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No more excommunicating people for their beliefs

As we witness anti-Israel sentiment spilling over into anti-Semitism here and around the world, it is time for us to set aside our differences, and work together against the storm.





The only way for us to tackle the antagonism thrown our way is as a strong, tactical, smart, and united force.

Therein lies the problem – we are far from united as a community. While there is a fairly extensive core that is united – to a degree – there is also a whole lot of verbal swiping at one another and backstabbing. While people are human, and arguing and differences of opinion are expected, there is a limit to how badly people within a community can treat each other.

Earlier this week, I was contacted by the venerable Professor David Bilchitz to ask if he and Judge Dennis Davis could write an opinion piece for the newspaper. Of course, I was interested, as they are both men of great brains (as Winnie the Pooh might have said). But when he suggested that they wanted to write about the issue of Limmud, and the people who had aligned themselves with BDS being disinvited, I became reticent, feeling that we had thrashed this issue out so thoroughly, there was nothing left to consider.

However, when he said that they wanted to address the issues of people being “excommunicated for their views” and “bullying” behaviour in the community, I realised these were important issues to tackle.

These problems keep coming up in our community, partly because it is our nature as Jews to be opinionated. However, we don’t all have the same views. We don’t all dress the same. We don’t all go to sleep at 9pm. We don’t all to go Plett in December. We don’t all live in Glenhazel. We are all different, and some of us are more different than others.

Most of us teach our children that we are all unique and different, and it is those differences that make us special. We tell them they don’t have to be like everyone else.

Yet, when someone has a view or a belief that is outside of popular communal-think, why do we treat them like pariahs? Why do we assume that they are wrong? And even if they are wrong – which they may well be – surely they have the right to think what they do. In the same vein, we have a right to debate their views with them. Perhaps in the debate and discussion, they might just rethink their views. Or, we may find food for thought that perhaps there is more than just one right way.

But if we don’t allow people to be different, and to have different views, then are we any better than those who refuse to see Israel as anything but pure evil?

We are such a multifaceted and interesting people. We are smart, generally knowledgeable and educated, but sometimes we can be so very blinkered about our own people.

I get upset with people who even consider that BDS could have a point. I also get upset with people who assume that women can’t have careers, and should spend their adult life focusing only on their husbands and children. What right do they have to tell me what I should do with my life? The truth is, they have every right. I don’t have to agree, but as long as they aren’t harming me or anyone else with their views, they have a right to them. And what if theirs is the predominant view? Should I be alienating myself or them for these views?

And if I do, who am I harming most? All of us. That is the issue.

As Jews, we have opinions, and we are very persuasive and sure of ourselves. This is to be applauded. However, if we don’t agree with people, so be it. Does this mean that we should destroy the extended family because siblings or cousins can’t agree? No, so why should we shred the community because of it?

Since I have been editor, I have been confronted a few times by people who vehemently disagree with me. They have an inalienable right to do so. They don’t have a right to threaten me and badmouth me, but to disagree with me… absolutely.

I have also met people who tell me they won’t comment or give their opinion in the SA Jewish Report because they will be ostracised for doing so. Some say they have already been shunned by the community for their views. What are we doing?

We are brothers and sisters. We don’t have to agree, but we do have to have each other’s backs. There is a world out there that doesn’t necessarily like our kind, so if we destroy ourselves from within, what chance do we have to survive?

Progressive, Maharsha, Zionist, not-so-Zionist, secular… we are all Jews. So, let’s stop making each other’s lives miserable, and start working together to change the way people see us.

Let’s start working towards showing the world we are a people who can be proud of how we look after our own. Let’s be those people who listen to each other and, if we disagree, we agree to disagree.

Let’s be the people who live this perhaps overused quote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

That way we will be able to stand up to our enemies with pride.

Shabbat Shalom, and best of luck to our Absa Jewish Achiever nominees.

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Don’t vote, don’t complain



The conversation would go something along these lines. “Mrs Feldman,” they would say, on seeing my late grandmother, “You are looking too wonderful!” A pregnant pause would follow as she contemplated the horror of what had been said. “Really?” she would finally answer, lips pursed, eyes narrowed, “You should only know how terrible I feel.”

And then, just to prove her point. Or to make them suffer, she would tell them. Complaint by complaint. Ailment by ailment, punctuated with a detailed description of her matching medication. At a family function, my grandmother would find desserts “too sweet” and the band too loud. She was never happy with where she had been seated, and there was always someone who didn’t greet her appropriately.

She wouldn’t have it any other way. Because complaining made her happy.

Whereas our generation might not complain about the same things, we’re hardly different. Social media is a complainer’s dream, where at a whim and at any time, we have the ability to slate, moan, and denigrate anything or anyone we choose. The “Hello Peters”, Google Reviews, and Facebook groups all provide fertile environments for anyone having a bad experience or simply a bad day. Because like it or not, complaining makes us happy.

It does, however, have its limits. And there are conditions attached to our ability and right to complain. We might, for instance, not be happy with the state of our roads, or the water pipes or electricity, but we forfeit the right to complain about them if we choose not to vote in the forthcoming municipal elections. No one will stop us, and maybe no one will even know, but electing not to participate in the choosing of representatives for our neighbourhoods and cities renders our complaining voices silent on a moral level.

The refrain of, “There’s no one to vote for” isn’t only inaccurate, it’s also lazy. The options might not be perfect, but each presents an opportunity for change and improvement.

