subscribe to our Newsletter


click to dowload our latest edition

From Cape Town kelp forest to Oscar stage

Published

on

Lifestyle

Pippa Ehrlich travelled from the depths of Cape Town’s icy oceans to the heights of the film industry when she won the Academy Award for Best Documentary this week.

Ehrlich, whose father is Jewish, grew up in Johannesburg and lives in Cape Town. She and co-director James Reed were awarded the Oscar for their film, My Octopus Teacher, which made waves around the world when it was released by Netflix last year.

When 34-year-old Ehrlich spoke to the SA Jewish Report last year, she said her proudest moment of the film’s release was when her 90-year-old bobba, Rica Ehrlich, told her how much nachas she was getting as people around the globe responded to the film with joy, amazement, and fascination.

“She just couldn’t believe it. She said, ‘Every bobba should have such nachas from their granddaughter.’ It was a lovely moment for me,” recalls the filmmaker. One can imagine her bobba’s nachas at her granddaughter’s Oscar win.

Says Ehrlich, “I’ve had incredible support from the Jewish community, from my wonderful cousin, Danielle, and from Carina Frankal, who is the executive director of the Sea Change Project. Also my friend, Brian Bergman, who is a truly wise and wonderful man. There were many times where I felt out of my depth [when making the film]. I wanted to give up, and arrived on his doorstep in tears. Every time, he talked me through it, brought me back to myself, and sent me out to face the project again. You cannot do these things without having friends like that in your life.

“ORT Jet has also been so supportive,” she says. “Since I first got in touch with them more than a year ago, they’ve been super encouraging, helped me with all sorts of things that I needed. The South African Jewish community is an incredible community to be part of, and it’s wonderful to feel that support behind you.”

Ehrlich and the film’s subject and producer, Craig Foster, are part of the Sea Change Project, a community of scientists, storytellers, journalists, and filmmakers who made My Octopus Teacher and are dedicated to raising awareness of the beauty and ecological importance of South Africa’s kelp forest, which they call “the Great African Seaforest”.

Speaking to the SA Jewish Report after the Oscar win, Frankal says that it has been a heady few days. She and her team have been working 18-hour days over the past few months as interest in the film went into overdrive.

Although she is thrilled with the Academy Award, for her “nothing can beat the impact of the Netflix launch of the film on 7 September 2020. The nachas we received from the outpouring of interest from all over the world was unequivocally incredible, and we were completely taken by surprise. We saw people connecting the film with their own story, and it touched people from all walks of life and all ages – even children. Art and poems were created, and our website crashed because of the amount of traffic. Emails came in literally every second, for days. We weren’t prepared for it. We had no idea, so it was quite overwhelming, but also wonderful.”

My Octopus Teacher has won more than 20 international awards, including Best Documentary at the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) and Producers Guild of America Awards. President Cyril Ramaphosa personally congratulated the team for its nomination and award. It was Ehrlich’s first feature-length film, and as a first-time director, she told the SA Jewish Report that the experience of making it was “a baptism of fire”.

In the months since the film launched on Netflix, the organisation has been bolstered with more hands on deck, and it was better prepared should the film win the BAFTA and Academy Award. “The Oscar is a win for all South Africans all over the world,” says Frankal.

With a long career in filmmaking and media, Frankal has known Sea Change Project founders Craig Foster and Ross Frylinck for many years. When they invited her to join them, she was excited and intrigued.

“The mandate of using media to work towards ocean conservation was of great interest to me. I knew the calibre of their work, and saw it as an exciting opportunity.” It was largely voluntary and “we didn’t go into it with any funding, job security, or salaries. We just worked on projects we loved”.

Frankal hopes the Oscar will lead to more protection of the precious ecosystem that is the Great African Seaforest and other ocean environments. “If people can take the groundswell of interest and create meaningful and sustainable change, then we couldn’t be happier,” she says.

Like many others at the Sea Change Project, she started free diving five years ago. “At first, I would watch Craig and Ross go into the cold water, and I felt it wasn’t for me. But then I saw them transform in a positive way, and I thought it wasn’t such a leap to try this for myself. I’m now a die-hard cold-water swimmer and free diver. It’s been life-changing to have access to this underwater world on our doorstep. I feel awe and wonder at the privilege of exploring this environment.” She emphasises that anyone interested in doing it should do so safely, and seek others with more experience to guide them.

