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Once again, it’s hard to be a Jew

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For South African Jewry, 29 December, just like 7 October, was another seminal date where everything changed. The news that our own government had just instituted proceedings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), levelling appalling charges of genocide by Israel, came as another hammer blow to a community already deeply shaken and traumatised by the 7/10 massacre and its continuing tragic aftermath. Following the handing down of the ICJ’s ruling late last week, on Monday, 29 January, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) hosted a webinar where Judge Dennis Davis unpacked the judgment and clarified its terms and implications. This was followed by brief presentations giving the perspectives of the SAJBD, represented by myself and National President Zev Krengel, Rowan Polovin from the South African Zionist Federation, and Stephen Goldberg from the Community Security Organisation. National Director Wendy Kahn chaired the event.

Prior to the handing down of the ruling, Davis spoke on a webinar hosted by the Cape Board in which he explained the positions of the respective parties and the substance and parameters of the case before the ICJ. We’re grateful to him for once again giving of his time and expertise to enlighten our community on this complex and extremely emotive manner. It was reassuring for us to listen to Davis’s nuanced, dispassionate, and strictly legally focused analysis of what the ruling actually means in practical terms. From this, one was able to better understand that as difficult as this case has been for us, the outcome has been better than many had feared. This is something that we should all hold onto strongly.

One of the key questions I addressed in my remarks was how we should respond to a world in which, for the first time in many years, it was, as the old Yiddish expression had it, “Hard to be a Jew”. In the South Africa we grew up in, antisemitism, though it hadn’t been completely eliminated, was low key and infrequent. Sadly, both in South Africa and globally, we’re back in a space where it’s again ubiquitous and in-your-face. How we respond to a world where it’s “hard to be a Jew”, I said, was not by denying Yiddishkeit nor hiding our Judaism in any kind of way or context. Here, our community, in spite of the negative environment, has risen to the challenge, affirming and standing up for its beliefs and affiliations. We cannot deny that we’re feeling a certain amount of anxiety, but that anxiety cannot lead to us hiding our identity, and indeed it hasn’t led to doing so in any way.

A second crucial question was about continuing to be proudly South African as well as proudly Jewish. It’s very important that in our dismay at what our government has done, we shouldn’t become bitter, nor allow the government to take away the rights that we have as proud South Africans. As our national president, Zev Krengel, put it, “To be a proud South African means to love this country, to work for this country, and to make this country better for all. That, for sure, isn’t going to be determined by the African National Congress government or any other government. It will be determined by us as South African Jewry”.

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

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