Op-eds

Dynamic SAUJS helps Jewish students find their feet

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
This week, the university academic year commenced with the traditional orientation week, in which first-time students in particular were exposed to the rich and diverse range of extra-curricular activities offered by the various on-campus societies.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Jan 30, 2020

The South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) used the opportunity to introduce itself to the new students, and sign up members at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and other campuses where it has a presence. For Jewish students, most of whom are finding themselves in a primarily non-Jewish environment for the first time, SAUJS provides a vital, ongoing connection to their culture, community, and heritage.

As the umbrella representative body of Jewish students, SAUJS strives to be as inclusive as possible. To ensure that there is something for everyone, it provides a diverse range of social, educational, religious, Zionist, and outreach activities. Wits is home to the largest concentration of Jewish students in South Africa, and SAUJS has established itself as one of the most dynamic and respected societies on campus. Indeed, last year it received two prestigious leadership awards – for best religious society and for best project. It was further honoured at the recent conference of the World Union of Jewish Students in Jerusalem.

SAUJS further stands up for the rights of Jewish students, including taking action against anti-Semitism and related activity on our campuses. Where required, it works with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies in addressing these incidents. The board also assists SAUJS in resolving various difficulties that affect Jewish students, including the setting of exams and tests on Shabbat or Yom Tov. Finally, SAUJS provides a dynamic training ground for future Jewish leadership. Indeed, a number of former SAUJS leaders today hold senior leadership positions within both the SAJBD and other communal organisations, both in a lay and professional capacity. I wish SAUJS all success in the coming year, and urge those who have not yet signed up to do so.

Keeping a lid on anti-Semitism

As reported elsewhere in this issue, anti-Semitism in South Africa as measured by direct attacks on Jewish individuals and/or institutions fell to a 15-year low in 2015. There are a number of possible reasons for this, but one undoubtedly is the presence of a watchdog organisation whose primary mandate is to monitor and take decisive action in all cases of anti-Semitic activity that comes to its attention. This is what the SAJBD has been doing for the past 117 years. Our zero-tolerance approach towards any behaviour with a discernible element of anti-Jewish prejudice is predicated on the recognition that unless such activities are firmly confronted at the outset, they can all too easily acquire a momentum of their own and eventually assume unmanageable proportions.

The fact that our anti-Semitism levels continue to be strikingly low compared to other major diaspora countries is certainly something we can be thankful for. However, it would be dangerous and short-sighted were this to became a cause for complacency. Instead, it should be a spur to continue being ultra-vigilant and where necessary reactive to ensure that it remains at worst a fringe phenomenon in our society.

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

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