One big communal family
What we have as a community in this country is unique. I have a good sense that those who know about us, especially ex-South Africans, long for what we have.
We’re a real community of people who care about each other and have a sense of the greater good of the group. We absorb people into the community without much thought, making them feel very much at home.
Often you don’t realise what you have until you no longer have it.
Where else do you find people saying tehillim for total strangers because someone they know knows that person who is in a life-threatening situation?
Where else do strangers cook food for you when you’re sick just because they were also sick at some point or because they can?
This was happening all the time during lockdown and the height of the pandemic, and is just another example of what this community is about.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen calls for help on social media within the community, and within minutes, the person who made the request is overwhelmed with help.
A few days ago, I had a conversation with a friend who emigrated years back. She enjoys her new home, but is desperately homesick. She has been living in the United States for more than a decade, and is too often reminded of what she left behind. Mostly her sadness has to do with family and the Jewish community being there whenever and wherever she was, and helping without being asked.
Somehow, even if we sling mud at each other, which we do, we back each other against anyone else. We might complain bitterly about this one or that one and even say terrible things behind their backs, but we still care deeply about one another and cherish the community we all belong to.
Somehow, even those of us on the periphery feel the warmth from the centre radiating out.
This is a truly incredible thing!
I was fortunate enough to spend last weekend with 41 of my closest family members. It was glorious! I’m lucky to have an incredible, loving family, most of whom are right here in Johannesburg. Nothing beats the joy of bringing in the Shabbos together, singing and laughing together. It is so precious a bond that you can be telling someone off one minute and sharing a beautiful moment with them the next. That’s family.
Granted those in the environment around us over the weekend must have thought, “These Yids are a bit mad” as we seem to sing a lot and make a lot of noise. But the warmth emanating from all of us was infectious.
This is a microcosm of our greater communal experience. We’re all like that. Even those of us who don’t have our own families around us could easily slot into this “family” dynamic because we have a shared reality and identity.
I say that in the knowledge that we all have different views on so many things and even carry out our religion in slightly different ways. Somehow, that seems to fall by the wayside when we’re together, sharing our experiences.
Now, after two years of not having shared experiences, I have to be honest, I’m really looking forward to Limmud next weekend. And for those who are likely to pose the question why I’m mentioning Limmud in my editorial, the answer is that nobody asked or paid for me to say this. I write it because I really believe it.
Why, you may ask? It’s simple. I’m the product of Jewish youth movements. I spent some years with Bnei Akiva and then went to Habonim. I love the communal atmosphere, experience, and learning they both brought me.
Limmud, as I have said a number of times, is Habonim or Bnei Akiva for adults, children, and entire families. It’s like a mini-machaneh, but one that as adults, we can play a part in.
That same feeling of community when we bring in the Shabbos and do Havdalah at sunset on Saturday is unbeatable. As I recall from the last in-person Limmud, that feeling is so special. It’s about community. It’s about extended family. It’s about a shared reality and identity, no matter our differences.
It’s a treat to be able to catch up with people you haven’t seen for ages and learn about things you hadn’t even considered before. That’s how it feels for me.
I’m well aware that some people don’t approve of Limmud. I accept that. They don’t have to. This is a world, country, and community where we have free choice and I choose to enjoy learning and participating in Limmud. You don’t not have to.
This community spirit spreads to crises and simchas.
In the past week, when we heard about a Cape Town mom who was kidnapped, the community around the country held its breath until she was safe. Sure, we couldn’t feel the devastation, fear, and anguish her family experienced, but in our way, we held them.
As I understand it, Jewish security organisations around the country were waiting in the wings to help if and when they were called on to do so.
That is our community.
I’m also thrilled to hear how our communal organisations get involved in helping those outside our community. What a pleasure to hear that the Jewish Board of Deputies went all out to help the Chinese community in its court battle against hate speech!
It shows that when we stand up against hate speech, we don’t do it only for our community. Kol hakavod!
This is further evident in our outreach projects, that it’s not just our community we care about. We care about the country and fellow South Africans. We don’t ever ignore the plight of others. And we don’t just say, “Shame, that’s sad!” We get off our behinds and help.
With times really tough and people within and without our community battling to make ends meet, let’s all lend a hand where we can.
If you haven’t got money to spare, go and help physically. If you have money and time, do something to help others. Whatever little bit you can do, go and do it.
The amazing thing about helping others is that it doesn’t just uplift those you assist, it’s personally uplifting.
May you have a meaningful fast on Tisha B’Av!