The decision not to vote is a vote for the status quo. Which means that it’s affirmation that things are just as they should be. It means that the roads are pristine, that our water sparkles and is reliable, and that our lights switch on with the predictability and consistency of high school Charidy callers. It means that everything is just as it should be. Because, why else would anyone choose not to choose?

In conversations with the leaders of the Democratic Alliance, Action SA, and the African Christian Democratic Party, each told me the same thing: this election is all about service delivery. It’s about selecting the party and person who has the highest chance of getting the job done.

It might be true that there’s no perfect party and no perfect candidate, but then it might be worth choosing the one that’s the least imperfect of them all. Failure to do that will result the loss of the right to complain about all the things we love to complain about.

Which would make our grandmothers very unhappy.

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Making us count in the conversation



Let me introduce myself. My name is Karen Milner, and I’m the newly elected chairperson of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD). I look forward to engaging with all of you through this column, and welcome any feedback, comments, and input.

It’s my pleasure to start my tenure by announcing the results of the elections of the SAJBD national positions:

Shaun Zagnoev – national president

Mary Kluk – national vice-president

Zev Krengel – national vice-president

David Kuming – national treasurer

Marc Pozniak – national vice-chairperson (Gauteng)

Rael Kaimowitz – national vice-chairperson (Western Cape)

Susan Abro – national vice-chairperson (KZN)

Our elections took place last Sunday, 17 October, as part of the SAJBD’s biennial national conference, and it’s an amazing privilege for us to begin our term of office on the back of such an inspiring and thought-provoking event. The Board’s national conferences are typically a hybrid of past, present, and future, where reflecting on the events of the previous two years goes hand in hand with assessing current realities and looking to the potential challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. This conference was no exception, addressing issues of real substance while also showcasing what the Board has done on behalf of its constituency.

We were honoured to have an exceptional panel, comprising Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana, Advocate Wim Trengove, and Eskom Chief Executive Andre de Ruyter to address the critical challenges facing our country – the economy, the rule of law, and electricity. None of the speakers attempted to airbrush the sobering reality of the difficulties ahead, but they also relayed a message of genuine hope. This message was reinforced as we learned about the remarkable work done by the recipients of our communal leadership awards – the Kirsh family; Professor Barry Schoub; Dr Richard Friedland; Uriel Rosen (the initiator of the Hatzolah COVID-19 Wellness Programme); and Vivienne Anstey. We are humbled and inspired by their example. They showed the truth of Margaret Mead’s profound words, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Upholding Jewish civil rights remains the core mandate of the SAJBD, but its mission includes leading the community in being an active, identifying part of society. By addressing at our conference such critical issues as the economy, the role of the judiciary, and the Eskom question, we helped ensure that the community, in spite of its small number, continues to be a dynamic part of the national conversation. I congratulate all those who helped to put this very successful event together, and in particular, our superb professional staff team headed by Wendy Kahn. The widespread media coverage that the conference generated, together with the interest shown in such recent Board events as the #MakeUsCount pre-election debates, also shows how our community continues to be regarded as a significant voice

I thank my colleagues for the trust they have placed in me, and look forward to working with them in protecting and promoting the welfare of our vibrant, resilient Jewish community.

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

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Challah – bread of Jewish men’s affliction



There are many reasons why it isn’t easy to be a Jewish male. Expectation of performance begins at eight days, and hardly eases up until we shuffle off the mortal coil, well ahead of our time, exhausted from the effort and stress of it all.

The expectations are seemingly without end. We need to make our parents proud, we need to provide for our families, to be good husbands and better fathers, and we need to have run at least one marathon in a far-flung city by the time we are 45.

We need to be able to sing in front of the community at our Barmitzvahs, just when we are at our most awkward and when our voices are the most unreliable. We need to be able to intone anything at any given time.

And then, on the one night of the week when we can relax, we are required to cut the challah with the precision of a surgeon, the speed of Usain Bolt, and we need to do so while everyone watches in hungry expectation.

Following the kiddush prayer and the ritualistic washing of hands, there is a period of silence. With no speaking until the eating of the challah, it’s one of the most underrated aspects of being a Jewish male. It’s a moment that represents almost every aspect of “Jewish maleness”, and it happens week after week after week. Why?

Because no matter what, it will be done wrong. The slices will be too thick. Or thin. Or the wrong challah would have been selected. Too much, too little salt will have been added. And the challah serving plate will have been passed in the wrong direction. Eyes will be rolled, lips pursed, and heads will be slowly shaken. From side. To side. To side.

A Jewish male it would seem, cannot please a Jewish woman.

I have asked around. A friend’s wife told me that she can’t stand the way he cuts the challah, and prefers to do it herself. “He just can’t get it right. It’s got so bad that I hardly even let him carve the meat.”

She even went as far as to buy an electric carving knife, which she used before he got home from work on a Friday so that he didn’t need to. It might be worth mentioning that when he’s not “butchering” the challah, he’s a well-respected surgeon. At least he made his parents proud.

And there are those who are too precise for their own good. My father-in-law is one such case. Each piece of challah is measured to perfection. Sliced the way through, and then checked in case any remnants of attachment to the piece before remains, before moving on to slice number two. And so on.

Generally, we like to start Shabbat on Wednesday when visiting, as it takes about that long before we get to eat. All while we sit in silence.

The slicing of challah is the most underrated aspect of being a Jewish male. It carries with it all the expectation along with all the disappointment of generations of men who have failed before them.

It’s a moment that’s shared in all households across the Jewish world week after week. It bonds Jewish women to the past, and will link them to their great granddaughters, who will one day share knowing looks with their sisters as they watch their husband “butcher” the challah, just as their father did.

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