No time for donor fatigue – poverty is worse than ever
“The situation in South Africa is more desperate than ever. The need for food security and employment is greater than ever, and government social-support grants have become a necessity,” says Marc Lubner, the chief executive of Afrika Tikkun. “If it weren’t for the addition of the R350 per month special grant, I believe there would be rioting in the streets of the townships.”
Like many other local charities, this organisation is being stretched to the limit as the second wave of the pandemic sweeps across the country. The number of desperate South Africans continues to rise daily, and while charities are busier than ever, they’re struggling to cope with the demand.
“Our charity efforts are more active than ever before,” says Lubner. “In fact, we’re targeting a 12% increase in our 2021 budget over our 2020 budget.”
Yakima Waner, founder and chairperson at non-profit organisation (NPO) The Harvest Project, says that the organisation has doubled in size and scope in the past six months.
“We have reached the maximum that our NPO can, and still we are pushed further,” she says. “All our initiatives are active at the moment, and we have started some more. All souls have been affected.”
A preparatory school, children’s feeding scheme, and animal rescue which fall under The Harvest Project’s umbrella are constantly in need of resources and struggle to cope with demand.
“During COVID-19, I saw how the virus brought everyone to their knees,” says Waner. “In many cases, money did still protect you, but at the same time it also became obsolete. We deal with a community which is completely hand to mouth – it works and recycles today, and will eat tonight.”
In the time that has passed since the first wave, charities have also increased their range of initiatives in order to help people in different ways. Angel Network founder Glynne Wolman says the organisation has gone beyond provision of food.
“We have learnt how to handle the food crisis more effectively and have partnered with suppliers so that everything runs far more smoothly,” she says. “We also have a much better idea of who we are helping, which saves time and makes it easier.
“We aren’t just focusing on hunger relief anymore. We’re getting involved in bringing solar-powered geysers to communities, sanitising pit toilets, and developing vegetable gardens to make communities self-sustainable.
“The need is sadly relentless,” Wolman says. “Far more people are without jobs and support, and often they have nowhere to turn, unlike our community which offers an enormously wide net of support.”
The second wave has also brought with it the threat of fewer donations, with people giving less to charities than they did during the first wave last year.
Says Lubner, “There were a number of really remarkable high-net-worth individuals and foundations that gave considerably during the first wave, and it’s not clear whether they will continue their support or at what levels.”
It’s concerning that this generosity might not be available during the second wave, where the need is actually greater, he says.
“We must remember that many companies paid out retrenchments, which would have been utilised by the end of the first quarter of 2021,” says Lubner. “Now, millions who have lost their jobs will be without an income and much hope as there doesn’t seem to be a game plan for the rebuilding of the economy.”
Waner agrees, saying that during the first wave, food distribution was a problem, and the role of larger organisations such as the South African Jewish Board of Deputies was pivotal in helping the charity reach more people.
“Without it we would never have been able to bring salvation to so many,” says Waner. “We will forever be grateful because it’s a tough sight to see grown men cry of hunger.”
However, the situation is more challenging now.
“The position we find ourselves in now is daunting because it’s the aftermath of war. After growth, you have further to fall,” she says. “We have many lives that rely on us for aid, and now you have made them a promise that they will never go hungry again.
“To keep to that promise is tough, especially now that the funding that was meant to help a pandemic which no one thought would last this duration has begun to dry up. People donated large, life-changing amounts of money, and it was used in the moment to make a difference, but we didn’t think for the future.”
Wolman, however, says that her organisation hasn’t experienced any donor fatigue.
“We are extremely fortunate in that we have been able to build up a reputation in the past five years so that donors know and trust us,” she says. “We haven’t really felt the effects of donor fatigue, but what has changed is that many corporates are now approaching us to get involved, something that has never happened before.
“I think people want to make a difference, and are aware of how hard life can be for so many.”
As South Africa continues to battle the pandemic, Lubner predicts that many charities will fall away due to lack of funding in the coming year and there is likely to be a merger or strategic alliance between a number of NPOs.
“A strategic collaboration between nongovernment organisations (NGOs), government, and private sectors can have a material impact as service delivery can be optimised,” he says. “For far too long, these entities haven’t worked in a co-ordinated manner and there has been duplicity and redundancies. If the commercial and private sector were to plan with NGO service delivery partners, there would certainly be a better utilisation of corporate social investment funding.
“The collaboration between private sector, government, and NGOs could have a far greater impact on South Africa’s destiny. We can turn this terrible crisis to good if we realise that we are more effective working together than apart.”
Lubner, Waner, and Wolman have urged the community to continue to support those in need, whether by donating to existing initiatives or just offering support where needed.