Frankal believes that My Octopus Teacher resonated with so many people because “it’s everyone’s story – we can all relate to how we feel when we connect with nature. It’s in our wiring. I also think Craig’s vulnerability in telling the story was powerful. He wasn’t being anything other than himself. The film also lifts the veil between us and nature – it reminds us that we’re not separate. We’re all connected, and we’re part of the natural world. This was Pippa’s conviction – that the film doesn’t have an overt conservation message, but rather, it’s about the human heart.”

In accepting the award, Ehrlich said, “In many ways, this really is a tiny personal story that played out in a sea forest at the very tip of Africa, but on a more universal level, I hope that it provided a glimpse of a different type of relationship between human beings and the natural world.”

Speaking to the media, she said, “In a difficult year in which many of us were stuck inside, feeling afraid and confused, a positive story that transports you to a magical world has a powerful appeal. Parts of this story are universal to almost every person on earth – love and friendship, and connection and hope. It’s about nature, but it’s also a very powerful, archetypal story that helps us to make sense of the world.”

Continue Reading
2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Deanna Isaacs

    Apr 29, 2021 at 10:52 am

    Congrats what a wonderful achievement 👏

  2. Myra Goldenbaum

    Apr 30, 2021 at 6:50 am

    Well deserved Oscar and may this film reach many more people around the world Mazeltov and congratulations Myra Goldenbaum

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Lifestyle

Bnei Akiva to make machaneh magic

Published

on

Bnei Akiva has decided to hold a long-awaited machaneh this December. “It’s time to start the next page in the story of Bnei Akiva South Africa,” says Rosh Machaneh Yoni Rosenthal. Called Daf Chadash (A new page), the machaneh will run from 8 to 20 December 2021.

“Throughout the year, we have been monitoring the COVID-19 situation to assess our options,” Rosenthal says. “The vaccine announcement for the 12 to 17 age group pushed us to approach our medical advisors and stakeholders to see if we could make machaneh on our campsite in Hartenbos a reality.”

He says the fact that they can hold a machaneh “is extremely emotional. The campsite is a place of magic. We are excited to make up for lost time. We are truly grateful that Hashem is giving us this opportunity.”

Not being able to have a machaneh or gather in person “was heart breaking for our channichim, madrichim and community,” says Rosenthal. “I’m proud that through the dedication of our madrichim, we have carried on thriving over the past 18 months.”

The camp’s leadership is in discussion with medical professionals to create a safe environment. “We have been working on our COVID-19 protocols with the guidance of Professor Barry Schoub, Dr Richard Friedland, and Uriel Rosen. We will test for COVID-19 before and during camp, creating a campsite ‘bubble’, and requiring all of our channichim, madrichim, and staff to be vaccinated. The safety of our channichim and madrichim is our number one priority,” he says.

“We have had to adapt our machaneh to COVID-19 times, but much of machaneh will be as we know and love it,” says Rosenthal. “Our chinnuch [education] team is working hard to ensure that our tochniot, Torah learning, and davening experiences will be of the highest quality. Our famous volleyball, soccer, and netball tournaments will bring gees [spirit] to the campsite, we will be going to the beach and pool daily, and the camp vibe will be incredible as always!

“There are certain things that we have had to adapt, such as our ruach (spirit) sessions,” he says. “We are considering how these can be done in the safest way possible.”

They are hoping that a fourth wave doesn’t prevent machaneh from happening. “Ultimately, the safety of our channichim is our priority. Should there be a fourth wave, we would consult our medical advisors and in the worst-case scenario, might have to cancel.”

The feedback to the announcement has been overwhelmingly positive. “Madrichim are fired up, and there is real excitement that Bnei Akiva is able to provide much-needed inspiration for Jewish youth.”

Meanwhile, after announcing last week that it would hold a machaneh, Habonim Dror has expanded its dates, allowed channichim to reserve their spots, and given permission for the youngest age group, Shtilim, to attend. The new dates are 12 to 27 December. Each shichvah (year level) will have a maximum of 50 people (except Shtilim, which will have 40). The camp is almost at capacity.

Continue Reading

Lifestyle

Habonim’s return to machaneh ‘a dream come true’

Published

on

The Habonim Dror slogan “Don’t call us thy children, call us thy builders”, rang true this week, when the Jewish Zionist youth movement announced that it would hold a machaneh this December, taking the brave step of building something new and vibrant in a post-pandemic world. Machanot were cancelled last year for the first time in decades – a huge blow to movement morale.

