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No lentils or pilchards in this danger zone

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As much as I might be a fan of the CSO (Community Security Organisation), I’m not a fan of pilchards. Or lentils. I also avoid drinking Coke at all costs and would hate to have to start doing so during the 2024 national elections. Which is one of the many reasons that I’m uncomfortable with the communique that this community organisation distributed on Monday evening, 25 March, two months ahead of South Africa going to the polls.

The intention was no doubt pure. Communicate, inform, and allow people to be prepared. And yet the number of messages that I received about the email reflects how it was received by the community. A community, that like Jews around the world, is traumatised, isolated, and hypervigilant already. And which is now being advised to stock up not only on water but also on a “medium-sized bag of red speckled sugar beans (500g)”.

The specifics are too much, in my view, and guaranteed to raise anxiety levels of those of us already in the danger zone. Especially if we don’t know what red speckled sugar beans are and where to buy them. I can only imagine the conversation on community forums like Joburg Jewish Mommies, where efficient shoppers will be advising those who left their lentil purchase to the last minute where to acquire these essentials. I imagine a desperate housewife writing, “I can’t find the 500g bags anywhere. Do you think I should buy the 1kg and then decant them into 250g Tupperwares?”

And another asking how many people per household the calculation is based on. A listener to the ChaiFM Morning Mayhem show on this question suggested the following, “The recommended quantities were based on the requirements for four people for two weeks. Were the JCF (Jewish Consumption Factor) plus, in this specific instance, the JAB (Jewish Anxiety Bonus) considered?”

Another, “Agree about the CSO communique. Unnecessary panic mongering in my opinion. I clicked on the person who sent it to check if it was legitimate. Early April Fool’s joke. On the positive side, if people do go stock up on the suggested supplies, then in June, Yad Aharon will have enough food!”

I also asked them to add suggestions to the list, which included “Chuckles, biltong, Gary Friedman, peppermint crisp pudding, and milk tart”.

To understand the thinking behind the message, I chatted to Jevon Greenblatt, director of operations at the CSO. I began by repeating my morning mantra, “I love the CSO, I don’t love the communique”, and posed the issue of anxiety and panic to him.

South Africa has had elections before, we’ve been through significant change, and aside from July 2021, we haven’t experienced the events that it seems to be concerned about. He said that although there wasn’t specific information about unrest, it believes it’s prudent to be prepared.

It wanted to give people enough time to avoid “panic buying”, and rather raise awareness now to allow them to do so.

Greenblatt said some years ago, many doubted the need for community security but now, given the incidents of antisemitism around the world, South Africa is excellently positioned to keep installations safe rather than scrambling to catch up like other communities.

There’s little doubt that the CSO communique came from the right place with the best of intentions. I remain of the belief that it was too non-specific about the nature of the threats and too specific about the details. That said, the advice is probably prudent and worth adhering to. Aside from the lentils and pilchards. Which are never a particularly good idea.

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