“Just show someone that you are there for them,” says Waner. “Show that support, that no one is alone in this crisis.
“If every one of us helps another person in whatever way, it will spread love and compassion that will automatically change lives.”
Zaka honoured for bravery in Bank of Lisbon inferno
Jewish rescue and recovery organisation Zaka SA has been awarded a medal of bravery by the Gauteng province for its assistance with the fire in the Bank of Lisbon building in the Johannesburg CBD more than two years ago.
Zaka SA was honoured on International Firefighters Day on 4 May, a day in which the City of Joburg remembered all firefighters who had “courageously put others’ lives before their own, saluting them for their selfless dedication and bravery”.
Three firefighters lost their lives in the blaze, one plunging to his death on the pavement below, after trying to put out the fire near the top of the high-rise building. The building was subsequently found to be only minimally compliant with health and safety regulations, and firefighters faced a lack of water and oxygen. It has since been demolished.
Zaka SA “rescued the rescuers” by offering psychological support to devastated and exhausted city firefighters, and food for 100 firefighters, with the assistance of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD).
However, when they reached the scene, Zaka and the SAJBD discovered that 700 students housed in a building next door needed to be evacuated for fear of smoke inhalation, and more food was urgently required to feed them. Zaka was honoured for assisting with the evacuation of these students, and for providing necessary relief.
“Bank of Lisbon was a complicated story,” said Daniel Forman, the head of Zaka SA. “There was a vacuum of resources including water availability, and we encountered a challenging scene as the three firefighters lost their lives soon into the crisis but firefighters had to continue to fight the fire. The biggest challenge was that the fire was so high up in the building, so firefighters had to preserve their oxygen supplies going up.”
Zaka SA was set up in 2015 to assist the community with emergency search and rescue, body identification and recovery, and fire-containment services. Like Zaka around the world, it’s entirely staffed by volunteers, and relies on communal support to keep going.
It has two trailers which each hold 600 litres of water, and is often the first responder in suburban fires, where early detection and response can eliminate the need to call city firefighters. However, Forman cautions that 600 litres is used up in just seven minutes, and a house can burn down in minutes, making additional resources mandatory.
Zaka is sometimes called on to fight more than six fires a month, he said, particularly in the winter months when people rely on heating devices in their homes, and fires are lit by the homeless and security guards to keep warm.
“Zaka’s fire-containment unit came about through challenges which exist in the system,” Forman said, “including the long wait for firefighters.” Another of these challenges is theft of brass parts from neighbourhood fire hydrants, rendering them ineffective.
However, he stressed that the City of Joburg had been involved in a major upgrade of these hydrants, and was amazingly supportive of Zaka generally. He praised the Gauteng government for exposing the organisation’s communal efforts.
“Not once have they not responded to our call or thanked us for our help,” he said of Joburg’s firefighters. “They do an amazing job.”
Yummy Shavuot from Yaddies
Seven hundred families in financial difficulty in the community can now enjoy Shavuot treats including cheesecake, mac n cheese, and pizza thanks to generous monetary and food donations from the community, Jewish schools, and the Rabbi Kraines Chessed Challenge (RKCC).
Their generosity made it possible for Yad Aharon to distribute these special treats, as well as healthy, nutritious food, to community members to make sure that they also have a joyful chag.
RKCC is an initiative which has challenged the community to maximise acts of good deeds and loving kindness during the 49 days of the Omer.
The initiative was formed in honour of Rabbi Kraines (zt”l), whose untimely passing left a void in the Johannesburg community. It celebrates the legacy of a man who was known to be a champion of the mitzvah of chessed.
In addition to the RKCC, Yad Aharon’s Shavuot drive has involved more than 20 Jewish schools as well as local and international donors who realise the importance it plays in alleviating nutritional insecurity in the community.
- To contribute towards the Shavuot drive, visit www.yadaharon.co.za
A portrait of PE through a life of service
As Port Elizabeth community stalwart Isaac Rubin reflects on his 90th year, his life story emerges as a portrait of this once thriving, now diminishing, but always impactful, Jewish centre of life.
Having offered decades of service as head of the Chevrah Kadisha and the Jewish Benevolent Society, as well as a vice-chairperson and member of the Port Elizabeth Hebrew Congregation Council and serving as its choirmaster, Rubin has lived a life firmly entrenched in service. His has been a contribution that has helped ensure that Jewish tradition continues to be fulfilled in this small seaside town.
“My best saying is, ‘Zeh hayom asah adonai, nagila v’nismicha bo.’ (This is the day that G-d created; let us be happy and rejoice in it.) To rejoice and be happy, you have to have your health, financial resources, a partner, a family.”
