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Campaign to vilify board has no basis in truth

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In response to the various comments and allegations made by Dennis Wiener, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) in the first instance wishes to point out that certain of the issues he raises are the subject of an upcoming court hearing. Since the matter is sub judice, it is our intention that they be addressed in the appropriate legal forum rather than playing out to no good purpose in the press.
by Shaun Zagnoev, SAJBD Chairperson | Feb 07, 2019

We can respond, if only briefly, to certain other assertions unrelated to the impending hearing.

First, it is simply untrue to claim that the board’s Gauteng constitution “was amended so as to exclude about 95% of the geographical area for which it was then responsible”. The Gauteng Council, as its name implies, is responsible only for centres that fall within the boundaries of Gauteng province (but not Pretoria – Wiener is perhaps unaware that there is a SAJBD Pretoria Council which functions independently of the Gauteng Council). Virtually all of the towns he mentions (Witbank, Kroonstad, Welkom, Potchefstroom, and Polokwane) are located in other provinces, and as such fall under the purview of the board’s country communities department.

Next, there is no basis to the assertion that meetings of the various country communities trusts administered by Beyachad have not taken place. For the record, over the past four months, such meetings have been held for all but one of the 12 individual trusts that we oversee (including that of Pietersburg/Polokwane), and a meeting for the remaining one will be held within the next month. We also note that, other than nominating trustees to the various trusts to supplement trustees appointed by the various communities, the SAJBD is not responsible for managing the trusts. These trustees function independent of the board.

In 2017, the board conducted an internal investigation, headed by Judge Meyer Joffe, into governance practises within the organisation, and every recommendation has since been implemented so as to ensure that all our activities, including those relating to the trusts, have been strictly compliant with the findings and recommendations of this commission. The SA Jewish Report was given full access to the findings of the investigation at the time.

Finally, with regard to the future of the country communities, it is categorically not the case that the board has taken a decision to “wash its hands” of its responsibilities to care for the needs of Jews in smaller country centres. Rather, following a necessary restructuring process that took into account current demographic realities, it was decided that from the beginning of 2020, the needs of Jews still living outside the main urban centres, and the maintenance of cemeteries, will be cared for fully in alternative ways which may entail the relevant SAJBD regions assuming responsibility. Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, who for many years has carried out his role as spiritual leader to the South African country communities with distinction, was very much a part of this process, and continues to be centrally involved in ensuring a smooth, efficient transition to the new system.

I am extremely disappointed that in spite of our request to Wiener to have his dispute with the board adjudicated by any retired Jewish judge, he has elected to pursue a costly and resource-intensive judicial process. Notwithstanding Wiener’s extensive campaign to vilify the board (of which his letter to the SA Jewish Report is another salvo) and threats to take this issue to the mainstream media unless his demands are met, we are duty bound to pursue what our elected leadership considers to be the correct course of action.

I conclude with the firm assurance that the board, as it has done throughout its long history, will continue to represent the entire Jewish community of South Africa, and be guided by what is in the community’s best interests. Those wishing to know more about what we do, or who have specific questions are more than welcome to contact our offices.

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