In a video titled simply, “We are going home”, Habonim announced on Sunday, 17 October, that after 23 months of waiting, a machaneh will finally be held at its Onrus campsite. It will be called “Lachlom Mechadash” (To Dream Again) because the movement sees it as a dream come true. It will be shorter (from 9 to 20 December), with fewer people, and everyone will need to be vaccinated.

Rosh Machaneh Aaron Sher explained how this dream became a reality. “From the moment our va’ad poel [steering committee] for machaneh was elected this year, we were thinking about how we could make machaneh a reality. After consultation with medical professionals and those who have had summer camps overseas, many permutations of machaneh were drawn up.

“Some were on the more optimistic side, and some with more conservative thinking,” he says. “Throughout this time, the South African Zionist Federation [SAZF] was holding meetings for the youth movements, the Community Security Organisation [CSO], and other community figures to discuss how machaneh could happen, often attended by [local virology expert] Professor Barry Schoub. A common point was the vaccination of adolescents. It left room for optimism for December. Without these meetings and the support of these communal bodies, December machaneh couldn’t happen.”

With the announcement on Friday, 15 October, that vaccination would open to 12 to 17 year olds in South Africa, “the va’ad poel and our staff were in a panic, but excited. A golden opportunity had fallen into our laps that would allow us to bring machaneh to fruition. It’s almost impossible to describe the happiness we felt.”

Asked about the impact of not having machaneh or in-person events, Sher says, “In a word, devastating. Habonim Dror thrives on in-person interaction. For generations, we have been a space for Jewish youth to come together to have fun, discuss world issues, create change, and become strong leaders. Online activities don’t bring the ‘Habo magic’ that we need to feel.”

Habonim Manhig Wayne Sussman says, “The impact of not having a machaneh last year or any major in-person events has been absolutely devastating. Not just to Habonim, but to all South African youth movements. Camps and in-person events are a core part of the South African Jewish youth experience. They’re one of the things which make our community so great, and it’s absolutely critical that our kids return to camp sooner rather than later.”

Since the announcement, he says, “I have seen a youth movement come alive. I’m seeing renewed vigour, renewed energy, which has been lacking amongst our very brave and committed youth movement leadership for the past 20 months.”

Sher says “a full COVID-19 protocol policy document has been prepared for our machaneh with the help of medical professionals and those who have successfully run summer camps overseas. This will be available as soon as our sign-ups are open so that all parents and madrichim know exactly how we are keeping safe before they sign up.”

Says Sussman, “Of course, we’ll also limit numbers, and we are going to launch this properly and open sign-ups only once we’ve properly engaged with community leadership and the CSO.”

“Vaccination will be required by anyone on the campsite, a negative COVID-19 PCR test will have to be presented on arrival, and general COVID-19 protocols will have to be adhered to,” Sher says. “Anyone who tests positive will have to isolate immediately and will unfortunately be sent home. Those who have been in close contact with them will have to isolate and await a PCR test.”

What will stay the same and what will be different? “Fortunately, with a vaccine blanket over our campsite, a lot of what we love about machaneh can continue,” says Sher. “There will still be ruach [spirit], Havdalah, the beach, and everything we love about machaneh, just with some slight adjustments.” The youngest age groups, Garinim and Shtilim, won’t be able to attend.

“Should there be a fourth wave during December, Habonim Dror is committed to ensuring that we are able to adapt or at worst cancel,” he says. “The safety and health of our campers will always come first. We will make sure that we make the correct decisions in the interest of our community.”

Says Sussman, “Of course, there’s a chance that we might have to pull the plug on this. But as long as that door is open, as long as kids know that if they get vaccinated, if they’re responsible, and if they really want to attend machaneh, we’re going to do what we can to give them best summer.”

Since making the announcement, “We have had an overwhelming response from parents, kids, bogrim, and ex-chaverim all over the world,” says Sher. “People have been reaching out offering support and services. I couldn’t be more thankful to our Habonim and Jewish communities. We’re going home.”

SAZF executive member Anthony Rosmarin says, “December machanot have, for decades, played a vital role in strengthening Jewish identity and building young leaders. Recognising the impact that COVID-19 has had on the ability to host these pivotal annual events, the SAZF created a platform that brought together youth movements, medical and security advisors, and stakeholders to discuss the feasibility of December machanot.

“Given the fluid nature of the ongoing pandemic, this assessment is continually being updated and we recognise that each youth movement must come to its own determination as to whether or not to move forward with camp preparations for 2021. We are committed to providing support and advice on how best to approach this complex decision in a safe and responsible manner.”

