Op-eds

A day on the river

  • Howard Feldman 2018
The closest I ever got to acquiring sea legs was on a kosher cruise we took as a family some years ago. This is why it was no surprise to me that we weren’t the most proficient when we hired a single engine boat for a day on the Keurbooms River near Plettenberg Bay during the holidays.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Jan 16, 2020

What we lacked in the experience, however, we made up for in cooler bags. And whereas we might have needed assistance in understanding how the “anchor” worked, we had mastered and could operate every type of sun screen dispenser that G-d put on this hot planet.

A few hours into the day (after stopping for a snack), we happened upon an area where the water was deep and the rocks alongside the river were high. One of our sons asked if we could pull up alongside so that he could climb up and jump into the river.

It seemed like the perfect activity for a day, but I did worry that it could be dangerous. What added to my concern were signs that prohibited diving. But that also meant that we were hardly the first to do so. We debated it for a while, and decided that well, we only live once.

And so, the boys (and even my wife) climbed up the rock slowly and gingerly. They attempted it at first without shoes, returned to get them, and then painfully climbed back up again. When they got to the top, they once more revisited the wisdom of it all, then after significant and irritating contemplation, encouragement, and threats of leaving them behind, ungraciously jumped off the rock and hit the dark water of the river with a thud. It was silent for a moment, before they emerged, thankfully intact.

While they were heaving themselves back on board the boat (and having a nibble at something to calm their nerves), another family sailed near. They appeared to be from Fourways, with a hint of Bryanston. Their 2.2 kids, spotting the opportunity, said something to their parents, dived effortless into the water, glided ashore, scampered up the rocks like mountain goats, pirouetted into the air, and slid back into the river with hardly so much as a ripple.

My son of 21 waited for them to be out of earshot before asking why we couldn’t be more like them? Why do we stand on the rock for ages and debate if it’s safe?

DNA, I responded. In most likelihood, no one has been trying to kill them for generations. It’s probable that their families hadn’t fled Europe, Spain, and the Middle East in fear of their lives.

I explained that whether he had thought of it consciously or not, some part of him, as he stood at the top of the rock, thought “did we survive for generations in order to die in an act of pure stupidity here on the Keurbooms River near Plettenberg Bay?”

This is why Jews are so attuned to anti-Semitism, and why we are so anxious about rising levels of hate in the world. We are acutely aware that those of us who are alive today are the products of survivors.

It’s often said that anti-Semitism exists because we are different. I believe that we are different because of hundreds of years of anti-Semitism. That’s why it is so hard for us to stand on top of a cliff and leap into the dark waters of the Keurbooms River.

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