He hopes that he has been able to assist in making this a little more of a reality for those around him.
“It’s a blessing that Hashem has given me, to have the strength to do mitzvot,” he says.
The history of Port Elizabeth can be traced back to a group of at least 16 Jewish families that came with the 1820 British settlers. Later, a wave of German immigrants also arrived. Rubin’s family, from the town of Ludza in Latvia, were part of a wave of Eastern European Jews fleeing pogroms and antisemitism in the latter part of the century into the 1900s. His uncle came first, followed by his father. Later, his mother and oldest brother, Solly, arrived – both speaking only Yiddish.
Rubin, born in 1931, was one of four siblings born in Port Elizabeth itself. Building a life in this foreign country was difficult for the family especially as they hit the Depression years; yet his parents, both tailors, persisted throughout.
When it came to Rubin’s first day of school, he remembers how his father couldn’t come because of work and his mother because she didn’t speak English. A friend came with to help settle him in.
During the war years, he recalls having bomb drills at school where “we had to duck under our desk and put a cork between our teeth in order to prevent our jaw breaking in the event of an explosion”.
Rubin also attended cheder from the age of eight until matric. He was inspired by his studies there to complete Hebrew as a matric subject at school.
His family, in spite of financial struggles, persisted in maintaining cultural traditions. “Hard as it was, every Rosh Hashanah, we would get a new suit of short pants and a jacket. My father would close the shop on all major Jewish holidays, and we would go to shul. We kept a kosher home.”
Community life flourished in these years, with a Jewish population of about 5 000 people. “I was a troop leader in the Jewish Boy Scouts in the 1940s,” Rubin says. Always a keen sportsman, he established a Maccabi Jewish cricket club in the city which eventually had so many members, it played across three leagues. He also played in Port Elizabeth’s Jewish rugby team.
Rubin remembers some antisemitism at one school he attended – where the Jewish children were called “porkers”. Yet, he recalls proudly how when his own grandson attended the same school decades later, the outcome of such provocation was very different.
“My grandson’s teacher made a remark about how ‘you must look after your money, and be like the Jews’, and my grandson went straight to the teacher and said, ‘You aren’t allowed to say that.’” A meeting was held with the principal and family, and the teacher had to make a formal apology.
Meanwhile, after his own schooling, Rubin went on to become a pharmacist and travelled around the world, working at one time at a catering facility for the American army in the Arctic Circle. “I had a contract as a dish washer, and graduated to become a waiter,” he laughs.
Later, he married and settled back in Port Elizabeth with his wife, Shirley. They had a daughter who sadly died at age 37, as well as two sons and four grandchildren. Rubin opened his own pharmacy and his one son has followed in his career. Although Rubin retired at 67, he went back to work part-time 12 years ago.
Once a keen runner who completed 11 Comrades and 11 Two Oceans marathons, Rubin swims in the sea, does yoga, and walks. Both he and his wife are keen bridge players. Over the years, he also volunteered for Lifeline and Hospice. Yet, even this wasn’t enough for Rubin – at the age of 72, he decided to improve his musicality, and learnt to play the piano.
Always a committed member of the synagogue, over the years, he became increasingly active in communal leadership. Twenty years ago he became a member of the council of the Port Elizabeth Hebrew Congregation and then adopted his roles in the Chevrah Kadisha, Benevolent Society, and shul choir.
His love of liturgical singing stems from his father who also loved Jewish and Yiddish songs, and would “sing softly”.
Rubin decided to join the Chevrah Kadisha “when I saw what it had done for my mother, father, and daughter” on their passing. In his role, Rubin would respond to calls night and day, going to the homes of the deceased, comforting the mourners, and organising all the logistics of burials. It was only at the age of 80 that he stopped even helping to dig the graves.
Earlier this year, Rubin stepped down as chairperson, although the organisation then elected to appoint him honorary chair for life.
Gidon La Grange, his successor to the position, recounts once being with Rubin when a call came through from a family who had tragically lost a loved one. “He couldn’t speak. For at least three minutes, he just sat. Silent. He took out his hanky, and wiped tears.” They then began discussing the practical arrangements.
“I remember thinking, this is the quality you should have in responding to people’s loss. This compassion is the way he deals with everybody. The whole community loves him because he carries everything close to his heart.”
Rubin stills heads up the shul choir and the Port Elizabeth Jewish Benevolent Society, whose role is to ensure that the basic needs of all members of the community are met. Although the community has shrunk drastically, its needs have increased.
While Rubin laments the diminishing numbers in the community – the Port Elizabeth Hebrew Congregation now has 182 members – he says the community can hold its head up high. “We have a community that we can be proud of – we’ve upheld our yiddishkeit throughout.”
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