The Jewish Report Editorial

Can inspired projects heal the rifts

  • JNF - Tu B'shvat
The news of the last few weeks has been tumultuous. Domestically, a small revolution within the student movement has emerged amid their increasing dissatisfaction with the price of tertiary education. The gathering of more than 10,000 last Friday at the Union Buildings carried a spirit not seen since the 1976 Soweto uprising but this time it seemed to unite students across all races.
by VANESSA VALKIN | Oct 28, 2015

Although demands that fee increases be scrapped resulted in victory, the issues are far from resolved. Students have decided they will continue to campaign for completely free education, which our government say they cannot afford despite a misuse of funds in other areas of administration. Universities are only resuming classes now and end-of-year exams have been postponed. Another gripe being dealt with by many universities is that of their outsourced workers who want the benefits and security of permanent contracts.

The other startling news was the way the red carpet was rolled out by the ANC for Hamas political bureau leader Khaled Meshaal. In a speech made in Cape Town last week, Meshaal said that violence against Israel would continue. The ANC and the South African government have not condemned this statement and this has left the community somewhat confused as to the agenda of the ANC and the South African government. ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe is justifying the meetings with Hamas by saying it is to help find solutions to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.


For our community, a warming relationship with a group that has generally sought Israel’s destruction is a very unsettling notion. South African Jewish leadership feel that the South African government does not understand that the real agenda of Hamas is, they believe, the eradication of Israel.


In his statements to the South African press last week, Meshaal spoke of forming a democratic state “on this piece of land” (referring to where Israel and the territories are now) but in the Western world, where Hamas is viewed as a terrorist organisation, he is just not welcome. Our country, which is seen still (but fading) as the poster child of a successfully created democracy, has made quite a statement by welcoming him here.


And outside our borders - in Israel - the wave of violence and stabbings is alarming. As of this week, 11 people have been killed, and 126 wounded,  13 seriously.  There have been 46 stabbings, four shootings and five car rammings. Over the weekend, Netanyahu reassured the world that he has no intention of changing the status quo to allow Jewish prayer at the al-Aqsa site in the old city of Jerusalem, the third-holiest site for Muslims, upon which Palestinians say Israel is encroaching. But we are yet to see an end to what is looking like a third Intifada and growing mistrust and incitement.

Amid all the violence, anger and frustration, there was however one flash of hope and positivity last week - Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein’s Shabbos Project. With its humble beginnings right here in Johannesburg in 2013 - it is now observed in Jewish communities in 465 cities and 64 countries around the world. 

From Challah bakes and communal dinners, to Havdalah concerts and World Cup rugby screenings - this past Shabbat was unlike any other. Although its critics say the extensive cost of the events and publicity, could be better spent elsewhere and also that people who keep this Shabbat return to their old ways of non-observance for the rest of the year, it is indeed a more than noble endeavour. It has, amazingly, captivated Jews globally in just two years and our Chief Rabbi indeed deserves many accolades for its success. It brings to mind the song “Just one Shabbos and we’ll all be free” sung by Mordechai Ben David with its accompanying high hopes that if all the Jews observed a Shabbat, the Mashiach might come and all wars and pain would disappear.

It is too bad that the magic of this event passed as the Sabbath ended and our problems continue (including hearing of the defeat of the Springboks!). Yet the lesson learnt from the Shabbos Project when we return to our daily battles is that with enough inspiration, we can change our patterns. This may be wishful and naive thinking- but our academic leaders and our government leaders both here, in Israel and the West Bank can learn that with connection, clear goals and creativity it is possible to create surprising communities of people across borders and boundaries and thereafter great things can happen.



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