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Op-eds

Survey offers invaluable perspective on SA Jewry

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
Last week, after a lengthy process of testing and piloting, the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research at the University of Cape Town (UCT) launched its Jewish Community Survey of South Africa.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | May 23, 2019

The questionnaire will focus on a wide array of areas, including attitudes towards South Africa and its future prospects, Israel and Zionism, involvement in Jewish communal life, anti-Semitism, emigration, religious affiliation and degree of observance, and political orientation. As on previous occasions, it is being conducted in close consultation with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and other major communal bodies like the Chevrah Kadisha, rabbinical leadership, and South African Zionist Federation.

This will be the third such survey of South African Jewry to be conducted by the Kaplan Centre, the previous two having come out in 1998 and 2005. These surveys have been an invaluable source of information and guidance for our communal leaders. As far as the SAJBD is concerned, they have been used, amongst other things, to demonstrate the strong attachment to Israel in the community.

This has become increasingly important, since we are regularly seeing attempts to downplay this connection in order to boost the credibility of anti-Israel elements within the community and to create the false impression that South African Jewry is profoundly divided on the issue. By referring to these two rigorously conducted academic surveys, we have been able to show – in political meetings, court cases, and other important forums – that in fact, more than 90% of Jews regard themselves as Zionists, and those who dissent are therefore no more than a fringe element.

Another area in which the Kaplan findings have proved extremely useful is in our interactions with government at all levels, since it provides us with authoritative data through which to report on the mood and concerns of Jewish South Africans and their attitudes towards and involvement in broader society. We further draw on it as a source of reliable information for numerous articles, reports, and presentations on South African Jewry, locally and for international Jewish forums and publications, and to assist journalists, academics, and other communal organisations.

To the maximum extent possible, the intention is to provide a representative overview of Jewish opinion on a range of critical issues, both regarding specifically Jewish-related concerns and on matters relating to the country as a whole. The aim, therefore, is to get as large and diverse a proportion of our community as possible to buy into the project. Accordingly, I strongly encourage all readers to follow the www.jcssa2019.co.za link and participate in the survey (as well as encourage others to do so).

While it will entail a certain amount of time and effort on your part, it will be of considerable assistance to our communal bodies in obtaining critical grassroots insights into the needs, concerns, attitudes, and intentions of our community today. This information is invaluable for assessing the current requirements of members across a wide spectrum, and to plan the way forward.

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

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