The mazkir of Netzer South Africa, Jason Bourne, says “Netzer has decided that it won’t be running a full, in-person summer machaneh this year. Instead, we will be running day camps in Cape Town, Durban, and Joburg. Though vaccinations are being administered and cases are declining, we feel that there are still too many unanswered questions to have a sleep-away camp. As things unfold and more people are vaccinated, we may open a small weekend sleepover element to our day camp experience for older, vaccinated participants only.”

A community leader, speaking anonymously, says “Bnei Akiva would love to have a camp at the end of the year but it’s looking at all the medical and logistical issues. No decision has been made and over the next few days, it will explore it all carefully and come to a conclusion.”

Continue Reading

Lifestyle

Hatzolah’s invasion tour brings freedom back

Published

on

I’ve never thought of us as the invading type, we’re more “people of the book”, but for five amazing days, even if in our own minds, we invaded the roads of the Overberg region on the 2021 Hatzolah Cape Invasion Tour.

As a first-time invader, and yes, I have to say it, in a COVID-19 year, I wasn’t sure what to expect and how I would feel being in a hotel for five days with a group of guys, many of whom I didn’t know, and riding in a mask-less peloton. This was in addition to the real fear of whether my “pins” (legs) would hold up for the 500km of riding and more than 5 000m of climbing that was necessary to claim a full invasion.

What I hadn’t taken into account was the “Hatzolah factor”. Here is an organisation whose mission it is to care, keep our community safe, save our lives when called upon to do so, and in doing so, to help create “a future that looks brighter together”.

In some respects, the riding was secondary. The operation to keep the invaders safe in all aspects was the real show, and the stakes were high for Hatzolah, which has been our knight in shining PPE (protective) suits throughout the pandemic. And what a show it put on! Led by rosh riding, Mark Kruger; rosh logistics and anything else you could think of, Sharon Newfield; and rosh medical, Yudi Singer, the Hatzolah team of Bernard Segal, Justin Gillman, Albert Ndlovu, and Sisqo Buthelezi were simply exceptional. I can tell you from personal experience that to have Segal following you in a red ambulance and then pull up next to you and offer you a “red ambulance” (an ice-cold Coke) when you’ve been dropped by the group is really quite remarkable.

As were the unbelievable marshals who worked the traffic and kept us moving safely in every direction, and our bike mechanic, Sylvester, who kept our Dogmas, Canyons, and Treks rolling smoothly on the open road. An essential function for a group full of Jewish bike mechanics.

The riding was exceptional. From the spectacular descent into Gordon’s Bay to the golden fields of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, from Pringle Bay to Villiersdorp and Hermanus, we were treated to the best of our beautiful country.

One of the biggest challenges for the invaders, on top of riding and climbing, was to return from the invasion weighing less and not more than when we started. Avron of Avron’s in Cape Town made sure that was almost impossible. The food was top class. How do I know? No one complained.

Not everything was smooth sailing. On day three, one of the more accomplished riders in the group, who was beginning to glow like a lava lamp, discovered that he had been shmeering himself with sanitiser and not sun block, but even that was quickly fixed.

And just when it couldn’t get any better, it did. Each evening, we were treated to a virtuoso performance of Pavarotti, Bocelli, and beautiful chazonis from one of – actually probably the only – multitalented rider on the tour, Ezra Sher.

I almost forgot. How do you know you’ve got Chabadniks on the ride? You have a shul set up complete with a Torah and guys lining up to put tefillin on in the morning. Love it!

From the COVID-19 tests that were required from all riders prior to arriving at Arabella, to the dedicated dining area, to the support teams and riders who made up the invading party of 2021 in a COVID-19 year, it almost felt normal. Like we were back.

This year’s tour was as much about the riding as it was about re-claiming just a little bit of our freedom that has been taken away from all of us over the past 18 or so months. It was about being careful, which allowed us to be carefree. It was about being part of a remarkable community of riders supporting the remarkable organisation that Hatzolah is. There aren’t many quotable quotes when one thinks of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but when it comes to the Hatzolah Cape Invasion for 2022, one springs to mind. “I’ll be back!” May the wind be at our backs.

  • Herschel Jawitz is on the board of the SA Jewish Report.

Continue Reading

HOLD Real Estate: Here is what you need to know about getting a mortgage in Israel. Read the full article here:

Trending