The Jewish Report Editorial

The good guys who keep us together

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As the blossoms emerge at the beginning of September and we move into Spring, we’re all feeling a little better about the world. I know the coronavirus hasn’t left us, but it doesn’t feel quite so devastating anymore. Perhaps we’re just getting used to what it means or perhaps we’re just gatvol of lockdown and its impact on our lives.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Sep 03, 2020

I guess we all want to break out of our cocoons and start living again. We want to make a new start as we head towards Rosh Hashanah. We want to renew our commitment to our lives, even though they will be different from what they were six months ago. We all want change.

One of my biggest learnings through lockdown is that the more adversity we have, the stronger we become. The tougher life is, the more we are pushed to find joy and make it work. And the more we are pushed down, the greater our capacity to rise up higher than before.

As I say that, I think about the many heroes who have come to light during lockdown: doctors, paramedics, nurses, social workers, people who raise money to feed others, and the list goes on. So many people have stepped up to the plate during this time to make a difference in other people’s lives.

There are also so many who do good, yet stay under the radar. They give of their time, money, and energy without wanting anyone to know. They just do it because they can and they want to. They emulate what it is to be a mensch. Do you even know an appropriate English word for this Yiddish term? I don’t. A mensch is defined as ‘a good and upstanding person – someone with integrity, honour, and a sense of right and wrong’. As it turns out, we all know many such people within this particular community.

In the broader society in this country, do people see a crisis situation and – knowing full well they have jam-packed days working to make ends meet – volunteer to go and sort it out? Perhaps they do.

In this community, it happens all the time. Often it is the same faces and the same big-hearted community-oriented people who do it, and there are quite a number of them.

Benjy Porter – who is one such person – describes in his opinion piece (on page 2), the incredible communal spirit seen across the country as shuls prepared to reopen. He intimates how congregations which may well have competed with one another to boost their numbers, stopped worrying about their own welfare, instead focusing on the greater good of the community. They shared knowledge, work, and so much more.

So, in the depth of a crisis it is clear that, instead of pulling apart, this community bonded. As they worked hard to make it possible for us to go and pray at shul safely, they built bridges and selflessly helped one another.

And then there are businesspeople who, despite trying to survive when the work of so many companies was put on hold during lockdown, have given of their products or wares freely. All this in the name of helping our community.

You and I are never meant to know who they are. That wasn’t why they did this. It was simply because it seemed like the right thing to do… and they could do it.

I would love to name each and every one of them and give them the kavod that is due to them, but they wouldn’t like that. It would embarrass them.

The same goes for the many volunteers at Hatzolah and Zaka, and those who give their time to the Gesher Fund to go through all the paperwork and make decisions on who they can help. Same with the Rambam Trust. Organisations abound with individuals who just give and keep giving wherever they can. These people comprise an integral part of our community.

Don’t for a minute think this is just a Jewish thing. It isn’t. Show me a Jewish community in the world just like this and I will write about them. There may be some, but not many.

We are indeed a unique community. I am not saying we don’t have our quirks and idiosyncrasies; oh, we have them in abundance. But it is those folk who give of themselves so selflessly who keep this community so strong and bonded. They are our glue. I often wonder what makes them take on so much when they already have so much on their proverbial plates, but I am so grateful that they do.

Our community is not getting bigger, and we are all having to tighten our belts, but we are getting stronger and stronger. We do things to look after our community that others don’t even think about doing.

And while people may well be emigrating because of the hardships of living in South Africa and their fear for our future, what are they leaving behind?

Where else do people look out for each other in this way? Yes, we can be tough on each other, and sometimes we can be mean to one another, but when push comes to shove, we look after each other. We may not agree with each other’s politics, or how we practise or don’t practise the religion, but we are a close-knit dysfunctional family. And we look out for one another in that family kind of way.

So, when those people wave goodbye to South Africa, believing the grass is greener on the other side, I beg to differ with them. I don’t believe that they will find this kind of community anywhere else in the world – and they will miss it.

And so, as the blossoms start blooming on our tree-lined streets, and people leave their cocoons and start considering what changes they want to make for the New Year, let’s acknowledge what we have. Let’s spare a thought for the menschen among us, and also consider what each one of us can do to emulate them.

Shabbat Shalom!

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